Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Robert Mantell House - 146 West 95th Street

Both the parlor window and  dramatic arched opening would have flaunted stained glass.  The doorway, now the window at left, was originally above a stoop.   photo via Cityrealty.com

William J. Merritt took full advantage of the rapid development of the Upper West Side in the 1880's, designing and building scores of homes.  So confident was he in the new suburb and in W. J. Merritt & Co.'s trendy homes, that he offered them with a money-back guarantee.

In the fall of 1886 W. J. Merritt & Co. completed construction of an extensive row of three-story homes that filled nearly the entire southern blockfront of West 95th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Each of the Queen Anne style brick-faced houses was different and together they formed a picturesque row.  The finished homes were quickly snatched up--the Real Estate Record & Guide reporting on the sale of nine of them on a single day on December 4.  The announcement noted "The average price throughout was a little less than $15,000."  That amount would equal about $400,000 today.

While several of its neighbors displayed creative brickwork, terra cotta bosses and other eye-catching details; the design of No. 146 traded was somber.  It relied on a single terra cotta panel within the parlor floor wall and a powerful two-story arch, the lower half of which held an angled bay.   Rather than cornices, No. 146 and its neighbors wore unadorned brick parapets.

At the time Robert Mantell was a theatrical sensation.  He was described in The Illustrated American as "over six feet high and well proportioned. he has fine blue eyes and blond hair.  He is a good athlete, and is a great favorite among his male friends, who call him Bob."

According to his biographer, Clarence Joseph Bullet recalled "In 1883, Mantell as Loris Ipanoff flashed upon New York as the most brilliant romantic actor of his time."  Two years earlier he had married actress Margaret Sheldon, who went by the stage name Marie.  The couple were earning a combined salary of $125 a week, nearly $165,000 a year today and more than enough to purchase No. 146.

Catherine S. Barrow had purchased at least two of the houses from Merritt in December 1886.   On July 16, 1887 The Record & Guide reported that she had sold "the three-story Queen Anne dwelling...for $16,000 to Actor Mantell, of the Union Square Theatre."  Two months later the title was transferred to Marie's name, a move the actor may have later regretted.

Years later, in 1918, Bullett recalled "Mantell and Marie Sheldon discovered soon after they were married that they differed in tastes, ideas, ideals and tempers.  But they made the best of what both came to regard as a bad bargain.  For a long time they lived amicably so far as the outside world knew or cared."  The couple had two sons, Robert Shand and Jack Parcher Mantell.

Robert Mantell had an eye for actresses.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Marie and Robert continued to appear on stage together.  She took out a second mortgage on No. 146 in 1891; and it appears that when the family was on the road they leased their home.  The Charles Edward Bateson family was living here in 1890 with sons Richard H. and Charles, Jr. who were attending New York City College.  They were still here as late as 1896.

In the meantime, their landlords were having domestic problems.  Mantell's continued attention to actresses finally drove Marie to the end of her patience.  Already, according to Clarence Bullet, "As Mantell was a popular stage hero, the ears of Dame Gossip were pricked up.  The rumors were well grounded, though."  The climax came in Cincinnati where the couple argued, followed by Marie's packing her bags and returning to New York.

Marie obtained a legal separation and on September 23, 1892 The Evening World reported that Mantell "agreed to pay his wife $100 per week for the rest of her natural life," which included child support.  Almost immediately after their divorce was granted, Mantell married actress Charlotte Behrens.  And before long stopped paying his alimony.

On February 13, 1893 The Evening World reported on Margaret's "motion to punish Actor Robert B. Mantell for contempt for failing to pay alimony."  (Her legal applications, of course, were filed under her legal, not her stage, name.)  He was in arrears $1,800 at the time.

Victorian theater-goers were not pleased with the matinee idol's less than chivalrous behavior.  Nor were the authorities, who issued warrants for his arrest.  He was banished from the New York stage, not to return for a decade.  In the meantime, Margaret adapted to her new life as single mother and provider.  By 1899 she was on the governing board of the Professional Woman's League.

In 1901 physician Alfred E. Meyer and his wife were living three blocks away at No. 139 West 92nd Street.   A 1893 graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he quickly made himself known in the medical community.  In September 1896 The Medical Fortnightly had reported on his successful treatment of women suffering from chronic indigestion by using "Maltine with Wine of Pepsin."  Although there was an unpleasant side effect ("there were continued eructations of gas"), he felt it was outweighed by the outcome.  "Dr. Meyer says he thinks that the combination of 'Maltine with Wine of Pepsin' is a very happy one."

What was not so happy was the result of Meyer's late night excursion in El Paso, Texas earlier that year.  When two elderly neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. August Movius, planned a trip to California in January 1901, Meyer accompanied them.  The New-York Tribune explained "Mr. Movius is in poor health."  The trio left New York the first week of February.

They arrived in El Paso on Sunday February 10.  Three days later a local newspaper reported "Dr. Alfred E. Meyer, of New-York, came near [to] losing his life here last night...The physician has been out with friends several times since he came here last Sunday, but last night he went alone."  The article described him as "a clever young man, [who] is said to have a good practice in New-York."

Meyer's solitary adventure took him to the city's "Tenderloin" district which, like its New York namesake, was an unsavory one.  After having a few drinks and talking with "some women," he was drugged, stabbed with a dagger, and robbed.  He was found by a policemen the following morning.  "When found, he had six ugly gashes in his body, a rather serious on his side.  his clothes were literally cut to pieces, and his watch and hat were gone."

The physician who tended to him said "he could not have drunk much, and was certainly drugged."  The incident was reported in newspapers nationally and was no doubt an enormous source of humiliation for his wife.  The New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Meyer, at her home...was shocked last night at the news of the assault."

The couple soon moved into No. 146 West 95th Street.  The scandal seems to have been left behind in El Paso.  In 1904 Meyer was Assistant Surgeon in the New York Polyclinic and a member of the Society Alumni City (Charity) Hospital.   They would not be here long, however.  Alfred became ill around 1905 and he died on December 3, 1906 at the age of just 39.

The house became home to another physician, Herbert L. Cellar, chief of the medical department of Mount Sinai Hospital.  Following his move to No. 61 West 94th Street around 1914 composer and musician John A. Broekhoven moved in.

An advertisement in The Violin World in February 1915 touted his seven-volume Broekhoven Methods In Singing and Composition, the "Most concise System of Harmony in print."  Customers were advised to write to 146 West 95th Street.

Born in 1857, Broekhoven was already well-known in the music world.  Formerly from Cincinnati, he was the author of several technical books including The True Method of Tone Production, A System of Harmony for Teacher and Pupil, and The True Method of Tone Production. 

In 1912 he had composed the overture, Columbia.  But not everyone had always been a fan of his music.  When his 1891 Suite Creole was played at the Chicago Exposition in 1893, it met with harsh criticism from the American Art Journal.  Its critic ranted:

The so-called 'Suite Creole' by Mr. Broeckhoven [sic], of Cincinnati, should have no place upon the program of a serious concert...The grotesque humor and suppressed pathos of slave life are sufficiently characteristic to form the burden of songs and symphonies; but I for one do not like to be dragged into the midst of a semi-heathenish barbecue and pelted with melon rinds.

Broekhoven lived at No. 146 at least into the late-1920's, and it was most likely one of his students who was responsible for the April 1929 noise complaint of "Singer at 146 West 95th Street."

He died in the home of his nephew in Cincinnati in August 1930.

In 1968 the house was converted to apartments, one each in the basement and first floor, and two each on the upper levels.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed, the entrance converted to a window, and the Queen Anne stained glass panels removed.  A subsequent renovation in 2004 resulted in five apartments including a duplex on the top floor extended into part of the second.

Despite its ill-treatment, No. 146 maintains the architectural charm it held more than 130 years ago when it was home to one of the theater's most handsome--and mendacious--actors.

photographs by the author

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