Friday, December 28, 2018

The J. Henry Alexandre Carriage House - 173 East 73rd Street

The last survivors of the row of houses flank the carriage house. No. 171 at left retains its cast iron veranda.

Shortly after James Lenox began selling off his father's 30-acre farm as building plots in 1864, a row of 20-foot wide Italianate rowhouses appeared on the north side of East 73rd Street, between Third and Lexington Avenues.  Three stories tall above English basements, each brick-faced home featured a handsome cast iron veranda.

The owners of No. 173 took in at least one boarder in 1879.  The fact that the well-educated woman preferred to barter tutoring for rent may have caused problems, however.  On September 28 that year she was looking for other accommodations.  Her advertisement read: "A lady with highest testimonials desires Board in exchange for music, German or English lessons."

Change to the respectable, if not fashionable, block began as millionaires began filling the Fifth Avenue neighborhood across from Central Park with lavish mansions.  Property on what would become "stable blocks" was simultaneously purchased for the erection of private carriage houses to quarter their teams of horses, several vehicles and certain stable employees.  The East 73rd Street block became on of those stable blocks before the turn of the century.

In 1893 173 East 73rd Street was replaced by a three-story stable designed by Hobart H. Walker.  Clad in gray brick and trimmed in limestone, it was a late interpretation of the Romanesque Revival style.  Hobart creatively used the brick at the ground floor to imitate rusticated stone, and then turned them on their sides to produce a sunburst of voussoirs over the bay doors.  Above the arched openings of the third floor a brick parapet with recessed panels was crowned by a cornice.

The carriage house was owned by Gustave Reismon.  Following his death his family sold the property in April 1903 to J. Henry Alexandre, owner of the Alexandre Steamship Line and vice-president of the National Hunt and Steeple Chase Association.   The carriage house was conveniently close (but far enough away that the odors and noises did not create an offense) to the Alexandre mansion at 35 East 67th Street, which he had purchased just three months earlier. 

Alexandre and his wife, the former Elizabeth Lawrence, had five children.  Their summer estate, established decades earlier by Alexandre's father, was on Staten Island.  There Alexandre kept a stable of thoroughbreds.  And while many millionaires dabbled in horse racing, J. Henry Alexandre was equally involved in the aristocratic sport of polo.

Elizabeth Alexandre died on January 3, 1906.  Three months later J. Henry's stable manager, I. Brennan, was looking for a new coachman for his boss.  His advertisement on March 24 in the New-York Tribune reflected Alexandre's interests.  "Coachman--Young man; good driver and rider; understands polo ponies; 10 years' experience."

J. Henry Alexandre died in 1912; however his family retained ownership of the stable.  In 1938 they hired architect Irving Kudroff to convert it for business.  His plans called for a garage for three cars "and shop" on the ground floor, a shop and office on the second, and a one-family apartment on the top floor.

By the time the Alexandre family sold 173 East 73rd Street in 1951 actor Martin Kosleck and his wife, Eleonora Mendelssohn, lived in the apartment.   He had fled Germany in 1931 after being placed on the Gestapo's list of "undesirables."   His intense hatred of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis resulted in his convincingly playing several Nazi villains in motion pictures.  He was also successful in television and on the stage.  Eleonora was an actress and the great-granddaughter of composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Martin Kosleck (right) with Erich von Stroheim in the 1943 The North Star (RKO screenshot in public domain)

Eleonora had been best known on the German stage.  The couple first met in 1931 when they both appeared in the Berlin production of A Woman's Sacrifice.  They married in the U.S. in 1947.

On January 3, 1951 Kosleck and a friend, Christopher Drake, talked late into the night in the living room after Eleonora went to bed.  Shortly after Drake left at around 3:00 a.m. Kosleck attempted to adjust a window which apparently was letting in the cold winter air.  He lost his balance and fell out, catching the window sill with his fingers.  Drake had made it only a few feet down the street and rushed back, hearing Kosleck's calls.  But before he could make it back to the apartment, Kosleck lost his grip.  He was taken to the Metropolitan Hospital with a fractured leg, broken spine and internal injuries.

Her husband's condition weighed heavily on Eleonora.  The 51-year old actress had trouble sleeping.  For emotional support a friend, actor and director Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, moved in while Kosleck was hospitalized.  To help her fall asleep Eleonora depended on sleeping pills and ether--a somewhat commonplace, if dangerous, method at the time.

At 10:00 on the morning of January 24 Twardowski found her dead in her bed.  The New York Times reported "He said she had soaked a cotton pad with ether, placed it over her face, and had covered the pad with a towel and a bath mat."  The newspaper added "Mr. Kosleck, who is in Metropolitan Hospital, was not informed of the death of his wife."

Ironically, Kosleck recovered from his severe injuries and went on to appear in more than 80 motion picture and television roles.  He died at the age of 89 in January 1994. 

Kosleck gave up the 73rd Street apartment.  On July 26, 1952 The New York Times reported that Kathleen Dell Mauck had married Cabot Ward Low the previous day.  The bridegroom was the grand-nephew of former mayor of New York, Seth Low.  Both he and his new wife came from socially prominent families.  The newspaper noted "After a wedding trip, the couple will reside at 173 East Seventy-third Street."

Early in 1964 the car shop and garage became home to Gallery PVI.  The New York Times art critic Brian O'Doherty gave it disappointing coverage.  On February 29 he wrote that the gallery "looks like it could be a lively place, although the art there at the moment is more promising that fulfilling."  He complimented on piece, saying "There is also a brilliant piece of movable sculpture by Philippe Hiquily, whose motion depends on the transfer of a metal bubble through a series of dipping arms shaped like cestas, jai alai baskets."

The original cornice was removed sometime in the 20th century.

Like many of the former carriage houses along the remarkable block, 173 East 73rd Street was converted to a single family resident in 2006.  The ground floor which once housed horses, then cars, then artworks, was renovated as the family's two-car garage--a rare Manhattan convenience.

photographs by the author

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