Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Hotel Earlton - 118 West 72nd Street

A year after erecting his striking 30-story World Tower Building, in 1914 fledgling developer Edward West Browning hired the same architects to design three apartment buildings on the Upper West Side.  And as they had done with the World Tower project, Buchman & Fox turned to the neo-Gothic style for their design, clad in gleaming white terra cotta.

Browning had purchased three private residences as the sites (No. 126 West 73rd Street and Nos. 42 and 118 West 72nd Street); providing the architects with the challenge of replacing a 25-foot wide house with workable apartment structure.  At No. 118 West 72nd Street was the four-story brownstone clad rowhouse which had been home to the Morris Loeb family for many years.  Browning paid Loeb $80,000 for the property in April 1914, a considerable $2 million today.

The outlay was, in part, recouped by savings on the architectural fees.  Buchman & Fox designed the three buildings as nearly identical triplets, making possible the reuse the terra cotta molds and greatly cutting back the costs.  (As a matter of fact, construction costs were $60,000 each, 25 percent less than the cost of the site of No. 118.)  When they were completed in 1915, only close inspection would reveal small differences in the trio of apartment buildings.  Elaborate Gothic-inspired decorations encrusted the buildings which terminated in spiky parapets 13-floors above the sidewalk.

Browning called No. 118 The Hotel Earlton.  Like its siblings, it had four two-room apartments per floor, with "foyer, hall and bath, with parquet floors," according to The Clay-Worker.  Known as an "apartment hotel," there were no kitchens in the suites.  Tenants had the option of eating in a large dining room on the ground floor.

Just a block to the east, a No. 42 West 72nd Street, is one of the nearly identical structures.
Despite the small size of the apartments, they filled with highly respectable tenants, like Ora Elmer Butterfield and his wife, the former Amy Iola Danklee.  A noted attorney, Butterfield was the general solicitor for the New York Central Railroad.

Another early tenant was Angela C. Kaufman.  She had relatively recently married Joseph Kaufman, an executive with the Ever-Ready Razor Company, but they were living apart.   On Saturday night, June 10, 1916, Angela fired a pistol into her breast with decidedly unsuccessful results.  The bullet barely broke the skin.

Angela's physician, Junius W. Stephenson, was called and he picked up a patrolman named McKenna on the way to the  scene.  She was arrested for attempting suicide, but released the following Monday.  Stephenson pleaded that she had suffered a nervous breakdown.

In the meantime, detectives were puzzled about her case.  Initially Policeman McKenna searched for the bullet, but could not find it.  When he examined the pistol he found it fully loaded, although obviously recently fired.  Closer inspection revealed that the spent shell had been reloaded into the chamber.

The New York Herald wrote "The mystery surrounding the shooting of Mrs. Joseph Kaufman in her apartment, at No. 118 West Seventy-second street...will not be solved until Mrs. Kaufman decides to discuss the cast, a thing which she steadfastly refused to do yesterday."  But her maid was more than happy to talk.  She told detectives that on Saturday Angela had received word that her husband intended to divorce her.  The New York Times explained "she was afraid her husband's action would be successful and she wanted to die his wife."

Angela was still in legal trouble.  On June 12 the New York Herald reported "As soon as Mrs. Kaufman's condition will warrant she will be arraigned on the charge of violating the Sullivan law."  (The 1911 Sullivan Act prohibited ownership of unlicensed handguns.)  

Joseph Kaufman was, incidentally, disappointed in his attempt to divorce his wife.  In court it came out that he had helped Angela divorce her first husband.  On July 5 Justice Shearn said "After assisting the defendant to obtain her Nevada divorce decree and getting her to marry him the plaintiff now seeks to have the court declare that what he did was wrong and in bad faith."  The judge refused to do so.

The Hotel Earlton replaced a brownstone house similar to the one glimpsed at the far right.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Angela Kaufman was not the only wife living apart from her husband here.  Baron Andrew V. de Patterson had married Beatrice Anita Baldwin on June 7, 1915.  The New-York Tribune described de Patterson as "a millionaire oil man" and the bride as "daughter of the late 'Lucky' Baldwin, California horseman, gambler and mine owner."  The honeymoon was short-lived.

Baron de Patterson left her on September 28, 1916, accusing his wife of seeing another man.  The baroness moved into much reduced circumstances in the Hotel Earlton while her husband went to the Hotel Netherland.  Dirty laundry came out in court when he filed for divorce.  "They have had a tempestuous marital career," commented the New-York Tribune on February 2, 1918.

Initially the Sinclair Oil executive gave Beatrice $25 per week to live on (just under $420 today).   But then the checks stopped.  So Beatrice attempted to earn a living as an actress.  The Tribune reported "Just now, she says, she is without support and destitute, and unable to live on the income she receives from her work on the stage."

It apparently seemed to Beatrice that she was entitled to some of her husband's wealth.  While he was gone from his rooms at the Hotel Netherland one day that spring, Beatrice obtained access.  She took home "decorations given him by the King of Portugal, Jewelry, pictures and other property," according to his complaint.  Beatrice provided the $1,000 bond (about $16,700 today) and appeared before the judge on April 22, 1918.  

America was embroiled in the world war at the time.  On May 18, 1917 the Government had enacted the Selective Service Act, which enabled an army to be raised through conscription.  One Earlton resident, however, was not eager to see action in Europe.

Russell Storey Hubley was an actor.  When he registered with his local board on June 5, 1917 he brought along his wife, Edna.  On his questionnaire he listed himself as a married man with his wife "dependent on him."  Hubley did not expect the authorities to check his story.  When they found out that Edna Clarke and he were not married, both were arrested.  Hubley was tried and found guilty on June 21, 1918.  He got his wish--he did not have to serve in the military, but instead was sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary for a year and one day.  Edna was indicted on charges of conspiring in the plot.

The long series of unfortunate incidents continued at the Hotel Earlton.  Coffee importer Manuel M. Clavizo had lived in the building for some time in 1919.  The Sun said that he "had large interests in this city as well as in South America."  But on September 25, 1919 police were called to his apartment where he had been "found dead, hanging by a wire from a chandelier," according to the New-York Tribune.  No reason for the 40-year-old's suicide could be determined.

On November 28, 1920 silent screen actor Syn De Conde (whose legal name was Synésio Mariano de Aguiar) married Anna Pawley.   By now he had starred in the 1918 "Revelation," and the 1919 films "Mary Regan" and "Flame of the Desert."  He was making $20,000 a year in the theater, a comfortable $250,000 today.

Largely forgotten today, Syn de Conde was a successful actor on stage and screen.  original source unknown.
But their marriage, too, did not start out well.   Three months later, on February 2, 1921, Anna had left.   In court she charged him with "a series of cruel and inhuman acts, including several beatings," and told the court that he first struck her four days after the wedding.  The Evening World reported "and on another occasion, she says, he showed her a bottle of sulphuric acid with which he said he intended to disfigure her face."  The actor told her "he did not marry her to support her, and suggested that she join a musical revue chorus where she might make wealthy friends," said the article.  Anna obtained her divorce and $125 per week alimony.

Variety, Friday 14, 1924

Among the residents not involved in scandal or intrigue was respected financial journalist James Vance Gwin of the American.  He had come to New York in 1912 at the age of 21 and worked on the staffs of the New York City News Association, the Press, The Sun and, finally, the AmericanThe Sun described him as being "well-known in newspaper circles."  Gwin was just 36-years old when he became ill and, after a being sick for weeks, died in his apartment on May 8, 1927.

The esteem with which Gwin was held among newspaper men and residents of the Hotel Earlton was reflected at his funeral.  Among the floral tributes from City Hall reporters, the American, and the American's editor, was one from "associates of Mr. Gwin's at his late residence," said The Sun.

A bizarre incident occurred on September 23, 1933.  Lew Stanley was sitting in his automobile at 45th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues when four men pointing revolvers at him got in.  They drove to an empty apartment at 51st Street and Ninth Avenue where they demanded $5,000 ransom.  Stanley was held for hours during which he insisted he did not have that much money.  The New York Evening Post later said "after eight hours of dickering he reduced it to $3,000."

With the amount agreed upon, Stanley was taken to the Hotel Earlton where "they accepted the $187 he had there" as a down payment.  The Post reported "After that he called in the police, who picked up the two suspects, burly six-footers."  Eventually all four men were arrested.

But the Stanleys' problems were not over.  Mrs. Stanley was scheduled to testify at the trial on February 15, 1934.  Two evenings before the date a man knocked on the apartment door.  Mrs. Stanley told him her husband was out, but he insisted on waiting.  The New York Sun reported "A few minutes later three other men entered.  They then proceeded to ransack the place, taking $8 and before leaving giving Mrs. Stanley a severe beating."  Police told reporters it was "an effort to dissuade her from testifying against her husband's kidnappers."

A 1950 renovation created two stores at street level with a "beauty parlor and corset display room" on the second, along with two apartments.   It was no doubt at this time that the striking terra cotta tiles were covered over with a pseudo-modern facade.  The building was converted to cooperative apartments in 1985; and very recently the lower two floors were restored, once again revealing Buchman & Fox's Gothic-themed tilework.

photographs by the author

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Lost Church of the Holy Family - 321-323 East 47th Street

The church was flanked by a factory and a squalid tenement in June of 1930.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The neighborhood around 47th Street near the East River was a gritty one in the 19th century.  In 1884 plans were filed for a "storage warehouse" to be build on the site of a stables building at Nos. 321 and 323 East 47th Street.  By World War I the Clausen-Flanagan brewery engulfed Nos. 303 through 323 East 47th Street, uncomfortable bedfellows with with St. Anthony's Chapel at the corner of Second Avenue.

To serve the growing Italian population of the East Side neighborhood, St. Boniface's Church established the chapel in 1915.  The New York Times explained that the pastor "received permission to begin special work among the Italians by opening St. Anthony's Chapel."  The school hall of St. Boniface's was used for Sunday services under the direction of Father Daniel de Nonno.

St. Boniface's Church held services in English and German.  But the Italian population in the parish was exploding.  A 1924 census listed 9,000 Italians in the immediate neighborhood.  Father de Nonno lobbied the Archdiocese for a separate parish to serve them. 

On January 25, 1925 The New York Times reported Hayes "has established a new church in the Grand Central zone.  It is an Italian parish, and property on the north side of East forty-seventh Street, from 315 to 323 has been purchased.  On the site will be the Church of the Holy Family, and the Rev. Daniel De Nonno has been named pastor."  The article noted "Father De Nonno, who has long been an assistant at St. Boniface's, has been intimately associated with the development of the Italian branch."

The site acquired for the church structure was the old brewery.  The bleak conditions of the neighborhood was evidenced two months afterwards when a five-story tenement building, directly across the street, was set ablaze by an arsonist.  On March 23, 1925 The Times explained "The house had been freshly painted and the flames, which started in a baby carriage in the first floor hallway, mounted so rapidly that the escape of many tenants was cut off."

Tragic stories played out as fire fighters tried to rescue the tenants and squelch the inferno.  The Times recounted, for instance, "Mrs. [Patrick] Walsh, with her baby in her arms, stood at the rear window of their apartment on the fourth floor, where they were burned to death.  It was impossible to reach them.  Her scrams for help grew gradually fainter and finally ceased as she fell backward, still clutching the body of her son."  Katherine Walsh was 25-years old and her baby, Joseph, was just 17 months.

As the the drama played out, Father de Nonno and Father Patrick F. O'Connor "said prayers for the dead over the bodies of the victims after the fire was under control."

Three weeks after the that tragedy Father de Nonno was honored with a testimonial dinner at the Biltmore Hotel.  It resulted in donations of $17,500 for the erection of a church structure.  And the special needs of the blue collar parishioners had not been overlooked.  Reporters were advised "A kindergarten, where working mothers can leave their children during the day, will be established on the roof of the building." 

The completed structure, a modern blend of historic styles, was dedicated in April 1927.  Its brick and stone facade edged up to the property line, necessitating the wide set of entrance stairs to be recessed within the structure, rather than introducing it.  The triple entrance sat below a massive stained glass window within a rounded arch.  A handsome bell tower with triple arcades and a pyramidal roof sat five stories above the sidewalk.
from the collection of the New York Public Library
In his first sermon in the church, Father de Nonno chose to ignore the brewery and focus on the old 1870's stable.  He noted the appropriateness of a stable site; since the Holy Family was formed in a stable.

On January 18, 1931 a shrine to Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, was dedicated.  The New York Times commented "the movement for the establishment of the shrine was started by chauffeurs and garage workers of the neighborhood." It was the beginning of a movement.  With a few weeks the congregation began alterations to convert the basement "as a clubroom for automobilists," according to The New York Times.  

And then Father de Nonno took the concept of the patron saint of travelers a step further.

For generations on the Feast Day of St. Francis Manhattan parish priests had blessed the thousands of horses that pulled delivery wagons, coaches, carriages and other vehicles.  On Sunday, February 8 Father de Nonno preformed the first Blessing of the Automobiles.

The New York Times reported "The protective spirit of St. Christopher, friend of the traveler, was invoked for New Yorkers...While a crowd stood bareheaded in the rain, sixty automobiles packed in East forty-seventh Street, between First and Second Avenues, were blessed in the name of the saint, who lived in the third century."

Father de Nonno used a relic of the saint, a small bone within a reliquary, in the ceremony.  The crowd of 200 and the automobiles were sprinkled with holy water.  The Daily Worker was skeptical at best.  With tongue in cheek it advised its readers "If you have a tin Lizzie who has been staying out night and may have carbon in the cylinders," this was the answer.  It spoofed, "Wicked Studebakers and lewd Lizzies, which have parked themselves in secluded spots on Saturday nights, are doubtless expected to be run through the confessional before enjoying the blessing."

Father Daniel de Nonno blesses a car in the first Blessing of the Automobiles The New York Times, February 8, 1931
Father de Nonno found nothing funny about it.  The New Yorker wrote "Rev. Daniel de Nonno will hold these services on the second Sunday of every month."  The Church of the Holy Family quickly gained the nickname "The Motorists' Church and Father de Nonno soon became the national director of the Confraternity of St. Christopher.

Later that year, in October, three murals by Italian artist Ignazio La Russa were unveiled.  They represented the Glorification of the Holy Family, the Ascension of Christ, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.  The latter was a copy of Titian's masterpiece in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Venice.  They were unveiled by the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Mgr. Michael J. Lavelle.

Titian's masterpiece was reproduced in the Church of the Holy Family

On December 29, 1936 The New York Times reported that Father de Nonno had been transferred to the office of administration of St. Anthony's Church in the Bronx.  The Church of the Holy Family now shared a rector--Father George Zertgraf--with St. Bonifice's Church.  

Three and a half years later, on June 14, 1940, de Nonno died.  In reporting on his death, The New York Times reminisced about his ministry to travelers.  "Every Sunday, beginning in the early Nineteen Thirties, Father De Nonno, carrying a reliquary containing a bone of St. Christopher, would bless a long line of cars parked on East Forty-seventh Street.  He also blessed cars by special appointment, and made a point of this work in the belief that accidents and the death toll due to motoring would be cut down."

In 1950 the United Nations opened on its massive site on 1st Avenue.  Within a decade its growth demanded expansion and nearby blocks were acquired for new structures.   The block upon which the Church of the Holy Family was demolished to make way for Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in the early  1960's.  A new structure for the church was completed in 1965, next door to the old site, and designed by George J. Sole.  

photo via Mid-Century Mundane
The immediate site of the 1925 church is occupied today by partly by The Family School and by the Japan Society.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Close Call -- The Amputated No. 70 Grove Street

In 1858 John T. Boyd advertised "To Let--The convenient three story house with large yard, No. 70 Grove street."  It was most likely being operated as a rooming house three decades later when Colden Robinson, his wife Sarah, and her sister, Elizabeth Whitehurst lived there.  Their lives would drastically change on March 30, 1888.

Colden and Sarah apparently became involved in a violent argument.  It ended with Colden slashing his wife's throat with his razor, and cutting Elizabeth (described by The Evening World as "a neat-looking colored woman) when she attempted to intervene.  Robinson's first-degree murder trial began on the morning of June 27.  The first witness called was Elizabeth Whitehurst, who "was dressed in deep mourning."  Three days later Robinson was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

The house where the murder occurred sat about midway on the long block of Grove Street, between Bleecker and West 4th Streets.  It was purchased by Maria Fossier in 1899.  She demolished the old structure and hired the firm of Small & Schumann to design a five story brick tenement with a ground floor store on the site.  The construction cost of the 22-foot wide building was $15,000; in the neighborhood of $468,000 today.

The shop was leased to M. Cowperthwait & Co., a furniture retailer with stores throughout the city.  The company would remain for several years.  Maria Fossier seems to have over-stretched her finances and in April 1901 the building was sold at auction.

At the time major change to the neighborhood was on the near horizon.  Around 1904 Real estate agent Charles C. Hickok began lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street.  Years of pressure paid off an in 1913 the extension began in concert with the construction of the 7th Avenue subway.  Scores of buildings, including the historic 1840 Bedford Street Methodist Church, were demolished.  Portions of other buildings, like No. 70 Grove Street, were simply sliced off, their interiors exposed like a child's doll house.

When the project was completed in 1917 fully half of the front facade of No. 70 was lost, leaving only 9.5 feet on Grove Street and an open wound along Seventh Avenue South where the corner had been.  Its owner, May C. Fay, had to decide whether to finish the demolition or reconstruct her oddly-shaped property.

On September 27 1919 the Record & Guide reported that architect George McCabe had prepared plans to alter the apartment building.  The cost of reparations, which included rebuilding the diagonal Seventh Avenue South wall and installing new beams, was a quarter of a million dollars in today's money.  The missing corner was patched with full-width grouped windows and pressed sheet metal spandrel panels with embossed diamond designs.  

A subsequent remodeling came only two years later, which resulted in a store on the first floor.  The stories above held "non-housekeeping apartments."  The term meant that there were no kitchens and no cooking was allowed.

The peculiar looking apartment building was home to middle class renters throughout the 20th century.  A renovation was completed in 1972 which resulted in an "eating and drinking establishment without restrictions" on the ground floor, three apartments each on the second and third, and two each on the fourth and fifth floors.  

In 1993 Down Beat open in the store space.  It was described by New York Magazine on January 3 that year as "an intimate new jazz club;" and on December 31 The New York Times said it was a favorite of "jazz's hard-bop mainstream."  A week later the newspaper's journalist Peter Watrous called it "a welcome addition to what is already the jazz capital of the world."

The pedimented entrance is original to the 1899 design.
No. 70 Grove Street's bizarre proportions testify to the close call it survived when a massive urban project destroyed so many Village structures and left others without their corners.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 6, 2019

The 1892 Kimball Building - 307-309 West Broadway

The site of the cornice is marked by a blank scar.  

In the 1870's the small building at No. 241 South Fifth Avenue was home to the candy factory of Franchi & Lertora, makers of "marshmallow drops."  It and the building next door at No. 239 were sold at auction on February 19, 1890; but they would survive another two years.

On June 10, 1892 architect Douglas Smyth filed plans for a seven-story "brick and stone factory" on the site for Alonzo Kimball.  He placed the construction costs at $45,000; or about $1.28 million today.  

Born in Wakefield, New Hampshire, in 1828, Kimball became associated with the Singer Sewing Machine Company in 1857.  He traveled throughout Europe for the firm until 1874 and two years invented and began manufacturing "pin-tickets."
Alonzo Kimball - Dry Goods Economist, December 9, 1916 (copyright expired)
Kimball's invention was astoundingly ahead of its time.  His small printed cardboard tags identified items of clothing in retail stores.  They were printed with item details; but also contained a pattern of punched pin holes.  The tags were removed at the point of sale and then processed at the day's end to detail sales.  The concept was the forerunner of punch cards and bar codes.

Smyth's design was a blend of styles.  The two-story limestone base featured massive banded piers, the central one capped by a colossal Ionic capital.  The four-story midsection, sandwiched between a stone and a copper cornice, was divided by three brick piers.  The arched windows of the third floor featured fan lights with metal spokes.   The grouped openings of the top floor took the form of two large arches.

Alonzo Kimball was still perfecting his business at the time of the Kimball Building's construction.  And so the building was initially home to Johnson & Morris, steam heating, hot water and ventilating contractors, who moved in in April 1893.  The firm designed and installed systems capable of handling the heating needs of large structures.  On May 26, 1894 The Metal Worker shared a testimonial received by engineer George W. Plastow when he was given an order "for a considerable heating plant."  The return customer said:

More than 20 years ago your house heated a building for me, and the plans has been so free from annoyance and excellent in service that I remembered your house when I wanted this building heated.

In 1896 South Fifth Avenue was renamed West Broadway. (it was a common-sense move, since a year earlier College Place had been extended, joining South Fifth Avenue to West Broadway and creating a confusion of three names within a span of mere blocks.)  The Kimball Building received the new address of Nos. 307-309 West Broadway.

Johnson & Morris remained in the building through 1897.  And then the following year A. Kimball Co. was incorporated by Kimball, his son-in-law Melville Asbury Marsh, and Arthur G. Thompson.  The firm moved into the  building that bore its name.  

Following the turn of the century the aging Kimball seems to have slowed down and he essentially turned over management of the firm to Marsh and Thompson.  

The success of A. Kimball Co. was evidenced in Thompson's luxurious lifestyle.  In 1906 he placed his 76-acre country estate on the Long Island Sound for sale.  His ad described a "spacious mansion, $25,000 barn, $30,000 stable, house for farm hands, 165-foot grapery, orchards, two acre garden, gas house, ice house, &c."  He was asking $150,000 for the property--more than $4.3 million today.

Thompson's wife, Angelica, attempted to obtain a divorce in April 1914.  The Sun reported "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson have been living apart for some months."  Angelica charged her husband with "improper acts."  She was disappointed when the judge refused to grant the divorce.  He found no proof of the alleged acts and suspected "collusion" between the couple to obtain the divorce.  Getting out of a marriage in 1914 seems to have been more challenging than today.

The Clothier and Furnisher, January 1919 (copyright expired)

Alonzo Kimball died "of paralysis" (most likely a stroke) in his home at No. 727 Park Avenue in December 1916.  Melville Marsh was made president of the firm and within the year Thompson was out.  Marsh's wife, Mary, (who, incidentally, was Alonzo Kimball's only daughter), was made secretary and director of the firm.

Melville and Mary had two daughters and a son, Alonzo.  Alonzo entered Harvard in 1916 and joined the firm following his graduation.  The family's summer residence was at Sound Beach, Connecticut, and it was there on August 16, 1929 that Melville Marsh died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

The A. Kimball Co. remained in the West Broadway building until August 1957 when it was sold to an investor.  The Kimball Building became home to a variety of small businesses like A. M. Aircraft Parts Co., here by 1959.  The firm resold surplus military equipment.

Popular Mechanics magazine, June 1960

A conversion completed in 1977 resulted in one apartment per floor above the ground floor.  The Department of Buildings restricted their use to "joint living-work quarters for Artists."

photographs by the author

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Edith Kane and Meta Bell Houses - 48 and 50 East 64th Street

On the morning of March 7, 1883 fire broke out in the five-story apartment house called the Cambridge.  Located at Nos. 48 and 50 East 64th Street, the upscale building was owned by Thomas Reid, who had spent the equivalent of $1.7 million today on its construction in 1877.  The New-York Tribune described it as having "an ornamental brown-stone front and being supplied with modern conveniences within."  The newspaper added, "There had been no attempt to make the house fire-proof."

Nine of the ten families along with their servants managed to escape; but Mary H. and Rosamond B. Wakeman, the wife and daughter respectively of Abram Wakeman, former Surveyor of the Port, were killed.  When the inferno was extinguished, the Cambridge had been gutted.

Within five months Reid hired the prolific architect John G. Prague to design two private homes to replace the Cambridge.  Just 15-feet wide each, the matching residences would cost $20,000 each to build; or just over half a million each today.

Completed in 1884, their brownstone facades were designed in the latest neo-Grec style.  Their high stone stoops led to double-doored entrances with commodious transoms within porticoes crowned by triangular pediments.  Prague's repetition of vertical elements at this level--the long, thin parlor windows; the engaged columns of the porticoes, and the tall, fluted piers upholding the second story bays--emphasized the narrowness of the houses and created a somewhat squashed appearance.

Sharply angled bays with carved panels and architrave-framed windows with pediments embellished the second floor; while the openings of the upper two floors wore dentiled cornices.  Handsome carved panels separated the windows of the two floors.  Separate but identical iron cornices crowned the design.

On November 21, 1884 Thomas Reid sold the houses to two widows, Edith Brevoort Kane and Meta Kane Bell.  Edith purchased No. 50 and her daughter No. 48.  They paid $30,000 each for the homes, or about $792,000 today.

Edith was the youngest of the eight children of Henry Brevoort, Jr. and his wife, Laura.  She married Pierre Corné Kane in 1853 and the couple had four children: Meta, Elizabeth, William and Henry Brevoort Kane.  Pierre died in 1870.

Meta was quite possibly named after her mother's sister, Marguerite "Meta" Claudia Brevoort, who made history as a pioneering female mountain climber.  Her husband, wealthy attorney Walton P. Bell, had died three years before she purchased the house on January 23, 1881.  The couple had two children, John Grenville Kane Bell and Edith Brevoort Bell.

Before the decade was out Meta had remarried, but her choice of spouses was a bad one.  Blanche Cruger had divorced millionaire Eugene Guido Cruger in 1887.  He then married Meta Bell in London.  Meta left him immediately after the honeymoon, in 1891, but not before a daughter, Angele, had been conceived. Meta and the children returned to East 64th Street and Eugene remaining in Europe.

On November 2, 1891 Edith died in No. 50.  The Kane estate retained ownership, leasing it soon after her death to Dr. William Horatio Bates.  He was a recognized authority and wrote medical papers such as "Notes on the Therapeutic Uses of the Suprarenal Gland," published by the Medical Record on October 8, 1898.  The Bates family remained in the house until 1903.

In the meantime, Meta suffered tribulation next door.  While in Paris during the summer of 1892, her daughter, Edith, died.  Meta divorced Cruger, The New York Press saying "Another popular New York woman, Mrs. Meta Kane Bell, was brave enough to become Mrs. Cruger No. 2 and the divorce courts again cut the marriage ties of this union."

Meta would have to fight for a slice of her ex-husband's estate for their daughter following his death in 1900.  The Elmira Gazette reported that Cruger "led a roving life, but spent the last year of his life at Fontainbleu with Miss [Olga S.] Hertz," whom the newspaper called "the Russian peasant."   Olga was technically a servant of Cruger, but his will left most of his estate to her.  Meta managed to obtain $30,000 for the girl, or about $914,000 today.

The Bates family was replaced in No. 50 by John Bradley Cumings and his wife, the former Florence B. Thayer, by October 1903.  The couple, who had moved to New York from Boston around 1900, had two children, six-year old John, Jr., and four-year old Wells Bradley.  John was a member of the brokerage firm of Cumings & Marckwald at 36 Wall Street.   Soon after moving in, on March 16, 1904, another son, Thayer, was born.  At the time the family had four-live in servants, all Irish women.

Often mentioned in society columns, their residency at No. 50 would come to a tragic conclusion.  In January 1912 John  and Florence sailed for Europe for six-week vacation.  Three months later they were headed home on aboard the R.M.S. Titanic.

At 11:40 on the night of April 14 the ship hit an iceberg.  A group of first-class passengers, including John and Florence, were led to A-Deck to board lifeboats.  Florence initially refused to board without her husband, allowing Lifeboat 4 to fill and be lowered.  John, who was 30-years-old at the time, promised her he would follow in a later boat.  

Florence and the other survivors in her lifeboat were picked up by the R.M.S. Carpathia.  On April 22, 1912 the New York Evening Journal reported "A pathetic case growing out of the Titanic disaster is that of Mrs. J. Bradley Cumings, of No. 50 East Sixty-fourth Street...Mrs. Cumings, confined in her bed since her arrival on the Carpathia, clings to-day to the hope that her husband still lives.  Although suffering from the exposure and shock she persists in rising from her pillow to say: 'My husband is alive; you will find him somewhere.'"

Florence insisted to relatives that she saw a schooner near the wreck shortly after the Titanic sank and she believed John had been rescued by it.

By the end of May, however, all hope had faded.  On May 30 Madeline Astor, the widow of John Jacob Astor who also perished on the ship, invited Florence and another socialite survivor and widow, Mrs. John B. Thayler, to a quiet luncheon to show their appreciation to Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia, and its ship's surgeon, Dr. Frank E. McGee.

Florence and the children left East 64th Street within the month and Grenville Kane leased the house to David Bennett King.

Meta Kane Bell Kruger married again in 1900.  Her new husband was Raoul Mourichon, a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France.  She moved to Paris, but retained ownership of the 64th Street house until 1919 when she sold it at auction.

No. 48 was sold again in 1921, purchased by William Allen Butler as the home of his newly-wed son, Dr. Charles Terry Butler, and his bride the former Dorothy P. Black.  Later that year, on November 17, the New York Evening Post wrote "Congratulations are being extended to Dr. and Mrs. Charles Terry Butler on the birth of a daughter on November 7, at 48 East Sixty-fourth Street."

The Butlers sold No. 48 to Dr. Samuel W. Thurber just two years later in April 1923.  The family took possession in time for daughter Louise Wood Thurber's marriage to William Van Loan Taggart in the house on December 15.  Like the Butlers, the Thurbers would not retain ownership long.  They sold it to another physician, Dr. Rufus E. Stetson in 1926.

No. 50 had been home to doctors as well.  In the 1920's ophthalmologist Charles A. Thompson was here,  and in the late 1930's and early '40's it was owned by Dr. Egon Neustadt.  He sold it to modernist architect Edward Durell Stone in 1945, who had just been discharged from the Army.  

The architect announced that he would “remodel the four-story house to provide for his offices on the two lower floors and his residence on the upper floors.”  Stone restarted his practice in the house.  It was here that he designed the 300-room El Panama Hotel in Panama City, Panama, which was featured in a January 1952 article in Life magazine.

Stone left No. 50 in 1956 to move a few blocks away to No. 130 East 64th Street; a similar house erected in 1878 which he remodeled with a patently Edward D. Stone Modernist facade.

At the time No. 50 was home to Tony Award-winning Broadway director Albert Marre and his actor wife, Joan Diener.  Diener starred in "Kismet" in 1953 and in "Man of La Mancha" in 1965.  They would remain until 2013.

In 2015 the interiors No. 48 were renovated by Pete Pelsinski of SPAN Architecture.  The removal of all the 19th century elements prompted a real estate listing to call it "reinvented."  

From the sidewalk the houses, once owned by a socially prominent widow and her equally prominent widowed daughter, have changed little since 1884.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Chelsea Relic - 203 Eighth Avenue

In the 18th century the district known today as Chelsea was quiet and bucolic, dotted with farms and summer estates like those of the Rivington and Moore families.  But just five years after the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 was released, Eighth Avenue was extended northward beyond Greenwich Village. By the 1820's houses and shops began appearing along the new thoroughfare.

The 25-wide brick-faced house at No. 203 Eighth Avenue was completed in the early 1850's.  It most likely always had a shop on the ground floor.  In 1855 the families of two blue collar workers were listed here, John C. Hepburn, a carpenter, and William Ben. Eldridge a driver of delivery wagons.  Both men volunteered with the Paulding Hose Company No. 57 on 18th Street nearby.

The proprietor of the store may have already anticipated closing the business in the spring of 1872 when he advertised his four-legged burglar alarm for sale:  "For Sale--A splendid Newfoundland Watch Dog.  Apply at 203 Eighth Avenue."

The following year, on September 13, 1873 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald:  "To Let--Store No. 203 Eighth Avenue, between Twentieth and Twenty-first streets; good stand for dry goods, cloaks, suits or fancy goods; Lease and Fixtures for sale."

William C. Knapp and John H. Dorris opened the dry goods store of Dorris & Knapp the following year and it would remain in the space for a decade.  Knapp was born in Germany in 1842 and was brought to New York four years later.  He had been working for Charles Heard & Co. on Grand Street for 15 years before striking out on his own with Dorris.

Stores and offices hired teen-aged boys to run errands, deliver packages, and other menial tasks.  The temptation to pilfer goods was often a problem among the low-paid and ill-educated boy.  Benjamin Moore went far beyond that, however.

On June 1, 1877 Knapp sent the teen to the bank with $150 to deposit.  It was a significant amount, equal to about $3,700 today.  He promptly disappeared.  The New York Herald reported "Benjamin did not deposit the money nor did he return to his employer."  He was eventually arrested on June 25 and held at a staggering bail of nearly $25,000 in today's dollars.

Dorris & Knapp was paying $700 a year on the store in 1883, or about $1,500 per month today.  They had seven years left on their lease that year when George Beck purchased the building for $8,450.  But the proprietors did not stay through the term of the lease.  After ten years in business the men separated.  George Knapp opened his own dry goods store in Brooklyn in 1884.

The shop became home to W. A. Hick's shoe store that year.  
Hicks had come to New York from his native England two years earlier and now opened his first store at No. 203.  Despite his youth (he was in his early 20's), he had spent his entire childhood working in the shoe trade and was deemed an expert shoemaker.  The History and Commerce of New York said in 1891 "The manufacture of fine footwear is a branch of skilled industry which has many expert followers in this city...A well-known and deservedly popular west side establishment in this line is that of Mr. W. A. Hicks, practical boot and shoe maker, dealer in fine footwear, etc."

Hicks had a minor run-in with city officials who demanded that a "piece of carpet" be removed from in front of the store in 1885.  It was deemed an "obstruction" of the sidewalk.

Hicks's occupation of the store was relatively short-lived.  In 1887 he moved a block north to No. 231 Eight Avenue.  Owner George Beck may have initiated the move, for he had his own plans for the space.  That year he paid architect and builder C. J. Perry $1,400 to add a two-story extension to the rear.  Upon its completion he opened G. Beck's furniture store in the space.

The furniture store would remain here into the first years of the 20th century.  By 1912 it was home to Bernard Weiss's butcher shop.  That year he was selected by his peers as a committee member to "interest the trade" of New York to form a group associated with the United Master Butchers' Association, according to the American Meat Trade and Retail Butchers Journal.

The Eighth Ave. Department Store had no shortage of goods in its show windows.  photo via the NYC Dept. of  Records & Information Services
In the 1940's The Eighth Ave. 5-10 and 19¢ Department Store was here.  The neighborhood around No. 203 continued to house working class residents throughout most of the 20th century.  In 1960 the commercial space at No. 203 was home to a launderette.  A police report that year happily noted that it had a full-time attendant and it posed no "specific police problems."

The last quarter of the century saw a renaissance of sorts in Chelsea.  The former launderette was home to Bett's Best by 1980.  The food shop was run by Bett Boldt, who had learned her trade at the Connaught Hotel in London.  Barbara Costikyan wrote in New York Magazine on September 8, 1980, "When I served her brownie and a compote of stewed strawberries and rhubarb laced with brandy, I heard soft moans from my guests."

Some businesses attracted by the changing face of Chelsea two decades later were not so welcomed by everyone.  Michael Winerip wrote an article in The New York Times on May 15, 2015 entitled "Chelsea's Risqué Businesses."  He said in part "Longtime residents who remember Chelsea when it was run-down, poor and bohemian have come to see the shops as a nuisance and an eyesore."  Among the businesses he pointed out was Rainbow Station, at No. 203 Eighth Avenue, which markets itself as an "adult superstore."  Its owner, Dumesh Kankanamalage protested that the store was "providing personal items for a lifestyle that harms no one."

The renovated storefront is unsightly and the brick has been inexplicably painted brick red.  Nevertheless the upper two floors retain their venerable domestic appearance. 

photographs by the author

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Richard Starr Dana House - 338 West 88th Street.

On April 15, 1893 the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson filed plans for seven four-story residences on West 88th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive for developers Livingston & Dunn.  Intended for well-to-do buyers, they would be four stories tall above English basements and cost $20,000 each to construct--in the neighborhood of $576,000 today.

The architects arranged the Renaissance Revival style homes in an unusual A-A-B-C-A-A configuration.  No. 338, the type "C" house, stood out not only because it was the only one of the row without a projecting oriel at the second and third floors (preferring a slightly projecting bay at the basement and parlor levels) but because of its elaborate carved decorations.  Especially striking was the complex design featuring a putto, or small boy, above the entrance.

The carved boy above the what was the entrance steals attention from the charming face peeking from the frieze of the parlor bay.
Both the basement and parlor floors were clad in limestone.  A stone stop led to the entrance.  The banded piers of the bay rose to a Renaissance-inspired frieze below a balustraded pseudo-balcony.  The three upper floors were faced in ironspot Roman brick.  Here, farther away from pedestrian eyes, the decorations were executed in terra cotta.  The long spandrel panel between the second and third floors was no less impressive than its stone counterparts below.

The last of the row to be sold was No. 338.  It was purchased in March 1895 by William Buhler for $38,000, or nearly $1.2 million today.  It is unclear whether Buhler ever lived in the house; but his advertisement in 1898 offering it for lease unfurnished suggests he did not.

He soon sold the residence to retired banker Richard Starr Dana.  Born in New York City on May 22, 1836, his family traced its American roots to 17th century Massachusetts.  He was related to Richard H. Dana, author of Two Years Before the Mast, and to Charles A. Dana, editor of The Sun.

Dana sailed for China shortly after graduating from Columbia University.  There he became a partner in the banking and commission firm of Russell & Co. and lived in China throughout the 1860's.  While his countrymen were fighting the Civil War he helped fight the Tai-Ping rebellion.  He was made a captain of volunteers and later became a member of "Chinese" Gordon's staff.

Ill health forced his return to New York in 1870.  Now effectively retired, two years later he married Florine Turner and they had two sons, Richard and David.

The Starrs were well known for their entertaining at both their Lenox estate and the 88th Street townhouse.  And Florine was celebrated for her eggnog parties.  The World claimed "No one ever made egg-nog quite as well as Mrs. Dana--a real old-time Southern concoction, which has made Mrs. Dana famous in two continents."

The newspaper commented on her annual eggnog party in Lenox on October 8, 1899.  "Mrs. Dana seems to have a monopoly of this particular form of function...But I fancy it is Mrs. Dana's own charming personality that makes her egg-nog parties such scintillating affairs, for she is the centre of them and holds her guests together over the punch bowl in a wonderfully cheerful way."

Although she was born in Connecticut, this party had a Southern theme.  "To give the affair an even more thoroughly Southern coloring Mrs. Dana prefaced it with a 'coon supper.'  The coons had been hunted by the swells themselves."  And the "swells" wielding the rifles were all female--debutantes and their socialite mothers.  The World explained "It is the latest fad of the society belle to shoot something, and in the Berkshires the game consists of frogs and coons."

Society pages followed the Danas, reporting on their travels and entertainments.  On December 29, 1900 Florine hosted an elaborate luncheon for Richard, Jr., who was home for the holidays from Princeton.  Three weeks later his parents boarded a steamship to Cairo to spend the rest of the winter.

In 1903 Richard Starr Dana's suffered stomach problems which continued for months.  He finally died in the 88th Street house on January 19, 1904 from what The New York Times said was chronic gastritis.  In reporting his death, nearly every newspaper mentioned he was "of the famous Dana family."

By the terms of Dana's will the title of the house was passed to his sons.  They transferred the deed to their mother in June that year.  But it was not Florine's intention to remain here.  The house was sold to Adam K. Luke on September 25, 1905.

Luke's fortune came, for the most part, from the paper industry.   His father, William Luke, had founded the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co., of which Adam was secretary.  He was secretary of the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Co. as well.  He and his wife, the former Irene Mills, had three children, Grace, Rose and Adam, Jr.

At 6:00 on Friday evening, January 7, 1910 Luke's chauffeur, Edward Buchanan, drove him home from his office.  The young driver had exciting plans for his Friday night.  An hour after taking Luke's expensive touring car to the nearby garage and ordering its gas tank to be filled, he returned for it.  But, as explained by The New York Times, "not for the use of the owner."

Buchanan took the automobile on what police termed "a joy ride."  By 4:00 in the morning he had apparently added alcohol to his partying.  At 86th Street and Central Park West a taxi driver "saw the touring car zigzagging down the roadway."  There were two female occupants in the cab and its driver, Louis Wettrauer, tried to get out of the way by pulling to the curb and slowing down.  But, reported The Times, "Instead of keeping to the proper side of the street, the touring car steer directly toward the taxicab."

A devastating accident followed.  "The taxicab was tossed toward the curb and the screaming women within were hurled violently against the window panes, which broke, scattering glass over them.   Wettrauer was hurled over the dashboard of the taxicab to the street."  While the cab driver lay stunned in Central Park West, Buchanan jumped from the twisted touring car, leapt over the Central Park wall and ran.

Luke's costly automobile was totaled.  "Its whole front was wrecked, its top was broken in, the two front wheels had been ripped off, and altogether the machine was fairly well torn apart."  The article said "When Luke heard what had happened to his car he was irate."

Later that year the Luke family left West 88th Street.  In 1913 they purchased Charlton Hall, the Civil War period estate at Irvington-on-Hudson erected by David and Margaret Dows.  They renamed it Devon Hall and by the 1920's lived there permanently.

The Lukes became active within the upstate community around Devon Hall.  from the collection of the Irvington Public Library
In the meantime the No. 338 West 88th Street had become home to attorney Joseph Fettrech, his wife and daughter.  Fettrech was the senior partner in the law form Fettretch, Silkman & Seybel.  

The family spend the summer of 1910 in Westchester County, leasing an estate from the Reynolds family.  On September 30, as reported by the Daily Argus, "The Reynolds mansion...was the scene of a quiet wedding yesterday afternoon at 4 o'clock, when Miss Sarah M. Fettretch...and Arthur M. Knight, of New York, were married."  The article noted "the ceremony was in the large reception room, which was handsomely decorated with a beautiful display of wild asters, palms, hydrangeas and other autumn flowers."

An unspeakable tragedy would happen less than two years later.  For 14 years a hatred of the attorney had simmered within James Conroy.  In 1898 when a family dispute over property ended up in court, Joseph Fettretch had been named "referee in the proceedings to straighten it out," said The Times.  But James Conroy felt he had been cheated and "smelled a plot to wrong him."  Unknown to Fettretch the man's hostility continued to fester until by the summer of 1912 it boiled over as a murderous plot of revenge.

On Tuesday July 22 Conroy entered Fettretch's office on Park Row.  The New York Times reported "It was apparent that he had been drinking [and] the clerks and stenographers kept a close eye on him."  He asked to see Fettrech, but was told he was out of town.  "Very well.  I will call again tomorrow," he said.

And he did.  At 9:30 following morning he entered the ninth floor office and "asked loudly" for Fettretch, as worded by The Times.  The lawyer had not arrived yet, so Conroy waited.  His very presence unnerved the office workers.  "They noticed his unkempt appearance, his soiled paper collar, and his generally sodden look."

Joseph Fettretch arrived at 10:00 and minutes afterward Conroy fired a pistol at point blank range.  The 67-year-old died on the floor of his office.

The upper story decorations were cast in terra cotta.

No. 338 was soon home to another attorney, Assistant District Attorney John F. Joyce and his family.  

The Joyces were looking for two new servants in 1920.  Their want ad  in The New York Herald on November 30 read:  "Cook, also chambermaid-waitress, 2 girls; private family."  Whoever took the cook's position did not work out.  Two months later another ad appeared.  It said simply, "Cook, competent; private family."

By 1927 daughter May had been introduced to society and, as expected of debutantes, she was active in charity functions.  When a bridge party at the Waldorf-Astoria for the benefit of St. Francis Hospital was planned in February that year, newspapers noted "Tickets may be obtained from Miss May V. Joyce at 338 West Eighty-eighth street."

John Joyce's salary in 1933 was $10,000 per year, around $195,000 in today's dollars.  While financially comfortable, he was noticeably less wealthy than his predecessors in the house; a symptom of the slightly less fashionable tenor of the block.  

Although it would not survive many months more, the stoop was still intact when this tax photo was snapped around 1941.  photo via the NYC Department of of Records & Information Services.

Nevertheless, John F. Joyce had firmly established his reputation by now.  That year on December 28 The New York Sun said of him, "He has tried literally thousands of cases, is a trial assistant in General Sessions, and last year established a record by convicting eleven men of first degree murder."  In all, at that point, he had sent dozens of murderers to prison and in 1931 had convicted the four perpetrators of the famous Charles Rosenthal kidnapping.

When the Joyce family moved into the 78th Street house Elizabeth Doris had been their maid for about five years.  She was still with them in 1935, twenty years after they first hired her.   The family was devastated after she left the house on the night of October 30 that year and made it only to the intersection of 86th Street and West End Avenue when she was hit by an automobile and killed.

The house was altered to apartments in 1941, two per floor.  It was at this time that the stoop was removed, the entrance moved to the former basement level, and the original entrance converted to a window.  Unexpectedly, the stoop newels were preserved, a nice historic introduction to the house still today.

photographs by the author