Friday, June 7, 2019

The Monte Sano Hotel - 26 West 27th Street

Christmas Eve 1855 was not a festive day at No. 26 West 27th Street.  The funeral of Cornelius Concklin was held in the house that afternoon.  He had died two days earlier.  

Concklin and his wife, the former Tamar Leticia Varian, were among the early upscale residents above 23rd Street.  The wealthy couple, who had seven children, lived in a brick-faced, 25-foot-wide residence that reflected the refined new neighborhood around the fashionable Madison Square, opened in 1847.

But by the turn of the century well-heeled residents had moved northward, their homes either converted for business purposes or demolished.  On November 3, 1900 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced that Lorenz F. J. Weiher, Jr. had purchased the "old building" and "will erect an 8-story bachelor apartment house."

Weiher (who had been married earlier that same year) was a busy young man.  An accomplished architect, he designed scores of structures, eventually becoming best known for his theater designs.  For this project and a few others he acted both as developer and architect.  

The bachelor hotel concept had arisen around 1880 when about 45 percent of Manhattan's male population was unmarried.  By now it had firmly taken root; the The Real Estate Record & Builders Guide noting in 1890 that the bachelor flat “is a product of our modern life. It is not a social fad, ready to disappear directly. It has ceased to be a novelty. It has come to stay, for it filled a gap in the life of every unmarried man who has become weary of the boarding house, the furnished room, or the hotel.”

Weiher filed his plans on November 23, 1900.  They now called for a seven-story structure at a cost of $90,000; more than $2.75 million today.  It was completed in 1901.

The design was a successful marriage of neo-Federal and Beaux Arts styles.  Its two stories of rusticated limestone drew from Federal residential designs with modified Gibbs surrounds at the entrance and ground floor window, and at the second floor.  An ornate cornice separated the two levels, carved with a unique motif of anthemonions (also borrowed from early 19th century designs) stylized into a wave crest pattern.  The doorway was originally situated to the right.

The upper five stories of brick were framed in brick quoins.  The paired openings were each separated by fluted columns.  Their neo-Federal splayed lintels conceded to Beaux Arts with scrolled keystones.  Those gave way to French cartouches above the top floor windows.  The building was crowned with a deeply-overhanging pressed metal cornice with florid consoles.

Weiher sold his building to Jefferson De Mont Thompson, who also moved in.   Well-known among wealthy automobile owners, he was also chairman of racing board of the American Automobile Association.  Thompson had grown up in Huntsville, Alabama,
below the Monte Sano Mountain.  His uncle, John Jefferson Dement, had been instrumental in erecting the
fashionable Monte Sano Hotel there in the 1880's--a destination for wealthy New Yorkers like William Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and William Waldorf Astor.

No doubt as a nod to his uncle's admittedly more lavish resort, he named his new building the Monte Sano.  It, like other bachelor hotels, offered maid service and a common dining room for meals.  

Among the early residents was Dr. A. H. Swinburne who relocated from Marietta, Ohio in 1904.   His magazine and newspaper advertisements offered no information on his techniques, but promised to cure any stomach problems other than cancer.  (Although he claimed "I have often produced a cure in cases even where diagnosis of cancer had been made by other eminent physicians.")  Swinburne practiced from his apartment in the Monte Sano at least through 1907.
The New-York Tribune, December 10, 1905 (copyright expired)

On October 29, 1906 William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. called a meeting of Long Island estate owners who, according to the New-York Tribune, "are anxious to have the proposed automobile speedway."  Jefferson De Mont Thompson was chosen the committee's treasurer.

Like the moneyed automobile owners with whom he rubbed shoulders, Thompson traveled abroad.  So when he announced that the anticipated Vanderbilt Cup Race for 1907 "had been abandoned," he did so by cable from Paris.

At the time of the announcement, Thompson seems to have changed the policy of renting only to bachelors.  Under the listing "The Mone Sano Apartments" in the society directory the Alcom Blue Book that year was Mrs. A. H. Mudge.  Other well-heeled residents listed were Colonel A. Gross, Judge E. L. Andrews, Dr. W. A. Dickson and G. H. Beverly.

That year another female resident appeared.  Florence Schenck was the daughter of Norfolk, Virginia physician Powhatan Schenck.  She moved into the Monte Sano after returning from England that summer.  The voyage to London had been full of hope for Florence, but it ended in her ruin.

Her troubles had started when she attended the fashionable New York Horse Show at the age of 18 in 1906.  She caught the eye of Charles Wilson, manager of Alfred G. Vanderbilt's stable.  The much older man wooed the teen, never divulging that he was married.

A common method to lure naive girls into bed was to assure them marriage was imminent.  Florence was induced to travel to Washington DC on Vanderbilt's private railroad car, the Wayfarer, when Wilson promised they would be married the next day.  She later explained "When they reached the capital, Wilson asked her to postpone the marriage until they reached New York."  That did not happen either.

Florence agreed to sail to London with Wilson, when he promised to marry her there.  There was a ceremony which the girl believed to be genuine; but when the pair returned to New York she discovered he already had a wife.  Wilson then "abandoned" her.  She was now trying to make ends meet by performing at Weber's Music Hall.

Early in December 1907 Florence came home to her apartment to find it had been entered and ransacked, but only a few articles of clothing were taken.  Two weeks later, on December 19, she was at rehearsals at the music hall when Paul Wurch, a Monte Sano employee, noticed a man trying to pick the lock on her door.

When Wurch asked him what he was doing, the man said he was "waiting for Miss Schenck to return."  Wurch told him that the lobby was where he should wait, at which point the man pulled out a gun.  The New-York Tribune reported "A hand-to-hand battle ensued, in which the clerk and several porters joined in.  After the intruder had beaten the hotel man over the head with the butt of his revolver, he dodged out of the crowd and made good his escape."

Florence Schenck was just coming in when Wurch came down the stairs, blood streaming from his face.   She told police she assumed the would-be thief was the same as the one who committed the earlier break-in.

With little money Florence tried to return home, but was scorned by her family.  It is unclear how long she remained in the Monte Sano, but a friend later testified that repeatedly she was evicted from hotels and boarding houses; one landlady saying "I don't want the refuse of the Vanderbilt stable in my house."

Florence's story ended tragically.  Finally, destitute and her health eroded, she was taken to a sanitarium.  Her father's frigid stance softened when he learned of her pitiable condition.  He came to New York to bring her home.  On January 5, 1914 The New York Times reported "Dr. Edward Teague, who had had charge of her when she lay ill in a New York sanitarium, had warned Dr. Schenck that she could not survive the hardship of a journey from New York to Norfolk, but Dr. Schenck insisted and had his daughter carried to a train on a stretcher Friday night."  She died in the Schenck house two days later.

In the meantime, the attempted burglar of Florence's apartment had been captured.  Three other apartments had been robbed on the same day, December 19, 1907.  Three days later Jefferson De Mont Thompson accused the building's 18-year-old elevator boy, Frank Hennessy.  The Evening Telegram reported "The young man put up a fight and pointed a revolver at Manager Thompson.  This was taken away from him."  Once again, Paul Wursch ended up getting the worst of it all.  "Then he struck Paul Wursch behind the ear with a billy and escaped."

The teen was arrested while attempting to break into an East Side apartment house on Christmas Day.  His sisters traveled from Philadelphia to plead for leniency during his trial on February 9.  They hoped he would be sent to a reformatory, pointing out this was his first arrest.  The judge did not agree.  Hennessy was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

In November 1909 Thompson made a significant alteration to the Monte Sano.  He hired architect H. T. J. Fuehrmann to alter the ground floor window to an entrance, and installed a storefront where the doorway had been.

The building had another colorful resident that year--Hungarian Baron Richard von Arkovy.  He had reportedly accompanied Lord Decies of London to America.  (Decies would marry Helen Vivien Gould in 1911.)

In November 1908 Arkovy hosted a card party in his apartment here.  One of the guests, Cuban Vice-Consul Julio S. Jarron, came out on the losing end and Arkovy later said that he owed him $280 at the end of the night.  According to him, when he later ran into Jarron at the Waldorf-Astoria later, he mentioned the debt.  Short on cash, according to the baron, Jarron gave him $10 and two platinum crucibles.  Arkovy pawned them in April 1909 for a total of $35.

Jarron's story was different.  If there were, indeed, a card game, it had nothing to do with the valuable crucibles.  According to his lawyer he had shown the objects to Arkovy on February 19, 1909.  "The baron, so the story goes, admired the crucibles and asked Jarron to let him take them to a Hungarian jeweller [sic] of his acquaintance for examination," explained The New York Times.  It was the last Jarron would see of his crucibles, valued at $900 (about $25,600 today).

By the time the incident came to trial in 1911 the now 31-year-old Arkovy was living at the Plaza Hotel.  His troubles were just beginning.  The news of the trial sparked realization in others that they, too, had been duped.  On March 3 The New York Times reported that "When von Arkovy appeared in the Jefferson Market Court there were half a dozen persons awaiting his arrival who were ready to testify that the Hungarian had also obtained money from them under various pretenses which he didn't repay."

In almost every case a wealthy woman had been coaxed to give Arkovy jewelry to take to a Hungarian jeweler for examination.  And in each case the valuables were pawned.  The publicity also exposed Arkovy's fake background.

One prominent Hungarian told reporters "Richard von Arkovy is not a Baron, nor is the family in any way related to nobility.  His father's name was Arnstein, and he is one of the best dentists in Hungary."

The fraudulent baron aside, the Monte Sano still catered to a financially comfortable clientele.  And on August 17, 1912 The Record & Guide reported that Thompson had purchased the property.  He was active within the district and by 1914 was was president of the Broadway Association "composed of property owners and business men" according to the Record & Guide on February 7 that year.

An advertisement on December 14, 1913 in The New York Herald listed just one apartment opening.  "Two rooms and bath; modern in every way; service included."  Thompson leased the store in October that year to jeweler B. Trivoli Jr.

Concern pianist Ethel Newcomb lived in the Monte Sano around the time.  She had made her concert debut with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1903 and had performed under the direction of Richard Strauss the following year with the Queens Hall Orchestra.  In 1909 she played at the wedding of Mark Twain's daughter, Clara Clemens, to Russian conductor and pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch.

On January 2, 1916 The Sun reported "Ethel Newcomb, pianist and teacher, who has a studio at 26 West Twenty-seventh street, will give a recital at Aeolian Hall February 3...Miss Newcomb was for four years assistant to [Theodor] Leschetisky."

Another well-respected resident around the time was Swedish-born Dr. C. A. O. Rosell.  A patent attorney and chemist, he had been with the Patent Office in Washington for several years.  He died in his apartment in the Monte Sano of nephritis in September 1919.

Although the neighborhood was becoming increasingly commercial, the Monte Sano continued to be home to moneyed residents through the 1920's.  In November 1925 The Larchmont Times reported "Mrs. E. A. Chatterton of 14 Magnolia Avenue has gone to 26 West 27th Street, New York, for the winter."  And in 1929 Samuel L. Packet lived here when his automobile was stolen on March 2.  That he could afford to own and keep a car testified to his financial status.

In October 1930 the New York Evening Post reported that the Monte Sano apartments had been sold to The 26 West Twenty-seventh Street Corporation, headed by president Louis Schwebel.  The firm had already been leasing the property.

Commercialization of the block and the advent of the Great Depression led to noticeable change within the Monte Sano.  In February 1937 Marjorie Fobes Gaylord obtained a divorce from Frederick Alan Gaylord.  The Portville Review reported that Gaylord "was guilty of misconduct on or about February 10, 1935, with a woman not named at an apartment at 26 West 27th Street, New York."

In 1950 a renovation resulted in two apartments along with the store on the first floor, and four apartments each on the upper stories.  That configuration remains, and rather surprisingly, not only is the facade remarkably intact, but it is still called the Monte Sano.

photographs by the author

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