Friday, September 21, 2018

The Margaret D. Fitzpatrick House - 72 East 86th Street

On May 17, 1884 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Sigmund J. Seligman had sold the 40-foot wide plot at Nos. 70 and 72 East 86th Street for $17,600--more than $450,000 today.  The buyer, Judge Thomas Pearson, often traded in real estate, but listed with him on the deed this time were his wife, Mary, and their daughter Margaret.

Judge Pearson most often bought and sold properties rather than develop them.  And when he did erect structures, he routinely hired recognized architects to design them.  Occasionally, however, he acted as his own architect and it appears he did so for No. 72 East 86th Street.

Erected by contractor George E. Broas, the 20-foot wide home was completed in 1886 in the highly popular Queen Anne style with splashes of Renaissance Revival.  A brownstone stoop led to the architecturally quirky parlor floor above the English basement.  Rough-cut brownstone quoins--looking like a teetering stack of Jenga blocks--starkly contrasted with the formal Renaissance Revival piers and entablature of the entrance.   Above, three stories of red brick trimmed in brownstone culminated in two dramatic openings perched on a molded cornice.  Flanked by brick piers, they sprouted make-believe dormers that thrust through the slate-tiled mansard.

A crowned face stares from the carved panel above what was originally the doorway.  The transom of the parlor windows would have been originally filled with colorful stained glass.
The house may have been erected in anticipation of Margaret's upcoming marriage to James Joseph Fitzpatrick.   Her new husband seems to have been still trying to establish himself.  He was enrolled at Columbia College in 1889.

The Fitzpatricks remained in the house until April 1903 when it was sold to Fannie Eckman.  Her $15,000 mortgage, around $431,000 today, hinted at the price and reflected the upscale nature of the block.

It is doubtful that Fannie ever lived in the house.  Like Judge Pearson, she and her husband Samuel, who died in November 1901, routinely dabbled in real estate.  They purchased homes like No. 72 as lucrative rental properties.

In the meantime, in San Francisco respected physician W. Burgess Estes had problems.   He had been living as a house guest of Luman Wadham for several months in 1901 when a divorced woman, Mrs. Collins, caught his eye and then his heart.  Unfortunately, at the same time Wadham's daughter, Bertha, had become smitten with the eligible bachelor who shared their dinner table.

Bertha gave Dr. Estes a gold watch with a silver chain and two gold watch fobs.  But pricey gifts could not divert his romantic attentions from Mrs. Collins and the two were married in August.  Two weeks later Estes was behind bars.

Bertha had sworn out a warrant accusing the doctor of stealing the items.  Infuriated and publicly embarrassed, Estes insisted "it was a case of spite-work on the part of Miss Wadham because he had not married her."  The San Franciso Call reported on November 12, "He asserted that she had done everything in her power to induce him to marry her, but he had preferred Mrs. Collins, a divorced woman."  Estes added "Miss Wadham had been insulting his wife, and all he wanted was to be let alone."

The day after the article Bertha and Estes faced a judge.  Bertha told the judge that "on no consideration would she see Estes sent to jail.  All she wanted was the return of her jewelry," according to the San Francisco Call.  Although Estes had presented evidence in the form of letters from Bertha proving the items were gifts, Estes agreed to return them.  "The case was then dismissed," said the newspaper.

Shortly after the bad press Estes and his bride moved to New York City, where he formed the Sex Determinator Co. with offices at No. 75 Fifth Avenue.  Exactly what the services of the puzzlingly-named firm offered is unclear.  But by 1916 he had moved his practice into No. 72 East 86th Street.

Dr. W. Burgess Estes left 86th Street when the United States entered World War I.  He was stationed at Fort Toten, New Jersey as a First Lieutenant in the Dental Reserves Corps.  The medical office in the basement of No. 72 was taken over by Dr. Alex Abrams.

Following Fanny Eckman's death the house was sold to Pauline S. Feinman in October 1919 for $45,000--nearly $640,000 today.  Despite the doctor's office, the building was still described as a private dwelling.  Feinman would not own it long.  Two months later it was sold to "a buyer for occupancy," according to the New York Tribune on December 6.

But as was often the case with buyers who hid their names and promised "for occupancy," the house was been converted to "bachelor apartments" within a few months.  The Department of Buildings firmly noted "not more than 15 rooms to be used for sleeping purposes.  Cooking in more than two of the apartments will render this building liable to immediate vacation."

The term "bachelor apartments" was used loosely by the owners.  Among the tenants signing leases in 1921 apartments were "Miss Irmgarde Koemmerich" and "Mrs. A. Sneed."   Despite having admittedly small apartments and no kitchens, the residents were mostly well-to-do.  When James Leftwich Harrison and Pauline Carrington Mugge were married in fashionable St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue on October 8, 1921, The New York Times noted "Mr. Harrison and his bride will live at 72 East Eighty-sixth Street, when they return from their wedding trip."

One resident, however, received less flattering press that same year.   A Princeton, New Jersey newspaper reported "P. A. Stoker, 42, a professional burglar giving his home address as 72 East Eighty-sixth street, New York City, is in the hospital here."

In 1953 Barlene Associates, Inc. purchased the building for "altering into apartments," as reported by The New York Times.  The conversion, completed in 1954, resulted in two apartments per floor.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed and the entrance moved to street level.

The 1954 conversion did not aspire to architectural greatness.

Mid-century architects were not kind to 19th century interiors.  Almost all of the 1886 elements were removed; however current real estate listings show surprising survivors like the staircase and occasional bits of vintage woodwork.

That Thomas Pearson did not hire an architect is evidenced in the unexceptional staircase, plucked from a millworker's catalog. photo via   
No. 72 is the last surviving relic of the 1880's on this block of 86th Street--a time the tranquility of the neighborhood was broken only by the clop of horses hooves on the stone-paved street.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. I am continually amazed by how cheap real estate and improvements were in the 19th and early 20th Centuries as compared to the late 20th and early 21st. After conversion to today's currency, we find five-story homes selling for what a TriBeCa one-bedroom might today. One supposes that much lower wage rates in the trades explain something of the discrepancy, as would the fact that Manhattan is effectively "built out" inflate today's prices for land, but there must be some factor that I am overlooking here.