Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Edward E. Spencer House - 244 West 75th Street

By the 1880s the Upper West Side was feverishly developing.      Mass transit, sewers and paved streets made the area ripe for new home construction and builders like William J. Merritt & Co. scrambled to take full advantage.  In 1888 alone Merritt & Co. advertised 38 new houses:  four on West End Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets, seven harmonious dwellings on the corner of 75th Street and West End Avenue, and the entire block—27 houses in all—on both sides of 73rd Street between West End Avenue and Broadway (then called the Boulevard).

Merritt had been working on such projects on the Upper West Side for years.  In 1884 he filed plans for another block of homes on both sides of West 75th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway.  Acting as both architect and builder, the bullish Merritt offered the houses to buyers with a money-back guarantee.
No. 244 West 75th Street was one of a group of five completed on the block in 1885.   What Victorian critics might have called "a happy marriage of styles," it was three stories tall above a deep English basement.  The entrance to the basement level, next to the dog-legged stoop, was clad in chunky, undressed stone.  Its Romanesque Revival styling contrasted with the bowed bay of the parlor level, dressed in planar stone and adorned with a bas relief plaque.  The carving depicted a contemporary woman with 1880s hair style surrounded by deftly-carved ferns, oak leaves, roses and calla lilies.

The romantic parlor level bay smacked of a castle turret.
Merritt's blend of styles continued with neo-Grec stone band courses, a neo-Classical pressed frieze below the bracketed cornice, and a Queen Anne pediment for good measure.

Edward Everett Spencer and his wife, Mary Jane, purchased No. 244 from Merritt in March, 1886 for $20,000--just over $525,000 today.   The couple had a son and a daughter, Everett, Jr. and Florence Luella.

Spencer was the principal in Edward E. Spencer & Co., "dealers in findings and shoe manufacturers' goods."  An expert on machinery, he had left his job as a locomotive engineer to join the firm of Crosby, Butterfield & Haven in 1863 as superintendent of its machinery department.  He was also responsible for "fitting up factories" for clients who purchased the firm's machinery.

A salesman's card listed some of the items offered.  Soft goods like moccasins and bootees were not considered shoes, but "fittings."  (copyright expired)

In 1867 Spencer was made a partner.  That same year the company turned to manufacturing shoe making equipment and shoe components--like insoles, overgaiters, "leggins" and baby shoes.  When he bought out William Butterfield, the last remaining partner, in 1882 Spencer ran the company alone for another five years.
By the time the Spencer family moved into the West 75th Street house, he had taken two partners.  The Boot and Shoe Recorder noted in December 1894 it was doing business not only in the States, but in South America, Switzerland, Japan and other countries.  The magazine said the firm specialized in "fitting out shoe stores with everything except shoes."

Christmas Eve 1891 was especially memorable for the family.  Florence Luella was married in the house that day to Samel Holdens Parsons.  The Spencer house must have been a bit crowded, for The New York Times reported "After the ceremony a reception followed by dancing was given to 200 guests."

The Spencers regularly summered at Lakewood, New Jersey.  But the fashionable resort hotels there were equally popular in the winter season when moneyed families flocked to enjoy sleighing.  A society columnist for The New York Times reported from Lakewood on February 1895 saying "Everything in the form of a sleigh finds favor these Winter days.  Russian sleighs, with silver bells, hobnob with brilliant-colored high-backed sledges that show the early date of their manufacture chiefly in their substantial lines and build."  The article noted several sleigh parties hosted by "prominent people."

Among those arriving at the Laurel House hotel that week were the Spencers.  Just as in the warm months, guests followed a strict routine and social protocols while enjoying themselves.  The article listed dinners, lunches and other entertainments hosted by New York and Philadelphia socialites, and mentioned "The 5 o'clock teas at the Laurel-in-the-Pines must be regarded as filling a very welcome space of time between the daily walk and dinner."

By now Spencer Jr. was working in his father's firm.  He was a member of the jury in the highly-publicized case of Michael F. Considine, on trial for the murder of John J. Malone, in April 1896. According to the New-York Tribune, "Considine shot Malone in front of the St. James Hotel in Broadway on the evening of January 28, 1895, when the two men quarreled about a sum of money which Considine declared Malone owed to him."

Considine pleaded self defense, saying that Malone "threatened to strike him with a cane."  Setting aside the expectation of unbiased reporting, the New-York Tribune added "but he did not pretend that he called out for the protection which could have been afforded by other men in front of the hotel before he drew his revolver and shot his adversary down."

Spencer and his co-jurors acquitted Considine on April 15.  The editors of the New-York Tribune were outraged.  "A number of well-informed men declared that they could not understand how any jury could have acquitted Considine," it wrote and concluded "the just punishment of murderers in this city is becoming too tardy and too uncertain."

Mary Jane Spencer rarely entertained on a large scale, but she was visibly involved in one social club, the Daughters of Ohio.  The women met once a month during the winter season, most often in the drawing rooms of a member or in a large venue, as was the case on May 16, 1903.  That afternoon Mary Jane joined her fellow members at the Waldorf-Astoria.  "After the business session a musical entertainment and reception were given," noted the New-York Tribune the following day.

She did, nevertheless, entertain on a small scale in the 75th Street house.  On March 12, 1905 The New York Times noted "Monday afternoon Mrs. Edward Everett Spencer received informally in her home," and added "She will be at home to her friends to-morrow."  The announcing of when women would be "at home" was highly important for socialites in order to arrange their tangled schedules.

In the spring of 1906 a new club was incorporated, the National Society of Ohio.  Mary Jane Spencer was among its original members and hosted its first event on March 16 that year.  The New-York Tribune noted "An interesting programme has been arranged."

1918 was a traumatic year for Edward Everett Spencer.   On April 4 Mary Jane died.  Her funeral was held in the house three days later.   Then, on June 20, fire broke out in a building downtown that housed one of the Spencer firm's manufacturing plants, now headed by Edward Jr.  The damage amounted to $25,000, around $398,000 in today's dollars.

In 1932 George Lawton, writing in his The Drama of Life After Death, said "A rapidly growing association in New York City is the Independent Associated Spiritualists Supreme Council which at the present writing consists of six churches."  Among those listed was the Temple of Brotherhood, Inc.

Spiritualism had first appeared in New York State in the 1840s, partly an outgrowth of the founding of Mormonism there.  Spiritualists believed that direct communication with God. spirits or angels was possible.

In May 1934 Edward Spencer Jr. and his wife sold the family home to Isaac M. Levy.  He resold it one year later to the Temple of Brotherhood.  The house was assessed at the time at $25,000, just under $450,000 today and a substantial amount during the Great Depression.

The Temple of Brotherhood made alterations which resulted in a "chapel and reading room" on the parlor floor, one apartment on the second, and three furnished rooms and two kitchens on the third.

One of the original upstairs tenants was Grant Williams, a retired police lieutenant with an astounding story.  Williams had retired because of ill health in 1928, but not before changing the course of forensic science.

He entered the NYPD in May 1897, making the rank of sergeant in 1905.  When he was transferred to the detective division in 1911 he was made a lieutenant.  In 1913 he was assigned to the Bureau of the Unidentified Dead, and the following year organized the Bureau of Missing Persons.  He headed that department until his retirement.

Williams's innovative techniques led to his solving "many police mysteries," according to a newspaper.  But the one that stood out was the 1922 case of a skeleton found near Haverstraw, New York.  The New York Times reported "Lieutenant Williams reconstructed a face from the skull, and established the identify of the skeleton as that of Lillian White, a Letchworth Village inmate."

On June 2, 1937 Williams's body was found in his furnished room.  The 65-year old had been dead for at least two days.  Medical examiners blamed his death on "a hemorrhage."

In 1954 the Temple of Brotherhood sold No. 244 to Murray M. Walters, who continued to rent rooms in the building.   It was home to respectable tenants like Edward J. Alpin, who moved in in the early 1960s.

Born in England in 1883, he was ordained a Methodist minister there.  But when he came to the United States at the turn of the century, he founded Alpin, Inc. a painting company.  Then in the 1930s he turned again to religion, devoting all his time to the ministry.  He was pastor of St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church during the Depression, never taking a salary.  From 1950 until his retirement in 1950 he was pastor of the Elton Avenue Methodist Church in the Bronx.  He was still living in a room in the 75th Street house when he died at the age of 82 in February 1965.

By now the once-quiet block lined with William J. Merritt's fanciful rowhouses had seen the erection of soaring 20th century apartment buildings.  But No. 244 had steadfastly refused to go.  Squashed in between two large structures, it received a renovation in 2006 that brought it back to a single family home.

photographs by the author

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Lost Cyrus Clark Mansion - Riveride Drive at 90th Street

photo from the collection of the New York Historical Society
The development of the rocky, hilly Upper West Side into a modern suburb was due in great part to the tireless work of Cyrus Clark.   By the end of the Civil War, when Clark was still in his 30s, he had amassed a substantial personal fortune from his wholesale silk business.

He left New York in 1867 to pursue an entirely different career.  After studying real estate development in Europe, he returned in 1870 and began buying undeveloped land in the Upper West Side.  Disinterested in any other sections of the city, he lobbied for improvements like mass transit, sewer and water lines, and gas street lamps.

Clark pushed for laying out Riverside Drive along Riverside Park, construction of which had begun in 1872.  In February 1884 he helped organize the Citizen's West Side Improvement Association, which was incorporated as the West End Association in 1889.  Clark would be its president for years and his unrelenting work led to his being warmly called The Father of the West Side.

Clark and his wife, the former Julia Antoinette Requa, had three children, Walter, Howard and Mary.   When the West End Association was incorporated Clark and his family had lived in their new home on the southwest corner of Riveride Drive and 90th Street for a year.   Architect Henry F. Kilburn designed the mansion--a successful blending of French Renaissance and Romanesque Revival.  Costing $90,000 to construct (about $2.34 million today), it was faced in rough-cut stone.   The tile-covered hip roof was broken by two towers, dormers and clustered chimneys.   Numerous porches took advantage of the location's river breezes and spectacular views.

On December 17, 1891 The New York Times ran the headline "OWNERS LOADED FOR BEAR."  The article explained that mansion owners along Riverside Drive, including Cyrus Clark, accused the Park Commissioners of failing to maintain Riverside Drive and allowing "nuisances" to invade it.  They insisted that the Parks Commissioners were responsible for their falling property value, and now threatened to go to Albany over the "threatened construction of ill-smelling and unsightly factories along the river front."

This interior view of the Clark house shows a typical 1890s assemblage of paintings, statuary and bric-a-brac. photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Clark never let his guard down in protecting the Upper West Side and in particular the Riverside Drive neighborhood.   He was there when the Parks Commissioners met on February 3, 1892 to discuss the proposed licensing of a triangular piece of land in Riverside Park between 72nd and 75th Streets to the New-York Central Railroad.  Clark fought against the proposal, asserting it "was a scheme to gain the right to the river front, so that docks and warehouses could be built there later."

In the meantime, Julia had more immediate issues on her mind.  Mary was now a young woman and her marriage to Dr. Edward Washburn had to be carefully planned.  The ceremony took place in the Riverside Drive mansion on June 3, 1893, prompting The Times to call it "one of the prettiest of the early June weddings."

The groom was an educator with an impressive background.  He had been an instructor in Latin and Greek at Columbia College, and now held the post of Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology at Bryn Mawr College.

Mary's wedding party assembled on the porch and lawn.  Note the little second floor balcony just above the porch roof; a charming detail.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The wedding reception was held in the house following the ceremony.  The New York Times mentioned "The bride and bridegroom will spend the Summer in Europe"

The following year, on October 25, 1894, Walter was married to Alice Marshal Westervelt in what was called "an important and unusually pretty wedding."  The ceremony took place in the fashionable St. George's Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square.

Walter had graduated from Harvard five years earlier.  His bride was the great-granddaughter of Daniel D. Tompkins, who was several times the Governor of New York and the James Monroe's Vice President.

Howard was his brother's best man.  The 23-year old had enlisted in the United States Army, serving in Troop A Calvary, in 1891.  He had seen field service in the Buffalo Switchmen Strike in August 1892 and three months after the wedding he would help squelch the violent Brooklyn Trolley Strike.

In October 1897 Clark sold the southern half of the block, totaling about 10 building plots, for about $200,000 (just under $6 million today).  His relinquishing of half his lawn may have been a signal.  With two of his children married, he and Julia left the Riverside Drive mansion in 1898, significantly downsizing to a new rowhouse at No. 327 West 76th Street.

The Riverside Drive mansion was purchased by Mary Llewellyn Swayne Parsons.  Her husband, Edwin Parsons had died four years earlier.  The head of Edwin Parsons & Company, a cotton commission house, he left his widow a substantial fortune.  Mary's father, Noah Haynes Swayne, had been a United States Supreme Court Justice.   Her summer estate was at Northport, Long Island.

Mary wasted no time in opening her new home to guests.  On March 1, 1898 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Edwin Parsons gave a dinner of twelve covers at her home, Ninetieth Street and Riverside Drive, last night.  The table decorations were roses."

On August 30, 1900 Mary was an honored guest at the cornerstone laying ceremonies of the Parsons Memorial Library in Edwin's hometown, Alfred, Maine.  Earlier that year she had taken a much different stance against another memorial.

Mary's neighbor to the north, seen here in 1903, was John H. Matthews, the "soda water king." photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In January, calling herself "a taxpayer," she filed suit against Mayor Van Wyck, the President of the Park Board, three city officials and Joseph A. Goulden, the Chairman of the Memorial Committee of the Grand Army.  She intended to stop plans for erection of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Riverside Drive and 89th Street.   She declared that the monument would interfere "with the flow of light and air and obstruct the view."

No doubt much to Mary's distress, the lawsuit was defeated and the memorial was built.

Mary Parsons died at the age of 73 in 1913.  She left many charitable bequests including, for instance, were $5,000 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, $5,000 to the Society for the Relief of Destitute Blind of New York, and $5,000 to the Church Home for Infirm and Disabled Colored People.

Family members, of course, received large inheritances.   The slice of the estate received by Mary's brother, Francis, was $80,000--about $2 million in today's terms--and the Riverside Drive mansion.

In the meantime the wealthy and powerful Bishop Henry C. Potter had constructed his lavish mansion on the corner property that Clark had sold in 1897. That same year restrictive covenants had been placed on the block barring "for a period of thirty-five years" the construction or use of any building except private dwellings intended for single families.

The year before Mary Parsons died William H. Barnard, President of the International Salt Company, and his wife, Lily, had purchased the Potter mansion.  Now those restrictions would result in problems.

Francis Swayne leased his sister's former house to Mrs. Florence B. de G. Shaw.   Florence moved her Hamilton School for Girls into the mansion.  Exclusive private girls' schools were almost always located within upscale residential districts.  But William Barnard was not pleased.

Citing the restrictive covenants, he took Francis Swayne and Florence B. de G. Shaw to court in October 1915.  He argued that the school was a business and, therefore, violated the covenants.  He insisted that "it would be necessary to install fire escapes on the building, which would destroy the privacy of the neighborhood."  The New York Times reported "He said he had heard that Mrs. Shaw would take boarding pupils, as well as day pupils."

Before a grand jury the following month, Florence "contended that the privacy of the Drive neighborhood was passing" and "insisted that her school would be conducted so quietly that it would not disturb the block."

Then she flipped the accusation--pointing out that William Barnard had already broken the restrictive covenant when he leased his mansion for $1,000 to a motion picture company.   Scenes of the silent film thriller, which starred Billie Burke, were shot in the Barnard mansion.  Florence told the court that the privacy of the block was in chaos during the filming.

The mansion was ivy-covered in the early 20th century.  Behind, to the left, can be seen the carriage house. The back of this postcard reads "Cyrus Clark, Father of the West Side, Built This House."

The New York Times reported on November 6, 1916 "The scenes leading up to the capture of the escaped murderer in the house, she said, had been taken on the grounds and in the street, and had created so much excitement that large crowds collected and the peace of the neighborhood was greatly disturbed."

Barnard pressed on with the suit, and hired a private detective to snap photographs.  When the case came to trial on January 8, 1917, William L. Drummond provided his "pictorial evidence" and told of "seeing the girls exercising in the barn, which is now the school's gymnasium."  Barnard testified that his property value had fallen from $880,000 to $800,000 because of the school.

When Barnard won his case, Florence de G. Shaw appealed to the State Supreme Court.  On December 14, 1917 the ruling was overturned and Barnard's suit dismissed.  The court decided that the restrictions applied "to any future buildings erected on the property and did not affect present building there."

The tense co-existence between the Barnards and the Hamilton School for Girls would last only seven more years.  In 1925 the mansions were demolished to be replaced with that block-engulfing apartment building designed by J. E. R. Carpenter which survives.

photo via https://www.manhattanscout.com/building/173-riverside-drive

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The James B. Clark Bldg - 66 Pearl Street

Historic preservation was the last thing on anyone's minds when the Frederick Philipse house was torn down in 1827.   Built in 1689 and located at the corner of Pearl Street and Coentis Slip, the property was ripe for development in the seaport neighborhood.

Surprisingly, a new building was not constructed on the site until 1831.  The upper face of the Greek Revival building was clad in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The storefront was composed of heavy granite piers with Tuscan capitals supporting a substantial stone architrave.

James B. Clark and his brother, William, moved their dry goods business into the new building.   Things seem to have initially gone well until six years later the devastating Financial Panic of 1837 swept the nation.

James B. Clark described the dire situation at a meeting of bankers and businessmen on October 24, 1839.  The Morning Herald reported "The large room at the City Hotel was crowded last night with well dressed listeners."   Clark, who was one of several speakers, said "I am no prophet, but if the banks don't relieve us, seven out of every ten merchants will break in the next twenty days; we must have relief in ten, aye in five days, or all burst up; if not, I am content they should write me down as an ass."

Clark's predictions were accurate, apparently saving his reputation but not his business.  When he died on December 21, 1844 at the age of 46, the first floor of the Pearl Street building was home to the hardware store of Isaac C. and C. J. Van Wyck.  

In 1842 they had been the victims there of what would seem to today be a petty theft.  It was nevertheless treated seriously.  The New York Herald reported on March 4 "Two black fellows named William Soles and Charles Rankin, were arrested on Wednesday morning by Mr. John Helms, for stealing a quantity of iron hinges, valued at $6, from the store of Isaac C. Van Wyck, No. 1 Coenties slip, and both committed."  The goods would be worth about $180 today.

In the days before illuminating gas, houses were lit by chandeliers and lamps fueled with whale oil.  Having received a new shipment in February 1843, the Van Wycks announced "Important to Families--Pure Winter sperm oil, of the very best quality, of New-Bedford and Nantucket manufacture, can be had at C. J. Van Wyck's Store, No. 1 Coenties Slip, corner of Pearl-street, at five and six shillings per gallon."

By 1853 the former Van Wyck store was home to Chamberlin, Lee & Co., tobacco merchants.   When shipments of tobacco entered the harbor, they were held for inspection.   The recipients were furnished with certificates to claim their goods afterward.  An employee of Chamberlin, Lee & Co. lost five certificates covering five barrels of tobacco in February 1853.  A notice in The New York Herald offered "a suitable reward" for the certificates and warned "All persons are cautioned against negotiating them, as their delivery has been stopped at the Inspection Warehouse."

Among the several tenants in the upper floors in the 1870s was Drake & Colby, produce commission merchants, composed of James Haines Drake and Joseph L. Colby.  Both men were members of the New York State Chamber of Commerce.

Also in the building was W. R. Preston & Co., flour and grain merchants.  Following the brutal murder of William Foster, whose business was across the street at No. 71 Pearl Street, there was concern that bribes were being offered to officials to exonerate his accused murderer.  Preston joined 14 other businessmen in the area who urged Governor John A. Dix to "wholly ignore all signatures, petitions and letters...and decide only on points of law and evidence, such as the corrupting influence of money has not touched."

William R. Preston & Co. lived at No. 27 West 48th Street, the exclusive Fifth Avenue neighborhood of some of the city's wealthiest citizens.   But his highly lucrative business and luxurious lifestyle came to an end in February 1882 when he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

The building that had been home to produce commission merchants for decades saw a new type of tenant in the 1880s: ship chandlers.   Larson, Phillipsen & Co. was here by 1879, joined soon by H. Osmundson & Co., W. W. Thomas, and J. F. H. King.  All were members of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York.

By the time John Dowd, "bags and bagging" merchant, took space in No. 66 Pearl Street around 1913, the historic Fraunces Tavern, at the opposite end of the block, had been restored and dedicated as a museum.  Much discussion had been bandied about concerning plans to demolish the entire block as green space, to be known as Liberty Park.

Instead, the Sons of the Revolution began buying up property around the Tavern with plans to prevent modern development and maintain the early 19th century tone of the block.  In 1966 the City budget included a plan to preserve the block; but no funds were appropriated.  Among the few buildings the Sons of the Revolution had not been able to acquire was No. 66 Pearl Street.

In the 1930s the elevated train still rumbled past the second floor of No. 66.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Uris Buildings Corporation owned both No. 66 and 64.  Preservationists became concerned in May 1974 when scaffolding was erected on the structures.  The New York Times reported "it was understood from sources in the trade that the company intended to raze the buildings to create a parking lot."

A last minute agreement was reached and the buildings were sold to the Landmarks Conservancy.  Joined internally with No. 64 and Nos. 3 and 5 Coenties Slip in 1982, there are now 42 apartment in the upper floors.  Outwardly, the 1831 appearance of the handsome and historic structure is now assured.

photographs by the author

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Henry E. Price House - 138 Sullivan Street

Something happened to the house at No. 138 Sullivan Street around 1840.   Brick-faced residences had first begun appearing along the block between Prince and Houston Streets only around 14 years earlier; so it may have been fire that necessitated Charles Stewart to build a replacement.

The former house would have been Federal in style, with dormers piercing the peaked roof.  Stewart's, however, took on the newly emerging Greek Revival style.  The slightly pitched roof sat above a full-height third floor.  The openings were trimmed in understated brownstone lintels and sills.  The entrance, however, was transitional.  More in line with its Federal-style neighbors, there was no stone enframement around the entrance.  On the other hand, the simple, squared pilasters flanking the door reflected the more somber Greek Revival.

Despite serious abuse, the Greek Revival elements of the entrance can be seen.  A Federal-style doorway would have been flanked by more effusive fluted columns.

Most houses of the period had small buildings in the rear lot--either a stable for those who could afford a horse, or a small house or shop.  These were accessed by a horse walk--a narrow pathway between houses.  The oval window to the left of the entrance suggests a horse walk may have originally tunneled to the rear, beside the stoop.

No. 138 became home to Henry E. Price family by the 1850s.  It appears that one bedroom was leased.  In 1855 William P. Howe listed the house as his address.  A saddler by trade, he also volunteered with the Niagara Engine Company No. 4.  That fire house was a few blocks away on Mercer Street.

The young Price may have been a member of the Municipal police at the time.  In 1857 Republican reformers abolished the force, creating instead the Metropolitan Police force that covered Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Westchester County.  A sharp rift developed between the immigrant officers and those of Anglo-Dutch roots; the former refusing to give up their positions while the latter adapted to the transition.

The dispute led to two police forces which came together in violent riots.  Chaos resulted and while the police fought one another in at least two high profile skirmishes, criminals ran rampant.  The situation was finally put to rest on July 3, 1857 when the courts enforced the Metropolitan Police jurisdiction.  On November 24 Henry E. Price was "reported on favorably" by the Committee on Applications and Removals, which was charged with staffing the new department.

By the summer of 1859 J. Whitelaw was boarding with the Prices.  Out of a job, he placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on July 13.  "Wanted--by a young man, who has a thorough knowledge of the wholesale drug business, a situation in a wholesale house; is willing to make himself generally useful, and can give satisfactory reference as to capability and character."

Christmas Day that year was anything but jolly.  Price's mother-in-law, Mary Ann Short, had died on Friday, December 23 at just 43 years old.  Her funeral was held in the Sullivan Street house at 1:30 on Christmas afternoon.

Exactly two months later, on February 23, Price's father, Ellis, died.  His funeral, too, was held in the house the following Sunday afternoon.

The Prices left Sullivan Street in the early 1860s.  Their moving may have been the reason for the advertisement that appeared in The New York Herald on July 14, 1863.  "Wanted--By a respectable girl, a situation in a private family, as waitress or chambermaid and fine washer."

James Forrest Taylor was assistant engineer in Engine Company No. 13.  In 1869 he and his wife, Mary, had a son, James, Jr.  Taylor .  Like the Prices, they rented a room.  In 1864 and 1865 their tenant was Addie N. C. Gale.  She taught in Primary School No. 25 at No. 545 Greenwich Street.

On January 29, 1876 the Taylors' seven-year old son died.  His funeral was held the following Sunday.   It would not be the last tragedy that year.   Apparently renting from the Taylors was the Prendt family.  On June 20 The New York Times reported "An inquest was held yesterday by Coroner Croker in the case of Henry S. Prendt, a boy, of No. 138 Sullivan street, who, while playing on a float at the foot of Charlton street, fell overboard and was drowned."  The jury ruled the death an accidental drowning.

Their son's devastating death may have prompted the Taylors to leave the Sullivan Street house.  By 1878 it was owned by Daniel Coffey, another police officer.   The Coffey family would retain possession of No. 138 Sullivan Street for decades.

Coffey was also well-known in political circles and in 1871 served as president of the Seventh Ward Hickory Club.  In 1878 son Charles E. Coffey was enrolled in the "Mechanical Course" at New York City College.  As their predecessors had done, the Coffey family rented a furnished rooms.   In 1878 a boarder named Blohm was looking for a job as a grocery clerk.

In 1881 a German furrier named Willegas boarded with the Coffeys.  Before he left Heidelberg, he had promised an co-worker, Henrich Zapke, he would help find him work once he was established.  The 35-year old Zapke had understandable reasons to leave Germany.

He had owned his own fur business and things had initially gone well.  Then, six months after he was married his bride died.  According to Mrs. Coffey later, "After her death he was unfortunate in business, and came to this country almost penniless to work at his trade."

In October 1881 he arrived in New York and, he too, rented a furnished room in the Coffey house.  Just as he promised Willegas landed Zapke a position with the fur store of Duncan, Ashe & Jaekel on Broadway.  But business slowed in the middle of December and Zapke lost his job.

His streak of bad luck, possibly coupled with the holidays, was apparently too much to bear.  On Christmas Day Zapke visited Willegas in his room and appeared "to be in his usual health and spirits," according to a newspaper.  But the following day he did not come out of his room.

Willegas peered through the window into his room and saw him hanging from a clothes rack.  A policeman was summoned, who found that the door was locked on the inside and a towel had been placed over the doorknob so no one could peer inside.

The New York Times reported "The door was broken in and Zapke was found quite dead."  With unnecessary detail the article said "His body was stiff, and decomposition had already begun, indicating that he had committed suicide during the previous night."

The dejected man's suicide had was not entirely due to finances.  His life's savings of $90 in cash was in his room (more than $2,100 today) along with a silver watch and chain.

Daniel Coffey retired from the Police Department on March 4, 1886, receiving a pension of $600 a year.  He augmented that income, about $15,600 today, with real estate investments in the neighborhood.  By the time of his retirement he had moved his family down the street to one of his properties, No. 84 Sullivan Street.   He retained possession of No. 138, operating it as a rooming house.  And it was about this time that he converted the basement to a store.

The changing times were reflected in one tenant's want ad in April 1892.  William Brosher wrote "Experienced young man wishes a situation as elevator runner."  And at the time of Brosher's ad, the Sullivan Street neighborhood was seeing a different type of change as it filled more and more with Italian immigrants.

The little house in the rear yard was rented to fruit seller Gaestono Ricchi and his wife, Maria, in 1893.  Maria's brother, Giuseppi Lendini and his wife lived a block away at No. 117 South Fifth Avenue (later renamed West Broadway).   What started out as a Sunday family dinner on July 2 ended in bloodshed.

According to The Sun the following day, "After dinner the men got drunk.  Ricci [sic] slapped his wife's face.  Lendini, as her brother, objected, and was told to mind his own business."  With Italian honor at stake, the confrontation escalated.

Lendini asserted "that he would allow no one to abuse his sister, whereupon Ricci [sic] knocked her down.  Then he turned to her brother and said: 'What are you going to do about it?'"

Lendini knocked his brother-in-law to the floor.  But when Ricchi got to his feet, he had a stiletto in his hand, which he stabbed into Lendini's left hand and head.  The wounded man responded by pulling out a revolver.

Ricchi ran into the yard as Lendini followed, firing the gun.  "Lendini, dripping with blood from his wounds, kept firing at Ricci [sic] and succeeded in hitting him three times," reported The Sun.  Lendini's wife, in the meantime, had run to the Prince Street police station for help.  By the time Patrolmen Kelly and Baker arrived, according to the newspaper, 400 to 500 neighbors were milling around in front of the house.

The New York Times report on the incident was brazenly stereotypical.  "Calabrians recreated yesterday afternoon in Camorra fashion in the basement of the rear house at 138 Sullivan Street, and two men were wounded.  As usual they kept their own counsel.  A vendetta murder may be the outcome."

The Sun reported that Ricchi's wounds were comparatively slight.  But, it said, "Lendina was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital with a hole in his lung, and is likely to die."  The Times was more casual, callously reporting "Honors were about even."

Daniel Coffey owned No. 138 Sullivan Street as late as 1912 when he took out a $10,000 mortgage on the property.  The names of his tenants in the pre-World War I years reflected the neighborhood now known as Little Italy:  Capazeli, Dalto, Motta and Longobardi among them.

Throughout the remainder of the 20th century renters came and went with little attention.  When the house was sold at auction in January 1920 it was described as a "three-story brick tenement and store."

But as the century drew to a close, the Sullivan Street neighborhood saw change once again.  Bordering the trendy Soho district to the south, it was home to the Autism Women's Network in 2012.  Today Arthouse NYC, self-described as "NYC's favorite pop-up concierge for art galleries...and just about anything imaginable," calls No. 138 home; while the basement level until recently housed GLLAM (Gallery La La Artisan Market).

Through it all the house that Charles Stewart erected around 1841 retains its early residential appearance on a much-changed block of Sullivan Street.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"The Equestrian Washington" - Union Square

On June 22, 1855 the editor of The New York Times lamented the fact that "a small party of citizens of New-York have clubbed together and subscribed fifty-thousand dollars for a statue which has been modeled by our countryman, H. K. Browne [sic]."  The editorial noted "Our New-York monument will be an equestrian statue of gigantic proportions, and will be placed in Union-square."

The New York Times was clear in its condemnation of any statue.  It applauded the fact that during the Revolution the British statues had been destroyed.  "New-York, as yet, is free from any monumental pillars or effigies, and the fact is most creditable to the good sense of our practical and busy people."  The writer applied the logic that in ancient times monuments were necessary to record history.   But the invention of the printing press had done away with that need.  "A nation that has books has no need of monuments," insisted the editor.

Saying that "Every child knows Washington," and "his history is on every book-shelf," the article contended there was no need for a monument.  The editor called the raising of statues "idolatry, "and said "a monument is something repugnant to the common-sense of a practical and intelligent people."

The "small party of citizens" who had raised the funds for the Washington statue included some of the wealthiest and most powerful men of New York--among them William Astor, August Belmont, Peter Lorillard, James Lenox, Robert B. Minturn, Robert L. Taylor, and W. C. Rhinelander.

Henry Kirke Brown was in the last stages of the two-year project when The New York Times editorial was published.  An apprentice sculptor, John Quincy Adams Ward, who would become one of America's great artists, had been highly involved in the work in Brown's Brooklyn studio.  Decades later, in May 1886, the Magazine of Western History noted that when workers involved in the "mechanical work" went on strike, Ward convinced Brown they could do the work themselves.  "Ward says he passed more days in the bronze horse's belly than Jonah spent minutes in the belly of the whale."

Two weeks before The New York Times editorial, a journalist from the Springfield, Maine, Republican, visited the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Maine where the statue was being cast.  The newspaper said the work, still in dismembered pieces, "is spoken of in the highest terms of praise."

Brown used the famous bust of Washington executed by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785 as his model.  He depicted the general on horseback (making this only the second equestrian statue in the United States) and posed him as he might have appeared on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783.

The morning of July 4, 1856 saw pouring rain in New York City.  Nevertheless, a large parade preceded the unveiling ceremonies where newspapers estimated the crown at between 8,000 and 9,000.  The weather was not the only glitch in the ceremonies.  The coverings became caught and firemen had to erect ladders to disentangle it.

Finally, at about 9:15, the covering fell off and, according to The New York Herald, "the statue was hailed with the most enthusiastic cheers by the crowd...The bands played 'Hail Columbia'--the ladies waved their handkerchiefs--the troops presented arms--the people generally uncovered their heads, and gave vent to their enthusiasm in loud and long continued cheering."

The New York Times reported "The friends of Mr. Brown, the sculptor, pressed around him to shake him by the hand and congratulate him...one man in the throng distinguishing himself above the rest by repeatedly shouting 'Hooray for the architect of the statue."

Brown's larger-than-life statue stood 14 feet, mounted on a granite pedestal of the same height.  The body of the horse was cast in a single piece.  Washington was dressed in his Continental uniform, his hat resting on his bridle arm and his sword sheathed to his side.  His right hand was extended as if he were about to speak.  The monument was placed in the triangular traffic island at the southeast corner of the park.  A
ccording to Helen Henderson in her 1917 A Loiterer in New York, its location was touted as being "the spot where the citizens met the Commander-in-Chief of the army when he reentered the city after the British evacuation, November 25, 1783."

The New York Herald, in reporting on the unveiling, was perhaps the first to heap praises on the work.  "Not intending to anticipate the critical opinions which will be showered upon Mr. Brown's work, we may say that it is a great ornament to the finest portion of the Empire city, and that its general effect is highly impressive."  Somewhat disappointingly, the young architect who designed the monolithic base got no recognition by any of the critics.  Richard Upjohn is remembered today as one of the most important architects of the period.

Suddenly The New York Times had changed its tune.  "It is in every way worthy of the highest admiration," it wrote.  In a separate article the editor gushed, "We are not sure that any city of the Old world can boast of a more noble work of the kind; we are sure that no city of the New can."  It was a compliment that would be echoed again and again.

An early view shows the cast iron lamp posts that surrounded the monument.  In the background, left, is the Everett House Hotel. 

In 1878, The Art Journal discussed Brown's works and said, "Nothing can be more harmonious in all respects than his Washington statue in Union Square, New York.  The horse is worthy of his rider, but does not divert the mind from the latter."   And nearly half a century after the unveiling, in January 1892, Jonathan Gilmer Speed, writing in The Christian Union said "Its dignity and simplicity of treatment impress both the cultivated and the unlearned, and it is not infrequently spoken of as the best equestrian status in this country."

The statue was the scene of ceremonies every subsequent Washington's Birthday and Memorial Day.  Union Square was still an upscale residential enclave, and the events sometimes upset the quietude within the homes of residents like Cornelius Roosevelt, who lived directly opposite.  On February 21, 1862, for instance, the New York Herald reported on the arrangements for Washington's Birthday.  "A national salute will be fired at sunrise at the Equestrian statue of Washington, in Union square."

An 1863 cabinet card, oddly enough, viewed Washington from behind.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Two decades after the end of the Civil War the Equestrian Washington statue was the scene of touching, if sometimes mistaken, reverence.  On July 3, 1885 an elderly man, Samuel Johnson, fell to his knees before the monument and began praying.  The Sun reported "He raised his voice gradually until it became very loud, indeed, and a crowd gathered around him."  Overcome with emotion, the gray-haired man rose to his feet and shouted "Lincoln, Lincoln, I owe my freedom to you!"

A policeman pushed through the crowd and tried to persuade Johnson to move along.  He continued sobbing and murmuring "Lincoln! Lincoln!"  Finally the officer explained that the statue was Washington and that the Lincoln statue was on the opposite side of the park.  "The old negro then moved away," said the article.  The reporter concluded "He said he was a slave for a man named Bob Jenkins, in West Virginia, and that he had scars on his back from the lashings he had then received."

The massive proportions of the bronze statue were captured in this stereopticon slide.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The universal esteem earned by Brown's work of art was perhaps best exemplified in 1903 when Adolf Friedmann, an American citizen living in Hungary, presented the city of Budapest with an exact copy.  The Evening World reported "The statue was unveiled...in the presence of the members of the American colony of Budapest and of thousands of enthusiastic Hungarians."

In September 1913, Parks Commissioner Charles Bunstein Stover pushed to relocate the statue.  The New-York Tribune reported that he "is anxious that the equestrian statue of the Father of His Country now at Union Square, looking north, should look south."  He wanted to move it to the middle of the southern edge of the park, where the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette currently stood.   Another faction wanted the monument to be moved to Washington Square--a seemingly appropriate site.

It would be 15 years before the statue would be moved to tje site where Stover envisioned it.   On April 22, 1928, the Board of Transportation announced intentions to build an ambitious subway concourse below the park.  "Extensive changes in Union Square Park will be made necessary by the underground construction," said The New York Times.  The entire park had to be excavated and the grade of the park raised to accommodate the underground mezzanines and passageways.  "This will involve relocation of the historic statues in the park," said the article.

The monuments and fixtures were taken down, crated, and stored to await the park's reconstruction.   When the Equestrian Washington statue was brought back on July 10, 1930, a surprising detail was temporarily visible to New Yorkers.  Henry Kirke Brown had included a roster of the wealthy donors' names at the horse's feet.  The New York Times reported "As long as the statue remained on its stone pedestal, elevated above the heads of passersby, only spectators who carried ladders as aids to sightseeing were able to notice the list on the flat bronze base of the statue."

Sculptor and chairman of the National Sculpture Society was astonished, saying "This method of memorializing the donors of a statue is unusual," explaining that those names were more commonly encased in a cornerstone.  But the Washington statue had no cornerstone.

For a few days in 1930 passersby could view the roster of names as the statue sat on the ground.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As the monument was reassembled on its new site, its artistic merit had not dimmed.  Parks Commissioner Walter R. Herrick mentioned on July 9, 1930, "artists consider the statue, which is by H. K. Brown, one of the finest equestrian statues in the world."

Union Square suffered a dark period in the late 1960s and 1970s when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy.  With no money to maintain it, the park was neglected and became a "needle park," reigned over by drug users and sellers.  Monuments throughout the city suffered, including George Washington which lost its bronze sword and bridle strap to vandals.

In 1986, during happier times, the park was renovated.  In 1989 the Adopt-A-Monument Program restored the Washington statue, recreating the missing elements.

The monument was a site of Manhattan's collective expression of grief following the World Trade Center attacks.  An unofficial shrine developed around its base and a 24-hour community vigil lasted for days.

The monument was restored three more times, beginning that year.  In 2004 the bronze was treated and in 2006 Upjohn's granite pedestal was conserved.

The Equestrian Washington--despite an 1855 newspaperman's vehement opposition--is the city's oldest public monument.   And more than 160 years after its unveiling it is universally considered a masterwork.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The 1837 Robert Hogan House - 175 MacDougal Street

A high stoop originally led to the parlor floor.
In 1826 Mayor Philip Hone ordered that the former potter's field near Greenwich Village be converted to a parade grounds named after George Washington.  By 1833 exceptionally fine brick mansions had begun lining the new park.

Dr. Robert Hogan soon began construction of his own upscale home a block north of the park, at No. 175 MacDougal Street.   Completed in 1837 the 25-foot wide brick-faced home was designed in the new Greek Revival style.   Three bays wide the doorway sat above a high brownstone stoop.

The wealthy and highly educated Hogan was perhaps best known for his passionate work among the Irish population.   From 1839 through 1842 he was the president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and therefore in charge of the St. Patrick's Day Parade each of those years.  He also served as president of the Irish Emigrant Society and in 1846 was a vice-president of the committee formed to provide "Aid to the Famishing People of Ireland."

Hogan was, of course, involved in other interests than the Irish.  He held directorships in firms like the Excelsior Fire Insurance Co. and was invited to speak at the commencement exercises of St. John's College in the Fordham section of the Bronx on July 13, 1843.  The New-York Daily Tribune noted "a poem of great feeling and masterly composition, 'Joan of Arc,' was admirably delivered by Robert Hogan."

By the early 1850s the house was home to the John Hobart Sprague family.  A merchant and partner in Sprague, Robinson & Co., Sprague had married Henrietta Prall on February 20, 1843.  When they moved into the house they had two children, Anna Augusta and John Hobart, Jr.  In 1853 another daughter arrived whom they named Maria Louisa.

Tragedy struck just over a year and a half later when Maria Louisa contracted scarlet fever.  She died in the house on March 30, 1855.  The heart-rending funeral took place in the parlor two days later, on Sunday April 1.

Two more children would be born while the family lived in the MacDougal Street house--Henrietta Louise and Julia Adelaide.

Henrietta involved herself in charitable causes, most notably The New-York Ladies' Educational Union (otherwise known as The Patriot Orphan Home).  The Civil War had left hundreds of New York children without fathers.  The women purchased a building with grounds in Flushing and were caring for more than 100 fatherless children.

Irish immigrant and millionaire John Rose, who died on April 11, 1860, had left a fortune in his will to be  distributed at the discretion of his brother, Chauncey.   A specific amount, $300,000, was earmarked to establish "a farm for destitute boys of the city of New York."  Chauncey recognized that The Patriot Orphan House fell within that designation.

In August 1864 he donated a large chunk of that bequest, $20,000 to Henrietta Sprague for the New-York Ladies' Educational Union.  The New York Herald opined "It is an excellent gift for a good and noble purpose."   The gift equal about $315,000 today, and The New York Times reported that the society could now "liquidate the entire debt" on its property and "will undertake the charge of a larger number."

When the family's dog wandered off on Wednesday morning, September 19, 1866, they quickly placed a notice in The New York Herald.  Describing him as "a black and tan dog, with cropped ears.  Answers to the name of Jack," a $5 reward was offered for his return. (About $78 in today's dollars.)

Before 1868 the Spragues moved to No. 173 Madison Avenue.  The MacDougal Street house was purchased by William Henry White who leased it in the early 1870s to Mrs. Muretta O'Brien, a self-sufficient businesswoman who ran a retail furniture business.

Mrs. Helen B. Dexter was equally self-sufficient--although in a less upstanding manner.  When not using that name, she went by the aliases of Miss Eliza Dunning, Miss Abbie Lincoln, Mrs. Ellen B. Dexter and Mrs. S. P. Douglas.  It was under the name of Abbie Lincoln that she entered Muretta's furniture store in September 1876.

Dexter had rented a vacant house at No. 187 Lexington Avenue and asked Muretta to furnish it.  Delivery vans took $1,500 in furniture to the residence--about $35,000 in goods by today's standards.  Then, the name of Mrs. S. P. Douglas, Dexter then sold the furniture and disappeared.

When she realized she had been duped, Muretta went to police headquarters.  Detectives Ferris and McConnell worked the case for two weeks.  Finally on September 22 The New York Herald reported "They succeeded last night in arresting Mrs. Lincoln at her residence.  She was taken to the Central Office last night and locked up on a charge of grand larceny."

The following year, in October, White sold the house to Israel Ullman and his wife for $18,000.  The 63-year old had come to New York City from his native Bavaria with his parents in 1839.  A wholesale dry goods merchant, he operated from the corner of Franklin Street and Broadway for years.

The couple would not stay in the house appreciably long.  They sold it to Francis Aquila Stout in March 1882 for $10,600; taking a significant loss.  The millionaire bachelor immediately laid plans for updating the residence.

In May 1883 his architect, H. R. Marshall, filed plans for renovations including "roof raised and flattened," and "entrance for coach" and "front and interior alterations."  The updates cost Stout nearly a quarter of a million dollars by today's terms.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed and the arched doorway and round opening above it were added.

Stout was a remarkable character in New York social history.  The year after he did the renovations to the MacDougal Street house he married Emily Meredith Read, the daughter of Civil War General Meredith Read.  Although he held the position of President of the Nicaragua Canal Construction Company and had studied engineering in Paris, the Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York later mentioned "he never entered upon a professional or business career.'

Instead he focused on his passion.  "Inheriting a fortune, he devoted himself to scientific and literary pursuits, and, in a large sense, to social obligations; and he was actively engaged in the work of many important charities," said the Journal.   A member of the most exclusive social clubs--the Union, the Union League, the Knickerbocker and the Century among them--he maintained a summer estate named Thousand Island House, in Alexandria Bay, New York.  He was highly involved with the American Geographical Society and was its vice-president from 1872 to 1892.

Stout's marriage apparently upset his plans to live in the MacDougal Street house.  Instead the house was leased until after Stout's death on July 18, 1892.  Emily sold the house in December 1892 to John Hagy Davis for $21,000.  Like Stout, Davis immediately did renovations, although less extensive by far. A few weeks after taking title Davis had contractor R. H. Casey alter the interior layout at a cost of $1,200.

The wealthy widower was the head of the banking firm of John H. Davis & Co.  He lived in a mansion around the corner at No. 24 North Washington Square and maintained a villa in Newport. "Rhua House."   Every summer Davis took his daughter, Florence, to Europe.  Known as Flora, The Evening World described her as "popular in New York and Newport society."

The same year that Davis initiated the renovations to No. 175 MacDougal, Flora was married in the British Embassy in Paris to Lord Terence Blackwood.   After that civil ceremony, reported The Evening World "there was a brilliant religious ceremony."

When her new husband's older brother was killed in the Boer War, Flora became the envy of every New York debutante by receiving a title: the Marchioness of Dufferin.

In the meantime, back home, Flora's father married the widowed Mary Ethel Jackson Meredith in July 1898.  They continued to live on in the Washington Square mansion, leasing the MacDougal Street house.  Ethel died in the Washington Square house in March 1900 and John, by then remarried, died there on May 7, 1926 at the age of 83.

His widow, Therese, held on to the MacDougal Street house until 1930, when she sold it to Adelaide Goan.  The immediate neighborhood had become highly important in the New York artist community by now.  The WPA's New York City Guide advised "MacDougal Street, bordering the west side of Washington Square, swarms with tearooms, night clubs, and Villager memories."  Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's gallery had operated around the corner at No. 8 West 8th Street for years and several of the former carriage houses of the Washington Square mansions directly across from No. 175 MacDougal had been converted to artist studios.

An awning shade the doorway to The Brick House in 1937.  It was the last year for the restaurant.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Once again a new owner began renovations.  Adelaide converted the first and second story to a "tea room" and rented the upper floors to artist Virginia Needham who supplied illustrations for periodicals like St. Nicholas magazine.

The tea room, or cafe, at No. 175 was called The Brick House and was popular among the artsy set.  In 1934, for instance, New Democracy magazine noted "on the evening of March 22 at The Brick House, 175 Macdougal Street, the Discussion Group held by Mr. Allan Brown held a very successful dinner.  At first planned as a small dinner, the idea became popular and almost sixty sat down."

On October 11, 1937 The New York Times reported "The Grant Studios, which for several years have flown the banner of art on Brooklyn Heights have joined the Manhattan show places and are now located at 175 Macdougal Street."  The gallery opened that day with its 17th Annual Invitation Exhibition of paintings, prints and sculpture.

The Grant Studios held important exhibitions, perhaps the best known being the New York Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition.  On the other hand, the art critic of The New York Sun was less than enthusiastic about the show that opened on November 17, 1939:

The Fine Arts Guild is having rather an extensive showing at the Grant Studios, 175 Macdougal street.  It is a quietly conservative display, marked here and there by generally competent painting, but containing nothing it seems necessary to get excited about.

The Grant Studios lasted at least through 1949.  By then Benjamin Canzonier had owned the building for eight years.  He converted the upper floors to apartments in 1943.  But as West 8th Street, steps away, changed from art galleries to shops catering to New York University students at mid-century, so did No. 175.

In August 1957 The New York Times column "Shop Talk" lauded the bags available at the shop that had replaced the Grant Studios.  "One of the most versatile carry-all bags in town can be found at Robert John," it said.  The writer was impressed that the duffel bag included a leash attachment, "in case you want to bring the dog too."

In 1965 a dress shop was in the retail space, replaced in 1975 by Reminiscence, a clothing and gift store where often quirky items like a washable canvas lunch bag could be purchased for $14 in 1981.  The popular store remained here until 1985 when it moved to No. 74 Fifth Avenue.

The treads of the three-step entrance are white marble--evidence of the high-end tone of the house when Francis Stout remodeled the doorway in 1883.

The last vestige along the block of a time nearly two centuries ago when the wealthy erected their homes on the northern fringe of the city, the Robert Hogan house still exhibits its residential beginnings.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Lucius H. Biglow House - 340 West End Avenue

The enclosed stoop ensured protection in times of bad weather.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
In 1889 wealthy builder and developer Dore Lyon began construction on five upscale rowhouses on West End Avenue, Nos. 340 through 348.  Designed by prolific architect Edward L. Angell, the showpiece of the group was the corner house, No. 340.

Four stories high above a deep basement, the Romanesque Revival style residence was faced in brownstone and brick.  Swirling foliate carvings, chunky colonnettes, and muscular crockets atop the rooftop finials added to the medieval style.  The two-story bowed front on the avenue provided visual movement.   No brooding mansion with shadowy interiors, its abundance of windows on three sides flooded the rooms with natural light.  To the rear of the house was the service entrance, protected by a high wall and entered through an especially handsome wrought iron gate.

Dore Lyon and his wife, the former Anna E. Parker, moved into No. 340, upon its completion in 1890.  Anna was a colorful figure in New York society.  She not only styled herself as a pundit on etiquette; but involved herself in so many clubs, associations and committees that she was dubbed by the press "The Queen of Clubs."

In 1892 the Lyons commissioned architect Charles Israels to add an eye-catching bowed oriel on the second floor directly above the entrance.  Its carved decorations masterfully blended with the originals.  It may have been at this time that the glass and iron enclosed marquee was installed over the stoop, which hugged the 76th Street wall.

The bowed oriel was a pleasant after thought.  The window directly below was originally the entrance.

The couple had one child, Grace.  In 1893 they erected what one newspaper deemed "a magnificent mansion" as their summer estate in Saratoga, New York.  The following year, in February, they sold No. 340 to Lucius Horatio Biglow.

The apparently busy Biglow was a partner in the highly successful music publishing firm of Biglow & Main; the president of L. H. Biglow & Co., printers and stationery suppliers; president of the Metropolitan Realty Company; and, according to The New York Times later, "Director in a dozen other concerns."  The capacious West End Avenue house made sense for his family.  He and his wife, the former Anna Graham, had seven children, William, Elsie, Ray, Herbert, Elizabeth, May, and Lucius, Jr.

The Biglow family summered in Ridgefield, Connecticut, described by The New York Times in 1893 as "a favorite Summer resort for numbers of New York City people."  Biglow had purchased an 18th century fieldstone house, once the home of Revolutionary War leader Colonel Philip Burr Bradley, and had it Victorianized to a modern "cottage."  Melding his surname with Anna's maiden name, he named the estate with its park-like grounds Graeloe.

The Graeloe estate was impressive enough to warrant picture postcards like this one.

Julius Biglow became involved in the issues of the Upper West Side and on April 7, 1899 was accepted as a member of The West End Association.  Among the issues addressed that evening were the "driving regulations on Broadway (Boulevard), now being constantly violated by truck drivers," and illegal dumping of sand and dirt near by the 79th Street dock.

The issue of driving regulations being violated became personal six years later.  Ray, who was 17 years old and already attending Yale University, was home that spring.  He was arrested with two others motorists, charged "with racing their cars," according to The New York Times on April 6, 1905.

The teen was sketchy in the details he gave police, using only his middle name Graham and saying he attended Harvard.  He had shocking confederates in his joy ride.  Twenty-nine year old George Mitchell was the chauffeur to wealthy real estate operator Joseph M. Ohmeis.  He had taken Ohmeis's automobile and riding along were prize fighters James J. Jeffries and "Joe" Kennedy.   Even more surprising was the driver of the third vehicle--James A. Roche, the Chief Inspector for the Bureau of Highways.   Raymond's father apparently put up his $500 bail (more than $14,000 today) and one can imagine the discussion that took place on their way back to No. 340 West End Avenue.

Two weeks earlier the Biglow family had suffered a tremendous shock.  The term "butler" today brings to mind refined, white-gloved men with English accents who announced visitors by delivering calling cards on silver trays.   And, indeed, the duties of butlers in the Fifth Avenue palaces of families like the Astors and Vanderbilts were restricted to such activities.  But in the mansions of the families like the Biglows, the responsibilities were much wider.

James Fahey was the Biglows' butler in 1905.  On March 20 he was cleaning windows on the fourth floor.  Somehow he lost his balance and fell to the rear areaway.   The New-York Tribune reported "Fahey's skull was crushed at the base of the brain."  He died in Roosevelt Hospital that afternoon.

The rear service area is protected by an ornate iron gate.  It was the scene of Fahey's tragic fall in 1905.

Also attending Yale at the time was Lucius, Jr.  A big man on campus, he was captain of the football team and a member of the rowing team.   Following his graduation he became Yale's head football coach.

On February 4, 1909, the year after his own graduation,  Ray was married to Harriet Chamberlain Moseley in New Haven, Connecticut.  There were two hundred guests at the "old fashioned breakfast."  When it was time for the cake-cutting, the room was surprised when the bride's uncle, Rear Admiral Frank A. Cook, handed her his sword to cut the cake.

The Sun reported "This sword was presented to Rear Admiral Cook by his father when as a boy he first entered the navy.  It was carried by him all through the War of the Rebellion and the Spanish war."  Admiral Cook was captain of the Brooklyn during the Spanish-American War and was wearing that sword at his side when Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete surrendered to him.

The Biglow family was at Graeloe on September 27 that year when Lucius fell ill.  He died there on September 30 at the age of 72.   His will left $25,000 to Anna (about $680,000 today), $15,000 to his sister, and the rest of the estate was divided among the children.   Anna's fortune was increased five months later when she sold the house to Ralph L. Spotts for $85,000.

Later that year he had a two story addition constructed on the rear roof. 

A 1925 photograph shows the rear roof-top addition commissioned by Spotts in 1910.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Spotts was vice-president of H. B. Kirk & Co., liquor distributors, and a partner in the Cantono Electric Tractor Co.  But his fame came from his expert marksmanship.  On November 21, 1910, the same year he bought No. 340 West End Avenue, The New York Times reported on the shooting matches of the Larchmont Yacht Club.

"Ralph L. Spotts carried off the honors of the day, for he not only won the fist prize of the season as high gun with a score of 119, but he also won the ten and five bird scratch events, and the leg for the Sauer gun.  He also won the 200 target match."

A member of the New York Athletic Club, he was on the 1912 American Olympic trapshooting team.   For years his name appeared in sporting magazines like Field & Stream as he continued to add silver cups and trophies to his collection.

In 1916 Spotts branched out, forming the R. L. S. Realty Company.  On April 15 The New York Times reported he had purchased in a single deal five apartment houses valued at about $1 million.

He was still listed at No. 340 West End Avenue in 1920; but his residency here and the status of the house as a private dwelling would soon come to an end.

Like most of the first floor windows, the dining room window once had a profusion of stained glass.  The masterful ironwork below is both whimsical and lovely.

At the time Thomas F. Clark ran his private school, The Clark School for Concentration, in four buildings at the corner of West End Avenue and 72nd Street.  An advertisement in The Century in April 1920 read: "For Boys and Girls.  Boarding and day pupils; prepares for any college.  An intensive system of individual instruction.  Separate boys' and girl' buildings in fine residential section of New York."   It produced graduates like stage and film actress Ann Dvorak, and actress and off-Broadway producer Lucille Lortel.

On November 20, 1922 the school sold its properties for a hospital project and moved into the five-story mansion at No. 78 Riverside Drive on the corner of 80th Street.  By 1925 the school added the former Spotts residence as a women's dorm.  An advertisement in the Columbia Spectator that year noted "The Dormitory of the Clark School on 340 West End Avenue, can accommodate 22 women for the summer session."

The dormitory appears to have remained at No. 340 until 1940 when the property was sold to be converted to apartments, just three per floor.  The stoop with its unique enclosure was stripped off and the main entrance moved to sidewalk level.  It was most likely at this time that the colorful but out-of-date stained glass transoms were removed.

Despite the alterations, the former mansion retains its imperious presence.  Somewhat surprisingly, the stone wall around the basement light moat survives with its wonderful 1890 ironwork.  With little effort the one can imagine a time when wealthy families lived here, catered to by a staff of servants.

photographs by the author