Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Albert Lilienthal House - 126 West 78th Street

The Upper West Side was rapidly developing in 1881 when Rafael Guastavino arrived in New York City from Spain.  An accomplished architect trained in Barcelona, he was fascinated with the Catalan vault—a gently curved structure veneered with brick or tile.

His improved Guastavino Arch, widely touted for its fireproof qualities and noteworthy strength, would make him famous.  But while he perfected the process, he accepted architectural commissions.  In 1885, the same year he patented his “Tile Arch System,” he started work on a row of six townhouses on the north side of West 78th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues for developer Bernard S. Levy.

Levy apparently was pleased with the architect’s Moorish Revival confections.  In January 1886 Guastavino filed plans for nine more homes on the opposite side of the street—Nos. 118 through 134.  Levy’s creative toying with the dimensions of the lots must have provided his architect with a challenge.

The Record & Guide reported on January 30 that six of the houses would be 16 feet wide and the remaining three would be 19, 18 and 17 feet in width.  As he had done the year before, Rafael Guastavino turned to a blend of the Moorish Revival and Renaissance Revival styles for the row (although the Real Estate Record & Guide preferred to call the style “Spanish Renaissance).  The mirror-image row was designed in a complicated A-B-C-A-D-A-C-B-A configuration.

No. 126 was one of the 19-foot-wide houses.  Like its neighbors it rose four stories above the very high English basement.  A dog-legged stoop led to the parlor floor, the rusticated face of which was nearly lost behind the complex treatment of the openings.  Abutting architrave frames formed little Moorish arches between the windows and the entrance.  The grouped openings of the second floor were fronted by two engaged columns under a fringe of Moorish arches--creating the illusion of a recessed arcade, or balcony.  Another exotic arcade graced the topmost floor.

On June 11 1887 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Levy had sold the house "to a private family" for $35,000--just under $1 million today.  The buyer was Albert Lilienthal and his wife, the former Alice Meyer.   

Alice decorated her new home in the latest of fashion.  The first floor level was filled with Louis XV, Louis XIV and Louis XI period antiques and reproductions, all in ivory and gold.  Cabinets held her collections of lace fans, Russian and Limoges enamels, and early English and Dutch silver pieces.

The music room followed suit.  There was a Steinway & Sons small grand piano with a white mahogany case, a Steinway upright with a matching case, and a Mason & Hamlin parlor organ, also in white mahogany.  The dining room suite was different, all in antique, hand-carved oak.  Alice's English silverware dated from the Queen Anne and Elizabethan periods and included solid silver coffee and tea sets.

Lilienthal was a partner with his brother Philip in Lilienthal Brothers, described by The Otsego Farmer of Cooperstown, New York years later as "one of the oldest and largest in the hop business in the world."  The article noted "Albert Lilienthal, the well known hop operator and manipulator...brought the firm to its present standing."

Albert quickly involved himself in the developing Upper West Side community.  He was a founder of The West End Club, incorporated in October 1889, the goal of which, according to The New York Times, was "to promote intercourse among members and provide a clubhouse."

His prominence in the hop industry was seen in December 1890 when the Hop Dealers' Exchange was incorporated in an effort to "bring the hop producers into close relation with the hop sellers."  The New York Times reported "Albert Lilienthal is President of the new Hop Exchange."

In the meantime, Alice busied herself with causes, like the Great Hebrew Fair in Madison Square Garden in December 1895.  The Times said that never before "had such a vast fair in all details ever been held in this or any building heretofore in this city.

It would seem that Alice was most comfortable conversing in her native language.  The several help wanted ads throughout this period routinely requested "German," or at least "German-speaking."  And it appears she expected her servants to work hard.  An advertisement in the New York Journal and Advertiser on December 11, 1899 emphasized that the "chambermaid, waitress, laundress" she for whom she was looking should be a "strong girl."

After 19 years in the house, the Lilienthal's put it on the market in November 1906 with an asking price of $35,000; the same price they paid for it.  Whatever the reason for leaving, the family intended to take nothing with them.  An auction of the entire contents of the "sumptuously furnished residence of Albert Lilienthal, Esq." was held in the house on November 26.  Included were all the furnishings, about 70 oil paintings "of great merit," and the Alice's silver and crystal.  

The auction announcement noted that "the furniture, the walls and the floor coverings, decorations and bric-a-brac, cost a large sum of money, the furniture from the best cabinet makers from abroad and at home."  The vast collection of artwork, it said, was "chosen by a connoisseur."

Two days before the auction Hugo Meyer and his wife, Bella, purchased the house.   At the time well-to-do homeowners were remodeling architecturally passé houses into modern American basement style residences (doing away with the tall stoops).  Hugo and Bella set out to do just that.

On January 18, 1907 The Evening Post reported that "Plans have been filed for remodelling the 4-story and basement residence at No. 126 West 78th st., owned by Henry Meyer.  It is to have a new facade of brownstone, with a central entrance, and a foyer hall, and new ornamental windows, and a decorative gate and railing.  The improvements are to cost $19,000."  But for whatever reason, those plans never went forward and the architectural continuity of Guastavino's romantic row was preserved.

Hugo Meyer had gone into business in 1884 importing silks and woolens.  In January 1890 he brought his brother, Felix into the firm, forming Hugo Meyer & Co.   The firm imported silks and woolens, as well as representing domestic manufacturers.

When Felix's wife, Nellie died in March 1913, her funeral was held in the 78th Street house.  Interestingly, in reporting on the location, The New York Herald called it "the residence of Mrs. Hugo Meyer."

Hugo and Felix were additionally involved in real estate, both separately and together.  They wheeled and dealt in properties not only in Manhattan, but Brooklyn.  But by 1915 they had formed a surprising enterprise.--the Karczag Publishing Co., Inc.  

The firm was the U. S. representative of music and play publisher W. Karczag of Vienna, Austria.  The Meyers contracted with major theater owners, like the Shubert Company, to stage the Karczag works.

Composer Franz Lehár was one of Karczag's most important draws.  

Hugo Meyer leased No. 126 in January 1916 to David W. and Ora N. Childress.  They almost immediately sublet it to Shirli Rives, described by the Sacramento Union as "a prima donna who is famous in musical comedy."  By now, Rives had branched out into vaudeville and found the popular vehicle so profitable that she commissioned Edgar Allen Woolf to write The Song of the Heart for her.

Shortly after moving into the 78th Street house she appeared in a vaudeville performance at the Colonial Theatre.  Also on the program was the minstrel act of Lillian Boardman and Frank Hurse, the Four Meyakos, the Primrose Four, the Oxford Trio and other acts.

By the Depression years No. 126 was owned by Anna and Walter C. Ferguson.  It was still a private home when they leased it in April 1931 to Esther Esser.  She sublet a portion of the house to the Pulaski Society as its club rooms.  

On December 11, 1932 The New York Times reported that the club's secretary, Bronislaus Gliwa "is compiling a list of books in English dealing in one way or another with Poland.  The books may be fiction or non-fiction, they may be translations from the Polish, or they may have their settings in Poland."  Gliwa was asking for help from readers of the newspaper in compiling the list.

The Pulaski Society annually celebrated September 12 as a holiday honoring the "relief of Vienna."  But 1933 was a special year, the 250th anniversary of the event.  On August 28 a meeting was held "to lay plans for the celebration," according to The Sun.  The article explained "On September 12, 1683, King Jan Sobiesky of Poland drove back the Turks and Tartars from Vienna, finally breaking their power as thoroughly on land as Don John of Austria broke it on the sea."

Within the next decade No. 126 was being operated as a rooming house.  Josef Weizenberg was renting here when he earned his dental license on July 23, 1943.  And following the end of World War II Seaman Second Class Eric Godefroi took a room.  

On April 21, 1946 the United States Navy took advantage of the Easter Parade crowds to recruit.  The New York Times reported "The Navy seized the opportunity yesterday in the Easter fashion parade to show its new uniforms for enlisted personnel when three sailors from a recruiting station took posts at Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street.  Accompanied by three models in Easter finery, the men were in sharp contrast with sailors still wearing the old-style uniform."  Among the three was Eric Godefroi, who modeled "dress whites, consisting of straight trousers, civilian-style shirt, black tie and the old-style Navy cap."

Change came in 1968 when No. 126 was converted to a triplex in the basement through second floors, and one apartment each on the third and fourth.  Outwardly, other than replacement windows, little has changed since the Lilienthals moved in in 1887.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Winthrop Aldrich House - 15 East 78th Street

Tycoon Henry H. Cook, who made his fortune in railroads and banking, began planning his hulking stone mansion at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street in 1880.  The residences of other millionaires were inching northward along the newly-completed Central Park, but it would be years before they got this far.  To ensure the high social and financial caliber of his approaching neighbors Cook purchased the entire block on which his mansion would sit--from Fifth Avenue to Madison between 78th and 79th Streets.  He then laid out stringent building restrictions: no structure other than a lavish private home could be built on what would become known as the Cook Block.

The block was fast filling with impressive residences in 1901 when developer Jeremiah C. Lyons purchased the plot at No. 15 East 78th Street.  He commissioned the well-known architectural firm of Buchman & Fox to design a sumptuous speculative home.  Completed in 1902 at a cost of $100,000 (just over $3 million today), the 25-foot-wide mansion was faced in stone and rose five stories.  Unfortunately, no photographs or sketches of its original appearance seem to survive.

Lyons sold the house to English-born Urban Hanlon Broughton and his wife, the former Cara Leland Rogers on October 2, 1902.  As was common, the title was put in Cara's name.  She was the daughter of Standard Oil magnate Henry Huddleston Rogers and Urban was highly involved in his father-in-law's business.

Therefore it is most likely no coincidence that two years later Rogers purchased the former Edmund C. Converse residence at No. 3 East 78th Streetsteps away from the Broughton house and nearly abutting the Cook mansion.  

The fact that Cara and Urban had met and fell in love at all is an unlikely story.  A graduate of the University of London with a degree in civil engineering, he had become involved with the pneumatic pump drainage system known as the Shone system.  Henry Huddleston Rogers considered installing a sewer system for his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts around 1887 where the family summer estate was located.  When he selected the Shone system he brought in young Broughton, who had only recently arrived in American, to direct the project.  

Cara married Bradford Ferris Duff in 1890, but he died soon afterward.  Before long a romance was sparked between Broughton and the young widow and they married in 1895.

Urban and Cara had two sons--Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton (why his name "Huttleston" was spelled differently from his grandfather's "Huddleston" is unclear) and Henry Rogers Broughton.  The family summered at the Rogers estate in Fairhaven.

Broughton's close personal and professional relationship with Rogers was undeniable.  On June 18, 1904, for instance when Rogers raced his steam yacht, the Kanawha, in the Lysistrata Cup regatta Broughton was on board.

And when Rogers effectively retired in the fall of 1907 following a slight stroke, Broughton was ready.  On September 19 The New York Times wrote "The abandonment of business cares by H. H. Rogers marks the beginning of a new era in Standard Oil affairs...The younger element in the company is believed to be coming to the fore, and the old guard to be relinquishing its hold."  The article listed the "younger men who are now looked upon as the real leaders of the affairs" for the firm as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William G. Rockefeller, Henry H. Rogers, Jr. and Urban H. Broughton.

Broughton was also highly involved in copper mining.  On January 31, 1907 The New York Times reported that he had joined with two other copper moguls, Thomas F. Cole and John D. Ryan, to form the National Cooper Bank of New York.  The article described the men as "all prominently identified with copper mining."  Ryan was a personal friend of Broughton, as well.

Around 7:30 on the morning of May 19, 1909 a knock on the door of No. 15 brought distressing news.  Urban and Cara rushed to No. 3 where Henry H. Rogers had just died of a stroke.  

The 69-year-old left an estate estimated at between $50 and $75 million.  Cara received $4 million; more in the neighborhood of $114 million today.  (As an interesting side note, John D. Ryan purchased the Rogers mansion in 1913.)

Two months earlier the family had changed their summer plans.  The Evening Telegram reported on March 25, that the Broughtons, who "have been spending their summers in Fairhaven, Mass., where [Cara's] father, Mr. Henry H. Rogers, has an extensive estate, have leased Hacienda, the Jackson Gouraud place, in Larchmont on the [Long Island] Sound for the season."  In fact, they had purchased the estate.  The Record & Guide reported that it was "decorated by Baumgarten and represents an outlay of nearly $60,000."

The Broughtons spent the following summer in England.  In reporting on the start of Ascot week on June 12, 1910, The New York Times mentioned that Urban and Cara were at Claridge's and "staying for a few weeks in London before going to the country."  Wealthy Americans routinely spent extended periods abroad so no one would have thought twice about the report.  But it was a hint at things to come.

On April 21, 1912 the New-York Tribune's London correspondence wired "One of two American hostesses will come forward in London this season.  One who already has a large circle of friends in town is Mrs. Urban H. Broughton, née Rogers, who, with her husband, will shortly arrive at No. 37 Park street, which they have taken for the season."

The article then revealed "It is said that, although Mr. Broughton is a prominent member of the New York Yacht and Garden City Golf clubs, they contemplate giving up their estates in America and making their permanent headquarters in this country."

In fact, Broughton had already purchased a large house on Grosvenor Square and on February 29 The New York Times said "members of his own family admitted last night that he intended to stay abroad the greater part of his time."

The first of the Brougton properties to go was the Long Island country home.  It was sold in May 1913.  The couple retained possession of the 78th Street house for a while, however.  But having the place closed up meant that servants would have to scurry to get it ready for occupancy when the Boughtons made rare trips back.  Just as wealthy homeowners returning from their summer estates would do, they checked into a hotel until things were in order.  On October 26, 1913 The Sun reported "Mr. ad Mrs. Urban H. Broughton, who have been living in England nearly two years, arrived in New York ten days ago and are at the St. Regis."

If there were any question whether the Broughtons would return to New York permanently it was put to rest in the spring of 1914.  Broughton leased a country manor in York, Escrick Hall, in addition to his London townhouse; and on March 15 The Sun reported that he "is making a campaign for Parliament from the district of York, England, having been accepted as the Unionist candidate."

Seven months later the Record & Guide reported that Kurnal Rufas Babbit had purchased the 78th Street house.  "The property has been held at $200,000."  He and Broughton most likely were acquainted through the copper industry.  Babbit was an attorney who specialized in mining law.   

The Broughtons would go on to an illustrious residency in Britain.  Urban became a member of Parliament and just before his death in 1929, he was to have been made a peer as Baron Fairhaven.  King George V ordered that Cara should "enjoy the title of the wife of a peer, but not the right and privileges, or the precedence belonging by statute to the widow of a peer."  She was given the title Lady Fairhaven.  

In his father's stead, Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton was made Baron Fairhaven and his brother, Henry Rogers Broughton, received "a warrant of precedence as the younger son of a baron."

Kurnal R. Babbitt had traveled to Cripple Creek, Colorado, following the discover of gold in 1890 and the subsequent Gold Rush there.  But unlike the prospectors, it was not ore but information that drew him West.  The New York Times later explained that while there "he acquired an expert knowledge of mining law and became one of the leading specialists in the country."  By the time he purchased the former Broughton mansion, he was the general counsel and a director of the Chino Copper, the Butte and Superior Copper, the Utah Copper and the Alaska Gold Mines Companies.

He and his wife, Lucie, had three children, Eleanor, Genevieve and Theodore.  A year after moving into the house, on December 9, 1916, Lucie gave a tea, the first of Eleanor's debutante entertainments.   They culminated on December 26 with a dance in the mansion for about 150 guests.

Theodore was 22-years old in 1919 and in the Field Artillery Section of the Army Reserves.  That year was Genevieve's turn to be introduced.  Among the entertainments hosted by her mother was a luncheon at Sherry's on March 1.

Kurnal had not been well for a while at the time.  The following year, on January 25, 1920, he died in the 78th Street house at the age of 56.  His funeral was held in St. Bartholomew's Church two days later.

The family remained at No. 15.  The following year Lucie announced Genevieve's engagement to James Gregory Smith.  The wedding took place on April 16, 1921 in St Bartholomew's Church with Eleanor as maid of honor.  A reception followed in the 78th Street house.

Six months later, on October 13, The New York Herald reported "Mrs. Kurnal R. Babbitt, whose home for a number of years was at 15 East Seventy-eighth street, has taken an apartment at 471 Park avenue."  But she seems to have been hesitant to give up her townhouse right away.  On December 1 the New-York Tribune reported that she had leased it furnished to Orlando F. Weber.  The article noted that it "is considered one of the best-built houses in the famous Cook block."  Weber was the president of the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation.  

In October 1922 Lucie Babbitt sold No. 15 for $200,000 (just under $3 million today) to a buyer "said to be engaged in the oil trade," according to The New York Herald.  Five years later, on May 10, 1927, the New York Evening Post reported that Winthrop W. Aldrich had purchased the house.

Aldrich was a banker and financier, chairman of the board of the Chase National Bank.  His sister, Abby, was married to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  He and his wife, the former Harriet Alexander, were living at No. 23 East 73rd Street.

Before moving in they hired architect Henry Oothout Milliken to give the 20-year old house a face-life.  The stone front was stripped off in favor of a prim neo-Federal facade.  The remodeled mansion radiated elegance and simplicity.   The entrance, above a short set of steps, was tucked discreetly within a limestone arcade, as were the service stairs to the basement.  The next three floors were faced in red Flemish-bond brick.  The tall second floor windows wore paneled Federal-style lintels.  Small openings below the simple stone cornice were covered by grills of Greek key design.

Three handsome dormers punched through the peaked roof.  Their arched windows, triangular pediments and interconnecting muntins reflected the architecture of a century earlier.

The Aldriches had three daughters, Harriet C., Elizabeth Brewster, and Mary Millard.  By the mid-1930's the eldest, Harriet, was nearing the age of her coming out.   In December 1938 she was introduced to society in the ballroom of the Alexander mansion at No. 4 West 58th Street.  (Charles and Hattie Alexander were her maternal grandparents.)

The Winthrops entertained the cream of society in the 78th Street house.  On February 21, 1941, for instance, The New York Sun reported "Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop W. Aldrich of 15 East Seventy-eighth street will give a dinner at their home in honor of Sir Gerald and Lady Campbell, later taking their guests to the carnival."  The Carnival was The American Theatre's Carnival for Britain and was organized to help in war relief to England.  Harriet was the chairman of the patrons and patronesses.

In October 1946 the Aldriches announced Elizabeth Brewster Aldrich's engagement to Woodward Redmond.  Like the Aldrich and Alexander families, the extended Redmond family was massively wealthy.  The wedding took place on December 14 in the 78th Street mansion.

The Federal style was carried in Flemish bond brickwork, paneled marble lintels and bold anthemions within the cast iron window grills.

Winthrop Aldrich's father, Nelson W. Aldrich, had served in the United States Senate.  In January 1953 Winthrop was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  It was possibly his political involvements that had prompted him to sell No. 15 three years earlier.

A conversion was completed in 1951 for the elementary portion of the Rudolf Steiner School.  Based on the philosophies of Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner, the first school was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany.  The Rudolf Steiner School was founded in New York City in 1928.

In its November 1, 1976 issue, New York Magazine explained "The elementary school, a 5-story townhouse at 15 East 79th Street, has classrooms, a workshop, a library, an assembly room and a lunchroom."  The school continues to operate from the former Broughton mansion--the only hint being a message board and discreet sign on the ground floor facade.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for suggesting this post

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Lost Fernando Wood House - Broadway and 77th Street

 D. T. Valentine's Manual for 1857 (copyright expired)
Upon their marriage Teunis Somerindyck and Cornelia Dyckman received a large parcel of farmland from the bride's grandfather, Cornelius Dyckman, Jr.  It stretched approximately from what would become 73rd street to 77th Street, and Broadway to the Hudson River.  The Teunis Somerindyck home was built in 1745 and stood near the northwest corner of 75th Street and Broadway.  Before long another Somerindyck house, nearer the 77th Street corner was built.  In 1796 Teunis and Cornelia conveyed the property to Richard Somerindyck.

The Teunis Somerindyck residence had impressive house guests in the form of French King Louis Philippe, exiled in 1793, and his brothers, the Duc de Montpensier and the Comte de Beaujolais.  The three royals "taught school for the living," while living here, according to The Tourist's Hand-book of New York in 1906.  It would have been a brief vocation since the king's stay in America lasted only four years, during which time he also lived in Philadelphia and Boston.  The handbook added "The Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father, visited them here."

King Louis Philippe teaching in the Teunis Somerindyke House -- Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1869 (copyright expired)
Large sections of the extended Somerindyke family properties were auctioned in 1847 and it was most likely at this time that Fernando Wood purchased what had originally been Teunis Somerindyke's farm.  The district was bucolic, peppered with summer homes of Manhattan's wealthy and working farms.

Wood named the estate Woodlawn and before he moved into the northern house with his second wife, the former Ann Dole Richardson, their children and his mother, he set about making alterations and enlargements.  The original 18th century portion was retained as a quaint extension to the new mansion.  He explained to Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper years later, in December 1879, "I have preserved the farmhouse intact solely from its historical interest."  

The publication waxed romantic in its description, saying the "cozy dwelling stands on the Boulevard [now Broadway] and Seventy-seventh Street, upon a grassy knoll overlooking the lordly Hudson and the rock-ribbed Palisades.  The northern wing is modern; the southern with its low stoop and gambreled roof, pure pre-revolutionary.  Ivy clings to the eaves, and trees that might have shed their infant foliage to the sound of English artillery bend protectingly over the velvet grass."

Wood was the son of Quaker parents, Benjamin and Rebecca Wood.  Born in 1812, he had left school at the age of 13 and failed at several businesses before becoming a member of the Tammany Society at the age of 24.   Tammany Hall nominated him as a candidate to U. S. Congress and he served as a Representative from 1841 through 1843.  

Upon his return to New York he established a ship chandler business.  In 1848 his fortune was greatly increased by a lucrative real estate deal.   The Wood children were privately schooled and the family spent the first week of every August at Saratoga Springs.

Fernando Wood - from the collection of the Library of Congress
Although best known later for his political career, his shrewd real estate operations would continue to reap massive profits.  The extent of his realty business was evidenced in a single For Sale advertisement in The New York Herald on March 13, 1852.  In it he offered 12 brick houses, and 37 undeveloped plots of land around the city.

The maintenance of the grounds required professional attention and on the same day of the his real estate advertisement, Wood placed another: "A gardener wanted--A man who is capable of taking the entire charge of a vegetable and flower garden; none other need apply."  He may have proved to be a difficult employer; for nearly identical ads appeared again in 1853 and 1854.

In the meantime, Ann was looking for help as well.  Her ad in The New York Herald on February 15 1853 read "Wanted--In a small family, a woman who understands cooking, washing and ironing; she must be well recommended.  Also, a girl about fifteen years old, to wait and make herself useful in light work.  Apply to Mrs. Fernando Wood, corner Broadway and Seventy-seventh street."

Despite having been convicted of defrauding investors during the California Gold Rush, Wood was elected mayor of New York City in 1854.  As such he was entitled to perform marriages and he did so in the parlor of Woodlawn on June 12, 1855.  The New York Herald announced he had married "Francis M. Smith, Esq., to the amiable and accomplished Miss Dorah Beards."

The 18th century portion of the house is in the foreground.  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 29, 1879 (copyright expired)
Wood was among the earliest supporters of presidential candidate James Buchanan.  In November 1855 State Senator Daniel Sickles informed Buchanan, "One of your best friends in New York is the Mayor--and he has made himself one of the strongest men in the State."  So when Buchanan arrived in New York in 1857, Fernando and Ann held a private six-hour reception at Woodlawn in his honor. 

Wood's support was, as always, more about self-interest than the candidate.  He hoped for a place in Buchanan's administration and, according to Jerome Mushkat in his Fernando Wood: A Political Biography, "By the eve of the July convention, Wood was certain that he had entered Buchanan's select inner circle."  But Sickle, who once promoted him, soon warned Buchanan, "There is a very strong desire among the bet men in our party to get rid of Wood."

The anti-Wood sentiments had much to do with his Tammany affiliations and widespread corruption.  In his American in 1857: A Nation on the Brink, Kenneth M. Stampp wrote "Hards and Softs were united temporarily in an effort to defeat a third political force: Mayor Fernando Wood and his disreputable bank of ward heelers, thugs, and corruptionists."  

The offensive worked--at least temporarily--and Wood was defeated in the 1857 election.  But he was back in office in 1860.  That year Woodlawn was the scene of its most illustrious gathering.  The top echelons of Manhattan politics and society turned out in their finery for the Woods' entertainment in honor of the Prince of Wales.  The Prince met a new Mrs. Wood that evening.  Ann Richardson Wood died in 1859 and within the year Ferdinand had married Alice Fenner Mills.

Wood was a vocal racist who staunchly opposed the abolitionist cause.  In January 1861 he proposed that New York secede, becoming a "free city" so it could continue doing business with the South.  The attack on Fort Sumter, however, galvanized New Yorkers against the Confederacy and Wood was defeated in the mayoral election that year.

Despite his racism, or perhaps because of it, Wood placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on December 13, 1862 which read "Waiter wanted--Wanted, a Colored Lad, who understands the duty of waiter, in a gentleman's house; one but a first class person need apply."

Although he carried the baggage of corruption and racism, Wood was re-elected to the House of Representatives, beginning his term in March 1863.  He fought against the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, and attacked anti-slavery Democrats as having "a white man's face on the body of a negro."

Wood was re-elected in 1866 and split his time between Woodlawn and his Washington D.C. house.  In 1868 the city's process of physically laying out streets which had been only on paper for decades arrived at Woodlawn.  Property owners were paid for land taken by public domain and for the cost of relocating structures, if necessary.

Fernando Wood in the library at Woodlawn  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 29, 1879 (copyright expired)

West 77th Street not only cut through the Woodlawn property, but through the mansion.  On March 14, 1868 the city awarded Fernando Wood $25,001.00--or just under half a million in today's dollars.

Wood accepted the money, but had no intention of moving his house nor having a public street cut through his property.   Instead he erected substantial fences that prevented "trespassing."  

In February 1869 he sold the portion of the estate that held the ancient Teunis Somerindyke house, described in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide as simply a "frame building."  Frederick W. Coggill paid Wood $72,500 for the 170 by 158 foot plot, about $1.4 million today.

On May 24, 1870 Rebecca Wood died in the mansion at the age of 82.  Her funeral was held in the house three days later.  The New York Herald advised mourners that Fernando and his brothers, Henry and Benjamin, had arranged for carriages to be waiting from 2:00 to 2:45 at the 71st Street and Eighth Avenue streetcar stop.

The New York Times had a long anti-Tammany tradition and Fernando Wood's refusal to relinquish the property for which the city had paid him did not escape its notice.  On October 31, 1878 the newspaper ran the headline "A Democratic Squatter" and began the article saying:

As one drives of these pleasant Autumn afternoons, taking the Circle near the Central Park, and branching off on the Boulevard toward the North is struck by the elegant and solid appearance of a well-constructed gate on the Boulevard, which leads up by a wide carriage road to a handsome wooden house.  This gate is certainly attractive...Proprietors of country-seats in this neighborhood have, of course, a perfect right to embellish their grounds as they please, and the passer-by, as he admires this really substantial gate, ought to feel obliged to Mr Fernando Wood for the aesthetic taste he has displayed.

But, the article went on, Wood had been paid "handsomely" for the laying out of 77th Street and "for the last 12 years has been living and enjoying three-quarters of a house, and using a road in a private way for which he has been fully paid."  And it listed the several petitions property owners had filed with the Board of Aldermen, complaining that they could not access their property because of Wood's fences.   But the Chairman of the Committee on Opening of Street was Alderman Bryan Reilly, described by The Times as "the sturdy henchman of Hon. Fernando Wood."

When one citizen applied directly to "Boss" William Tweed saying "Is there no way possible for me to get my right--to put my foot on my own land?  I can't climb Mr. Wood's fences!," Tweed reportedly answered "get into your land with a balloon."

In December that same year Michael Cashman took Wood to court over the matter.   The New York Herald reported on December 12 "Mr. Cashman complains that he cannot get access to his lots without climbing Mr. Wood's fences or opening the gate which Mr. Wood has put up in Seventy-seventh street and in Eleventh avenue."  The judge agreed that while 77th Street was public property, it was a street "in name only."  And because of the rocky terrain "it is impossible to pass over the same with vehicles."  Therefore, he ruled, "I have refrained from interfering with the fences and structures thereon."  Fernando Wood proved once again that he wielded immense and corrupt power.

When the Frank Leslie's journalist visited Woodlawn that month, he noted "In the wide and airy hall is a genuine Vandyke, representing 'Christ before the Doctors.'"  He described the library as having "two low windows giving upon the lawn.  Between them is a table desk.  The books--all bound in buff leather--are so uniform as to suggest dummies or secret panels.  It is a room wherein to peruse 'Sir Roger de Coverly' or the 'Vicar of Wakefield,' so quaint is it, and of an old fashion all so charming."  The mantelpiece, he wrote, was "of that monumental pattern so much in vogue when the redcoats mustered on Manhattan."

Fernando Wood traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas in the winter of 1881 in hopes of recovering his health.  He died there on February 14.  Newspapers nationwide reported on his death, detailing his checkered, sometimes scandalous, career.  His body was taken to the Washington D.C. residence for the funeral, then brought to New York for burial.

It did not take his heirs (the virile politician had 16 children, 11 of whom were still alive) to begin selling off his immense real estate holdings.  Five days after his death the Record & Guide reported that Fernando Wood, Jr. had sold "Seventy-third street lots, between Ninth and Tenth avenues."  

On November 18 the following year the Guide reported the Wood estate sold to Joseph Stern and Jacob Metzger "the two entire blocks located between Seventy-sixth and Seventy eighth streets and the Boulevard and West End or Eleventh avenue.  The consideration being $303,000."  Included was the mansion, described in the deed as a "one and two-story frame dwelling."

Despite the rampant development going on in the Upper West Side, the operators did not immediately demolish Woodlawn.  On September 4, 1886 The Sun noted that in the house "are now three tenants--Mrs. McCaffrey, an Irish woman; Mrs. Parlavasino, a native of Italy, and Mr. Wagener, a German, with their respective families, goats and other live stock.  Mrs. McCaffrey lives in the centre of the house and was an old servant of the Wood family.  She pays no rent.  The others pay rent."  Because the house still stood, 77th Street "is not yet cut through."

Two years later The Epoch noted "New York has some notable historic places that are rapidly disappearing."  Among them was Woodlawn.  "Near Seventy-fifth [sic] street and the Boulevard stands the country seat of Fernando Wood, where the Prince of Wales was royally entertained in 1860.  My informant expressed considerable regret over the proposed demolition of all these places at a date not far distant."

By 1899 the house was gone and 77th Street was finally opened.  Only a portion of the stone wall remained, but even now The New York Times got its jabs at Fernando Wood in.  On April 9, 1899 an article made note that the stones were "precisely the same as is used in the walls around Central Park, and there is a verified tradition--if such a thing is possible--that he 'swiped' what was necessary to build his fence."

The "Central Park" stones of Wood's wall can be seen below the advertising posters in 1899.  from the collection of the New York Historical Society
The corner plot remained vacant until 1901.  On April 13 that year the New-York Tribune reported that Stein, Cohn & Roth had filed plans for the nine-story Belleclaire Apartment house, which survives.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

170 Years of Remodeling - 19 West 26th Street

By the early 1850's the Joseph Giraud family lived at No. 19 West 26th Street on a block lined with similar brick or brownstone homes near the fashionable Madison Square.  Giraud had married Sarah M. Goodrich in 1815.  The couple had at least three children, Elisa Ann (who married Dr. Dudley P. Arnold on September 2, 1825), Susan M., and John G.  It is unclear exactly when Joseph died, but he left an estate estimated at $148,000--in the neighborhood of $4.5 million today.

Following Susan's marriage to Alexander H. Grant, the couple remained in the house.  Among his other positions Grant was a director in the Grocers' Fire Insurance Company.  

In the summer of 1854 Susan fell ill with what The New York Times called a "severe illness."  She declined rapidly and died on the morning of August 29 at the age of 33.  Her funeral was held in the house three days later.

Sarah Giraud seems to have seriously considered selling the house two years later.  In April 1856 Anthony Bleecker, one of the city's best known auctioneers, announced he would auction "at No. 19 West 26th-street, opposite Trinity Chapel, the catalogue comprising the unusual variety of very costly furniture of recent make and nearly new."  But then on the scheduled day of the auction an announcement appeared in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer advising "The Sale of Elegant Household Furniture" had been postponed.

John G. Giraud died on September 6, 1862 at the age of 39.  Newspapers reported that the funeral would be held "from the residence of his mother, No. 19 West 26th st., without further invitation."

The end of the line for the residence as a single family home came when Sarah died at the age of 77 on December 9 the following year.  As had been the case with the other family members, her funeral was held in the parlor.

Three months later, on March 31, 1864 The New York Times reported that the "house and lot" had been sold for $23,550--or about $483,000 today.  It was soon being operated as a high-end boarding house.

Among the first boarders was Edward Mott Robinson and his 30-year old daughter Henrietta, known familiarly as Hettie.    The Robinson family was the wealthiest whaling family in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Edward being the head of the Isaac Howland whaling firm.  But following the death of his wife, Abby, he sold off his interest in the company and became a partner in a New York shipping firm.

But on June 14, 1865, less than a year after they moved into No. 19, Robinson died.  Hetty inherited his $6 million estate.  Three months later her aunt, Sylvia Ann Howland, died, leaving Hetty another $2 million (a total windfall of $127 million in today's dollars).  Hetty was now one of the wealthiest women in America.  She married Edward Henry Green in 1867 and would become famous nationwide for her miserly ways in later years.

The rooms in No. 19 were advertised as being "In one of the most healthy and convenient localities in the city."  The upscale tenor of the boarding house was evidenced when the former proprietor of one of Manhattan's classiest hotels took over.

On September 28, 1875 an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "Mr. Lachenmeyer, formerly of Grand Hotel, having taken house No. 19 West Twenty-sixth street, can accommodate one or two families with elegantly furnished rooms (connecting if desired) and Board and attendance equal to any first class hotel."

The first of several alterations came after Michael Bergmann purchased the house.  He leased it to T. W. Dempter as proprietor, who in turn hired architect F. A. Greenough to make significant renovations.  His plans, filed on January 5, 1886, called for "front and internal alterations" at a cost of about $27,500 by today's standards.

Then only two years later Bergmann commissioned the architectural firm of Berger & Baylies to renovate the house to a "clubhouse."  Their plans included an addition to the rear.  The conversion spoke of the changes to the once-exclusive neighborhood.

On March 9, 1891 The Evening World announced "There will be a pool match, this evening, at the Madison billiard and pool parlors 19 West Twenty-sixth street, between P. H. Walan, champion of the State and the winner of the last two professional tournaments, and W. Murray, champion of the city of Brooklyn."  

Another major alteration came in 1895.  That year Bergmann once again repurposed the former house.  Architect George A. Schellinger removed the facade and replaced it with a front of Roman brick and limestone designed, for the most part, in the Renaissance Revival style.   The openings of each floor above the two-story storefront were treated differently.  Those of the third and fourth floors wore stylized Gibbs surrounds that complimented the quoins which ran up the sides.  The fifth floor sat above a slightly-projecting stone cornice; its arched windows framed by paneled Doric pilasters.

The top three floors now held rented rooms.  Phillip Wassung hoped to lease the storefront but the Board of Alderman dashed those plans.  On March 2, 1895 The New York Times reported that the board had denied Wassung's application "for a saloon license in the building 19 West Twenty-sixth Street, because the place adjoined Trinity Chapel School.  The application was opposed by the Trinity Church corporation."  Somehow, however, James Helde managed to squirm around the licensing problem.  Later that year The Evening World reported that rowdies were throwing bricks or rocks at the windows of Helde's saloon.

Robert B. Dedman got a job as a porter in the building that year.  He had the unenviable job of identifying the body of a friend, 27-year old Mamie Needab on April 1, 1896.  She had come to New York from Virginia at the beginning of the year and found work as a domestic in a house on Sixth Avenue.  

On April 2 The Evening World reported that police "had their dragnets out last night searching for a clue to the identity of the young colored woman whose mutilated body was found in front of the New York Bank Note Company's Building, Waverly place and Sixth avenue," three days earlier.  The article said that Dedman and Bemous Spruiedell, "both colored, called at the Morgue this afternoon and positively identified the body of the murdered girl."  It added "The last time the men saw her was at a cake walk at the Madison Square Garden."

One of the rented rooms was being used as an office in the fall of 1896; and it was the scene of a high-profile raid on October 1.  The New York Times reported that Joseph Ullman, "the greatest bookmaker in the United States;" his brother Alexander, "who is a plunger at the race tracks," Archibald C. Chandler and his assistant Frederick Fisher, "were arrested yesterday afternoon at 19 West Twenty-sixth Street in a room in which was found a great amount of evidence that convinces Anthony Comstock...that he can easily prove a violation of the law against gambling."  

Anthony Comstock was the secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and well-known to all New Yorkers for his indefatigable battle against obscene literature, gambling, prostitution and phony medicines.  He had been stalking "Joe" Ullman since he arrived from St. Louis.  The Times said "The Comstock agents who were on the trail of Mr. Ullman in this city fixed upon 19 West Twenty-sixth Street as the base of his operations."

Living here in 1898 was the actor Robert Hilliard and his wife.  When Hilliard came home around 9:00 on the evening of April 16, his wife told him that the janitor, William Jackson, "had been insolent to her."  Hillard called Jackson upstairs and asked for an explanation.

"Instead of explaining, Jackson swore in loud tones in the presence of Mrs. Hilliard," reported The Times, "and told her husband that he could go to the devil...Mr. Hilliard declared war at once and knocked the negro down by a blow."  It appeared to Hilliard that Jackson was reaching for some sort of weapon in his hip pocket, and he struggled with the man to prevent him from getting it.  After Jackson went back downstairs, Hilliard went to the West 13th Street Police Station.  But because it was Saturday, the actor was told that Jackson could not be arrested until Monday when Hilliard would be able to swear out a warrant. 

"Then, if that's the case," declared Hilliard, "I'll go and buy a gun.  I don't propose to have a drunken janitor around that house all night."  And so he did.

When he returned home Jackson was barring the doorway.  After Hilliard called Policeman Callan the janitor disappeared inside.  The officer told Hilliard to stand at the foot of the stairs while he searched Jackson's rooms.  In his absence, Jackson descended the staircase, once again putting his hand in his hip pocket.  It was a tense standoff, with Hilliard pointing the gun at him and saying "If you move that hand I'll shoot you dead where you stand!"  Jackson was arrested, but was so violent that it took a second policeman to get him to the station house.

In July 1898 Bergmann leased the store to men's clothiers H. Morley and Walter I. Wright for five years.  On October 25 that year a tiny advertisement, slightly disguised as an article, appeared on the front page of The New York Times:  A Well-Dressed Man Is Armed from head to foot for the battle of life.  Morley & Wright, merchant tailors, 19 West 26th St., four doors west of Broadway.  Moderate prices."

The apartments were unexpectedly commodious.  An advertisement in May 1902 offered "eight rooms and bath, modern improvements."

The Astor real estate offices were next door at Nos. 21 and 23 West 26th Street.  On January 15, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported "William Waldorf Astor bought for $100,000 the modern five story store and apartment building, No. 19 West 26th Street."  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide more cautiously deemed the building "comparatively modern."

Although Astor was permanently living in London, he continued his real estate business here.  By fall that year he had commissioned architect Clarence L. Sefert to convert the building into lofts.  His plans, filed on October 28, called for new interior walls, an electric elevator, plumbing and "electric fixtures."  It was a major make-over, costing a quarter of a million in today's dollars.

Upon the completion Astor leased the entire building to two tenants, fur manufacturer Jacob Adler, and fur importers Platky & Co.  Adler took the upper floors while Platky & Co. occupied the store and basement.

Other apparel firms soon subleased space.  In 1912 the Junior Dress Co. was here, and Goff Rose Burada, a manufacturer of children's garments, was on the top floor.  A water leak led to a court case between Burada and Astor in July 1913.

An Astor agent saw water leaking from the top floor and blamed Burada.  A standoff about who was responsible resulted in the landlord's shutting off the elevator to the top floor.  It was a major problem for Goff Rose Burada.  Not only were customers unwilling to walk up five flights, but some of the female employees quit.

Burada took the Astor Estate to court and won.  The court found that elevator service was "incidental, if not indispensable;" but because there was no definite proof of the monetary loss, Burada's victory was mainly symbolic.  The Sun reported on July 6, 1913 "the court awarded only nominal damages."

In 1914 the Standard Underwear Co. shared space in the building, subletting like the others from Jacob Adler.

In 1923 the Gotham Novelty Company was creating these children's outfits in the building.  Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1923
By 1931 John Guidotti of Florence was in the two-story store.  The firm marketed imported antiques and reproductions, including furniture, accessories (like mirrors), and paintings.  On January 30, 1937 a sale ad of "18th Century and Earlier Period" antiques appeared in The New York Sun.  John Guidotti of Florence would remain in the space for another four years.

It was replaced in May 1941 by a less glamorous dealer, The Reliable Metal Novelty Company.  In reporting on the 21-year lease, The New York Times noted "The novelty firm, which manufacturers and distributes bathroom fixtures and other metal products, is producing materials for the defense program."  The following February the 21-year old company added another floor to its lease; The New York Times explaining it "is expanding its quarters because of contracts on housing and defense projects."  The firm would remain in the building until around 1951.

At the time No. 19 was owned by Abraham Yarmack and it is almost assuredly he who removed the cornice and replaced it with a brick parapet with the conspicuous Y within a circular opening.

In the early 1950's Credda, Inc., a national distribution of aeronautical and electric parts and equipment was in the building.  Little changed to the property until the late 20th century when the second story show window was updated.

Today a century of dirt obscures the contrast of brick and stone.  And after a succession of major remodeling projects nothing, of course, outwardly survives of the 1850's Giraud house.  But deep within, remnants are still there.

photographs by the author