Saturday, March 30, 2019

The G. Ebbinghousen & Co. Buildings - 191-199 Seventh Avenue


Appearing as one sprawling structure, the buildings started life as five houses, then were remodeled as two commercial buildings.

In 1870 the eastern blockfront of Seventh Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets was lined with four-story rowhouses.  The immediate neighborhood had already begun changing as stores and businesses invaded the avenue.  And that change was about to make its mark on five of the houses, Nos. 191 through 199 Seventh Avenues.

Brothers William and George Youngs operated as G. & W. Youngs.  Acting as both builders and architects, they had been in business at least since 1846 when they were hired by the city to build a "Tower for a Fire-alarm Bell."  In February 1870 they filed plans to convert Nos. 197 and 199 Seventh Avenue to "one brick factory."  The plans to renovate the former houses included "one story to be added, and front and rear walls taken down and rebuilt, extension also in rear."

Exactly one year later, on February 14, 1871, an advertisement in the New York Herald offered: "To Let--The Five Story Building 197 and 199 Seventh avenue, suitable for manufacturing purposes."  With that project completed, the Youngs brothers set their sights on Nos. 191 to 195.  That work could not commence until the lease on the corner store was taken care of.  An agreement had been completed by the following summer and on August 27, 1872 the owner of the "first class butcher and fish shop" offered his "horse, wagon and all the fixtures appertaining thereto" for sale.

The resulting alterations to the three high-stooped residences resulted a five-story loft and store building that perfectly matched Nos. 197-199.  The two structures were unified by single cast metal cornice with the date 1870 painted within the centered pediment.



Both buildings were leased to furniture manufacturer and dealer G. Ebbinghousen & Co., operated by George Ebbinghousen, George A. Widmayer and John Bauman.  Their lease cost them the equivalent of $53,200 per year in today's money.  The firm used the northern section as its showroom and offices, and Nos. 191-195 for its factory.

Commercial Register, 1872 (copyright expired)

G. Ebbinghousen & Co. manufactured office furniture as well as residential.  In November 1875 the firm billed the Postmaster General "for furniture for the office of the stamp-agent at New York."  The total cost was $245, or about $5,870 today.

On May 4, 1878 the Real Estate Record reported that Henry Widmayer had bought out his partners.  He apparently thought it best to retain George Ebbinghousen's name which was synonymous with the business.  Renamed Ebbinghousen & Widmayer, the firm relocated to No. 609 Sixth Avenue in 1879.

The buildings now filled with several tenants.  W. Nelson, Jr. moved his furniture showroom into Nos. 197-199; and hat maker R. Dunlap took space in Nos 191-195.  Many of the materials used in making millinery--like straw and glue--were highly flammable, and not long after moving in the new Dunlap factory caught fire.  On April 21, 1880 the New York Herald reported "The hat manufactory of R. Dunlap, No. 191 to 195 Seventh avenue, took fire last night, and $50,000 worth of stock was destroyed...Hugh Golden, one of the firemen fell from a second story window, but, although picked up in an unconscious condition, his injuries are not considered serious."

The street level of Nos. 191-195 housed three separate storefronts.  In 1881 No. 195 became the saloon of G. Dahl.  While the saloon remained here for years, it would see a rapid turnover of proprietors.  By 1883 it was run by Robert W. Murphy, whose attempt at helping an intoxicated patron was met with violence that year.

On August 9, 1883 a painter, Henry Collins, wandered into the saloon.  The Evening Post claimed that he "had been drunk for three weeks."  Collins had already been drinking when he arrived and, after a few more drinks, was severely drunk.  Murphy took him to the basement "to sleep off his drunk," as he later explained.  He settled Collins on the floor and was heading up the stairs when the inebriated customer pulled out a pistol and fired.  The bullet hit Murphy in the jaw.

Bleeding, Murphy rushed upstairs and another patron ran into the street where he found police officer Morgan Thomas.  The Evening Post reported "Securing a light, Officer Thomas went down in the basement, when the drunken man fired at him, wounding him severely in the left leg, below the knee."  Despite the wound, Thomas overpowered Collins and held him until other officers arrived from the 20th Street station house.

Whether the incident had anything to do with Murphy's selling the saloon is uncertain; but a year later it was run by John Kurstenier.  Burglars found the liquor stored in the basement a tempting target on the night of April 7, 1884; but they were foiled by a beat cop.  Policeman McDermott noticed a man loitering around the entrance to the saloon.  The man, Eugene O'Hara, spotted the officer and ran.  "A moment later Thomas Henderson, whose real name is said to be McGibney...emerged from the cellar," reported The Evening Telegram.   He was arrested for burglary.  "An attempt had been made to steal $75 worth of property from the saloon."

But the determined McDermott was not finished.  After locking up Henderson he demanded the address of his accomplice.  (Police tactics in the 19th century could be quite persuasive.)  But when he arrived at Eugene O'Hara's apartment on West 17th Street he was attacked.  The Evening World explained "He says that Eugene's brother James tried to stab him with a fork, and he therefore arrested James as well as Eugene."

The saloon changed hands at least once more.  In 1888 it was run by Adam Neumiller.

In the meantime, R. Dunlap & Co. continued making hats upstairs.  The mostly-female staff celebrated the inauguration of President Benjamin Harrison in the factory on March 4, 1889.  The following day The Press reported on the observances.  "The female employes of R. Dunlap & Co.'s straw hat sewing department celebrated inauguration day at a meeting held at 191 Seventh avenue yesterday.  The hall occupied by the ladies was tastefully decorated.  Superintendent Elmore M. Clark delivered an oration on 'Our Country,' after which national airs were sung by the company."  At the end of the meeting "three cheers for President Harrison were given with a hearty good will."

The saloon at No. 195 was replaced by Adolph Behnke's grocery store in 1893.  And space on the upper floors was taken around the same time by paper box manufacturer Andrew W. Schlichte.

That entrepreneur was called for jury duty in the high-profile case against Police Inspector William W. McLaughlin in May 1895.  McLaughlin was charged with extortion by a State investigative committee.   He had forced shopkeepers and other businessmen to pay bribes to avoid being given fines for violations like blocking the sidewalk. 

When interviewed by the attorneys, Schlichte was frank in his opinions of law enforcement.  The Evening Telegram reported that he "said he had a prejudice against the Police Department as a whole, but he thought he could make a fair and impartial juror in this case."

Later that year Nos. 191-195 once again became a furniture factory and showroom, home to J. E. Pearce & Co.   By 1898 the grocery store in No. 195 was run by Frederick Tonyes and at the turn of the century the store in No, 199 held Otto F. Klemmpt's barber shop.

American Cabinet Marker & Upholsterer, January 23, 1904 (copyright expired)

J. E. Pearce & Co. made better household furniture.  On December 12, 1903 the American Cabinet Marker & Upholsterer announced "J. E. Pearce & Co are preparing to make their midwinter exhibit at their own showrooms, 191 Seventh avenue, and will have the goods in line about the middle of January.  Everything goes well, the season has been a good one and Mr. Pearce looks cheerful when asked concerning the future."

Among the furniture firm's employees was Civil War veteran Major Frank E. Lowe.  He was a boy when he enlisted in the Union Army and served throughout the war.  When he fought at the Battle of Gettysburg he was just 16-years-old.  He was twice wounded, once nearly fatally.  One bullet entered his thigh; but another struck him in the stomach, passed through the liver and exited his back near his spine.  He later posed for the statue atop a monument in Gettysburg.

Lowe refused to accept a military pension, opting instead to work as a salesman for J. E. Pearce & Co.  Ironically, given his miraculous survival on the battlefield, Lowe's end came at the hands of a hit-and-run driver.   He was struck in Brooklyn on May 9, 1903 and lingered for seven months before succumbing.  On December 16, 1903 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the incident with virulent prose.

The cold-blooded carelessness of the man in the vehicle, whose identity was never discovered, was a singular feature of the case  After the major was struck down the automobile did not stop or slow up an instant, but continued on its course, while the laughter of its occupants, who considered the affair a great joke, rang in the ears of the victim, who lay upon the pavement with three ribs broke.

J. E. Pearce & Co. remained in the building for decades.  Then, on January 13, 1932, The Evening Post reported that "Pearce Upholster Shops, which have occupied the building at 191 Seventh Avenue for thirty-seven years" had leaded space on West 30th Street.


The building as it appeared in 1931, just before Pearce moved out.  In the foreground work is commencing on a modern apartment building.  from the collection of the New York Public Library


Nos. 197-199 was the first of the two buildings to be converted to apartments.  A 1938 renovation resulted in four apartments per floor above the ground floor stores.  The southern building continued to house businesses and was home to the Presto Paper Company, Inc. in the early 1970's.  The tradition of furniture continued at ground level with Allen Office Furniture's second-hand shop here in the 1980's.

Among the tenants in No. 197 in the 1970's was Edward Rodriguez whose job was conveniently close by.  He was the manager of the Borinquener Cafe directly across the street at No. 200 Seventh Avenue.  On November 21, 1976 he confronted a disorderly patron.  As he attempted to eject the man Rodriguez was fatally stabbed in the doorway of the bar.

Nos. 191-195 continued to house small businesses and offices.  The Fil & Video Production Co. was here in the mid-1980's, and a decade later the Young Socialist Alliance had its headquarters in the building.  Finally a renovation in 2000 resulted in apartments in the upper floors.

The first years of the new century saw sprawling restaurants in the ground floors (although the longtime locksmith shop at No. 197 stubbornly hangs on as a reminder of less trendy times).  In June 2005 Il Bastardo, described by The New York Times as "a Manhattan steakhouse," opened, joined by Bar Baresco in April 2008.  The southern space is home to Arte Cafe today.


Above the shop level, the Youngs brothers' 1870's transformation of five brownstone-faced houses into a handsome factory building is little changed.  And over the second and third story windows of Nos 191-195 the ghosts of Pearce's signage are almost legible, a faint reminder of the time nearly a century and a half ago when parlor furniture was made here.

photographs by the author

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Eustace Conway House - 127 East 35th Street




In 1852 John Jay Phelps, Isaac N. Phelps and William E. Dodge purchased the plots of land on Madison Road (later Madison Avenue) between 36th and 37th Streets and began construction on three impressive brownstone mansions.  Their project was among the first indications that the Murray Hill district would emerge as an exclusive residential neighborhood.  

Almost simultaneously developer William Joyce erected a row of three speculative house nearby at Nos. 123-127 East 35th Street, just west of Lexington Avenue.  The name of the architect has been lost; however the fact that James Renwick, Jr. held the mortgage to the properties during construction strongly suggests he was responsible for the design.

Completed in 1854, No. 127, like the others, was designed in the up-to-date Ango-Italianate style which forewent the more elaborate, pedimented entrance of the Italianate style in favor of a more restrained, rusticated parlor level.   And its stoop was less steep and dramatic than its Italianate counterparts.

At just 16 feet and two bays wide, the four-story brownstone was intended for a financially-comfortable, but not wealthy family.  Other than the attractive parlor floor with its arched openings, there was little especially unusual about the architecture.  A paneled cornice on foliate brackets provided the finishing touch.

William Joyce apparently rented the house for a year to Samuel H. Cooper and his wife Helen S.   Their stay here would be marked by tragedy.  On Sunday night, November 16, 1856 their five-month-old son, John, died.   His funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Joyce sold No. 127 to Martin Lalor in 1857.   He was listed as a "pumpmaker" at No. 387 Bowery early in his career, but by now was a "plumber and gas-fitter."  The term "plumber" today elicits images of leaking pipes; but in the mid-19th century it was almost all about gas.  Plumbers installed and maintained the piping that carried illuminating gas to the sconces and chandeliers of houses, restaurants and hotels.  Lalor was involved in construction as well, dealing in lumber and carpentry.

It was not uncommon for even well-to-do families to rent a room in their homes and on June 26, 1860 an advertisement offered a room on the first floor, available to "a gentleman and his wife or two single gentlemen."  The modern conveniences of the residence were evidenced in the mention of a "bath adjoining; gas and water in the room."

The respectable boarders who rented the room over the years included Miss Amanda M. Root.  She was here in 1866 while teaching in the Primary Department of School No. 14 on 27th Street.

On January 10, 1868 the Lalors' 20-year-old daughter, Lily Louise, was married to John Daniel Crimmons.   Four years earlier Crimmins had joined his father's construction company.   In 1870 he was the first contractor to use the steam drill, resulting in a staggering number of large civic contracts.  The Successful American noted decades later "Mr. Crimmins built the greater part of the 'L' roads of New York.  He also built the first subways in New York City."  

Martin Lalor would not live to see his ten grandchildren nor his daughter's and son-in-law's immense wealth.  A year after the wedding, on October 10, 1869, he died in the 35th Street house at the age of 69.

Following the Lalors, and until 1883, No. 127 was owned by Margaret A. Goodridge.  While she had several rental properties throughout the city, this house was her home.

She sold it to architect Richard Morris Hunt.  He was well established by now, having designed several Newport cottages, the William K. Vanderbilt chateau on Fifth Avenue, and Henry Marquand's newly completed mansion on Madison Avenue among many others.  

It is unclear if Hunt and his wife, the former Catherine Clinton Howland, actually lived here.  It would have been a surprisingly modest home for the wealthy and prominent couple.  It is more likely that they leased it to the esteemed physician John G. Curtis, who listed No. 127 as his address beginning in 1884, the same year the Hunts purchased the property.  Dr. Curtis was a professor of physiology at Columbia University.

All of the homeowners on the 35th Street block employed staffs of various sizes, depending both on the size of the families and of the their homes.  An advertisement in October 1887  read "Wanted--Cook, washer and ironer in small, private family.  Apply 127 East 35th st. 9 to 11."

On November 18, 1892 The Evening Telegram announced that Richard M. Hunt had sold the house to real estate operators Ascher Weinstine & Co.  Within a few weeks the firm sold it to Sarah J. Robbins for $25,000--just over $700,000 today.  Like so many previous owners, she and her husband Julian Robbins rented rooms.

One of those boarders brought unwanted press in 1895.   Thomas Barrett was 27-years-old and a stock broker--or at least that was no doubt what Sarah and Julian believed.  On August 4, 1895 The New York Times described his office at No. 5 New Street, saying he "fitted up the establishment in a manner to give the public the impression that he was doing a stock brokerage business.  There were blackboards, tickers, wires, and relays strongly in evidence, so the general public and Old Slip police really believed that an honest brokerage business was done on the premises, and nothing else."

But that was not the case.  Barrett was running what was called a "poolroom" or "bucket shop."  It was an illegal horse betting den.  

The Sun reported "A squad of ten policemen in plain clothes, headed by Detective Sergeants Prize and Murray...raided a pool room Thomas Barrett was running...just before 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  The raid was totally unexpected, and besides Barrett and Matthew Smith, the sheet writer, nineteen men, averaging in age from 21 to 52, were arrested."  Barrett did not return home that evening.

In April 1901 Julian Robbins sold No. 127 to Walter S. Gurnee.  A real estate operator, he leased it to Colonel George R. Dyer of the 12th Regiment and his wife.   Dyer was a household name in New York because of his military office, and the couple was visible in society as well.  On November 2, 1901 The Evening Telegram announced "Colonel and Mrs. Dyer, who will spend several weeks in the South and Canada, will, on their return, take possession of their new home, No. 127 East Thirty-fifth street."

But the Dyers would have to find a new home following Walter Gurnee's death not long afterward.  In January 1904 his estate sold the house to Eustace and Maud A. Conway.  At long last the house had owners who would live in it for an extended period.  The Conways were, essentially, newly-weds, having married three years earlier.

One of seven children, Maud was born in 1856 to Edward Phelps Allis and Margaret Marie Watson Allis.  Her husband was the son of the famous Rev. Moncure Daniel Conway and his wife, the former Ellen Davis Dana.


Maud Allis Conway as she appeared around the time the couple moved in.  original source unknown.
Born in Cincinnati in 1859, Eustace had grown up in England.  His father was a radical abolitionist author, a biographer of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Paine and Edmund Randolph, and a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.   

Moncure was born in Falmouth, Virginia to a wealthy slave-owning family.  His abolitionist stance caused outspoken tension within the family which culminated when he brought his bride home to meet them.  Ellen horrified her in-laws by hugging a young slave girl and kissing her cheek.  Moncure's family did not speak to him for the next 17 years.

In April 1863 Moncure took his family to London in an effort to convince the British Government to support the Union rather than the Confederacy.  While there young Eustace was educated and met his father's esteemed friends--thinkers and writers like Charles Dickens.

Eustace was an expert on Shakespeare and within the 35th Street house was his collection of rare manuscripts.  A 17th century portrait of the bard was a prized possession.  Conway published a volume about Shakespeare and contemporary writers.  But his profession was law.   When the monumental Woolworth Building was completed, he moved his office in.  

The Conways' country home was in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  When in Manhattan, Maud and Eustace were both supporting members of the Goddard Neighborhood Center at 246-248 East 34th Street.  Run by the Friendly Aid Society, it provided classes, medical care, and recreation for needy children.

Eustace's famous father died in Paris on November 15, 1907.  His body was brought to New York City and the funeral held in the parlor of No. 127 on December 14.  

On November 27, 1909 Maud was involved in a frightening incident.  The Conway's chauffeur, Arthur Woods, was driving Maud, her brother and two women uptown in the Conway's open tonneau.  A delivery boy, 18-year-old Herbert Robertson, was pushing a grocery cart along Manhattan Avenue near 101st Street as the automobile headed down the slight grade.  The teen, who did not see the car coming from behind, was hit.

The Sun reported that Woods, "leaned out and yelled at Robertson, so the police say: 'Why don't you get out of the way, you rascal?'"  The chauffeur then proceeded to drive away.

An ambulance arrived and took Robertson to his home.  But his condition worsened and he was soon taken by ambulance to the hospital.  The Sun reported "His condition is serious, but the hospital authorities say he will recover."

In the meantime, Woods dropped Maud and her guests at the Hotel Manhattan, then drove back to the garage on East 35th Street.  Police arrived to arrest him before long.

In June 1913 the Conways hired architects York & Sawyer to do interior renovations, including new staircases.  At the same time they added a striking two-story neo-Tudor oriel with leaded glass panes.

Entertainments in the Conway house rarely made the society columns.  An exception was Maud's St. Valentine's dinner on February 13, 1915.  The New-York Tribune noted it was "for her niece, Miss Mildred Sawyer, and Miss Emmaline Sizer.  After dinner Mrs. Conway took her guests to Wallack's Theatre."

Maud's health began to fail after a few years and on April 7, 1920 the New-York Tribune reported that "after a long illness," she had died in her 35th Street home.   The Sun remarked on her philanthropic involvements, saying she was a member of "many charitable institutions, including the Isaac T. Hopper Home, the Messiah Home for Children, the Consumers' League and the Friendly Aid."

Although Eustace would survive another 17 years, he immediately left No. 127, selling it to the well-known architect Egerton Swartwout in 1920.  Swarthwout was a partner in the firm Tracy, Swartwout & Litchfield and was responsible for the design of more than 100 structures, including the Yale Club in New York.

Swarthwout and his wife, the former Isabelle Geraldine Davenport, had two children, Robert Egerton, born in 1905, and Charlotte Elizabeth, born in 1908.  


This family-shot photograph was taken in August 1922, two years after moving into No. 127
While her husband labored over his drafting table, Isabelle spent her summers in Europe.  Every May society columns reported on her departure, as on May 11, 1928 when The New York Sun announced Mrs. Egerton Swartwout of 127 East Thirty-fifth street will sail on the Berengaria on May 23.  After a short stay in Paris, Mrs. Swartwout will pass the summer in England."

Her returns were well covered as well.  On December 8 1930 the New York Evening Post informed society-watchers "Mrs. Egerton Swartwout, who spent the summer traveling in England and France, returned a fortnight ago and has joined Mr. Swartwout at their home, 127 East Thirty-fifth Street, for the winter."

Egerton Swartwout died at the age of 73 on February 18, 1943.  The house briefly became home to Caroline P. Hoagland, whose matrimonial alliances required a scorecard.

She was the daughter of Joseph C. Hoagland, the millionaire founder of the Royal Baking Powder Company.  Caroline had been educated in the exclusive Chapin and Porter schools and graduated in Miss Hewitt's 1932 class.  

She married J. Hartley Mellic, Jr. on June 15, 1942, and then divorced him the following year.  She almost immediately married Lt. James D. Earnshaw of the U.S. Navy Reserves.  That marriage lasted only a matter of weeks and they divorced in Reno on July 26, 1943.  Caroline took back her maiden name.  Now living in No. 127 she reconsidered things.  On September 28, 1944 The New York Sun reported that she had announced her engagement to J. Hartley Mellick, Jr., her first husband.

In 1946 the house was converted to a two-family residence.  There were now a triplex in the lower section and a duplex above.  It was owned by Alan Rutherfurd Stuyvesant, who presumably lived in the larger section.

He was a direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch colonial governor of New York and was the last of his generation in the Stuyvesant family.  His country home was Deer Park Estate which sat on the sprawling Stuyvesant land known as Tranquility Farms in New Jersey.  He owned two homes in France, as well.

Stuyvesant, a bachelor and well-known sportsman, had served in World War II.   While headed to France on the ocean liner United States in January 1954 he took a serious fall.  The 48-year-old died in Paris on February 9.

Much of Stuyvesant's vast estate went to charity.  The Hackettstown Gazette announced that "All the arms and armor in Mr. Stuyvesant's collection is devised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art" and that he "left his New York property at 127 East 35th Street to Albert J. McGuire, Jr., who is also to receive the income from a $20,000 trust fund."



McGuire made changes.  A renovation completed in 1955 resulted in a duplex in the basement and parlor floor, and one apartment each on the upper levels.  The configuration remained as such until 2005 when the house was returned to a single-family home.

photographs by the author

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Gramercy - 34 Gramercy Park





In 1831 the city of New York was spreading slowly northward toward the former country estates of James Duane and Robert Murray.  Samuel B. Ruggles recognized the potential of the farmland in its eventual path.  Earlier in the century Trinity Church had developed St. John's Park--an exclusive residential enclave of brick-faced mansions girding a private, fenced park.  An advocate of open spaces, Ruggles envisioned a similar development.

He purchased swampy land from James Duane's Gramercy farm (the name "Gramercy" was a corruption of Dutch words meaning roughly "crooked swamp") then spent an additional $180,000--nearly $5.4 million today--to drain the land and haul away cart load after cart load of earth.  Gramercy Square was laid out--66 plots surrounding the central park.  (After Ruggles successfully helped lobby the State to open Irving Place to the south and Lexington Avenue to the north that number dropped to 60.)  In 1832 he obtained tax exempt status for the park and a year later he surrounded it with a heavy cast iron fence. 


By the mid-1840's mansions had begun rising on three sides of the enclave.  But the eastern side would be different.  Around 1854 massive Gramercy Park House hotel was opened, hosting wealthy travelers.  Miller's Strangers' Guide to New York City in 1866 called it "of colossal proportions...facing the delightful shrubbery of a beautiful inclosure called Gramercy Park."


The Gramercy-Park House engulfed the southern half of the block between 20th and 21st Streets facing the park.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Following the demolition of the hotel, Charles A. Gerlach joined with Judge William H. Arnoux, Haley Fiske and William Duncan Phyfe to lay plans for a ground-breaking residential scheme--a cooperative apartment house.  The concept of multi-family living was viewed with suspicion--and in some cases contempt--among moneyed families at the time.  So the group's idea would be a challenge.

They chose New Jersey-based architect George W. DaCunha to design The Gramercy.  Completed in 1883 in the currently popular Queen Anne style, DaCunha embellished the brownstone and red brick exterior with elaborate carvings, polished granite columns, and opulent terra cotta bands.  The building rose to a riot of towers, pediments and a slate tiled mansard.   Potential residents would be wooed by costly materials--a profusion of stained glass, mahogany finishes, and heavy leaded and beveled glass doors.  Three hydraulic Otis elevators (two for service use and one for passengers) were on the cutting edge of technology and convenience.  DaCunha designed the lobby to resemble a reception hall of a private mansion.


original source unknown
As would become common in high-end apartment houses, there was a restaurant, this one operated by society restaurateur Louis Sherry.  It was intended for residents only and located on the eighth floor.  Those wishing not to eat in the dining room could have meals delivered to their apartments.  (That venture did not work and closed about a year later.)


Above the cornice of the portico two brawny lions flank the weather-worn parapet.

Charles A. Gerlach was pleased enough with the results to move into his building.  On November 17, 1883 he explained the concept to The Record & Guide.  "There are ten stories in the building, and of them six were sold to the present stockholders, leaving four stories--two upper and two lower--which are never to be sold, but are rented for the benefit of those owning the other six stories  This guarantees to each stockholder and income sufficient to pay all the running expenses, as well as a small cash dividend."

And the plan was paying off.  Gerlach said "Apartments in the 'Gramercy' that sold this last August for $13,000 have since been sold for $25,000 each."  Rental units went for about $4,500 per year, or an astounding $58,000 per month today.  An advertisement in the New-York Tribune on August 12, 1884 described "Several desirable unfurnished suites for families in this superb new and strictly first-class building."

The building filled with socially-prominent families whose names routinely appeared in the Social Register and society columns.  Among the earliest were Charles L. Barstow, architect Charles I. Berg, J. Edgar Bull and his wife, the former Sarah Adams Williams, and J. L. Chapin.


Stained glass transoms and interior shutters survive on the southern side of the building.

Press coverage of The Gramercy's residents mostly had to do with their summer travels, receptions and weddings.  But Henry Wallace Cullen found himself in a less flattering spotlight in 1903.  On the night of July 21 he accompanied a friend, Charles Heaton, to cafe of the upscale Gilsey House hotel on Broadway.

That the two men were together at all was surprising.  The New-York Tribune wrote "Cullen is said to come of a good family.  He dresses well.  Heaton's appearance was not so good." 

Sitting at a table was Dr. Walter M. Fleming who had just been handed an envelope containing $200 owed to him.  The doctor's counting of the bills did not go unnoticed by Heaton, who approached his table.  The New-York Tribune reported "Heaton seized the envelope, it is alleged, and crunched it in his hand.  Dr. Fleming seized him, but says he did not recover his money.  He caught Heaton by the throat, jammed him up against the wall, and sized Cullen by the coat tails.  Then he called for help."

House detective Burke rushed in and hauled all three men to the police station.  The stark difference between the refined Cullen and his companion was further evidenced when Heaton was searched.  Along with some papers, he "also had some pawn tickets for clothing, believed to have been his own.  He had no money."  Cullen seems to have been totally stunned by the incident  "He did not know what became of the money, but said he had no hand in the affair and had no idea of stealing it."


A glimpse into the entrance foyer reveals exquisite encaustic floor tiles and a profusion of stained glass, including a skylight lit by the setback behind the portico's parapet.

Several of the tenants remained for decades.  Among these were the family of Dr. William Seaman Bainbridge, including his mother, Lucy Seaman Bainbridge.  The widow of the Rev Dr. William Folwell Bainbridge, she had already led a remarkable life.  In 1861 she became a war nurse, sharing her army tent with Clara Barton.  She later organized the Women's Department of the Brooklyn City Mission, was a staunch fighter for municipal sanitation (she once hired a boat to follow the garbage scows to prove they did not go far enough to sea for dumping), and was an organizer of the Women's Health Protective Association.

Her son was chief surgeon of the Brooklyn Naval Hospital and was recognized as "an eminent practitioner," according to the Tri-States Union in 1908 and a pioneer in cancer treatment.  He and his wife, the former June W. Wheeler, had a daughter, Barbara.

Bainbridge was summoned to the apartment of another resident, stock broker Henry G. Campbell, Jr., by a frantic servant on June 26, 1917.   His 40-year-old wife had been suffering depression due to continued ill health.  That day she had not come out of her bedroom, spending most of it lying on the bed.  The housekeeper left the apartment to get the afternoon papers, returning about a half hour later.

Entering the bedroom, she noticed blood on the pillow.  Fearing Mrs. Campbell was seriously ill, she called the butler who looked closer.  There was a bullet wound in Mrs. Campbell's right temple.  She was still barely alive as Bainbridge rushed to the scene.  The servants made "frantic efforts," according to The Sun, to reach her husband both at his office and his clubs, but it was not until he returned home for dinner that he learned of the incident.  "His wife was then breathing her last," said The Sun.  "When the news was broken to him Mr. Campbell collapsed."


In 1928 nothing had changed to the venerable structure.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
After Lucy Bainbridge died here on November 19, 1928, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle commented that women like she "do much to make the world brighter."  Her funeral was held in the apartment three days later.


DaCunha not only included expected foliate carvings into the design...
but faces of Native Americans as well.

In November 1934 Barbara Bainbridge was introduced to society at a tea-dance in the Louis Sherry Room at Sherry's.  The Bainbridges still lived in The Gramercy when she was married to Angus McIntosh in the sunken garden of the family's summer home, Maple Hill Farm, in Connecticut in September 1939.

Two of the initial occupants, the unmarried sisters Ina L. and Emma Cecilia Thursby, were long-term and colorful residents.  Emma was internationally famous as a concert and oratorio singer and toured internationally.  


Emma Thursby - from the collection of the Library of Congress
Interestingly, while Emma was fond of grand opera, because she was devoutly religious and started her singing career as a choir member of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, she never sang on the operatic stage.  Her sister later explained the decision had been made on the advice of "religious friends" and "because of the public attitude toward the stage in those days."

By the first decade of the 20th century Emma had retired, but she and Ina entertained frequently.  The New York Times later remarked "In her home in Gramercy Park [Emma] held a salon which had an Old World charm about it.  In a spacious, low-ceilinged drawing room that was filled with art treasures, souvenirs, gifts from all over the world, Miss Thursby and her sister, Ina Thursby, received on Fridays.  At one end of this room hung a life-size portrait of Miss Thursby by George P A. Healy, an American painter."


This life-sized portrait of Emma Thursby hung in the women's drawing room.  collection of the New-York Historical Society

The Sun reported on one of those Friday events on February 28, 1914:

Miss Emma Thursby, at one time a famous soprano, gave a reception yesterday afternoon at her home, 34 Gramercy Park, for Miss Mary Garden of the Chicago Opera Company.  Miss Enid Watkins of San Francisco sang in costume chants of the American Indians.

The Thursby apartment was the scene of a "very pretty wedding," as described by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on July 27, 1924.  The sisters' niece, Edith May Thursby, daughter of their brother Edwin Sherman Thursby, was married to C. John McNauley Pate in the drawing room.  The newspaper's report of the wedding hinted that the health of the 74-year-old Emma was waning.  "Only relatives attended the ceremony, which was celebrated very quietly, owing to the recent indisposition of Miss Emma Thursby."

After living in The Gramercy for nearly half a century, Emma Cecilia Thursby died in her apartment at the age of 86 on July 4, 1931.  Newspapers nationwide ran columns-long accounts of her life, and testimonials signed by famous composers like Charles Gounod, Victor Massé and Jules Massenet arrived at the apartment.

In 1937 Ina donated the Emma Cecilia Thursby Memorial Music Building to the Moravian Seminary and College for Women in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  The New York Sun praised it on July 2 saying, "Probably none of the donations to colleges and universities that are being announced at this graduation season will mean more to the future of music in the United States than the building in memory of Emma Thursby, American singer."  

The article added "Miss Thursby resides in the apartment at 34 Gramercy Park to which she and her sister moved fifty-six years ago--the first tenants.  The spacious salon, where Emma Thursby sang, where later she taught Geraldine Farrar and other noted singers, is much the same today, with its grandfather's clock, its two fireplaces, with windows on three sides and the full-length portrait of the great singer...It overlooks Gramercy Park and the willow tree there, brought from Peter Cooper's farm and planted in honor of Emma Thursby.  To this salon came all the important musical personages of Emma Thursby's time--Nordica, Caruso, Edouard Grieg, Ole Bull, who accompanied her on her last tour, and the elder Damrosch, on Friday afternoons in January and February when she was in New York."

On March 28, 1958 fifty of the  building's residents attended a champagne party in the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Garfield to celebrant The Gramercy's 75th anniversary.  In reporting on the festivities, The New York Times mentioned "Although many apartments have been altered--there are fifty--the three original elevators, operated by pulling a cable, are still being used.  The tenants today include doctors, lawyers, actors, editors and business executives."

The unnamed actors referred to in the article were James Cagney and Margaret Hamilton, best known for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.  Hamilton initiated the yearly Halloween tradition of lining the hallways with carved and candle-lit pumpkins and baskets of candy and freshly-baked cookies for the children.  On at least one occasion in the 1960's, according to one former resident, Susan Tunick, in a letter to The New York Times, "Margaret Hamilton hung her Wicked Witch costume in the doorway and greeted the youngsters as they rang her bell."

The owners have taken great pains (and expense) to keep the structure in good condition.  In the summer of 1985 the sandstone was patched and repointed and the sheet metal cornice was cleaned and painted.  A less welcomed update came in 1994 when the co-op spent around $700,000 to finally replace the Otis hydraulic passenger elevator--the oldest operating example in the world, according to the Otis Company.

Other celebrities would call The Gramercy home.  Actor Jimmy Fallon bought an apartment in 2002, paying about $850,000 for a one-bedroom on the seventh floor (just under $1.2 million today).  Two years later, when his neighbor across the hall died, he purchased that unit as well, spending $1.5 million.  Fallon may have intended to connect the two, but if so he never got around to it.  

Instead he kept buying.  By 2015 he owned five apartments in the building and that year informed his motion picture star friend Richard Gere about another available apartment.    Gere purchased the two-bedroom, 1,113-square-foot apartment early in 2016, spending more than $2.5 million.




Touted widely as the oldest cooperative apartment building in the city, The Gramercy has lost none of its architectural charm in its 126-year existence.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Snowden and Elizabeth Fahnestock House - 14 East 76th Street




On June 1, 1910 Elizabeth Bertron was married to Snowden Andrews Fahnestock in her parent's home at No. 46 West 54th Street.  It was a particularly notable wedding and the long guest list included some of the most elevated names in Manhattan society--Roosevelt, Delano, Hewitt, Rives, Iselin, Minturn, Vanderbilt, and Whitney among them.  The New York Times remarked that the newlyweds left "on a short wedding trip and will eventually make their home in New York."

The "wedding trip" was necessarily short because in just two weeks Elizabeth was scheduled to be the maid-of-honor at the wedding of Eleanor Alexander and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  But the couple would have a proper honeymoon afterward.


Elizabeth arrives at the Roosevelt wedding.  Mostly hidden behind her is, most likely, her recent husband.  from the collection of the Library of Congress 

On July 2, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported that Elizabeth's mother, Caroline Harding Bertron, had sailed for Europe.  Three weeks later on July 24, the newspaper announced that the newlyweds "sailed for Europe yesterday to spend the remainder of the summer abroad.  They will join Mrs. Fahnestock's mother, Mrs. Samuel Reading Bertron...in Paris."

Elizabeth, her parents' only child, was born in August 1889, a year after their marriage.  Her father was a vice-president in the Equitable Mortgage Company and a partner in the banking form of Bertron, Griscom & Jenks.  Snowden Fahnestock, who graduated from Harvard in 1908, not coincidentally, also worked at Bertron, Griscom & Jenks.

Two months before the her wedding Elizabeth's father, Samuel Reading Bertron, had commissioned the firm of Warren & Wetmore to design a six-story mansion at No. 935 Fifth Avenue, at the northeast corner of 75th Street.  It was possibly intended as his daughter's wedding present but, if so, the plans changed.

On March 25, 1911 the Real Estate Record & Guide ran an short article entitled "S. Reading Bertron to Build Again" and reported that he "has had plans prepared for a residence at 14 East 76th st, Manhattan."  Bertron had commissioned York & Sawyer to design the 30-foot wide home on the site of an old brownstone.  Their plans called for "exterior walls of limestone, marble and brick," the total cost of construction estimated at $100,000--about $2.6 million today.

As the house neared completion, the close ties of the Bertron, Roosevelt and Fahnestock families was again evidenced.   On February 18, 1912 the New-York Tribune reported "Theodore Roosevelt, jr., after spending nearly four years in the carpet business, is now planning to become a bond salesman for the New York Stock Exchange house of Bertron, Griscom & Jenks." 

The Fahnestocks moved into the completed house later that year.  York & Sawyer had designed an unconventional townhouse; a blend of Spanish and Italian Renaissance elements.  

The only decoration of marble base was a carved wreath encircling bronze address numbers above the entrance and a Greek key course, broken by a marble faux balcony with an iron railing.  Three stories of brown-red "tapestry brick" were embellished with a carved Italian Renaissance panel between the second and third floor openings, and a full-width balcony at the fourth.  The attic floor took the form of a deeply-overhanging Mediterranean roof, sheathed in green clay tiles and punctured by two copper-clad dormers with picturesque casement windows.

In 1913 S. Reading Bertron transferred title to Elizabeth.  He and Caroline continued living in their West 54th Street house.

Elizabeth and Snowdon hob-nobbed with Manhattan's elite.  They were, for instance, members of the exclusive Friday Evening Club.  Elizabeth was among "the usual brilliant assembly" at the last of the group's supper dances on March 13, 1914.  Held in the Della Robbia room of the Vanderbilt Hotel, entertainment included music by the Russian Imperial Balalaika Orchestra, members of the Imperial Opera ballet troupe, and dancing to Conrad's and Fejer's orchestras.  With Elizabeth in the room that night were the Duke and Duchess de Richeliue, August Belmont Jr. and his wife, the Oliver Harrimans, the Jay Goulds and the Frederick T. Havemeyers.

The Fahnestock summer home, Old Brick Farm, was in Roslyn, New York.  Elizabeth had spent the summer of 1914 in Europe.  On May 31 The Sun reported her among the impressive passenger list of the France departing that day along with her mother.

Snowden would sail to Europe within a few years, but for far more serious reasons.  In 1917 he was the secretary and treasurer of the United Equities Corporation, but that year he resigned to enter the Army after the United States was drawn into World War I.

Snowden was among the first training class at the Plattsburg Camp in 1917.  By the time he was deployed to Europe with the 77th Division he had achieved the rank of captain.  

In his absence Elizabeth did her own part in the war effort.  She became involved in the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men and was instrumental in the formation of classes in April 1918 to teach women to "teach trades to crippled soldiers" and "awaken public interest in this branch of war services."

Later that year Elizabeth received terrifying news.  On November 1 her husband's name appeared on the list of soldiers reported wounded in action.   Despite his serious injuries, Snowden recovered and when he returned home following the war he held the rank of colonel and had been awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government.

In 1920 the American Investigation Corporation was formed to investigate the potential of trans-Atlantic transportation by means of helium-filled dirigibles.  Snowden A. Fahnestock was appointed the association's president, Franklin D. Roosevelt its vice-president, and S. Reading Bertron was chairman of the board.   

On July 28 that year the New York Herald announced that "Congratulations are being extended to Mr. and Mrs. Snowden A. Fahnestock upon the birth yesterday of a daughter at Old Bright Farm, their country place."

But storm clouds would soon form in the Fahnestock home.  More and more Elizabeth traveled alone, spending much time in Paris, Newport and Washington DC.  Finally, on December 17, 1924 a cable arrived at The New York Times offices from Paris which said simply "Mrs. Snowden A. Fahnestock of New York made formal application for divorce to the Seine Tribunal today."

Interestingly, in reporting on the development, The Times merely mentioned that Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel R. Bertron.  It went on for paragraphs, instead, about the accomplishments of her husband.

Fahnestock wasted no time in remarrying.  Six months after Elizabeth filed divorce papers he wed Helen Morgan Moran.  Theirs, too, would end in a well-publicized split and eventually in tragedy.

Accusing his wife of "being infatuated with another man," Fahnestock sued for divorce in 1934, and then for complete custody of their two children.  At one point Helen swore out a writ charging that Fahnestock had illegally removed Clara and Mary Lee from a train heading to New York from Aiken, South Carolina.  During the ugly court battle Fahnestock's mother was given temporary custody. 

On October 7, 1935 Fahnestock was awarded a divorce "on a charge of desertion."  It had all played havoc with Helen's nerves.  She was confined to a Connecticut sanitarium and then moved to a New York hospital "for treatment of a nervous disorder," according to one newspaper.  She was released on November 29 to spend Thanksgiving Day with her family.  Following Thanksgiving dinner at the home of her aunt and uncle she excused herself and went upstairs.  A few moments later she plunged from a third story window to her death.

In the meantime, the 76th Street house had became home to Herman Alfred Prosser and his wife, the former Winifred Sprague.  Born in 1876, Prosser was the vice president of the American Smelting and Refining Company.   Their children included a son, Robert Woodward, daughter Elizabeth, and Winifred, from and her mother's former marriage to the late Albert E. Walker.  

The family's country home, Idlewild, was in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Living with them in their city home were two servants.

Like Elizabeth Fahnestock, Winifred had turned her attention to war efforts.  In 1917 she had been chairman of the Emergency Committee of the Women's Auxiliary of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.  Calling it a "fine patriotic society" in July that year, Mining and Metallurgy noted that she "is in close touch with Major Arthur S. Dwight, ready to act when necessity arises."

The first of the children to leave the 76th Street house was Winifred.  Her engagement to Donald M. Lovejoy on May 4, 1930 was covered by newspapers as far away as Utah's The Ogden Standard-Examiner.  Robert was next, his engagement to Mary King Smith announced on October 12 1933.

Elizabeth was not so quick to marry.  It was not until twelve years later, on December 27, 1945, that the Bronxville Review-Press commented "One of the loveliest of the pre-Christmas brides was Miss Elizabeth Woodward Prosser, daughter of Mr and Mrs. Herman Alfred Prosser, of East Seventy-Sixth Street, New York City, who on Friday, became the  bride of Captain Francis Falconer Sanford, Army Air Forces."

Now empty-nesters, the Prossers soon left the 76th Street house, moving to No. 1001 Park Avenue.  The 76th Street house has remained a single-family home, its unusual Spanish-meets-Italian facade unchanged after more than a century.



photographs by the author