Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Daniel Dinkelspiel House - 104 West 87th Street

The stoop and entrance were located at the right.

T. E. D. Power inherited the former Livingston country estate property, centered around Columbus Avenue and 86th Street.  By 1890 he and architect John G. Prague had erected no fewer than 232 residences in the neighborhood.  In a few cases Prague acted as both the developer and architect, apparently purchasing plots from Power.

Such was the case in 1886 when Prague began construction of a row of four 20-foot wide brownstone-fronted homes on West 87th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Completed the following year, the four-story structures were a balanced group--the two end residences and the two center homes designed as matching pairs.

Prague designed the group in an A-B-B-A pattern.

No. 104 and its twin at No. 106 were unexpectedly reined-in for the Queen Anne style--which normally flaunted whimsical asymmetry, turrets or off-set gables, or storybook-ready balconettes.  They rose in formal balance to a slate-shingled mansard where a pedimented gable was perfectly centered.

Yet closer inspection reveals that Prague managed to slip in playful creativity.  The three openings of the second floor were separated by columns which sat on scrolled brackets.  Each column was embellished by a single, individual frond.  And the carved panels beneath each opening was purposely unique--having nothing to do with the other.

Each of the pilasters separating the third floor windows was topped by a panel containing a deeply-carved portrait.  A humorous touch was that one of them seems to be sleeping.  The elaborate pediment of the top floor gable overflowed with fronds below a roundel containing an expertly carved face.

No. 104 became home to the Daniel Dinkelspiel family.  Born in Germany, he and his wife, the former Regine Heinsheimer, had immigrated to America in 1870.  Regine was Daniel's second wife and he had one son, Louis, from that marriage.  He and Regine had four more children, Henry, Leo, James, Sarah.  

Leo had just returned from living abroad when his parents purchased the house.  At 24-years-old he had earned his medical degree from Columbia University four years earlier, in 1883.  He then traveled to Europe to do post-graduate work.  When the Serbo-Bulgarian War broke out in 1884 he joined the medical corps of the Serbian Army as a captain.  He returned to New York in 1887, just in time to move into the new 87th Street house with his parents.  

Daniel Dinkelspiel died at the age of 71 in 1891.  Regine, as executrix, soon began liquidating her husband's significant real estate holdings around the city.  

Leo received title to the 87th Street house in the will.  Shortly afterward Sarah and her husband, Isaac Hess, moved into the house, quite possibly to help the aging Regine.  Hess was a partner with Abraham Bases in the fur manufacturing firm of Hess & Bases.

Leo ran his medical practice from the house, most likely in a converted basement room.  He was called to an apartment house half a block away at the southwest corner of 87th Street and Columbus Avenue on February 24, 1892 just after noon.

There two bell boys, Frederick Smith and Matthew O'Neill had been playing with a pistol.  Smith accidentally fired it and the bullet struck O'Neill in the nose.  Leo Dinkelspiel attended the wounds on site, then had the boy transported to his home.  Later that night, after the doctor reported the shooting to police, Smith was arrested.

On January 3, 1896 Leo transferred title to the house to his sister.  But it was not entirely a gift.  Sarah paid him $2,500 for the property, about $77,000 today.  Nevertheless, Regine, the Hesses, and Leo continued to live together until July 1898 when the house was sold to Ferdinand F. Cimiotti.

It is possible that Cimiotti knew Isaac Hess, as both were furriers.  Born in Vienna, Austria in 1846 he was brought to America with his family when he was about three-years-old.  As a young man he had learned the fur trade.  In 1878, after inventing the process of "unhairing" sealskins by machine, he partnered with his brother, Gustave.  The patented process revolutionized the industry.  Ferdinand was the junior partner in the Cimiotti Unhairing Company, which garnered both brothers significant fortunes.

Cimiotti and his wife, Sarah, had two sons.  Walter F. Cimiotti had entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York in 1897.  He graduated in 1901 and entered his two-year internship at St. Mark's Hospital.

The population of No. 104 increased by one when Ferdinand and Sarah took in Susan Reith.  As an orphaned child, she had been adopted by the Louis Reith family.  Upon Reith's death she was taken in as a member of the Gustave Cimiotti family; and then by Ferdinand and Sarah.  Gustave's son, Ferdinand, frequently visited Sarah at No. 104.

On June 22, 1904 Ferdinand Cimiotti transferred title to No. 104 to Sarah.   By now he and his brother had founded another business, the Electrotechnic & Chemical Company.  This time Ferdinand took the position of president and Gustav was secretary.

Ferdinald F. Cimiotti died "suddenly," as reported in the Fur Trade Review, on January 11, 1905.  In reporting his death the journal noted that "up to the day of his death, Mr. Cimiotti had been actively engaged in this interesting and important business, and was widely known in the trade, and held in high esteem by a large circle of friends in business and social life."  Walter inherited the 87th Street house; but he transferred the title to his mother the following month.  

Meanwhile, as reported in the New York Herald on June 4, 1906, Sarah's nephew, Ferdinand, "frequently called upon" Susan Reich.  "Their friends never thought of there being any attachment between them, for they regarded them as though they were cousins.  They were seen frequently taking automobile drives together, and the companionship caused no remark."

But there was a romance going on that no one, including Sarah Cimiotti, noticed.  The young couple sneaked off to the home of the Rev. Dr. Henry M. Warren on April 26, 1906 and were married.  The New York Herald reported "Then, still guarding their secret, they started several days later on their journey in a new model machine which had been purchased for the occasion."

Their carefully designed honeymoon which was to end with a surprise announcement to friends and family soon began to unravel.  "Incidents began to occur as they approached Vernona.  The automobile, as they got to a certain crossroad, began to show a laggard tendency.  Then it spun about in the meeting of the ways."

As the couple sat in the disabled automobile a horse-drawn vehicle crested the hill toward them.  The driver had lost all control of the horse.  The Herald said "All horses shy at stationary automobiles and this one which was dragging the buggy down the steep hill was no exception."  In a reflex action to keep the horse from crashing into his car, Cimiotti held out his arm.  It was promptly fractured by the galloping steed.

The headline in the The New York Herald on June 4, 1906 read "Romance Is Bared By Automobile / Two Accidents Force Wedded Friends from Childhood to Remain in City to Spend Honeymoon."  The article concluded "Mr. and Mrs. Cimiotti, after considering the various mishaps, decided yesterday to make the announcement of their wedding, irrespective of any automobile wedding trips."

Sarah Cimiotti remained in the 87th Street house until March 1911 when she sold it to Dr. Herman F. Kudlich for $33,000, in the neighborhood of $900,000 today.  Born in Germany in 1844, Kudlich had come to this country in 1872.  He and his wife, Roswitha M. L. Kudlich, had a son, Bruno R., and daughter Roswitha.

Bruno, who was 22-years-old at the time, moved into the house with his parents.  He had graduated from Columbia University in 1909, then enrolled in Yale University's School of Forestry.  In 1912 he was hired by the Munson-Whittaker Company, listed as "forestry experts."

In the spring of 1914 24-year old Alexander Hoffman embarked on a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood.  He was seen by Detective Gambardella attempting to pawn diamond stickpins and rings on March 30, but when the detective approached Hoffman bolted.  The detective was a better runner than the burglar, and he was captured nearby.

Hoffman admitted to a string of burglaries during the previous week and agreed to accompany police to the locations.  Some of the victims had not even realized they had been robbed.  Among the five residences was the Kudlich house, although Hoffman said he did not steal anything there because he was "frightened away after entering."

Herman F. Kudlich died on September 26, 1925.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.  Roswitha inherited his entire estate, estimated at "more than $810,000," or more than $11.5 million today.

In November 1938 No. 104 was purchased by Frederick J. Rauschenbach.  It may have been Rauschenbach who removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the former basement level.  It appears that rooms were rented afterward; however an official conversion to apartments did not come about until 1961 when there were now two apartments per floor.

At some point the brownstone facade received a coat of cream-colored paint.  Despite the renovations, some of them regrettable, the nearly 125-year old residence still deserves a pause.

photographs by the author

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