Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Eduardo Marzo House - 139 West 87th Street

On June 211, 1884 The Record & Guide reported "Charles L. Guilleaume will shortly commence the erection of seven three-story high-stoop private dwellings on the north side of Eighty-seventh street...west of Ninth avenue.  The fronts will be of Berea stone, brick, terra cotta and brown stone, each house being of different design in Rococo."  Building magazine noted that the project would cost $84,000--or about $317,000 each in today's money.

Guilleamue's determination to fit seven houses on the 97-foot wide plot is surprising, especially given the high-end residences rising in the immediate neighborhood.  The widest of his row would be No. 139 in center, at just 15-feet.   

The Record & Guide's description of the style as "Rococo" was a stretch, at least by today's terminology.  Architect Arthur Bates Jennings blended two rather diverse styles, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival, for his balanced A-B-C-D-C-B-A row.  The individual No. 139 formed the centerpiece.

No. 139, the center of the seven-house row, claimed the spotlight.
The homes were completed in 1887.  The basement and parlor floors of No. 139, like its flanking neighbors, were clad in undressed brownstone, typical of the Romanesque Revival style.  Rather than iron railings, solid stone wing walls ran up the stoop.  Jennings chamfered the corners of the upper, brick faced floors, creating a striking cornice that wrapped the mansard level.  Asymmetry was a repeated theme in the Queen Anne style and the architect achieved it here in spades by off-setting the swan neck pediment and finial, then placing a miniature pseudo dormer at its side.

Guilleaume may have stretched himself a bit thin, financially, on his project.  When four of the houses--Nos. 135, 139, 143, and 145--had not sold in September 1888 he lost them in foreclosure.  No. 139 was purchased by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. for $18,000, in the neighborhood of $490,000 today.

Henry J. White, a partner in the auction house of King, Mallaby & White, had been leasing the house.  He briefly stayed on under his new landlords.  The year 1888 was a Presidential election year, and White made his opinions public by writing to the editor of The World that December.  "I did not vote for Cleveland because I am a civil-service reformer and do not believe his efforts in the direction were as energetic as they should have been."  He apparently could not bring himself to vote Republican, however.  "I abstained from voting the Presidential ticket."

Within the month White would have to find a new home.  The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company sold No. 139 the first week of January 1889 to Captain F. L. Norton for $20,000.

The head of the Norton Naval Construction and Shipbuilding Company, he was currently at work perfecting an unsinkable ship for use in life-saving efforts.  A year and a half after purchasing the 87th Street house, his efforts were coming to fruition.

On October 17, 1890 the New-York Tribune reported "The steamer F. L. Norton, built according to the Norton system of construction, was given a trial trip on the Delaware River to-day."  Norton was aboard his 58-foot prototype.  

A successful trial-run was crucial for him--it would result in a lucrative Government contract.  The article noted "The Norton boats have double bottoms with water and compressed air between them.  The claim is made that they are unsinkable and cannot be capsized."

"As soon as the Federal authorities have tested the boat, with a view to adopting the system for the Life-Saving Service, Captain Norton will sail in her for Europe" said the article.

The river trial was successful and Norton now planned to prove its seaworthiness.   And perhaps to underscore his confidence, he would take his wife and niece, Annie Rickaby, along.  The New-York Tribune reported "This will be the smallest steamer that ever attempted to cross the Atlantic, but Captain Norton is confident that the trip can be made in his boat with perfect safety."

The N. L. Norton left New London, Connecticut for Toulon on November 24.  On board were the Norton family and a crew of seven.  The French Government was poised to receive Norton upon completing the voyage and present him with an award for his life saving inventions.

But that would not come to pass.  On January 23, 1891 The New York Herald reported "Friends and relatives of Captain F. L. Norton are becoming very anxious as to the fate of the Captain and those on board the little steam life-boat F. L. Norton."  A cablegram had been received in New York on December 18 saying that the craft had been seen off Gilbratar; but since then there had been no word.

Norton had predicted the trip would take 16 to 20 days.  On February 18, 87 days after its departure, The Evening World reported that the officials of Norton's firm "have given the daring voyager up for lost."

The disaster resulted in a rapid turnover in ownership of the 87th Street house.  It was sold no fewer than five times before March 1901.  Finally the Eduardo Marzo family settled in for the long term.

Marzo was born in Naples, Italy on November 29, 1852 and came to the United States while still a child.  He was married to the former Clara L. Philbin.  The couple had four children, Clarence Philbin, Alberto Steven, Maria Josephine and Rita Elise.

An internationally-recognized composer, Marzo's works encompassed masses, vespers and other religious songs, orchestral preludes, piano pieces, children's cantatas and operatti, and secular songs and duets.  In 1884 he had been made a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy by King Umberto I.

Eduardo Marzo - original source unknown

The esteem in which Marzo and his works were held was evidenced in 1906 when he was recognized by the Pope.  The New Music Review reported "Mr. Edward Marzo, organist of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, New York City, has received from His Holiness Pope Benedict XV, Knighthood in the Order of St. Sylvester.  The distinction is conferred in recognition of Mr. Marzo as a composer of music for the Catholic Church, his work having received marked commendation from the late Pope Pius X."  The Papal distinction conferred the title of Chevalier on Marzo.

Marzo took on a few hand-picked private students.  The New York Times would later mention "As a vocal teacher he had among his pupils Mrs. Chester A. Arthur, wife of the former President, and members of the Vanderbilt, Bourne and other prominent New York families."

Although Clara was regularly listed in Club Women of New York, the Marzo name rarely appeared in the society columns.  The exceptions were the children's weddings.

The first was Clarence's marriage to Alvina Harriet Still on January 8, 1916.  The wedding took place in Cornwall-on-Hudson.  Rita was the maid of honor and Alberto the best man.  In reporting on the wedding The Sun aimed the spotlight on the groom, but not because of his acclaimed father.  The article's sub-headline read "Nephew of Justice Philbin Takes a Bride in Cornwall."

Clara's brother, Eugene Ambrose Philbin had been appointed by Governor William Sultzer to the New York Supreme Court in 1913.  It was a post he would retain until 1919 when he was appointed to the Appellate Division.

In a front-page article on August 23, 1918 The Suffolk County News reported on the engagement of Maria to William Kenneth Flanagan.  The article noted the news "is of much interest here because for a number of years Chevalier and Mrs. Marzo were summer residents of Sayville."

The announcement was rushed and the wedding took place the very next day.  Like many romances in which the future groom was in the military, the threat of deployment put things on a fast track.  

The news of Maria's married made it all the way to Juneau.  The Alaska Daily Empire, October 15, 1918 (copyright expired)
The newspaper noted that like her parents, Maria was a member of the Verdi Club, "the only musical organization in the United States which devotes its attention especially to music by the great Italian operatic master," and noted "Enrico Caruso is a charter member.  The president of the club is Mrs. Florence Foster Jenkins."

Following the ceremony in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola a wedding breakfast was held in the 87th Street house.  Marzo had been doing his own part in the war effort.  In reporting on the event The New-York Tribune noted "Miss Marzo's father is a composer and recently was decorated by the King of Italy for his work in maintaining the musical standards in this country and Italy for his aid in war relief work."

Albert was married to Leonia Coudert in August 1925.  His parents, now empty-nesters, moved to the Bronx where Eduardo died at the age of 77 on June 7, 1929.

By 1934 No. 139 was used as the headquarters of Branch No. 2 of the Irish-American Independent Democratic Organization.  The group held weekly meetings.  On May 5 that year, for instance The Advocate reported that at the previous meeting "Those present stood up as a mark of respect to the memory of the late Patrick Greene, native of Fermoy, County Cork, whose daughter Anna, is a respected member of the branch."

Irish turned to French on November 29, 1976 when Chez des Amis moved in.  The travel agency had organized group tour to France for years from West 86th Street.  Now, explained The New York Times, it was moving "to bigger quarters."  The firm remained at least through 1980.

Much of Jennings's interior detail survives.  photo via streeteasy.com
Despite its use by at least two organizations, No. 139 was never converted to apartments.  It was home to artist Rifka Milder in the first years of the 21st century.  She offered to rent it in the spring of 2014 for $24,000 per month.  That may have been a bit pricey for most and the house was put on the market that November for $8.75 million.

photographs by the author

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