Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Hermon Batterson House - 156 West 73rd Street

Surprisingly, the interior shutters of the parlor window survive.

In 1870 Henry Janeway Hardenbergh opened his architectural practice.  Among his first clients was Edward Clark, who had made a fortune in the Singer Sewing Machine company and was now fervently involved in the development of the Upper West Side.  In 1880 he designed what would be his best-known structure for Clark, the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West.

That same year Hardenbergh was at work on a project two blocks away for D. & E. Herbert--a row of eight upscale rowhouses on West 73rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Daniel and Elias Herbert were, in fact, mason-builders.  For this project they doubled as the real estate developers; thereby substantially increasing potential profits.

Hardenbergh filed the plans in August 1880, noting the four-story,18-foot homes would be clad in "Connecticut brown stone."  Completed in 1881 the residences stood apart from the run-of-the-mill rowhouse design.

The easternmost was No. 156.   At the parlor level, the edge of the slightly-projecting full-height bay scrolled elegantly inward towards a carved cornice.  The arched, double-door entrance was matched in proportions by the parlor opening.

The carved crest above the keystone of the doorway would have demanded attention were it not for the exquisite stone and iron balconette over the parlor window.  Hardenbergh deftly morphed the projecting sides of the bay into Doric pilasters at the top floor.  A single incised line suggested fluting.  Above it all, a cast iron cornice was decorated with pyramidal bosses.

The house became home to Rev. Hermon Griswold Batterson and his wife, the former Sarah Eliza Farnum.  Born in Connecticut in 1827, he had married Sarah in 1866.  Batterson had come to New York from Philadelphia, where he was rector of the Church of the Annunciation.  Before taking the position as rector of the Church of the Redeemer in 1891, he served with the Rev. E. C. Houghton in the Church of the Transfiguration--commonly known as The Little Church Around the Corner.

The wealthy churches of New York City shut down during the summer months as their parishioners abandoned the city for Newport, Tuxedo Park and other resorts.  Their well-paid clergymen followed suit and the Battersons spent their summer months away from West 73rd Street.  On October 13, 1890, for instance, The New York Times reported that the couple had returned home on the Guion liner the Alaska.  Among the passenger list were no fewer than eight other clergymen and their wives.

Batterson wrote several scholarly books, including the exhaustive 1892 A Sketch-Book of the American Episcopate.  It provided biographies of the fist 156 bishops of the American Episcopal Church.

The ironwork of the stoop railings echoes the balcony.

Around the turn of the century Hermon, now retired, and Sarah were joined in the house by a nurse and companion, Florence M. Moberly.  Hermon died in the house on March 9, 1903 at the age of 75.  In his memory Sarah paid for the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in Salina, Kansas, where Batterson had served earlier in his career.

Sarah was 74 years old when Herman died.  Florence remained with her until Sarah's death on June 27, 1915 at the age of 85.

Sarah's estate was valued at "more than $500,000," according to the Philadelphia's Evening Public Ledger on July 19--in excess of $12 million today.   While a few individuals received bequests (Florence inherited $60,000 "in return for services and kindness") the vast estate was mostly distributed among churches and charitable institutions.

Brothers Thomas and James Gaunt, who routinely bought and sold real estate, leased a portion of the house to Drs. Daniel S. Dougherty and Frederick C. Keller for their medical office.   Both were specialists and professors at the New York Polyclinic Medical School.  Doughtery's fields were rhinology and laryngology; while Keller was a professor of surgery.   They leased their offices here until the Gaunts sold the building in 1919.

Once the home of a wealthy couple, Caroline S. Wilkinson now offered furnished rooms to working class men.  An advertisement in June 1920 offered "Attractively furnished rooms; gentlemen."  The ad boasted "electricity; subway."

Caroline owned No. 156 West 73rd Street for three decades; selling it in 1950 to Dimitri Iliescu.  At least one tenant operated what might have been a shady business in the mid-1950s.  Men's magazines like Popular Science ran advertisements for correspondence courses that promised "college diplomas."

Suspiciously, however, the name of the "school" differed with each advertisement.  An ad for an "Inexpensive Engineering correspondence course" in 1955 used the name Aureaw.  Another, the same year, for "Doctor Degrees, correspondence.  Optometry, divinity, psychotherapy," went by the name Auree.   And one for "Detective Correspondence course--Lieutenant's certificate" used the title Auread.   Whichever advertisement was answered, it is doubtful that any great careers were launched here.

In 1973 a conversion resulted in two apartments per floor.  At some point the brownstone received an unnecessary coat of gray-brown paint.  But otherwise the sole surviving house of Hardenbergh's 1883 row is greatly intact.

photographs by the author

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