Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The 1886 Simon Carmichael House - 51 West 105th Street

While the doorway opens onto 105th Street, it is technically the side of the building.

On June 12, 1885 architect Joseph M. Dunn filed plans for six "three-story stone and brick dwellings" on New Avenue at the corner of 105th Street.  Dunn was just a little out of touch with changes in the neighborhood, as New Avenue had been renamed Manhattan Avenue the year before.

The row of 17-foot wide speculative homes was the project of Frank A. Seitz, owner of the Frank A. Seitz Realty & Construction company.  The construction cost of each was estimated at $10,000, about a quarter of a million in today's dollars.   And that construction proceeded rapidly.  On January 30, 1886 the Record & Guide reported that one of the nearly-completed "Queen Anne houses" had sold; and within two months the row was finished.

The corner house opened onto the side street, disguising the narrow Manhattan Avenue dimensions, and providing it the address of 51 West 105th Street.  Clad in red brick and trimmed in limestone with terra cotta ornaments, it managed to out-charm its neighbors with details like the picturesque Juliet balcony above the entrance.

Dunn used optical tricks to provide architectural interest while retaining function.  He drew peaked, stepped gables in limestone to give the impression of an irregular roofline, while at the same time preserving a full-height third floor.  Even while knowing that the structure is rectangular with three pointy parapets, it is difficult for the observer to not see gables.  And he added stone wing walls on the 105th Street side with an offset opening, suggesting a doglegged stoop.

A carved shell fills the transom area above the delightful faux balcony.  There were, no doubt, originally French windows that opened outward.  Why the other openings on this level are bricked over is unclear; however their transoms (and all the others) were once filled with stained glass.

The house was purchased on April 19, 1886 by Simon P. Carmichael.  He paid Seitz $14,750, nearly $390,000 in today's money.  A dealer in "men's furnishings," he had run his haberdashery, S. P. Carmichael's, on Sixth Avenue for many years.  Like all upscale men's stores, he not only sold imported accessories but custom-made fine shirts and suits for his customers.

Carmichael and his wife, the former Annie Green, had three daughters: Jennet Irene was 24, Anna Belle (who went by her middle name) was 22, and Margaret Louise was just six years old.  He was not only well-respected as a merchant and businessman (he was also a trustee in the West Side Savings Bank); but was active in political and social issues--an active member of the Presbyterian Club and the West Side Republican Club, for instance.

Simon Carmichael's fervor for social and political reform was evident in November 1893 when he helped found the "Good Government Club," the object of which was "to secure honesty and efficiency in the administration of city affair, procure the election of capable persons and to sever municipal from National politics."   Its clubhouse was established nearby the Carmichael house on 104th Street and by 1896 he was its president.

Terra cotta details include this panel below a first floor window on the Manhattan Avenue side, composed of 13 tiles.

He was also a member of the West Side Reform Association.  On January 30, 1895 The New York Times noted that its membership was "drawn from the best social and religious circles of the west side."  The objects of the temperance-minded group were:

1.  To oppose the granting of new liquor licenses and to restrict the sale of spirituous liquors.
2.  To promote the passage of more stringent excise laws, imposing just and adequate restraints and regulations upon the sale of liquors, wines, ale, and beer, and to secure the due enforcement of existing excise laws and regulations.

In 1890 Carmichael got a jump on other Sixth Avenue shop owners when he relocated to No. 1190 Broadway, in the Sturtevant House hotel.  The Clothier and Furnisher mentioned the new store was "fitted up very handsomely."

The Carmichael family spent their summers away as did all well-to-do New Yorkers.  But like most businessmen, while his wife and children whiled away the warm months, Simon took only a few weeks at a time.  On Friday, August 13, 1897, for instance the Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly noted he "will spend three weeks in the Western part of New York State."  He apparently made an exception two years later when the same journal advised "S. P. Carmichael...will sale for Europe the latter part of July."

1899 had already been a busy year for Carmichael and he may have needed the diversion.  In March he had traveled to Albany to protest the proposed laying of four electric trolley car tracks along Amsterdam Avenue.  Among the group were the former mayor, William L. Strong, prominent businessmen, and the rectors of three important Upper West Side churches.

Then, just three weeks later, 19-year old Margaret Louise married William Alexander Wiley in the West End Presbyterian Church on April 5.  Belle, still unmarried, was her only bridesmaid.

The end of the house is a near match to the front of No. 127 Manhattan Avenue in the middle of the row.

The Carmichaels purchased a summer home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey around the turn of the century.  Simon remained a highly-visible (and audible) figure in Upper West Side causes.  He was in attendance at the West Side Republican Club's memorial dinner for William McKinley at Delmonico's on January 28, 1905, for instance.

The following year, on March 11, Annie died at the age of 59.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.  Simon lived on in No. 51 until his death in the Ocean Grove cottage on August 3, 1911.

Just four months later, on December 16, the New-York Tribune reported that his daughters had sold the house to Mrs. Frances Hoertel.   Known as Fanny, she was the widow of Emile E. Hoertel the principal in William Hoertel's Sons.  Hoertel had been well-known in the latter part of the 19th century as a breeder and racer of thoroughbred horses.

Fanny had four children, Amelia, Emile Jr., Elsie and George.  At some point she transferred title to the 105th Street house to Emile, whose family lived with her there.   Successful and wealthy in his own right, he was the secretary and treasurer of Alexander McDonald, Inc., shipbuilders in Port Richmond, Staten Island. 

When Fannie Hoertel died in the house on September 8, 1923 at the age of 85, Emile and Amelia were her only surviving children.  It is unclear how long Emile and his family stayed on in the house; but it has survived as single family house up to today.
The wonderful built-in Eastlake-style sideboard never held a wine decanter during the residency of the abstinent Carmichaels. 
A beautifully-carved newel introduces the gently sweeping staircase, below which is tucked the stairs to the basement level.  photos via William Raveis
While certain of the period details--like the stained glass panels, for instance--were lost, most of the interior Queen Anne elements survive.

photographs by the author

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