Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Simon Bing, Jr. House - 21 West 88th Street

After being brutally maltreated, the Bing house still manages to hint at its former charm.

In 1888 developer William H Stafford began construction of a row of four 19-foot wide homes on West 88th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  Architect Henry Davidson blended Romanesque Revival with the more whimsical Queen Anne style, then threw in a touch of Flemish Renaissance Revival for good measure.  The balanced A-B-B-A row was flanked by homes with elaborate, pedimented entrances and Flemish gables.  The center, mirror image pair featured clustered columns with shared Romanesque capitals at the first and third floors.  In between they shared a large projecting bay with an arched pediment.

A tax photo reveals the still-intact row and its grab bag of architectural elements.  Note that No. 23 (left) and 19 retain retain their wonderful stained glass transoms over the parlor windows.  photograph via the NYC Dept of Taxation and Information Services.
Two of the houses, Nos. 21 and 17 were purchased by Spencer Aldrich, apparently as an investment.  On February 26, 1895 Aldrich and his wife, Elizabeth, sold No. 21 to Simon Bing, Jr.  The purchase price was kept private; however Bing's $20,250 mortgage--around $625,000 today--gives a hint.

Bing was the partner of Jacob August in the clothing firm August, Bing & Co.  He and his wife, Louisa, had two sons, Alexander M., who was a junior at New York City College at the time, and Leo S. Bing.

Sadly, Simon would not live to enjoy his new residence for long.  One month after purchasing the house, on March 24, 1895, the 56-year old died.  His funeral was held at Temple Beth-El on Fifth Avenue and 76th Street on March 27.

Simon's unmarried brother, David, who was also a cloak manufacturer, moved into the house, no doubt to help his widowed sister-in-law with finances and other issues.  

When David left the house on October 23, 1899 he was nattily dressed.  The family remembered he had on a tan overcoat, a black cutaway suit and a black derby hat.  There was nothing out of the ordinary when he departed; but this time he did not return.   

Three days later Leo went to the police.  The Sun reported "He could not suggest any reason for his disappearance, which alarmed the family.  Mr. Bing is 56 years old, rather undersized, with a pale face, gray hair and moustache and black eyes."  The police sent out "an alarm" with his description.  Whether he was found or not is unclear; there seem to have been no follow-up reports and his name no longer appeared at this address.

Having jointly inherited the 88th Street house, Leo and Alexander transferred title to their mother on January 24, 1902.  Although both had earned law degrees, they joined forces as real estate developers, forming the firm of Bing & Bing.  Before the outbreak of World War I it would be recognized as one of the most influential and important apartment building developers in the city.

Louisa Bing remained in the house only two more years.  She sold it on June 29, 1904 to Thomas W. Jones.  Like the Bing brothers, he was a partner with Louis M. Jones in real estate development. He and his wife had a daughter, Bertha.

Jones's stature in real estate circles was evidenced when he became involved in a massive deal in 1910 with, among others, Frank N. Hoffstot, president of the Pressed Steel Car Company.  Jones's commission on the complicated transaction, which included properties in New York City and Philadelphia, was $36,000--or about $982,000 today.  In reporting on aspects of the deal the New York Times on August 6, 1910 referred to Jones as a "New York millionaire."

On March 7, 1912 the New York Herald announced "In a setting of pink roses and palms at Delmonico's last night Miss Bertha Jones, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Jones of 21 West Eighty-eighth street, was married to Mr. I. James von Sholly."  The article noted "Mr. von Sholly and his wife leave to-day for the West Indies."

Four years later The Sun reported that Jones had rented the 88th Street house "for a long term of years."  His tenant was Theodore Van Yorx, a widely-recognized voice coach.  He established his studio here, advertising in The New York Clipper on August 26, 1916 in a single line: "The Singing and Speaking Voice.  Theo. Van Yorx, 21 W. 88th St., New York."

The Music News said of him, "Mr. Van Yorx's very broad experience in the professional and teaching field eminently fit him for teaching and make his training and his suggestions invaluable...For many years Mr. Van Yorx was one of American's foremost tenors in the concert, oratorio, recital and church choir fields."

Van Yorx would have to move on in 1920 when Jones sold the house to Blanche Blosveren, who almost immediately resold it in October to Dr. Bernard Sour and his wife, the former Adele Somborn.  The title was put in Adele's name.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1870, Sour received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in 1893.  During World War I he served as an examining physician for the draft board.  He and Adele had married in 1904 and had two sons, Robert and George.

The population of the house unexpectedly--and bizarrely-- grew by one seven months after the couple moved in.  On May 19, 1921 The New York Herald reported that broker Percy Heineman "is ignored in the will of his wife, Lucille."  If Heineman was shocked to discover he had been cut out of his wife's estate, the Sours were even more so to find that they had inherited a daughter.  The newspaper wrote "The guardianship of their eight-year-old daughter, Bella, is confided to 'my friend,' Dr. Bernard Sour of 21 West Eighty-eighth street, to whom is made also a bequest of $20,000."

"Dr. Sour was surprised at learning of the bequests and his guardianship.  He said he had known the Heinemans a number of years, but not very intimately, and could shed no light on the difficulties that led to the odd provisions in Mrs. Heineman's will," reported the Herald.  Sour's portion of the sizable estate would be equal to more than a quarter of a million dollars today.  Little Bella received the rest.  

The brothers enjoyed a privileged upbringing and top level schooling.  George Bernard Sour graduated from Princeton in 1930.  His engagement to Natalie H. Machol was announced on July 28, 1933.

The Sours sold No. 21 in July of 1937.  Bernard and Adele moved to an apartment at No. 112 Park Avenue where the doctor died of a heart attack at the age of 71 four years later.

In 1963 No. 19 next door was demolished by the Franklin School, to be replaced by a featureless gray box.  In doing so the No. 21 lost its visual balance and the sliced-in-half bay looked awkward at best.  In the meantime, the house was converted to four apartments.

The carnage had only begun.  In February 2017 the former Bing house was sold for $11.65 million to be absorbed by the Dwight School.  A massive renovation was announced to internally combine three houses on 88th Street--Nos. 17 through 21--and three more on West 89th Street, Nos 18 through 22.  The Bing has was totally gutted.

While the charming facade, albeit without its matching twin, survives, there is nothing else left.  Department of Buildings documents explain flatly "retained for Historical Purposes Only."

photographs by the author


  1. Great information! Do you know whether Bella Heineman ever actually moved in with the Sours? By the time of the 1925 census, she was living with her father and stepmother, in spite of her mother's efforts to prevent this. (The "friend" who was noted to be caring for her, in the 1921 Herald article, was Flora Kaufmann Weiller - last name misspelled in the article - who was a family member as well - the only sister of Lucile's mother Bella Kaufmann Siegbert.) Bella became a well-known pilot and flight instructor, but sadly died in a crash at the age of 39; she was flying with a student when they hit a high tension line on approach to the Meriden, CT airport.

    1. I was under the impression that she did not move in; however I have no documentation to support that.