Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Wm. A. Nash House - 19 West 73rd Street

The leftmost window on the second floor was originally the entrance.

Edward C. Clark, having amassed a fortune through his partnership with Isaac Merritt Singer, who founded the Singer Sewing Machine Co., turned to real estate development in the 1870's.  He joined forces with the fledgling architect Henry Jamesway Hardenberg in erecting rental cottages for summer visitors to Lake Otsego near Cooperstown, New York.   By the end of the decade he directed his focus on the developing West Side.

In 1877 Hardenbergh designed three upscale apartment houses for Clark on the corners of Seventh Avenue and 55th Street.  Now running at full steam, the two men would begin a massive undertaking in 1880.  Hardenbergh began designs for the upscale Dakota Apartments on Central Park West between 72nd and 73rd Streets, and two rows of townhouses stretching west along West 73rd Street.

Edward Clark died in 1882, the same year that the ground was broken for the first row of houses--Nos. 13 through 27.  (Nos. 29 through 67, slightly narrower and less expensive, would be completed three years after the initial row.)   Continuing his vision, the Clark family completed the project and retained ownership of the houses, leasing rather than selling them.

Hardenberg had designed the residences to harmonize with his architecturally eccentric Dakota.  An eclectic mix of styles--Renaissance Revival and Chateauesque, for instance--their charm was in the picturesque details.  Balconettes, carved panels, stained glass transoms and pointy gables and dormers created a village-like quality to the high-end homes.

Four of the original row.  No. 19 is at the left.  Only the stoop at the far right remains.

Nos. 13 through 27 were completed in 1883.  No. 19 was briefly leased to R. H. Robertson (not to be confused with architect Robert H. Robertson).  He listed his address here as early as January 1883 when he commissioned architect Harvey Murdock to design a five-story mansion on West 73rd Street, near West End Avenue.

A pensive portrait graces the panel between the openings of the third floor.

Later that year, Brooklynite William Alexander Nash, was elected president of the Corn Exchange Bank.  He had been employed by the bank since 1855 when at the age of 15 he was hired as a clerk.  When Robertson's new home was completed in 1884, Nash moved his family from Brooklyn into the 20-room house at No. 19 West 73rd Street.

Nash and his wife, the former Alice J. Peters, had two children, Mabelle Stuart and Warren Bynner.   The family summered at Lake Mahopac, New York, and despite their wealth, existed relatively quietly within society.   The New York Times said of him in 1899, "He is dignified and inclined to be reticent, but his disposition is amiable and sympathetic...As a clubman he has a wide affiliation, with membership in the Metropolitan, the Union League, and the New York Athletic Club, also with the Hamilton Club of Brooklyn and the Ardsley Club of Ardsley."

Nevertheless, Nash did not involve himself in horses and other expensive pastimes often enjoyed by millionaires.  "If Mr. Nash has a hobby outside of his business, it is the buying of books," said The Times.  "He has a fine library, and is a discriminating lover of books.  He is a constant reader of good literature, and is also an appreciative admirer of all that is beautiful in both art and nature."

Under Nash's leadership the Corn Exchange Bank prospered and in 1894 he saw the completion of its 11-story skyscraper at Nos. 11 to 15 William Street, designed by Robert H. Robertson.  He instituted the concept of the branch bank, and began gobbling up smaller banks as extensions of the Corn Exchange Bank.  Eventually the bank would have 53 branches.

Another bank president said of Nash, "He is gifted with a genius for figures; not much given to speaking, but when he does speak his views are both sound and well expressed."  That would be put to a test on January 13, 1896 when Nash hosted a dinner party at the Metropolitan Club.  The men assembled that night were presidents and vice-presidents of banks throughout the city.  Only two, William Sherer and William J. Gilpin, were not bankers.  They were respectively the manager and assistant manager of the Clearing House Association.

Their inclusion on the guest list was understandable.  A few months before Nash had been made president of the Clearing House.  He had been a member of the Loan Committee when the Financial Panic of 1893 hit.  His cool management gained him prominence and he was referred to by associates as "the balance wheel of the banking situation."

William Alexander Nash as he appeared the year before his death.  American Magazine, April 1921 (copyright expired)

Warren was the first of the children to marry.  On April 3, 1899 his wedding to Anna Watson O'Connor took place in the home of her parents.  The social status of the two families was evidenced by the service being conducted by Catholic Archbishop Michael Corrigan.   The New York Times noted "Only relatives witnessed the ceremony, but several hundred guests attended the reception which followed."

On July 1, 1900 Mabelle's engagement to Antonio Terry Ponvert was announced.   Ponvert was a member of the wealthy Ponvert and Terry sugar growing families of Cuba.  Their wedding was held in the 73rd Street house on the night of October 30, 1901.   Although the newlyweds made their home in Hormiguero, Cuba, they were listed in the New York society Blue Book for decades.

Alice died "very suddenly" at Lake Mahopac on July 2, 1904 at the age of 59.   William Nash remained in the 73rd Street house.   After his period of mourning, he picked up his quiet social routine.  On May 19, 1914 the New York Herald announced, "Mr. William A. Nash, of No. 19 West Seventy-third street, president of the Corn Exchange Bank, will make his annual trip to Europe."

By the time the Clark Estate sold No. 19 in 1920, Nash was Chairman of the Corn Exchange Bank and a director in more than two dozen corporations and banks.  Rather than purchase the house in which he had lived for more than 25 years, he moved to Park Avenue, where he died two years later on August 31, 1922 at the age of 82.  In reporting his death The New York Times called him "Dean of New York bankers."

The buyer of No. 19 was N. Pohly Myers.  The family, of course, immediately began staffing the house and on October 6, 1920 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald looking for a "Cook, first class; private family."  Little is known of the Myers family, but the cook they hired apparently did not work out.  In May 1922 another advertisement sought a cook for the "private house," and in the "country for summer."

By the mid-1930s the house was home to the family of Dr. Maurice Lippman.  Their son, Richard, had attended the Fieldston School and graduated from Yale University in 1936.   Like his father, he pursued a medical career and the following year was enrolled at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

The Lippmans would mark the end of the line for No. 19 as a private home.  In May 1942 it was sold to the newly-formed 19 West Seventy-third Street Corporation.  Before the end of the year it had been converted to three furnished rooms per floor.  It was no doubt at this time that the stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the former basement level.

In 1958 The Language Guild rented space in the house.  It announced on that starting March 24 it would offer "an extensive course in Russian."  In the late 1960's artist and concert violinist Maximilian A. Rose leased space for his studio.  When he died in his home at the age of 70 on April 9, 1971 he was still renting the space.

There would be two more conversions to the venerable house.  In 1975 a doctor's office and apartment were installed in the basement level, with two apartments each on the upper floors.  Those were dissected in 1985 when there were now four apartments per floor.

Although the second half of the 20th century was not kind to Hardenbergh's quaint townhouse; his unmistakable touch shines through.

photographs by the author

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