Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Albert Brod House - 168 West 77th Street

On April 1, 1893 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that George F. Pelham "has the plans for the five three-and-a-half-story brown stone dwellings...which James Brown is to build on the south side of 77th street."  The price of each house would be in the neighborhood of $564,000 each today.  "The houses are to be trimmed in hardwood and to have every improvement."

Completed within the year, Pelham's Renaissance Revival houses were liberally splashed with Romanesque Revival elements--like the beefy stoop newels and unexpected use of rough-faced stone at the basement level.  The row was designed in a balanced A-B-C-B-A scheme; the projecting bays of the end houses created a book-end effect to the whole.  

No. 168, like its twin at 164, wore a graceful rounded bay at the second floor.  Romanesque Revival made another appearance in the eyebrows, terminating in Medieval crockets, above the delicately-carved tympani of the third floor openings.   Renaissance Revival panels separated the windows of the squat attic floor.

Three of the original row survive.  No. 168 is at the center.

No. 168 was purchased by Albert Brod whose disparate occupations included real estate operator and jeweler.   While he bought and sold properties, many in the Upper West Side, he was also a partner with Charles Marx in Marx & Brod, diamond dealers, at No. 37 Maiden Lane.  

The Brod's adult daughter, Emma, was working as a teacher by 1904.  

Albert's partnership with Charles Marx eventually ended and around 1913 he joined with brother Oscar J. Brod and Maurice J. Schless to form Schless, Brod & Co.  The trio patented a new knife design in 1916.  But the partnership was short-lived and by 1918 Herbert N. Brod had replaced Schless and the firm became Brod & Co.

Both Herbert and Albert doubled as traveling salesman.  On November 13, 1918 The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly announced "Albert Brod, of Brod & Co., manufacturing jewelers...is on a trip which will include visits to the trade in the far west and on the Pacific Coast."

By the time the brothers received a patent for a new jewelry setting in December 1919, they had moved their manufacturing shop to Newark, New Jersey.  It was around the same time that the Brod family left West 77th Street.  

No. 168 was now being operated as a high-end boarding house for unmarried men.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on October 21, 1921 offered the "Exceptionally large salon floor, bath, shower; excellent service; bachelors."

Among the occupants in 1922 was 32-year old Horace Drulacht, a "designer."    In September he received the emotionally devastating news that his mother had died.  It was too much for him to handle.

On September 11 he locked his door and swallowed bichloride of mercury mixed with liquor.  Before long another boarder heard moans coming from his room and rushed onto the street to find Patrolman William Fitzgerald.   

The officer broke into the room, then directed the landlady to mix milk and raw eggs.  Before the ambulance arrived, Fitzgerald forced Drulacht to swallow the concoction.  A doctor at the Knickerbocker Hospital credited the policeman with saving the man's life.

The upscale tenor of the boarding house was soon evidenced by the occupant of the parlor floor.  In 1930 Armand Hammer returned to the United States from a nine-year stay in the Soviet Union.  The U.S. Government had been skeptical about the true purposes of his trip and would keep a close eye on him for the rest of his life.  

Armand Hammer as he appeared around the time he lived at No. 168.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
In his autobiography Hammer he mentioned his arrangement with a "hardworking and hard-up student," saying "I hit on a plan to help us both.  I had rented an apartment on the ground floor of a brownstone house at 168 West Seventy-seventh Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam.  I offered my spare room to Dan, rent-free, if he would take down full notes of all the lectures and give them to me to study in the evenings."

As the century went on, the renters in No. 168 became less affluent than its most celebrated tenant.  Then in 1988 the Coalition for the Homeless purchased the house and the two brownstones on either side. 

The organization's website explains that it offers "private apartment living to homeless single men and women in three contiguous five-story brownstone buildings on a serene, tree-lined street on the Upper West Side."  The 38 residents pay rent based on their individual income, and have access "to onsite services that help them with socialization, household budgeting, and healthcare and family issues in a safe and stable environment."

There is no signage to suggest that the three 1893 rowhouses are anything but private homes.  Although a bit time battered, their facades survive essentially intact, hinting at the original appearance of all five.

photographs by the author

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