Saturday, May 11, 2019

The 1891 Beverwyck Hotel - 39-41 West 27th Street

Interestingly, on June 11, 1892 The Real Estate Record & Guide named the architects of the Beverwyck Hotel, at Nos. 39-41 West 27th Street as Renwick, Aspinwall & Renwick.  But the firm was still listed as Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell at the time and would not officially change its name until around 1895.  The building, construction of which had begun in 1890 and was completed in 1891, seems to have been a family project.  Title was originally in the name of "S. Renwick and others."  (Exactly who S. Renwick was is unclear.)

The concept of the bachelor hotel had taken root in New York City by the last decade of the 19th century.  They provided unmarried men a respectable home with no concerns about housekeeping or meals.  In The Beverwyck Bachelors' Apartments the architects had created a seven-story Renaissance Revival structure of brick and brownstone, embellished with terra cotta.

The alternating bands of planar and undressed stone of the two story base is rather unusual--creating the look of a sheet of corrugated cardboard.  The space between the large arched entrance and its cornice most likely accommodated a hood or marquee.

Above, five brick-clad stories were separated into three sections by projecting stringcourses.   Fenestration was treated separately at each section.   The paired openings of the third and fourth floors shared frames decorated with delicate Renaissance details.  The sixth floor arched openings completed, visually, the two-story arrangement of the windows of the fifth.   At the topmost floor it was the spandrel panels, not the windows, which drew focus with their blind terra cotta frames.  Above was a deeply-overhanging cornice.

The building's super, James Thatcher, was perhaps a surprising choice, given the upscale tenor of the residents.  On June 6, 1894 The Evening World mentioned that Thatcher, "superintendent of the bachelors' apartments at 41 Wesrt Twenty-seventh street...formerly kept a saloon" at 177th Street and Third Avenue.  

Typical of the Berwyck Hotel's residents was stock broker William G. Street, of Street & Norton, who moved in in 1897.  He held memberships to exclusive clubs like the Manhattan, Lambs, Metropolitan, Union, Lotos and Knickerbocker Clubs, among others.  

George B. Hulme, too, reflected the social prominence of the tenants.  A director in the Insurance Exchange, in 1899 The New York Times referred to his "famous string of coach horses."  His thoroughbreds routinely participated in the fashionable New York Horse Show.

On June 17, 1899 the Record & Guide reported that "W[illiam W.] Renwick, late of the firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen, has opened an office at Nos. 39 and 41 West 27th st."  It was possibly at this time that Renwick took over management of the property.

Less visible in society than Street and Hulme, although no less wealthy, was Francis N. Zabriskie.  A graduate of Princeton University, The Times said he "had no profession, but lived the life of a gentleman of leisure."  His family's estate had earlier been purchased by the city to become part of Claremont Park.  Although he had studied medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, "he soon grew tired of serious work and became a man about town."  

The term was a bit unfair.  Zabriskie's brother described him as "a very reticent and quiet young man."  Rather than society dinners and dances, he preferred the theater and athletics.  His Beverwyck apartment was filled with "a lot of fishing rods, a double-barreled shotgun, tennis rackets, and other sporting implements."  He was most often seen with his closest friend, Edward Madden.

In 1901 the 27-year-old somehow met Lillian B. Robinson, the widow of a wealthy Chicago tailor.  She reportedly was in New York to visit relatives and was staying uptown.  Before long Zabriskie became "devoted" to the attractive woman who spurned his attentions.

Lillian Robinson's rejection was nearly too much for the young man to handle.  The New York Times reported that at one point he was "on the verge of killing himself on account of her neglect of him."  His serious depression increased when he read the newspapers on March 23, 1901.  The Times began an article saying "Mystery surrounds the death of a woman, supposed to be Mrs. Lillian B. Robinson, who was found dead in bed yesterday morning."  The 28-year old had poisoned herself.

Zabriskie became, as reported in the New-York Tribune, "sullen and despondent."  And so on Saturday night, March 31, Edward Madden arranged an outing to Koster & Bial's Music Hall with two women to help his friend forget his troubles.  But instead, as the performance went on his mood worsened.  "When he left the party the others noticed that he was in a wildly nervous condition," said the newspaper.

The following afternoon Zabriskie briefly left the Beverwyck, then "hastened to his rooms," on his return.  At 5:15 Madden dropped by to check on him.  "A minute later he rushed out, and the elevator man heard him cry: 'Frank's killed himself.  Get a doctor.'"

The body of Frank Zabriskie was on the bed, fully clothed, with two bullet wounds to his chest.  A .32-calibre revolver was on the floor.

On March 31, 1902 William G. Street rode his saddle horse out of Durland's Riding Academy for a ride on the bridle path in Central Park.  He was joined by Thomas Maddigan and, according to the New-York Tribune, "They were going at a brisk trot and apparently did not make an effort to slacken the speed of their steeds when taking the sharp turn at Sixty-sixth st."  

A few blocks north, at 72nd Street, Policeman Holtzki of the park squad saw a riderless horse cantering long the path and caught its bridle.  Investigating, he discovered Maddigan bent over Street, who had been thrown from the horse.  The New-York Tribune reported "The broker's head was bleeding from a jagged wound, and there were severe bruises about his body."  Street's injuries were more serious than they first appeared.  His skull was fractured at the base of the neck.  "The surgeons gave up all hope."

Also living here at the time was famed society and theatrical photographer Otto Sarony.  The son of equally-famous photographer Napoleon Sarony, he was known popularly as Sarony the Younger.  He was responsible for the portraits of celebrities like Evelyn Nesbit, Richard Bennett, Clara Blandick, and other stage stars.  Sarony, as well, made portraits of popular athletes, which he presented to the Palisade Club House for its walls.  In 1903 he contracted pneumonia while living in the Beverwyck, and died at the age of 53 in St. Joseph's Hospital on September 13.

Sarony captured this image of the beautiful Evelyn Nesbitt in 1901.  image via

On November 2, 1904 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that William W. Renwick had leased the Beverwyck Hotel to Barry & McLaughlin.  The ten-year lease amounted to $140,000--more than $4 million today.

The operators soon made renovations.  In August 1906 they hired architect Henry H. Holly to redo interior walls and install a skylight.  It was a convenient relationship, since Holly had his office in the building.  He was, incidentally, the architect of Thomas Edison's New Jersey estate, Glenmont, as well as his West Orange laboratory.

Wealthy men dealing with marital discord often found refuge in their men's clubs or in bachelor hotels.  Such was the case  when, in 1909, wealthy James Nicholson Gallatin moved into the Beverwyck Hotel.

Two years earlier, on February 1, 1907, the Utica Herald-Dispatch had reported that "Jack Gallatin will wed again."  His intended bride was Ida Robinson Adams.

The 28-year old Gallatin was the great-grandson of Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson, and founder of the Gallatin National Bank.  But he came with a darker, more recent notoriety.  His father was "Al" Adams, known as the "Policy King," an infamous gangster.

The Utica Herald-Dispatch reminded its readers "He gained much notoriety in 1902 when he proposed marriage to Miss Pauline M. Cory while automobile riding in the rain," said the newspaper.  "The couple quarreled while on their wedding trip in Europe and separated."  They divorced in 1904.

When Elizabeth sued for separation based on non-support, James, known popularly as "Jack," fired off a shocking response.  The Evening Telegram reported "In his answer to his wife's complaint Gallatin...declares that his wife had been an excessive drinker and that many times she had struck and beaten him.  One one occasion, he declares, she forced him to accompany her to the theatre while she was wearing a pink wrapper."  (A "wrapper" was the loose robe-type garment women wore in the mornings before dressing.)

Then, on January 2, 1910, the New-York Daily Tribune reported that Gallatin, whose "answer was quite sensational in its charges," had retracted his response.  "I now realize that my action was hasty and unpardonable...and I wish to withdraw them all absolutely."  The article went on "Mrs. Gallatin said yesterday at her apartments, No. 39 East 27th street, that she separation suit would go on.  Her husband, who lives at No. 39 West 27th street said that so far as he was concerned, Mrs. Gallatin could do as she pleased."

Another married man who took harbor here was Charles T. Nightingale, president of a bottle-making company on Church Street.  Early in 1912 he found romance in another woman and went to extreme measures to prompt his wife, Ella, to divorce him.  She later explained that he did so by "continually flaunting in my face his love for one Nellie Callahan, an actress; burning sulphur in the apartment almost continually undermining my health; refusing to take any meals in the apartment and refusing to speak to me in any way or manner except through servants or by means of cardboard."

Finally it was Nightingale, not his wife who left their West 58th Street home.  Although he wanted to be rid of her, when she involved the courts by filing suit sued for separation he was incensed.

Around June 10 their son, Charles, Jr. warned her "My father sent me to tell you that unless you settle this matter without any court or lawyer he will throw up everything and you won't get a cent."  Ella took preemptive actions.

On June 12 Deputy Sheriff Metzger arrived to take Nightingale away.  Instead, he was met at the apartment door by a "physician" who said his patient was too ill to leave.  The Sun reported, however, that "Just then Metzger, who was standing in the hallway of the apartment, heard a voice down the hall say 'Bring me some strawberry ice cream.'  Metzger trailed the voice and asked the man behind it if he was Nightingale."  Indeed, he was, and instead of ice cream Nightingale got handcuffs.

By the following year there were females living in the Beverwyck Hotel.  A small fire broke out under the basement staircase on May 4, 1913.  It did little damage, but gave fodder to a sarcastic story in The Evening World the following day.

The article said the fire "scared some of the guests, caused a display of the latest styles in night clothes, kept Battalion Chief Ross and the men of his command busy for five minutes, and did practically no property damage."

Residents smelled smoke and, looking out their windows, saw the fire equipment.   They streamed out of the hotel in whatever they were wearing--a singular violation of Edwardian decorum.  "One of them had apparently been bathing; anyway his most important garment was a bathtowel.  The noise the men made as they trooped downstairs woke several women.  Some had time to put on slippers and kimonos and some did not."  When they were told there was no longer any danger, they all rushed back to their apartments.  "They did not scurry so fast, however, but that interested observers had time to learn that the night shirts are now gaining in favor over pajamas."

Henry H. Holly still operated his architectural office from the building in 1914, as did architect Edward Bernard Kinsila.  When the city ordered the owners to remove "encroachments" that year, Holly was hired to make the renovations.

Examples of encroachments at the time included stoops and projecting porticoes, for instance.  It may be that Renwin, Aspenwall & Renwick had originally included bay windows at street level.  Their removal would explain that rather hum-drum appearance of the lower portion of the structure today.

Although the once-fashionable neighborhood was becoming less so as well-to-do citizens moved further northward, the Beverwyck still maintained a high-class tenant list.  Still living here in 1914 was wealthy paper goods manufacturer F. Joseph Vernon.  He had been born on what The Sun called "the old Vernon homestead" in Brooklyn, which engulfed an entire city block.  Another resident was well-respected Dr. Samuel Wesley Smith, formerly the "State Commissioner in Lunacy."
The New York Herald, February 20, 1921 (copyright expired)
On February 20, 1921 The New York Herald reported that the "Apartment Hotel Beverwyck" would be auctioned.  "The house, which was recently renovated, is to be sold furnished, with immediate possession."  The New York Times added "It is a seven-story structure with stores, consisting of eighty-one rooms with a bath in each apartment."

The new owners rechristened it the Hilmont Hotel in 1926.  It was home to muralist Gordon Samstag in the late 1939 when the United States Treasury Department's Fine Arts Section awarded him the commission to execute two 4 x 15-foot murals for the new Scarsdale Post Office.  He had just recently competed a mural for the post office in Reidsville, North Carolina.

On February 27, 1940 The Herald Statesman of Yonkers, New York wrote "Scarsdale of three centuries ago, with its periwigs, Redcoats and feudal customs will be recalled today when two large mural paintings are installed in the Village Postoffice in Chase Road."  One of Samstag's paintings depicted Caleb Heathercost buying the Richbell farm, and the other was "a typical manor court scene in the early days of Scarsdale."

The Hilmont received a renovation in 1953, resulting in 11 apartments per floor, plus one in the new penthouse, unseen from the street.

Unwelcome press came to a young female resident in 1958.  According to her, on January 31 that year she had a date with a man she knew only as "John."  His full name was John Melville.

The following day the Long Island Star-Journal began an article saying "A shapely blonde and a prison record led to the quick arrest early this morning of a 30-year old Jackson Heights ex-convict."  As it turned out, the couple had hailed a cab on the East Side at 3:00 in the morning.  The cabbie dropped "the young and pretty blonde" at the Hilmont Hotel and then drove Melville to Queens.  Once there, Melville pulled out a gun and stole $30 from the driver.

Investigators traced the female back to the Hilmont.  The article noted that her name had been withheld by police "since she was not involved in the crime."  Armed only with the knowledge that the crook's name was John, they scoured records of recently-released convicts in Queens with that name.  It worked.

In 1966 the hotel became the Hotel Senton West.  A remodeling in 1973 converted the penthouse to medical offices.  It may have been at this time that the startling blue paint appeared on the stone base.  Whenever the paint job was done, it was a regrettable decision.

The Hotel Senton continues to operate within the 1891 building, one of the oldest surviving bachelor apartment structures in the city.  Its facade, the peacock blue paint notwithstanding, is remarkably intact.

photographs by the author

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