Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Catherine - 1 West 89th Street

Among the most significant and influential late 19th century architects working on the developing Upper West Side was Clarence True.  Eventually responsible for scores of structures in the district, his penchant for working in historic styles--sometimes in playful combination--helped shape the architectural personality of the Upper West Side.  

In 1899 True was hired by developers Eppenstein & Mathews to design an upscale apartment building on the northwest corner of Central Park West and 89th Street.  For this project the architect looked back to Renaissance England and the Jacobean style.

Completed the following year, the seven-story structure was faced in red brick and heavily trimmed in contrasting limestone.  Alternating bands of stone and brick at the corners produced a striped effect.  The entrance, with its hefty sandstone Gibbs surround, sat on the quieter 89th Street.  At the sixth and seventh floors True used terra cotta to execute Corinthian pilasters and ornate spandrel panels.  Elaborate pediments above the corner and end windows of the top floor suggested scalloped dormers.

An advertisement in the New York Herald on September 13, 1903 read "The Catherine, 1 West 89th st, 6 and 7 rooms and bath.  Fireproof.  Elect. light included."  The six-room apartments rented for $1,000 a year and the larger units for $1,300.   That would translate to about $3,200 per month for the seven-room apartment today.

The residents, like the Daemker family, who moved into the Catherine were well-to-do, and summered away from the city.  On April 10, 1903 the Republican Watchman noted "Mrs. Mary Daemker, of No. 1 West 89th St., New York, has rented the cottage of Benj. Lewis at Kiameshia Lake for the summer.  Price $400."

Another tenant seems to have been leaving for the winter that year, possibly going abroad.  That family sought to sub-let their apartment with an ad on September 5, 1903:  "Corner apartment, six rooms, bath, elevator, electric light, telephone, piano, silver, linen, china."

Among the respected residents was Dr. Schuyler Clinton Jacques, a physician with the Metropolitan Hospital.  He had married the widowed Alice Ann Clemmons in March 1902, just before moving in.   

On Saturday morning, January 20, 1906 Jacques was aroused by an urgent knock on his door.  A 44-year old widow and invalid, Mrs. Henrietta Freeman, had thrown herself from her sixth floor window in the newly-completed St. Urban Apartments across the street.  But when the doctor got to the building's courtyard the woman was dead.

Working as a servant in the Jacques apartment at the time was Caroline Morris.  She quit working for the couple later that year and then devised a vicious scheme to make up for the lost income.  Posing as Dr. Jacques's former secretary, she filed suit for $150 in back pay; saying she left his employ after he failed to paid her.

According to her well-concocted story, she had been ill in St. Luke's Hospital and was attended to by Jacques.  She claimed that before her sickness she had been a sculptor's model "and had posed for 'The Dancing Girl' by Paul Mocquet.'"  Then, after she recovered, Jacques persuaded her to become his secretary.  After working for him for three months and, not being paid, she left.

The suit apparently was not moving quickly enough for Caroline Morris, and so she stoked the fire on October 22 by rushing up to a policeman and complaining that the doctor was stalking her and she wanted him arrested.  That worked.

The following day The Sun reported "A girl with flowing hair and flashing eyes bounded into the Jefferson Market police court yesterday afternoon followed by a no-less excited and indignant man, who was in the custody of a policeman."

Caroline told the judge "Since I started this suit, in fact ever since I left this man's office, he has been following me about and annoying me.  Twice today he followed me, watching until I left my home and annoying me all the time until I got back again.  At last I grew desperate and asked a policeman to arrest him."

Dr. Jacques had something to say, himself.  "Why, she worked as a domestic in my house.  I never saw her in a hospital.  This is all a trick of hers to help out the civil suit which she is bringing against me."

The judge dismissed the case and everyone went home.

Caroline Morris's story may have been inspired by the actual events which led to the romance and marriage of Schuyler and Alice.  An Englishwoman, Alice had come to America in 1900 and got a nursing job.  The couple met when she was the nurse to one of Jacques's patients.

The New York Times explained, "Later she was taken ill with scarlet fever; he attended her, fell in love, and they were married."  It was a charming love story that would have an unhappy ending.

In 1907 the doctor's brother, attorney McClure Jacques, was traveling abroad.  He sat next to an English Army officer on a train and the two struck up a conversation.  When the topic turned to the Southampton district of England, McClure mentioned that his brother was married to a Southampton widow, Mrs. Joseph George Clemmons.  Shockingly, the officer replied that he knew Joseph Clemmons very well.  And he was quite alive.

The news understandably caused no lack of domestic disturbance in the Jacques household.  Alice insisted that her husband was dead.  The doctor sent her off to England to unravel the mystery.  However when she returned, according to him, "she refused to give him any information on the subject."

In August 1909 he filed suit to have the marriage annulled.  Interestingly, he neither left the Catherine, nor did he ask Alice to do so.  On August 12 The New York Times explained "Dr. Jacques and his wife are still living in the same apartment, but when seen last night she said her husband was at home very little and did not take his meals there."  She insisted to the reporter that she had been told Joseph Clemmons was dead.

Jacques's decision that the couple still technically live together seems to have been well played.  While a hearing was pending, Alice filed her own action, seeking alimony.  Her affidavit listed her husband's annual income at $712,000 in today's money.

In court on August 13 her lawyer explained "My client is now living in the same house with him and he is furnishing her with food and clothing, but nothing else."  The judge wondered what, then, she needed the alimony for.

"For carfare and many other things that a woman desires."

"She wants pin money, then," said the judge.

It did not go well for Alice.  The court ruled that "a woman living in the same house with her husband is not entitled to alimony."

In 1918 the family of Mordecai M. Kaplan moved into the Catherine.  The rabbi had been an instructor at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1909.  At the time that the family arrived at the Catherine, he was little known outside of the Seminary community.  That would all begin to change in 1922 when he founded the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, redefining Judaism as a "civilization" and embracing the culture of Judaism beyond religious beliefs.  Years later The New York Times would call him "a towering figure in the recent history of Judaism."

Financier W. C. Boschen took on an unexpected hobby around the time the Kaplan family moved in--big-game fishing.  Every summer, while other residents were traveling to their country homes or fashionable resorts, Boschen went to the West Coast to fish.  He made headlines nationwide in August 1913.

A special dispatch to The New York Herald from Avalon, California reported  "W. C. Boschen of New York, has been the happiest fisherman in this neighborhood ever since last Saturday, when he made the record catch of what is considered the only true swordfish ever landed with rod and reel, and certainly the first 'broadbill' ever caught in these waters."

Boschen's catch weighed in at 335 pounds.  It took him an hour and a half to battle the swordfish into submission.  In the end, it was not only the fish that was hooked, it was the fisherman.  Big-game fishing became the banker's obsession.

He made national news again in September 1917 when he reeled in another record swordfish.  This time the fight lasted two and a half hours but the reward was worth it.  Boschen's fish was 463 pounds.  For his record-breaking catch, he received valuable award from the Tuna Club of California.  The Sun described it as "an exquisite masterpiece of the jeweler's art, a swordfish in beaten silver accompanied by rod, real and gaff, and the whole mounted upon an oaken panel.

Boschen's record catch was postcard-worthy.  The well-heeled angler apparently fished in suit and bow-tie.  The more casually dressed man is presumably George C. Farnsworth.
The following year, of course, Boschen was back.  On October 18, 1918 The Sun reported that "The returns of the annual summer tournament of the Tuna Club are all in, and W. C. Boschen of 1 West Eighty-ninth street, New York city, leads all anglers in the number of tuna taken, ninety-nine."

It would be the last visit to California for Boschen, at least alive.  On one of the first trips out that season, Boschen had divulged to his close friend and fishing companion, Captain George C. Farnsworth of Avalon, California, that he had a serious medical condition; what seems to have been cancer.

Farnsworth later recalled "That day he told me about the operation he expected to have performed in November, and said that his doctors told him he could have one more year to fish.  So he took the last new months, and let his chance for life wait until the angling season closed."

Shortly after he returned to New York the operation was performed.  He died on November 15, 1918.  His large estate included "many tracts of land in Beaufort county, North Carolina," according to The Sun.  His will left generous bequests to the Presbyterian Hospital, a trust fund of $100,000 to his widow (about $1.67 million today), and another of $40,000 to his son to be held until he reached the age of 35.  To George C. Farnsworth he left $25,000.

The will included specific instructions regarding the disposal of his remains.  Boschel wished to be cremated, his ashes sent to Farnsworth, and that "they be thrown into San Pedro Channel, between Catalina Island and San Pedro, California."

The following year, on November 1, 1919, the Syracuse, New York Daily Journal reported "The ashes of W C. Boschen, New York, financier and 'king of swordfishermen,' floated on the waters of Catalina channel to-day."  It had been, apparently, an emotional chore for Captain Farnsworth.  Boschen's former fishing companion was alone in the boat which the two had used for years.  He followed the exact route they always fished, and then 12 miles out to sea he opened his lunchbox, and set out a lunch for two as had always been their habit.  "Farnsworth ate alone, and then scattered on the waves the ashes of his friend."

For years Helen W. Watts had lived in the building.  The widow of George B. Watts, her six daughters and one son were all grown.  Since 1863 she had been the head of the American Female Guardian Society.   The commendable organization, founded in 1834, addressed the plight of single mothers and prostitutes.  Women who became pregnant while not married suffered serious censure, branded as "fallen women."   Helen had been the head of the group for 56 years when she died in her apartment here at the age of 76 in May 1919.

Professor Otto Koenig and his wife, the former Margarette D. Purington, were living in the building by 1922.  (By now it had lost its name and was known only by the address of 1 West 89th Street.)  Since 1904 Koenig had been head of Sachs Collegiate Institute, founded around 1872 by Dr. Julius Sachs.  The private academy, which prepared boys for college, was conveniently close, at No 18 West 89th Street.

In 1913 Koenig came up with an innovative plan.  He purchased the former McAvoy farm on Grindstone Island, in the Thousand Islands upstate, and erected Camp Koenig, a summer school for boys.  The Thousand Island Sun later explained "Colony houses were constructed, a huge dock was built and the farm house made ready for dining and assembly hall."

Koenig hired Columbia University graduates as counselors "and a rigid schedule in academics mixed with sports, games and other forms of relations" was compiled, according to the article.  "Enrolled here were sons of the wealthy representing some of the greatest men on Wall street, in foremost American industries and the select few in aristocratic social life...Dr. Koenig built up an enviable reputation for himself and Mrs. Koenig."

The enrollment for the summer camp was significant.  On July 16, 1922 the New-York Tribune noted "Dr Otto Koenig, accompanied by sixty-eight boys and six teachers, has arrived at Camp Koenig on Grindstone Island."

While Koenig continued to run the Manhattan school, he gave up the camp following the summer session of 1923.  He and Margarette sold the property for $12,000.  The new owners announced it would be enlarged and improved.  Part of the deal was that the name Camp Koenig would remain for no fewer than eight years.

The advent of the Great Depression does not seem to have noticeably affected No. 1 West 89th Street.  An advertisement on August 22, 1934 offered "Exceptional view, large sunny rooms" of seven and eight rooms with two baths.  The rent was between $1,300 and $2,000; or about $3,125 per month for the more expensive unit today.

The Koenigs were still living here when they went to California for the winter season of 1949-50.  They were at Palo Alto on Sunday night, February 12, 1950 when Margarette suffered a fatal heart attack.  She was 73 years old.  

Apartment buildings on Central Park West did not suffer the humiliation experienced by similar buildings elsewhere in the city during the latter part of the 20th century.  The apartments at No. 1 West 89th Street were not broken up and the tenant list remained upscale.

There was one significant change, however, completed in 1988.  By now the private academy formerly run by Dr. Otto Koenig had been become the Dwight School.  An entrance was carved into the Central Park West elevation and the first floor of the building converted to a school for for academy.  A subsequent alteration in 2002 enlarged the school into the second floor.

Clarence True's Victorian, Jacobean Revival apartment house looks a bit out of place among Central Park West's soaring Art Deco buildings.  But its jubilant red-and-white charm is in many ways a delightful exception.

photographs by the author

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