Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Antonio C. Gonzalez House - 258 West 71st Street

The dormers of the 1906 mansard roof seen in this photo were removed around 2008.  photo via apartments.com

In 1892 developers John J. Egan and Daniel Hallecy completed a striking row of six brownstone-fronted rowhouses at Nos. 256 through 266 West 71st Street, between West End Avenue and Broadway.  Designed by the often forgotten architect Martin V. B. Ferdon, each was three stories tall above an English basement and just 16 feet wide.

Ferdon treated the stonework of each level separately.  The basement levels were clad in undressed stone; the planar parlor floor wall was interrupted by slightly projecting quoin-like blocks; alternating dressed and rough-faced brownstone at the second floor gave the impression of frosting oozing from between layers of cake; and the top floor was smoothly finished.

Because of the slope of West 71st Street each house steps slightly down from its neighbor.  The now dormerless No. 258 is at far left (No. 256 has been razed).  photograph by the author
Above their parlor windows each house was given an elaborate carved frieze of vines and birds.  In the center of each was a carved roundel of a female bust dressed in contemporary 1890's attire.

While the figure at No. 260 is respectfully dressed in Victorian attire, her neighbor at No. 262 is surprisingly saucy.  photographs by the author

Egan & Hallecy sold No. 258 in November 1892.  The buyer, Antonio C. Gonzalez had already led a remarkable life.

Gonzalez was born in Cuba in 1844.  His father, Jose Antonio Gonzalez, had held high positions under the Spanish Government, including Treasurer of Havana.   Antonio graduated from the University of Habana "with high and exceptional honors" in 1863.

He intended to immediately sail to Paris to study medicine.  But he angered the Spanish Governor of Cuba by freeing the slaves left to him in his father's will.  His property and finances were seized and he was sentenced to death.

Gonzalez was saved by family members and friends who managed to smuggle him aboard the S. S. Black Hawk headed for the United States.  He landed in New York in December 1863.

Gonzalez entered the law office of Charles and Frederick Coudert.  In 1869 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and in 1876 he and two partners established Olcott, Mestre & Gonzalez which specialized in international and Spanish law.

On September 16, 1874 Gonzalez married Matilde Rodriguez, also from Havana, in St. Stephen's Church.  They would have three children, Antonio, Jr., Marie and Amelia.

While Gonzalez's club memberships generally reflected his scholastic interests--the Ibero-American Club, the Society of Medical Jurisprudence and the Academy of Political Science, for instance--he was also active within his developing neighborhood.  He was a member of the West End Association by at least 1895.

Stylized dragons decorate the brackets of the doorway and upon close inspection, an infant's face peers from within the frieze above the transom. photograph by the author
Perhaps embittered by his treatment by the Spanish Government, Gonzalez devoted much of his professional energy to the causes of Cuba and Puerto Rico in their fights for independence from Spain.  

And when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 he became a regular adviser to the United States Government.  A biographer later explained "during the Spanish-American War he was often consulted by the Congress of the United States, because of his vast experience and knowledge concerning Cuba and Puerto Rican matters, customs and affairs, thereafter he assisted in the formation of the Spanish-American Claims Commission and acted in representation of claims against Spain before that Commission."   He was decorated by the Cuban Government for his services.

The regular trips to Washington resulted in the family's name appearing in the social columns there nearly as often as in New York.  And on September 9, 1899 the Washington DC The Evening Times reported on the engagement of Marie to Gustav P. Macias, of Washington.  "The wedding will take place in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Seventy-first Street and Western Boulevard [now Broadway], on October 5."

On October 16 The Tammany Times called the ceremony "One of the prettiest weddings of the season" and reported "The bride, who is a handsome and attractive brunette, was given away by her father."

It was a lavish ceremony with the flowers provided by high society florist Thorley.  Amelia was the maid of honor.  The Tammany Times reported "More than 700 friends attended the church ceremonies.  A reception and supper followed at the house of the bride's parents."  Among the guest that evening were some of the most recognizable names in Washington and New York, including Olcott, Yanaga, Acosta, and Phillips.

In 1903 the Gonzalezes hired architects Robinson & Knust to add a fourth floor.  The plans were filed on March 13; but for some reason the project never got off the ground.  They tried again three years later.

Robinson & Knust refiled plans on April 20, 1906 to "add 1 story, [and] toilets."  The renovations would cost $3,500--or slightly under $100,000 today.  The result was a mansard roof with two prominent dormers--architecturally handsome by itself, but having nothing to do with the design of the house.

The following year, on December 19, 1907 the 71st Street house was the scene of a second wedding reception.  Amelia was married to James R. Gaskill, Jr. in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.  Her brother stood in as best man.

Anthony Jr., like his father, had intended to be a doctor.  But after two years at the George Washington University School of Medicine, ill health forced him to switch to the university's School of Law.  After graduating in 1909, he moved to Connecticut to practice.   But following his marriage to Evelyn Quinlan, also an attorney, in 1911, The Sun reported on August 17 that the couple "will settle in New York when they return from their honeymoon in Canada."  In 1913 he joined his father's firm; and like his father's, his name would eventually become nationally recognized.

On April 25, 1921 Antonio C. Gonzalez died at the age of 76 in the 71st Street house.  His death prompted headlines similar to that in The New York Herald: "A. C. Gonzales, Cuban Patriot, Dies Here."

The New York County Lawyers' Association's Year Book recalled that "He was a close friend of [Speaker of the House] James G. Blaine and Gen. U. S. Grant."  The article added "He was a legal adviser to the Cuban Junta during the first and second revolutions in Cuba" and "During the course of his long and active practice and almost up to the very moment of his sudden death, he was consulted by many of the large firms and corporations of this City and elsewhere as a recognized authority on Spanish and International law."

Antonio, Jr. went on to a prominent career.  In 1926 he became associate counsel for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Corporation, in charge of foreign and corporate matters.  He stayed there until 1932 when he returned to Olcott, Mestre & Gonzalez.  The following year President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him United States Minister to Panama.

The former Gonzalez residence was being operated as a rooming house by the early 1940's.  One of its tenants, 22-year-old John Manno found himself in police custody on February 8, 1945 "accused of a series of afternoon apartment burglaries in the Washington Square-lower Fifth Avenue district," according to The New York Times.

Detectives John O'Neill and Thomas Tyrrell were waiting outside No. 34 West 10th Street when Manno emerged with a suitcase "that contained a watch and other jewelry and a fur coat."  His "fence," Oder Gregory, was also arrested for having received stolen property.  He admitted to having paid Manno $65 for silverware which police said was worth $2,800; but he denied knowing it was stolen.

In 1949 the house was converted to a mixture of furnished rooms and apartments.  A subsequent renovation in 1990 resulted in two furnished rooms in the basement, an apartment and a furnished room on the parlor level, one apartment on the second floor, two on the third, and one on the fourth.  And in 2008 the house was extended to the rear.  It was most likely at this time that the dormers of the mansard roof were stripped off.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. I wondered what the empty lot at 256 next door was and found this petite park.