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

1 comment:

  1. Curiousity piqued when I noticed that York and Sawyer were the Conway's architects, and that Mrs.Conway's niece was Mabel, I investigated further. Mr. Conway's sister Mildred was married to architect Philip Sawyer of York & Sawyer, and Mabel wastheir daughter, so the design was a family job. I've always found it a charming house. Nice to know the rest