Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Toppled Balance - Nos. 153-159 West 74th Street

When the stoop and doorway of No. 159 (left) was moved from left to right and additional windows punched into the facade in 1905, the architect's perfect symmetry was upset.

In 1886 construction began on four high end rowhouses on the north side of West 74th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.    Developer Charles Barney had commissioned 27-year old architect James Brown Lord to design the structures.  Lord would become best known for his later, stately Beaux Arts buildings like the Appellate Courthouse on Madison Square.  But for Barney's project he turned to the popular Queen Anne style.

Sort of.

Completed in 1887 the 21-foot wide brick, stone and terra cotta residences were four stories tall above an undressed brownstone basement.  While his plans were stately and proud, Lord seems to have been unable to let his hair down.  The homes were missing expected Queen Anne elements like irregular roof lines, dog legged stoops, or fanciful balconies.  But one almost obligatory feature of the style was glaringly absent: asymmetry.

The Queen Anne style houses appearing throughout the Upper West Side were delightful in their picturesque lack of balance.  Windows of various shapes and sizes, gables and dormers, balconies and bays, were splashed along their facades with  seeming whimsy.  The four houses on West 74th Street, on the other hand, had the symmetry of a Rorschach test.

The stoop of No. 153 was to the right, that of No, 155 was to the left.  Between the houses at the parlor floor a magnificent terra cotta rondel carried out the balance.  The symmetry would have been upset by the protruding two-story bay of No. 153 had Lord not flipped the design, creating a mirror image of the pair in Nos. 157 and 159.

The result was perfect balance, almost unheard of in Queen Anne style architecture.  Lord stepped away from the style further when he framed the entrances of the middle homes with Renaissance Revival terra cotta pilasters.  The second floor was embellished with exquisite neo-Classical terra cotta panels framed in checkerboard brickwork.  Two bland, brown brick strips at the first and third floors suggest the loss of ornate terra cotta friezes.

No. 153 became home to bachelor Jacob W. Mack.  An officer in the garment firm Nathan Mfg. Co., he was made a School Commissioner in 1895, and he was president of the Harmonie Club.  Jews were not welcome in the exclusive men's clubs, prompting the organization of the Harmonie Club in 1852.  In May 1896 the New-York Tribune described it as "one of the oldest of its kind in the city [and] well known as one of the most select Hebrew clubs here."

Although Mack was most often in the newspapers regarding school matters; he occasionally appeared for social reasons.  He had a summer "cottage" at the then-fashionable Sea Gate community near Coney Island.  Other property owners there were the Morgan, Vanderbilt and Dodge families.  And entertainments in the 74th Street house, while apparently not frequent, were notable.  On January 29, 1893, for instance, The New York Times noted that "J. W. Mack, of 153 West Seventy-fourth Street will entertain eighteen guests at dinner on Saturday."

Mack was gone by 1902 when Bates Wyman and his wife, the former Lilly Langdon, lived in the house. Wyman was vice president of the Guaranty Trust Company and for several years a representative of the American Express Company in Paris,

While the wives of most wealthy businessmen involved themselves in charities, benefits and social functions; Lilly turned to the The Tribune Sunshine Society, known as the T.S.S.  It was the brainchild of a female Tribune reporter who suggested that by passing on the Christmas cards they received to shut-ins and invalids, women might spread cheer and "sunshine."  By now the society had spread internationally.

After she spent the summer abroad, the New-York Tribune was happy to welcome Lilly back in November 1902.  "Mrs. Bates Wyman, of West Seventy-fourth-st., has returned to the city, after many months of travel, and has again resumed her kindly help at the office on certain days to work on the enrollment books," reported the newspaper.

In the spring of 1903 Lilly established a new branch of the T.S.S., the Elizabeth Wyman Memorial Branch.  The Tribune noted "This branch is named in memory of a young woman whose life was spent doing kindly deeds for the children of the poor."

It would hardly seem that the Wymans needed extra income.  Nevertheless they rented a room.  Their first boarder, Theodore Albert Hungerford was one of the owners of The Hotel Gazette.  He died in the house in November 1903 at the age of 64.

Lilly's interest in helping invalids was reflected in her ad for the vacant room in March 1905.  "Private family will accommodate two gentlemen; semi-invalid elderly person; moderate."  The accompanying problem, sadly, was that her boarders died.  Her next roomer, John L. Farwell, died at the age of 72.  He had been well known in the banking and railroad circles of New Hampshire before financial reversals around the turn of the century.

No. 153 would see other well-heeled owners before the Depression years.  Herber C. Pell, whose main residences was in Tuxedo Park, purchased the house in 1906; and by 1920 Mrs. George Leonard Fisher was living here.  On September 14 that year The Sun noted that she "is touring by automobile in the Berkshires.  She now is in Stockbridge and will return this week."

As was the case with all moneyed widows, the newspapers followed her every move.  A year later, almost to the day, for instance, The New York Herald told its society page readers "Mrs. George Leonard Fisher of 153 West Seventy-fourth street is visiting Mrs. Willis K. Howell at Orchard Corner, Morristown, N.J."

But within the decade No. 153 had become a rooming house.  In August 1939 Ruth Shawilson leased the house, purchasing in the deal "the furnishings of the twenty-one rooms," according to The Times.

155 and 157 were framed in ornate Renaissance Revival terra cotta.

In the meantime Charles Barney had retained possession of No. 155, putting the title in the name of Lilly W. Barney.  It was leased for years to William R. Warren, president of the Warren-Burnham Company and the Virginia Portland Cement Company.

Warren's expertise in cement made him a frequent lecturer at Harvard on the subject.  By World War I he was widowed and both his sons were serving in the military.   On April 3, 1918 he was found dead in his office at No. 115 Broadway.

A somewhat surprising detail is the dead rats included in the pilaster decoration

Lilly Barney next leased the house to Carl J. Ulmann.  A partner in silk and cotton firm Ulmann, Bernhard, & Co., he was a collector of medieval illustrated manuscripts.  When the Metropolitan Museum of Art staged an exhibition of "Arts of the Book," among the items temporarily donated by Ulmann was a page from Herodotus, printed by J. and G. de Gregorius in Venice in 1494.

When the Barneys sold No. 155 in 1921, Ulmann purchased it.  He died in 1929 at the age of 66, and his estate retained possession until 1935.  It too, became a rooming house.

Next door, No. 157 had originally been the home of William Onderdonk.  It was the scene of a most distressing incident in 1894.  On New Year's Eve, 1893 a wealthy Brooklyn friend, Edward Hincken came to visit.  Hincken had been three times the president of the Produce Exchange and was a trustee of the Bowery Savings Bank.

What should have been a pleasant New Year's visit turned tragic when the 81-year old Hincken suffered a stroke.  Paralyzed, he was placed in a bedroom, where he died five days later.

Attorney Thomas Drew Robinson and his wife, the former Mary L. Brookes, purchased the house in 1896.   Robinson traced his family to "John Robinson, of Leyden, the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers," according to The American Lawyer.  A graduate of Brown University in 1849, Robinson received national attention when he represented the Native American Gay Head tribe, winning for them land on Martha's Vineyard which they had occupied for thousands of years.

Robinson's leisure time was far removed from legal work.   He was one of the first New Yorkers to become interested in orchids.  He collected and cultivated the tropical plants, the New-York Tribune noting "all his life much of his leisure time was spent among his flowers."

The attorney died in the house from pneumonia on February 26, 1902.  Mary remained here until her death at the age of 79 on February 9, 1916.

Like its neighbors, the residence would be operated as a rooming house in the Depression years.  Helen Schatz lived here in 1936 when she was listed on the Government's watch list of Communist voters.

The last of the row, No. 159, was the home of Dr. Walter Mendelson by 1895.  Of Jewish and Quaker parents, he was a member of the Society of Friends.    The physician was ahead of his time in recognizing the dangers of obesity as early as 1890.  He devised low-fat diets and wrote papers on the subject; although his insistence that drinking water promoted heart disease would be challenged today.  When he lectured at the New-York Academy of Medicine on January 21, 1890 on "Physiological Treatment of Obesity," The New York Times said "the result was that most of the stout physicians of the town assembled to hear Dr. Walter Mendelson tell about it."

Entertainments in the Mendelson household did not necessarily involve light-hearted chatter.  When he hosted the West End Medical Society on February 17, 1904, the subject was "A Clinical Study of Myoidema, with Especial Reference to its Occurrence in Pulmonary Tuberculosis."

In 1905 Dr. Mendelson upset John Brown Lord's perfect architectural balance when he hired architect John P. Benson to renovate the house.  The $8,000 remodeling project included relocating interior walls, enlarging some windows, and moving the entrance from the left to the right.  The new doorway and stoop required slicing the beautiful terra cotta disc on the facade in half.  Benson did his best to disguise the alteration--relocating the old stoop rather than updating it, and using bullnose brick to soften and round the corners of the new doorway.

The Mendelsons had four daughters.  Wharton Mendelson was married in 1912, and her sister Elizabeth Wharton Mendelson in 1919,  Elizabeth's wedding was held in the 74th Street house on October 11.  In 1920 Mendelson retired and moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania.

The house, like the others along the row, became rented rooms.  Around September 1924 it received its most celebrated tenants, Carl Ruggles and his wife, Dorothy.  The composer wrote modernist music, described by Charles Seeger as using "dissonant counterpoint."

Despite the upset balance--heightened when the stoop of No. 153 was removed and the doorway made into a window--and the loss of decorative detail; James Brown Lord's handsome row radiates its stately presence on West 74th Street.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Lost Whiton-Stuart House - No. 8 East 54th St

By the time this photograph was taken a shop window had been installed in the former doctor's office, most likely for The House of Ships.  photograph by Arthur Vitols from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The brownstone-fronted house at No. 8 East 54th Street sat amidst Manhattan's most exclusive residential neighborhood in the 1880s and '90s.  One block to the west on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue was the mansion of John D. Rockefeller; and on the northeast corner of 54th Street and Fifth Avenue was the home of William Rockefeller.  The Avenue blocks to the south were deemed "Vanderbilt Row," because of the string of lavish Vanderbilt residences.

By 1891 the wealthy widow Mrs. H. C. Childs was living in No. 8 East 54th Street.  Active in charities, her name routinely appeared in the society columns.  When William Earle Dodge Stokes demolished the two brownstones next door, at Nos. 4 and 6, and erected his magnificent marble mansion, it must have seemed that the high-toned residential nature of the block was assured.

A sliver of No. 8 East 54th Street can be glimpsed to the left of the Stokes mansion.  photo via the Glessner House Museum

The dowager received a serious scare on January 13, 1906 as she rode in her brougham along East 73rd Street.  The automobiles which had recently begun appearing on the streets of New York often struck terror in horses; and such was that case that afternoon.  Spooked, the horse galloped southward on Madison Avenue, striking several other vehicles and terrifying Mrs. Childs.

Two pedestrians, Mrs. S. Steiner and her maid, Fannie Fisher, were knocked to the pavement, suffering contusions.  Mrs. Childs's coachman (ironically named Hansom) "did everything in his power to stop his horse," reported The New York Times.  Finally a policeman named Delaney was able to stop the frightened animal.  Although Mrs. Childs was not injured, her carriage was "badly wrecked."

At the time Fifth Avenue's millionaires were fighting the inevitable encroachment of businesses which were inching northward.   About ten months after the incident of the runaway horse The New York Times ran the somewhat accusatory headline "Business Invasion of 54th Street" and announced that real estate operator J. P. Whiton-Stuart had purchased the Childs house.  The following day, on November 9, the New York Tribune confirmed that he "intends to use part of the house for business."

Jesse P. Whiton-Stuart and his wife were well known in society, maintaining a summer estate called Goodhope in Greenwich, Connecticut, and rubbing theirs with some of the wealthiest shoulders in Manhattan.   Whiton-Stuart's plan to combine his residence with income-producing doctors' offices would be manifested with little architectural annoyance to his wealthy and powerful neighbors.

He commissioned architect Stockton B. Colt (formerly the partner of Goodhue Livingston) to transform the old high-stooped house into a modern Edwardian residence.  The brownstone front was stripped away and the front moved forward to the property line.  The renovations, which included "a new Colonial facade," as described by The Times, cost Whiton-Stuart $15,000, about $390,000 today.

The prim neo-Georgian design included multi-paned, shuttered windows on stone sills and tall dormers cleverly joined together to provide a nearly full-height fifth floor.  The Whiton-Stuarts moved into the upper floors where, among the expensive furnishings, was J. P. Whiton-Stuart's extensive collection of rare maps, paintings and engravings of old New York City.

Esteemed doctors established their offices at street level.  Among the first was Dr. Ralph Grace, well known for his forward thinking approach to medical treatments, especially in cardiology.   He traveled to London to attend the coronation of George V in 1911 where his progressive methods clashed with English decorum.

On July 13 the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal reported "According to a recent dispatch from London, the American method of restoring fainting women in crowded streets appears to have somewhat astonished our British cousins."  The article explained "On the day of the Coronation, Dr. Ralph Grace, a well-known New York physician, who is on the attending staff of the Lincoln Hospital, had a position near the temporary wooden bridge erected in the neighborhood of Buckingham Palace."

Just as the royal procession neared, someone in the crowd yelled out that the bridge was giving way.  Several women responded by fainting.  Dr. Grace went into action, instructing bystanders and police to position the women on the sloping bank with their heads downward, forcing blood to rush to their heads.  The proper British were shocked.

"This drastic treatment was new to the English crowd, and several trained nurses expostulated at the undignified spectacle presented."  Dr. Grace persevered however, and one by one the women revived.

When he returned to New York on the liner Amerika on June 8, reporters were waiting to hear the story.  The Sun further explained "The crowd had been in serious mood, but when it saw the women upside down on the embankment, coming to one by one and in a hurry, and grabbing at their skirts, which had fallen toward their heads, it laughed heartily...Some of the matrons did not like getting back to earth wrong side up and wondered why they had been inverted until they were told."

Dr. Grace added "They said they never would faint in public again."

Although Whiton-Stuart and his wife continued to live in the house, he was renting rooms or apartments in 1914.  In the meantime, Dr. Ward A. Holden had his office downstairs.  An ophthalmologist, he was a  member of the National Committee on the Prevention of Blindness.   Holden was nationally known--less for his treatment of sight problems than for his research into preventing them.

In 1908 he did an extensive study of typefaces to determine which caused less eyestrain.  He concluded that Cheltenham, designed by Bertram Goodhue, "is probably the most legible type ever designed."

In 1915 Holden  may have raised eyebrows when he suggested that the blind had a "sixth sense" of knowing where objects were without touching them.  He went further, telling a reporter from The Sun on May 1 that the "sense of the location or nearness of objects may be developed by those who have sight, if they try."

In the months preceding Prohibition bootleggers experimented with wood alcohol.  On December 27, 1919 a headline in The Sun reported "Fake Whiskey Kills 34; Blinds Scores."  Holden was chairman of a sub-committee of the New York County Medical Association organized to investigate the problem.  But, he forewarned, "it is now impossible to control the use of wood alcohol as beverage."

The office of Dr. John D. Richards was in the building by 1916.  Like his colleagues he was prominent and wealthy.  A surgeon at St. Mark's Hospital, he played polo and trained polo ponies.  He was the personal physician to wealthy families including Isidor and Ida Straus (whom he called "good friends") and the Rockefellers.

When the R.M.S. Carpathia steamed into New York harbor on April 18, 1912 with the survivors of the R.M.S. Titanic aboard, Dr. Richards was waiting to tend to them.  To his great sorrow, he soon discovered that his friends, the Strauses, were not among them.

Richards was a member of a polo team composed entirely of doctors in 1916.  The team was playing on December 10 when he "urged his pony to top speed to effect a midfield recovery of the ball," according to The New York Times the following day.  The horse stumbled and fell, landing on top of Richards and fracturing his leg.

Dr. McGovern of Fordham Hospital set the leg on site while surrounded, he said, by "the most critical crowd" he had ever encountered.  Richards was later removed to St. Vincent's Hospital to recover.

That same year, in September, J. P. Whiton-Stuart merged his business with the highly-regarded real estate firm Douglas L. Elliman & Company.

The end of medical offices in No. 8 East 54th Street came in March 1927.  In 1921 Rae Palmer, a graduate of the Department of Household Arts at Columbia University had opened a tea room on West 59th Street known as Aunt Polly's.  It was a remarkable success.  Two years later she expanded by opening the Monticello Restaurant in the Carlton House at No. 18 East 47th Street, taking as her partner Elizabeth McCoy, a graduate of Wellesley.

Now the two leased No. 8 as the new site for the Monticello Restaurant.  Their 21-year lease came at a total rent of $500,000.   The two bachelor women were not done yet.  The same month they signed a lease in the nearly completed Dover Hotel on Lexington Avenue and 57th Street for another restaurant.

Palmer and McCoy may have been a bit too overconfident.  In April 1928 the building was sold to "a New Jersey investor" and, despite the 21-year lease, the Monticello Restaurant was soon gone.  It was replaced by "The House of Ships."

The shop was not startling for its wares--mostly maritime antiques including historical paintings, old glass, tapestries, and ship models--but for its proprietor.   Marion Steedman Mason Wilson, wife of banker Richard T. Wilson, was "a prominent figure in the social life of this city, having been connected with the Vanderbilt and Goelet families through marriage," according to The Times.  She was a social leader in Newport and for years the president of the Saratoga Racing Association.

Marion's sister-in-law, Mary, had married Ogden Goelet; her brother-in-law, M. Orme Wilson, was married to Caroline Astor, daughter of William Backhouse Astor; another sister-in-law, Leila was married to Sir Michael Henry Herbert; and the last, Grace Wilson, was Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Women of Marion's social status were not shop keepers.  So her announcement to open The House of Ships "gave cause for lengthy newspaper interviews," said The Times.  She explained that "ships have always been vital, living things to me," and said that when she was a little girl she would sit on the beach at East Gloucester, Massachusetts and watch them enter and leave the harbor.

The building's new owners removed the dormers and added a sixth floor in 1929 for "residential quarters."  As the decades passed the ground floor retail space would see a variety of upscale shops.  By 1939 it was home to Pierre Beres, Parisian dealers in rare books.  In April 1941 a collection of "hand-made bindings, originally assembled for the New York World's Fair book-binding exhibition at the French Pavilion" was shown here.

In 1946 Henry a La Pensee, Inc. purchased the building, assessed at the time at $100,000.  The boutique would remain here for more than a decade.  On Christmas Eve, 1956 The Times recommended "delightful treasures" for the frantic late Christmas shopper in "hidden Boutique-like shops that are gold mines for unusual gifts."

The article included Henry a La Pensee, saying that it offered "unusually handsome compacts.  Unbreakable plastic tops protect delicate water color copies of Renoir, Degas, and Rembrandt paintings."  The $25 price tag would be equal to about $220 in 2017.

Home furnishings designer Marion Dorn had her studio in the building at the same time.  She had moved to London following her marriage to British artist Edward McKnight Kauffer; where she was responsible for designing the fabrics and carpeting for Claridge's Hotel and the decorations of the Coronation train for King George VI.

Marion Dorn sits among some of her bold floral patterned fabrics.  House and Garden, July 1947.

Now widowed, she had returned to America in 1940 and, according to a journalist, "within a year of her return she had started a craze for roses, big lush ones, in wallpaper design."  In February 1957 an envelope arrived at No. 8 East 54th Street, advising her that she had been made an honorary member of the British Society of Industrial Artists, the only American and only the second women so honored.

The Whiton-Stuart house survived, albeit altered, until 1981 when it was demolished to be replaced by a parking lot, which remains today.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mason Brothers Bldg - 108-110 Duane Street

The two-story 21st century penthouse smoothly melds with the 1856 structure.

On April 25, 1853 an announcement appeared in The New York Times "Arrangements have been made to establish in New-York an Institute, the object of which shall be to afford thorough Musical Instruction, and especially to qualify teachers of music, leaders of choirs, &c."   It would be under the direction of three well-known instructors including Lowell Mason.  The article noted that circulars with further details could be obtained "of Mason Brothers, No. 23 Park-row, opposite the Astor House."

That the pamphlets were available in the publishing firm's reception area was understandable.  Lowell Mason was an eminent psalmist and music teacher (listed among Boston's wealthiest citizens) who had founded the first music school for children in the United States.  His sons, Daniel Gregory and Lowell, Jr., had opened the fledgling Mason Brothers publishing firm earlier that year.

The entire Mason family was, incidentally, involved in music.  Another son, Henry, was a founding partner in Mason & Hamlin, reed organ manufactures; and William Mason was a pianist, composer and music teacher.

Mason Brothers met with overwhelming success, kick started in no small part by its handling all of Lowell Mason's psalm books, musical textbooks, and related musical publications.  But their offerings went far beyond sacred music.  On January 8, 1859 an advertisement in The American Publisher's Circular gave an indication of the wide variety of new publications.  Included were Matthew Garaby: A Narrative of his Adventures Among Friends and Strangers; The Seaboard Slave States: Being an Account of a Journey Through Them with Remarks; A Journey Through Texas, or, A Saddle Trip on the Southwestern Frontier; and The Jubilee, a collection of church music.

In fact, so great was the success of Mason Brothers that on December 29, 1855, just two years after its opening, the firm announced in its Musical Review and Gazette "On or about the first of February, we propose removing to the capacious and elegant store now being erected for us in Duane Street, a few doors west of Broadway."

The proposed move was nearly on target.  On March 11, 1856 a notice appeared in The New York Herald that "Mason Brothers, Publishers, have removed from 23 Park Row to 108 and 110 Duane street."  Composer of hymns William Batchelder Bradbury congratulated the firm in the Musical Review and Gazette later that year saying "We were quite proud of the new and spacious store of our respected publishers at 108 and 110 Duane street, New-York, imagining that there was nothing that could approach it in point of elegance in this country."

The street level retail space in the new Mason Brothers building sat behind a cast iron store front of fluted Corinthian columns and wide double doors.  Unlike many of the commercial buildings rising in the district, the four upper floors were clad in brick rather than stone or iron.   The effect was no less attractive.  Divided into two sections by a brownstone cornice, each was distinguished by two-story arches outlined in projecting brick.  The spandrels that separated the floors were decorated with simple recessed panels.  Below the upper cornice a handsome stepped corbel table, too, was executed in brick.

The financial success of the brothers afforded at least one of them a country estate.  A month after the firm moved into the new building, an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald: "Wanted--Two men for farm and garden work, within an hour's ride of New York.  Must be accustomed to oxen, horses, &c.  Apply on Monday...at the bookstore, 108 and 110 Duane street."

Mason Brothers continued its successful publishing through the years, offering new children's books around Christmas, riveting accounts of travels to the West, and, of course, music books.  On Christmas Eve 1857 the company announced that the New York Almanac and Yearly Record for 1858 was available.  The informative annual included interesting facts, like the Chronological Tables of the Events of 1857, The Weather Tables, the new Metropolitan Police Bill, and a "description of the New Central Park."

In 1869 Oliver Ditson, a publisher who focused on music and musical publications, bought all the assets of Mason Brothers, including the Lowell Mason copyrights.  According to Richard Crawford in his 2001 America's Musical Life, the plates of Mason's works alone were worth over $100,000--nearly $1.8 million in 2017.

The building was purchased by James Henry Heroy, head of the glass importing and mirror manufacturing firm Heroy & Marrenner.  Heroy had established the business in 1852; but became an invalid around the time of the Civil War.  He took as partners brothers David J. and Edward Marrenner, soon becoming the largest plate glass dealers in the country.

The upper floors of the Duane Street building were converted to its "looking-glass factory" where the complex process included cutting glass sheets, applying silver to glass, and framing.  The third floor was the silvering department.  Among the equipment was a drying drum, about three feet high and heated by a gas jet inside.  Its purpose was to dry the papers and linens used in the silvering process.  These items were simply placed over the outside of the hot drum.

On Wednesday night, April 26, 1882 the employees went home for the night.  Whoever extinguished the flame inside the drying drum failed to completely turn off the gas jet.  Overnight the drum filled with gas.  In the morning, when Robert Cookson prepared for the work day, he carried a lit candle to the drum to light the jet.  When the 52-year old man opened drum's door, a violent explosion occurred.  The New York Times reported "he was thrown against a drying-board, a distance of four feet.  The escaping gas ignited and Cookson was badly burned about the hands and face."

It would be the first of a bizarre string of fire-related mishaps in the building for decades--all of which took place on the third floor.

In 1884 Heroy & Marrenner moved to 124-126 Fifth Avenue.  James Heroy maintained possession of the Duane Street property, leasing the ground floor to William Neely & Co.  William Neely had come to America from his native Ireland in 1827.  He opened a shoe store on Catherine Street in 1853.  By now his business had grown into one of the city's foremost wholesale shoe jobbing houses. 

Knickerbocker Printing and Publishing Company leased the upper floors.  It subleased space to smaller printing firms.  The American Angler magazine was published here at the time.  Small printers in the building included W. C. Harris, W. Scott & Co. and the Johnson Peerless Works.  But by 1896 a single sub-tenant, lithographer Joseph G. Ellery, occupied all four upper floors.

James Henry Heroy died on December 26, 1896.  His wife, Amelia, inherited the Duane Street building, which still had just the two tenants.  The combined rents brought in $8,750 per year.

Joseph G. Ellery used the second floor as a stock room, where inks, paper and other supplies were stored.  The presses and offices were located in the third through fifth floors.  On August 17, 1901 fire broke out on the third floor.  Although the blaze was confined to that floor, extensive water damage was incurred.  William Neely & Co. lose $500 in shoes; while The Times reported that "Most of the damage occurred on the second floor, which...contains $35,000 worth of stock."  The building suffered $6,000 in damages.

William Neely & Co. moved to No. 157 Duane Street in 1903.  Amelia Heroy leased the ground floor space to the Merchants Dining Room Company in 1904.  The restaurant would remain until 1915.

In the meantime, a variety of small businesses came and went upstairs.  In 1906 the Schatz Hardware Mfg. Co. was here, making what it deemed "the most complete line of electrical tools in the world."  By "electrical tools" it meant items like linemen's connectors and clamps.

Other tenants were the Wholesale Typewriter Company ("Every typewriter a bargain") on the third floor and fourth floors, and Smith & Hemenway Co., hardware and appliance dealers on the second.  That company marketed its Red Devil Water Motor in 1906--a clever device that attached to any faucet.  An advertisement promised it "will wash bottles, run cooling fans, polish silverware, sharpen cutlery, and many other uses."

Smith & Hemenway's astonishingly vast array of products included the "Polar Star" ice cream freezer, guaranteed to make ice cream in five to ten minutes; shears and scissors; fence stretchers; paper hangers; hammers and saws.

The third floor was once again the scene of near-disaster when fire broke out there at around 10:30 on the night of January 11, 1911.  Fire fighters had to break into the heavy factory doors with axes and crowbars. As they worked, the "roar of the flames" could be heard within the Wholesale Typewriter factory.  The pressure of the confined heated air continued to grow until finally, the thick doors gave way.  The rush of oxygen resulted in the firefighters being met with a violent backdraft.

The New York Times described "And then there came a sudden rush of flame.  The open doorway seemed to act as a flue.  Tongues of flame leaped forth from the opening and the firemen were flung back by it, their eyebrows and hair singed, and were sent headlong down the long flight of stairs to the second floor"

The fire was not extinguished until after midnight.  Several firemen were seriously hurt; some with burns, one with a sprained back and another with internal injuries.  Damage to the building, the restaurant, Smith & Hemenway, and Wholesale Typewriter Company topped $100,000.

Amelia Heroy lost her tenants after the fire.  She made significant improvements while making the repairs, including added an elevator, strengthening the floors, and installing electrical wiring and steam heat, and "toilets on the second and third floors."

Following the repairs, the Alcohol Utilities Co. took the second floor.  In 1916 the Champion Coated Paper Company took the first floor and basement levels, while other paper concerns moved in upstairs.  That year Amelia commissioned architect Harry H. Paradies to design new show windows at a cost of $500.

In June 1923 the Heroy estate signed an 84-year lease with the West Broadway and Duane Street Corporation in a staggering $1.5 million deal--almost 20 times that much in today's dollars.  The New York Times revealed "It is the intention of the leasing company to eventually erect a ten-story modern business building on the site."

The building was filled with shoe concerns at the time.  Elias Berlow, makers of military shoes and boots, had been here at least since 1919 when, with World War I ended, it offered the City surplus Army and Navy footwear for its employees.  Berlow pointed out that they were Government inspected; and that boots for which the military paid $9.50 were being offered at $6.50; and shoes costing $8.50 at $5. . In 1921 Elias Berlow had received a $3 million contract with the Russian Government for boots.   Also in the building were the Eureka Shoe factory and the Hamilton Rubber Company

Another serious fire broke out on September 22, 1927.  The burning rubber and leather from the shoe factories filled the City Hall Park area with noxious smoke and odors.  The fire grew to three alarms and more than two dozen fire fighters were overcome by what a newspaper called the "pungent fumes."  Fire Chief John J. Doughterty finally ordered all men out of the building to fight the blaze from the street because of the gases.

Louis A. Pantzer, President of the West Broadway and Duane Street Corporation, did not raze the building as originally intended.  Instead, architect Samuel A. Hertz headed the renovations.  At a time when Manhattan was the epicenter for jazzy Art Deco architecture, Hertz made no significant exterior alterations to the 1855 design.

Although their ornate Corinthian capitals have been lost, the fluted cast iron columns of the original store front, including the ornate address plaques, survive.

The building continued to house shoe firms.  Kirsch-Blacher Co. was in the building in the 1930s and '40s.  Then, in 1982 as the Tribeca neighborhood changed its personality to one of upscale residences, restaurants and shops, the upper floors were converted to sprawling apartments, one on the second floor and two each on the third through fifth.

In June 1988 Lush opened in the ground floor space.  With minimalist interiors designed by its owner, Paul Ujlaky, the bar-restaurant specialized in champagne and "rare, single-barrel bourbons."

The first major change to the appearance of Nos. 108-110 Duane Street came in the form of two additional floors.  The $1.675 million project, designed by John Furth Peachy Architects, emerged as a neo-Romanesque Revival penthouse that not only sympathetically melded with the original design, but perfectly matched the brick.

photographs by the author

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Samuel Dodge House - No. 291 West 4th Street

In 1822 New York City faced a terrorizing invader: yellow fever.  The number of deaths climbed to 140 per day, churches were ordered closed, and those who were financially able fled to the healthful, rural air of the village of Greenwich to the north.

J. Hardie wrote in his diary that on August 24, 1822 "our city presented the appearance of a town besieged.  From daybreak till night one line of carts, containing boxes, merchandise, and effects, were seen moving towards 'Greenwich Village' and the upper parts of the city...Temporary stores and offices were erecting, and even on the ensuing day (Sunday) carts were in motion, and the saw and hammer busily at work."

Within days, wrote Hardie, the "custom-house, the post-office, the banks, the insurance offices, and the printers of newspapers located themselves in the village."

The tragedy brought with it financial opportunity. The refugees needed housing, sparking an extraordinary building boom and creating unlikely real estate developers as rows of speculative houses appeared on the winding Greenwich Village streets.  Samuel Z. Smith was a fabric merchant and tailor.  Now, in 1827, he was suddenly he building homes.

That year the Bank of New York sold the plots on the east side of West Fourth Street, from the corner of Bank Street to No. 291 West Fourth, to Smith.   (Interestingly, Bank Street had received its name in 1798 when the Bank of New York bought up the land along the unnamed street during another yellow fever outbreak.  It erected a branch for "emergency use" like this one.)

Smith erected five 18-foot wide, two-and-a-half story houses, completed the following year.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick, they exhibited the expected elements of the current Federal style.  Fluted Doric columns flanked the paneled doors below leaded transoms.  Simple stone sills and lintels trimmed the openings, Above the plain fascia boards dormers pierced the peaked roofs.  Unpretentious Federal iron railings led down the brownstone stoop to short, disengaged stone newels.

In the years just before the outbreak of Civil War Samuel Dodge lived in the house.  His was an old American family, the first Dodge arriving in New England in the 17th century.  In contrast to his successful existence, his sister Helen led a tragic life.  Following the death of her first husband, Albert Cocks, she married dry goods merchant Robert S. Morris.

Helen was again widowed when Morris died on February 5, 1860.  It appears she moved in with her brother; for the following year, on May 23,  when 2 year old daughter, Sarah, died the funeral was held in the parlor of Samuel Dodge's house.

Helen's heartbreak was not over by far.   On January 30, 1866 Samuel Dodge died in the house at the age of 84.  His funeral was held there the following Thursday.  Then, just five months later Helen's daughter, Mary Jane Cocks died.  Yet another funeral  was held in the West Fourth Street house.

At the time William H. Baldwin and his family lived a few blocks to the south at No. 63 Barrow Street.  As was the case with Helen Dodge Cocks Morris, the lives of Baldwin and his wife, Mary, were filled with heartbreak.  On May 8, 1864 their three-year old son, Harry, died of scarlet fever and diphtheria.

By the end of the Civil War the family had moved into the former Dodge residence.  It was there, on Tuesday, June 29, 1869 that the Baldwins' youngest daughter, Emily Frances, died.  On July 1, for at least the fourth time in a decade, a funeral was held in the parlor and the door was hung with black crepe.

As the century drew to a close, Henry Thole owned numerous Greenwich Village properties, including No. 291 West Fourth Street.  It was most probably Thole who renovated the house, creating a full third floor and adding sheet metal lintels over the plain stone originals.  While the Federal style iron stoop railings were intact, an owner around the time of Samuel Dodge had replaced the areaway fencing with a Greek Revival design.

The simple Federal design of the stoop railings (note the built-in boot scrapers) is in contrast to the later, anthemion decorated Greek Revival areaway fencing.

Thole still owned No. 291 in 1905 when developer John Paul Hoffman demolished the abutting houses at Nos. 287 and 289 and erected what William S. Pelletreau called, in his A History of Long Island that same year, "an apartment of the better class for ten families."

Hoffman's father, Paul, had been a butcher for many years, but like Samuel Z. Smith, recognized the advantages of speculative building.  Focusing in the Greenwich Village area, he amassed a sizeable amount of property before retiring in 1892 and turning the business over to his son.

Following Henry Thole's death, a massive auction of his real estate holdings was held on June 11, 1907.  Seventeen Village properties were sold.  The purchaser of No. 291 West Fourth Street was John Paul Hoffman.

The house saw several tenants over the next few years, including John Kelly, who signed a lease in December 1914, and G. Boggio the following year.

In the summer of 1920 Hoffman sold the house to Liberale and Theresa Bergano.  The couple apparently rented rooms, and in the summer of 1922 cab driver Frank McDermitt was living here.

The cabbie was the target of an ill-planned robbery attempt on August 24 that year.  He picked up 25-year old William Buckworth, a native of Liverpool, England who was a clerk aboard the HMS Fort Victorian anchored off 95th Street.   When McDermitt's taxi broke down on 22nd Street, near Seventh Avenue, Buckworth pulled a gun and ordered "hands up."

The problem with Buckworth's attempted heist was that the pistol was made of glass--a toy that possibly had once held candy.  McDermitt was not fooled and the Englishman spent the night in a cell at the 13th Street station house.

The survival of the quaint structure as a single family home may be due to its narrow width--making a conversion to apartments unwieldy.   It is the last relic of Samuel Smith's 1828 row.  In 2007 developer Scott N. Resnick purchased the house for $3.6 million; selling it within the year for exactly $1 million more.

photographs by the author

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Sevillia Apts -- No. 117 West 58th Street

Philip G. Hubert arrived in Cincinnati from his native France in 1849, at the age of 19.  His profession as a teacher of French—which included writing his own textbooks—hardly foreshadowed the important career he would begin in New York years later.

He moved to New York in 1865 and opened an architectural office, soon partnering with James W. Pirrson to form Hubert & Pirrson.  Forward-thinking, Hubert designed a group of eight 12-story apartment buildings on Seventh Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets in 1882; at a time when the concept of apartment living was just taking hold.  The ambitious and somewhat risky project cost nearly $5 million.

Hubert continued to improve his designs for apartment houses.  In 1891 he began work on the Sevillia with financial backing from August O. Hoddick.  A residential hotel, it replaced the two old structures at Nos. 117 and 119 West 58th Street.  It would be ground breaking in modern conveniences and in fire-proofing.

Following Hubert’s death on November 1911, The Architectural Record remembered that in the Sevillia “Mr. Hubert did away with wooden floors, using a cement composition throughout.”  His aim, the journal said, “was to devise an apartment house so nearly fire-proof that the entire contents of a single apartment might burn to ashes without endangering, or even disturbing the rest of the building.”

The Sevillia would be marketed as being “intended to meet the wants of people who desire to combine the freedom from care of a hotel life with the comforts and privacy of an individual home.”   To this end Hubert designed ground-breaking innovations.  “This was also the first hotel in which each apartment was provided with a refrigerator cooled from a central plant, and in which the tenants were provided with running water, cooled and filtered for drinking.”

Completed in 1892 at a cost of $76,763 (around $2 million in 2017), the Sevillia was refined, if a bit imperious.  The two-story stone base, the first of four sections, was dominated by a gaping arch over the entrance.  A balcony, four bays wide, introduced a handsome three-story brownstone insert that sat within the second section—four stories of brown brick framed with paneled quoins.  Here free-standing columns and matching pilasters below a deep cornice sat on three story-tall pedestals.  
A cast iron balcony stretching the width of the building defined the third section; and the fourth, a three-story mansard level with stacked French-style dormers, sat above a handsome cornice with wreathed brackets.

Incised lines in the brickwork create the illusion of fluted pilasters.

Among the first residents of the Sevillia were George B. Prescott and his wife (whose country place, Elmside, was in Lakeville, Connecticut); and newlyweds Fairman Warren and his bride, the former Clara Stratton.  Financially comfortable at 32 years old, Warren worked in his father’s wallpaper business, Warren, Fuller & Co. at No. 129 East 42nd Street and was a member of the exclusive Union League Club.

Also moving into the new building was the architect himself.   On December 12, 1894, The Sun complimented Mrs. Hubert for her cleverness in creating invitations to a benefit for St. Mary’s School.  Instead of the expected form, she had composed a poem using quaint Shakespearean spelling.  “A touch of originality often makes a great success of an unassuming benefit sale,” said the newspaper.  “Mrs. Philip G. Hubert of the Sevillia, 117 West Fifty-eighth street realized this principal, and in sending out the following jingle Mrs. Hubert, her friends think, wins the palm for originality.”

In 1905 elaborate electric lamps flanked the entrance and canvas awnings protected the apartments from summer heat.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Huberts had new neighbors at the time in the form of attorney W. Rodman Winslow and his wife.  The couple moved into a seventh floor apartment in the Sevillia in September 1894.  The New York Times described the Winslows as “well-to-do” and their apartment as a “snug and handsomely-appointed flat.”

The 46-year old Winslow had two offices downtown, one for his legal business and the other for the management of his Advance and Discount Company, which provided “loans on chattels.”  He also owned the Mohican House hotel on Lake George.

A month before Mrs. Hubert was composing her invitations, Rodman Winslow complained of being "run down and dyspeptic."  His doctor.  Dr. Alexander Strong prescribed a tonic; but a far more serious problem loomed.

On the morning of December 2 the Winslows were dressing in their bedroom “which was separated from an alcove sitting room by a portiere,” as described by The Times.  Because the steam heat of the Sevillia sometimes caused the apartments to get stuffy, the upper pane of the sitting room window was lowered a crack to let in cool air.  But that morning Winslow felt a draft.

“Rodman, if you are chilly, close the sitting-room window,” his wife offhandedly commented.  They were the last words she would utter to her husband.

A few minutes later she called, “Rodman, have you closed that window?”

The Times reported “No response came, and she followed her husband, calling his name.  In the sitting room she halted, and a great dread came to her.”   Winslow was not in the sitting room and the window which had been closed at the bottom the night before was open.

“Half divining the awful truth, the wife nerved herself to peer into the court.  A moment later there was a piercing cry of horror and moans of anguish, and neighbors came, to find the wife fainting and the husband dead and frightfully mangled on the flags of the court.”

Apparently, in trying to close the top pane, Winslow had opened the bottom and reached out to push up the upper portion.  In doing so he fell out.  “Residents of the fourth and fifth floors of the apartment house, who were in rooms over the court, heart a frightful cry and a crash when Mr. Winslow fell, and saw him dead in the court.”

Fairman and Clara Warren were still in the building.  About three weeks after the Winslow tragedy Fairman, whose left leg had been slightly crippled his entire life, slipped and broke his right leg.  Now a near-invalid, he stopped going to his 42nd Street office.  As a matter of fact, he rarely left the Sevillia at all. 

Clara was pregnant with their first child, and Warren fell into what The New York Times deemed “melancholia” over his disability.  Every morning a masseur would arrive to rub his legs; and each evening around 10:00 he would go down to the building’s office to talk to the watchman for about an hour.  Normally, according to building employees, it was Warren who did most of the talking, grumbling about other tenants.

The baby, James Stratton Warren, arrived in April 1895.  Clara had difficulty recuperating, The Sun reporting that “Since the birth of their child, Mrs. Warren’s health has been very delicate."  Because of his wife's health, Warren temporarily took a room on the floor below their apartment.  "He was most solicitous about his wife’s health, and spent most of his time with her,” said the newspaper.

Despite the happy occasion of a newborn son, Fairman Warren's depression over his physical condition did not improve.  He offhandedly spoke of suicide a few times, but no one took him seriously.  The Sun said “There was no reason, so far as can be learned, why he should have done so.  His domestic life was happy.”

Warren’s crankiness worsened as well--to the point of making frightening threats.  When he made his usual visit to the watchman on the night of June 10, he spent most of the time “complaining of the noise the late stayers among the tenants made when they came in.  He told the watchman that the noise which these persons made disturbed his sleep, and that if they were not more quiet in future some of them might get the contents of a big revolver which, he said, he had in his room.”

As it turned out, it was not the late stayers who got the contents of his big gun.  The following morning Warren’s masseur arrived at his room and found him dead on the bed, with a bullet wound in his right temple.  A note stated that he believed he was becoming paralyzed and, “dreading the consequences,” decided to kill himself.  Clara inherited the estate, valued at over half a million in 2017 dollars.

The Sevillia only a week earlier, had been the subject of yet another piece of disturbing press.  On Saturday night, June 2, Dr. J. Alexander Tonner met James A. Anderson in Bryant Park.  After treating Anderson to several beers, the 51-year old physician invited him to what The Evening World called his “high-class apartment-house” at 117 West Fifty-eighth street.”  Once in the apartment, Dr. Tonner showed Anderson ten photographs “of a very obscene nature.”

If Tonner thought his new friend would be titillated by the photos, he was sorely disappointed.  Anderson went to Anthony Comstock of the Society for the Suppression of Vice.  The following day Officer O’Connor arrived at the Sevillia armed with a warrant for Tonner’s arrest.  When he was arrested “another batch of the photographs was found in his possession,” reported The Evening World.

Tonner was held on $2,000 bail and charged with possessing and exhibiting obscene pictures.  In court he pleaded guilty; but in doing so he was unaware that the charges had been upgraded to “immoral practices.”

In sentencing Tonner, Judge Cowing accused him of being mentally ill.  “While there can be no palliation for the crime, it seems to me that some of your medical friends should have interested themselves in your behalf, for I think that you are not of sound mind.”  The judge felt he was being lenient in giving Dr. Tonner two years and six months in the penitentiary, saying the maximum penalty was 20 years.

“On the way to the penitentiary Dr. Tonner told Prison Guard Kelly that he thought he had pleaded guilty only to the charge of having obscene pictures in his possession.”

Most of the upscale residents appeared in the newspapers for much more respectable reasons.  On January 29, 1896 The New York Times advised society that Mrs. C. Vanderbilt De Forrest would be receiving “informally on Sunday afternoons after 3 o’clock for the rest of the season,” for instance.

The wedding of John Alden Philbrick and Elizabeth Van Valzah Wilson (“an unusually handsome girl,” according to The Times) on January 20, 1898 was a “notable” affair.   The newspaper was especially interested in the fact that a photographer had been hired for the reception.  A headline the following day read “Bridal Party Photographed” and the lengthy article said in part “There was a wedding reception at the home of the bride’s mother, 348 West Fifty-seventh Street, at which the bridal party, which formed a brilliant group, was photographed by flashlight, much to the interest of the guests.”

The newspaper noted that Philbrick “and his bride will live at the Sevilla [sic], 117 West Fifty-eighth Street.”

The newlyweds would have as neighbors an elderly couple, Augustus and Martha Gaylord.  On October 8, 1900 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here.  Gaylord had come to New York from Connecticut in 1847, when he was 21 years old.  Because of ill health, he moved to Wisconsin in 1856 and during the Civil War was Adjutant General of the State of Wisconsin.  Following the war, in 1872, he returned to New York and started business. 

The same year that the Philbricks married, Augustus Gaylord finally retired at the age of 72, stepping down from his post as Commissioner of the Ammunition Manufacturers’ Association.  On March 30, 1901 he died in his apartments in the Sevillia at the age of 75.

Another well-known resident was Col. Sanders Dewees Bruce, a direct descendant of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland.  He had earned his rank during the Civil War, during which he commanded the 22nd Brigade in the Battle of Shiloh.  Both General Sherman and General Grant recommended him for Brigadier General, but he resigned because of heart disease in 1864 and came to New York.

Bruce was an authority on pedigree horses and established the American Stud Book (the rights to which he sold to the Jockey Club for $35,000); and wrote The Horse Breeders’ Guide and Handbook and The Thoroughbred Horse.  His interests were reflected also in his memberships in the American Geographical Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

Like Bruce, Major Charles F. Ulrich had distinguished himself in the war.  The New York Times noted “He was brevetted Major for gallant and meritorious conduct in connection with the explosion of the mines at Petersburg, Va.”  Following the war he returned to New York and entered the insurance business.  The Times said “Major Ulrich was wealthy and unmarried.”  He would remain in the Sevillia until his death in his apartment on September 25, 1902.

That year the Sevillia described itself as "absolutely fireproof" when it advertised “one sunny apartment of two large rooms and bath, $1,000 a year, unfurnished; or $100 a month furnished.  Another of four rooms and bath, $800 a year, unfurnished; or $100 a month, furnished.  Restaurant.”  The “restaurant” was a necessity for residents in the apartments without kitchens.  The $100 monthly rent would be equivalent to about $2,850 today.

Upscale New Yorkers abandoned the city for the summer months, traveling to resorts like Newport and Tuxedo Park.  On June 20, 1904 an advertisement in the New-York Tribune offered “Three furnished apartments to sublet for the summer at low rents.”  It noted the conveniences of “restaurant, electric light, telephone.”

In 1908 the widowed Mrs. Frank W. Sanger lived in the Sevillia with her 23-year old son, Louis.  Frank Sanger had been the manager of Madison Square Garden and among the properties he left his wife was the Empire Theatre. 

Louis, who had graduated college the year before, left the apartment early in the evening of December 21, 1908.  Scandal would follow.

Three days earlier Mrs. Florence L. Greaves had been granted a divorce from William Homer Greaves, “well known in racing circles,” according to The Times.  The couple had been married for seven years and Florence charged her husband “with misconduct at Saratoga on August 15, 1908.”

Florence immediately took back her maiden name of Burns.  The Sun noted that she lived in the Rossleigh apartments at No. 1 West 85th Street “with a maid.”  It soon became apparently that the misconduct in the marriage was not confined to William Greaves.

Mrs. Sanger had no inkling that when Louis left the Sevillia that evening he was on the way to the Rossleigh.  The Sun reported on December 22 “Miss Burns…left her apartments early in the evening, accompanied by Mr. Sanger.  They went in a taxicab and Mr. Sanger told the driver to go to Tiffany’s, which was open last night.”

The newspaper also revealed that the couple had obtained a marriage license at City Hall earlier that day.  Reporters rushed to the Sevillia to get more information on the socially-shocking story.

The Sun wrote “Mr. Sanger’s mother…said last night she didn’t know her son intended to marry Miss Burns, although she had heard that he was acquainted with her.”  The social embarrassment was no doubt devastating for the wealthy widow.

Dr. Stanley O. Sabel’s medical office was in the building at the time.  He had graduated from Columbia Medical School in 1898.  In astounding coincidence, he had been treating a 20-year old patient whose name was also Florence Burns the year before.

On January 9, 1908 Florence appeared before Justice Davis in the Supreme Court asking that her father, Samuel G. Burns, be appointed as her guardian for litigation purposes.  The reason for her request, she said, was “that she is about to sue Dr. Stanley O. Sabel…for $10,000 damages for an alleged vicious assault upon her while he was attending her professionally.”

The date of the alleged assault, she said, was on December 4, 1907.  Her shocking claims and the massive compensation she requested apparently fell flat.  On October 23 that year Sabel was still in the Sevillia and, in fact, took former classmate Dr. D. G. Reese Satterlee into his practice.

Despite its brushes with scandal, the Sevillia continued to house wealthy and well-respected New Yorkers.   Among these was Oliver C. Gayley, Vice President of the Pressed Steel Car Company and brother of James Gayley, first Vice President of the United States Steel Corporation.  Somewhat coincidentally, Oliver’s former sister-in-law, Julia Gardiner Gayley (daughter of Curtis Crane Gardiner of Gardiner’s Island) married a Sevillia resident, Gano Dunn, on August 26, 1920. 

In 1919 the Sevillia was electrified, including conversion of its two old hydraulic elevators.  The New York Edison Company announced “This eleven-story apartment building has an electrical installation of 900 lamps” and added “Forethought has kept the Sevillia modern for twenty-five years.”

Unlike many late Victorian apartment houses, the Sevillia maintained its status throughout the first half of the century.  Among the residents in the 1930s was W. D. Harper, grandson of one of the four Harper brothers who founded the noted publishing firm.

But by mid-century the aging building was in decline.  Now called the Park Wald Hotel, it caused a near international incident in 1959 when the Dominican Liberation Movement, an exile group, established its headquarters in the building.  The organization was formed in opposition to the regime of Generalissimo Rafael Leonides Trujillo Molina.

In response, the Dominican Republic Government accused the United States Government of harboring conspirators.  In a formal declaration on November 3, 1959 it said “that the United States should halt what it said were plots being carried on in the United States against the regime.”

Attorney General Luis E. Suero was quick to name Alfonso Canto, of the 58th Street group, as a “chief conspirator” against the Dominican regime.  And he praised the Dominican Republic as “a decidedly anti-Communist country and loyal collaborator of the United Sates and the cause of the free world.”

After decades of decline, the former Sevillia apartment house was renovated in 2010 to become the Central Park Mews.  A facade restoration was completed six years later.  Now containing 99 rental units, the tradition of the building that broke new ground in apartment living nearly 125 years ago goes on.

photographs by the author
many thanks to Michael McShea for suggesting this post