In 1884 John Fink commissioned architect Richard S. Rosenstock to design a commodious suburban home in the area that would later be dubbed Sugar Hill. The principal in the pork packing firm of John Fink & Son, his new residence would reflect his significant personal wealth.
Rosenstock designed a three-story, freestanding residence in the trendy Queen Anne Style. Although his plans called for a "brown stone front dwelling," only the basement and first floor were faced in rough cut stone. The second floor was clad in brick and the top floor in wood. True to the Queen Anne style, the house featured a riot of angles, shapes, and colors. Dormers poked through the fanciful jerkinhead gables, and a corner tower clung to the two upper floors. A profusion of stained glass and scattered carvings delighted the eye. The cost of construction would be equal to about $924,000 today.
|Carved portrait keystones and stained glass transoms survive at the northern corner.
Located at No. 8 St. Nicholas Place, on the northeast corner of 150th Street, Fink's stylish home and its bucolic hilltop location may have been a deciding factor in James A. Bailey's decision to built his imposing mansion on across the street, at No. 10. The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, on January 16, 1896, commented "One of handsomest residences on this avenue is that of John W. Fink, son of Commissioner Fink of railroad fame. It is situated o the northeast corner of One Hundred and Fiftieth street, and is a three-story ornate stone front building, having all the modern improvements." (The journal got its facts slightly wrong. Fink was unrelated to Commissioner Albert Fink, and was the son of the recently deceased provisions merchant, Johannes Fink.)
|The original entrance porch with its sideways stoop is evident in this early photo, as is the wonderful turret. Directly behind is the James A. Bailey house. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Fink would not enjoy his handsome new home long. He died in the residence from a fatal stroke on April 27, 1886 at just 30 years old.
|The construction date is worked into the elaborate carving on the first floor chimney back.
|A delightful detail is Stein's continuing the gable level over the chambered rear corner.
The Fink estate sold the house, along with the vacant property extending east to Edgecomb Avenue, to real estate operator Charles E. Runk and his wife, Aurelia, in 1888. Runk was also the treasurer of the Washington Heights Taxpayers' Association, and a partner in the Oneota Fertilizer and Chemical Co.
The Runks' ownership would be short-lived. On March 9, 1891 they sold No. 8 to Sigmund Bergmann for $31,750, just over $900,000 today. Bergmann was a partner with Edward H. Johnson and Thomas Alva Edison in the Bergmann Electric & Gas Fixture Co.
|Sigmund Bergmann was a partner with inventor Thomas A. Edison. Electrical Review and Western Electrician, December 21, 1912 (copyright expired)
In 1893 Charles Runk sold the undeveloped eastern plot and at the same time removed the restrictive covenants John Fink had originally built into the deeds. It was a move that would have serious impact on No. 8 a few decades later.
Simultaneously Jacob P. Baiter and his wife, Kate, began construction on their upscale residence next door at No. 6. Their architect, Theodore G. Stein, file plans on May 26 for a 25-foot wide, four story brick dwelling to cost $35,000 (or about $1 million today). Completed the following year, it could not have been more different than its neighbor.
Jacob Baiter was the East Coast manager of the Fleischmann Yeast Company, and so it is most likely not a coincidence that Max Fleischmann would soon live almost directly across the street at No. 400 West 149th Street. Yeast was an important part in the making of alcohol, and both men were involved, as well, in the Ridgewood Distillery, the Eastern Distilling Co., and the Somerset Distilling Co.
|Originally a high sideways stoop led to the doorway.
Jacob and Kate had two sons, Charles William Grevell and Louis J. Baiter. Kate Baiter died in the house on October 26, 1898. Her funeral was held here three days later.
Jacob's grief was rather short lived. The following year he married and transferred title to No. 6 to his new wife, Carrie. The Evening Post Record of Real Estate Sales listed the transaction as "gift."
In 1909, the same year that Charles Baiter was married, Dr. Henry William Lloyd purchased No. 8. Charles Runk's removal of the deed restrictions allowed Lloyd to convert the house to The Audubon Sanitarium. Having a private hospital next door may have been too much for the Baiters, and in October 1911 they sold their home to Dr. Lloyd for $75,000. The Sun reported that he "will use it for his own occupancy."
And, indeed, he did--for a few months. In 1912 he joined the two structures with a somewhat ungainly addition. A new entrance was established within the new portion.
|In 1942 the former Baiter house still retained its stoop. via the Office for Metropolitan History
Things inside the upscale sanitarium did not always go smoothly, sometimes resulting in unwanted publicity. On March 18, 1912, for instance, The Sun reported on the investigation by Coroner Holzhauser and the police into "the death of Miss Alice Anderson in the sanitarium of Dr. Henry W. Lloyd at 8 St. Nicholas place early yesterday morning."
The article carefully tip-toed around the fact that Alice, who was 30-years-old, had come for an abortion. According to Dr. Lloyd, she had already received a botched procedure and that he told her "that she probably would not survive the second operation." So certain was he that his patient would die, before starting the procedure he sent for a priest to hear her confession. Before she died she "told her three sisters who was responsible for her condition," said The Sun.
Five months later a journalist from The Sun was back, this time at the request of Mrs. Sarah Harris. The 34-year-old, referred to as "the sufferer" by the newspaper, had been stricken with a "strange malady" three years earlier which paralyzed her from the neck down. Able to move only her head, she had lain in the same position the entire time.
On August 31, 1912 the newspaper entitled its article "Woman Paralytic Begs State To End Her Life." In it Sarah pleaded "We have our Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which put out of their agony injured and sick animals, but human beings for whom medicine can do nothing are kept on in their torture. Why should this be?"
Mrs. Harris did not get her wish and in 1915, when Dr. Lloyd hired architect George H. Hardway to enlarge the sanitarium, she was still a patient. The addition housed a "new maternity hospital," as described by The New York Times.
|Close inspection reveals a winged, terra cotta rampant lion atop the gable. The stylized sunflower on the metal facing below is a familiar Queen Anne motif.
The same operation was performed on Lucien Muratore, principal tenor of the Chicago Opera Company in February 1922. Newspapers carried updates on his condition for days.
Dr. Henry W. Lloyd sold the properties in January 1925 to the Louis H. Low Syndicate. There were 100 rooms in the complex at the time. The new owners, according to The Times on January 24, had already leased it to the newly-formed Lloyd's Sanitarium, Inc. (headed by Dr. Victor Low) "who will continue the operation of same after extensive alterations and improvements." Architect Henry F. Schlumbohn, Jr. was called upon to update the hospital and dispensary.
By 1935 the name had been changed to The Community Hospital. The admission fee was 35 cents and a "revisit fee" was a quarter.
The clinic was gone by mid-century, when the mish-mash of buildings was operated as a 53-room hotel. As the neighborhood declined, so did the the property and by 1983 it was run by the city's welfare program as the Dawn Hotel, "housing formerly homeless families," according to The New York Times on August 25 that year.
The Dawn Hotel sat within what had become a gritty neighborhood. Late on the night of December 6 a man entered the lobby and got into an argument with the clerk. At around 1:00 on the morning he returned, armed with a pistol and, according to police, "shot the clerk in the chest and fled from the hotel."
As the Sugar Hill neighborhood improved in the 21st century, the Dawn Hotel did not. A New York Senate report in January 2017 on the State's "unclean, unsafe, dangerous temporary shelter system" awarded the Dawn Hotel the uncomplimentary title of No. 1 in the top ten hotel violators in the state.
The once handsome houses have been sorely abused throughout their various connected uses. And yet glimpses of their former splendor still manage to seep through.
photographs by the author