Saturday, August 31, 2019

The St. Nicholas Court - 746 St. Nicholas Avenue

Although the arrival of subway service to the Sugar Hill district of Harlem was still a few years away, what had been a quiet residential neighborhood of upscale homes was changing at the turn of the last century.  Apartment buildings began making an appearance along the avenues.

One of the first was The St. Nicholas Court, designed by Henri Fouchaux for the Central Building Improvement and Investment Co. in 1901.  Fouchaux would be among the most prolific architects in the district and this particular project would be one of his most memorable.

Completed in 1902 the narrow St. Nicholas Avenue elevation was deceptive.  The building stretched back to Edgecombe Avenue where it spread out in the T shape at Nos. 313 through 317.  The three-bay wide St. Nicholas Avenue facade was an exuberant celebration of the Beaux Arts style.  

Rusticated stone piers with stylized Ionic capitals flanked the yawning arched entrance with its Baroque cartouche.  Every inch of the spandrel panels was carved with frothy ornamentation.  The grouped windows of the second floor were flanked by intricately carved panels.  Directly above the windows an assemblage of French cartouches closely followed the example of the first floor.  The same motif was carried out in the frieze of the elaborate pressed metal cornice.

Most likely the balcony was originally fronted by a decorative stone balustrade or cast iron railing.

The St. Nicholas Court boasted the modern amenities of elevator service and steam heat.  The commodious apartments of either four, six or seven rooms filled with white collar tenants.

Among the first was William R. Patterson, a member of the American Economic Association who was imported from the University of Iowa in 1901 by the city to serve as the Register of Statistics in the Tenement House Commission.  The New-York Tribune explained in February 1902 that "A competitive examination was held for the place" and "on account of the high degree of technical knowledge required it is assumed that Dr. Patterson received the highest marks."  It was always understood to be a temporary position, however, and by 1905 Patterson was back teaching in Iowa.

E. H. Coster and his wife, too, were original tenants.  The well-to-do couple appeared in society columns as they came and went from the city.  On November 13, 1902, for instance, The New York Times listed them as arriving home from Europe on the Kronprinz Wilheim along with other wealthy passengers like J. Warren Goddard, Mrs. W. H. Hoyt and the Countess Cassini.  The Costers would remain in the St. Nicholas Court for several years. 

Mabel Boak was living here in 1906.  At a time when the common expectation for young unmarried women was to find a husband and run a household, Mabel had higher goals.  She graduated from Vassar College in 1901, and then earned her masters degree from Columbia University the following year.  She left the St. Nicholas Court by 1908 when she was appointed assistant principal at the Chappaqua Mountain Institute.  Mabel, who never married, would devote her life to education, teaching later at the Low-Heywood School in Stamford, Connecticut, the Chevy Chase School in Maryland, and finally the Northfield School for Girls in Massachusetts.

Residents in 1909 paid between $42.50 and $60 monthly rent.  Based on today's, it seems highly affordable.  The most expensive rent, for a seven-room apartment, would equal about $1,710 per month today.

Dr. George W. Elliott lived here that year.  Among his patients was Methodist Episcopal Bishop Daniel A. Goodsell.  The nationally esteemed clergyman lived nearby at No. 15 St. Nicholas Place.  What seemed to be a minor medical problem resulted in unfavorable publicity for Elliott.  The doctor operated on Goodsell on November 27, 1909 to remove a carbuncle from his neck.  A week later the 69-year old was dead, apparently from infection.  The New-York Tribune reported on December 6, "His condition did not improve, however, and the disease which caused his death set in."

Lottie Hyde Buffington had been living a comfortable life in Philadelphia as the wife of attorney Orr Buffington.  The couple had two grown sons, Sydney and Kenneth, and two daughters, one of which was married.  But as the year 1910 drew to an end her world was upset when her husband sued for separation.

Lottie left Philadelphia and by the end of 1911 was living in a sixth floor apartment in the St. Nicholas Court.  In September that year her son, Sydney, had earned the degree of doctor of medicine.  But depression caused by the separation of his parents outweighed the triumph of the achievement.  On December 5, 1911 he committed suicide.  The New-York Tribune explained "It was believed the separation of his father and mother caused Dr. Buffington to kill himself."

It was a significant blow to Lottie Buffington.  The elevator boys were accustomed to greeting her every afternoon as she left to take her daily walk.  When she did not appear on January 9, 1912, one mentioned it to superintendent John Marshall.  He went to the Buffington apartment where he smelled gas.  Two patrolmen were called and they "burst in the door," according to the New-York Tribune, "and found Mrs. Buffington lying across her bed, clad only in her nightgown, with a revolver in her right hand."  

She had apparently first considered asphyxiation by gas, but then fatally shot herself.  On the table next to her was a photograph of Sydney, a telegram telling of his becoming a doctor, and a newspaper clipping about his suicide.  She left several letters, one of which read:

To all my dear friends: Forgive, if that is necessary.  There is nothing else for me to do.  I only surrender to a God who is more just than man.  Goodby.  God bless you, whom I love dearly.  LOTTIE HYDE BUFFINGTON

A much happier story played out in June 1913.  Newspaper readers closely followed the story of the missing 16-year old Helen McCarthy, daughter of "wealthy newspaper broker" John A. McCarthy.  The girl had disappeared from the family apartment in the Hotel Hargrave on the evening of June 24.

Francis Brophy, who lived in the St. Nicholas Court, and a friend, Joseph Daly, were walking through Fort Washington Park at around 4:00 on the afternoon of June 26 when they noticed a girl who was acting so strangely that they paused to check on her.  The Evening World reported "The girl seemed dazed.  Her clothes were soiled and covered with dirt.  She was unable to answer questions at first."  The men found a policeman who took her to the station house.  There a detective identified her by the ring of her dead sister which she always wore.  It was a fortunate discovery as the girl was sick from exposure, "weakened and starving."
The brick and stone facade of the Edgecome Avenue elevation, broken by two light courts, bears no resemblance to its showier St. Nicholas Avenue front.
Another tragic death occurred in the building on December 20, 1915.  Earlier that year patrolman David Mackrell showed signs of mental fatigue.  The New York Times said he suffered from "nervous prostration and insomnia."  The Police Department gave him a two-month sick leave in October.  Mackrell was placed in the Rivercrest Sanitarium in Queens.

He was temporarily released on December 17 to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.  According to his wife and stepson, on the morning of December 20 he was "unusually cheerful" and "talked and chatted at breakfast."  After breakfast Mrs. Mackrell started her daily chores and Roy West, the step-son, prepared to leave for work.  David Mackrell went into the bathroom.  "A shot was heard and when the mother and son rushed to the bathroom they found the patrolman lying on the floor," reported The Times.  He had shot himself in the right temple with his service revolver.

The shooting of another tenant, John Henderson, on the night of November 29, 1916 was more bizarre.  The 41-year old Henderson made his living as a salesman for a ship chandler on Water Street.  For some time he had been acquainted with a nurse, 35-year old Sarah A. Sheldon, who lived nearby at No. 90 Edgecombe Avenue with a roommate, Anna Balleer.  According to Henderson the two were merely friends.  Events would soon bring that into question.

Henderson became engaged to another nurse, Rachel Jones.  When Sarah heard of it she told him "I'll kill you."   Henderson's wedding took place on November 22, 1916.  According to Henderson, on the 27th, Sarah appeared at Henderson's office and told him she had resigned from her position with a tuberculosis clinic of the Department of Health because she had contracted the disease.  She was leaving for California, she said, and asked him to bring railroad timetables to her apartment.

If Sarah intended to go to California at all, it was almost assuredly not tuberculosis, but pregnancy, that prompted the move.  Henderson arrived at the apartment around 6:00.  Anna Balleer was in the kitchen and Sarah told him to "sit down and make yourself comfortable."  Henderson had just taken a seat in a rocking chair when things took a terrifying turn.

According to the New-York Tribune, "Miss Sheldon levelled an automatic pistol of small calibre and fired twice.  Henderson threw up his right hand just in time to get it punctured.  The second bullet went into a bookcase."  Sarah immediately turned the weapon on herself, firing a shot into her abdomen.  It emerged out her back.

Anna came running into the living room.  Sarah gasped, "I shot him and shot myself."  She was still clinging to life when police arrived.  She told them "I loved him."

Above a classical row of columns, the pressed metal cornice echoes the Baroque cartouches of the lower floors.
By 1922 ads for the apartment building no longer used the name St. Nicholas Court; just the address.  By then the demographics of the Harlem neighborhood were changing as  Black residents increasingly replaced whites.  

In 1924 author Arna Bontemps and his wife, the former Alberta Johnson, moved in.  A teacher at the Harlem Academy, he would become a notable literary figure, first publishing his poetry in Crisis in 1924.

On May 8, 1927 The New York Times reported on the annual Holstein literary and art awards.  The conspicuous racial divide that still existed in America was evidenced in the report entitled "Negroes Get Prizes for Literary Work."  The article explained that the awards were given "each year by Opportunity, a negro magazine."  Arna Bontemps was awarded to $100 Alexander Puskin poetry award that night.

God Sends Sunday, written while living here, was Bontemps's first novel.  It was published in March 1931.  Even in giving the book a glowing review, The Times still fell victim to the racism of the period.   "This first novel by a young Louisiana Negro, already known as a poet, plows deeply in the a rich soil of Negro personality...The vivid picturesqueness of expression leaps out with the natural freshness of childish naiveté rather than with the burnt-cork brilliance of a minstrel show."

In 1945 Leonard de Paur took an apartment in the building.  An arranger, conductor and composer, he had graduated from Julliard.   When he moved into the St. Nicholas Court he had recently returned from fighting in World War II, as a lieutenant in the Air Force.  During his military service he had also become part of the 372nd Glee Club.  It inspired him to form the De Paur Infantry Chorus, first composed of 35 men from the group and later from other branches of service.

A 1948 concert announcement pictured Leonard de Paul conducting.
Following a concert on January 8, 1950, Olin Downes of The New York Times wrote "We heard for the first time the de Paur Infantry Chorus, trained and directed by Leonard de Paur, last night in Carnegie Hall.  The reputation of this chorus has spread far and wide in late seasons and there is very good reason for that."

In fact, in 1946 the Chorus had been signed by Columbia Records and for ten years was its top performing group.  De Paur discontinued the chorus in 1957; but continued his impressive career.  In 1968 he became associated director of the Lincoln Center International Choral Festival and would continue heading Lincoln Center events for two decades.  He was still living in his St. Nicholas Court apartment when he died on November 7, 1998.

Another notable resident was attorney Hope R. Stevens, living here in the 1950's.  Born in the British Virgin Islands, he would go on to become First Executive Vice President of the United Mutual Life Insurance Company and Chairman of the Board of the Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association.

No less noteworthy were Garfield Dawson and his wife, Elida Webb Dawson.  In the 1920's Garfield took the stage name George Dawson, Jr. for his dancing career; but was better known as "The Strutter."  

Elida, who was one of the first Black choreographers in America, was a dancer and choreographer at the Cotton Club from 1923 to 1934.   In 1921 she and Josephine Baker joined the cast of Shuffle Along, the first all-Black musical on Broadway.  Two years later she choreographed Runnin' Wild, in which she introduced the dance the Charleston.  According to Elida years later, she had invented the dance after watching "some black children on the streets doing a simple dance." Fred W. Emiston, in his 1930 The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks: The Band That Radio Made Famous, quoted her as saying "There was something fascinating, and it caught me."  The dance caught on and eventually came to identify the personality of the Roaring '20's.

Unbelievably, George Dawson did not retire until 1973 at the age of 81.  The couple was still living here on May 1, 1975 when Elida died at the age of 79.

Henri Fouchaux's ebullient St. Nicholas Court is as much a show-stopper today as it was in 1902.  A bit battered, it nonetheless survives as an exceptional example of Beaux Arts applied to an apartment building.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 30, 2019

The 1901 Panhard & Levassor Bldg - 230-232 West 13th Street

On December 8, 1901 The New York Herald reported that Jams S. Herman had bought the "two old buildings" at Nos. 230 and 232 West 13th Street from Mrs. Mahalt Miller.  The announcement mentioned that he "will improve the property."  Neighbors on the quiet residential side street may have taken exception to the term "improve" when Herman began construction of his industrial-use building.

Herman commissioned Robert Maynicke to design his low-scale structure.  His choice of architect was perhaps as surprising as his choice of sites.  The well-established Maynicke was better known for impressive commercial buildings.  His design for Herman's project would be far different from the elaborate multi-story structures he was designing on lower Fifth Avenue around the same time.

It would appear that Herman was not entirely sure what he had in mind for the structure.  The plans called for a three-story "office, factory, shop and stable" building.  The ground floor of the beige brick structure featured two wide vehicle bays on either side of two windows.  The brickwork of the lower two floors was laid to create rustication; and the voissoirs of the ground floor and splayed lintels of the upper floors were executed in brick.  The molded cornice that separated the second and third floors was one of the few uses of stone.  A pressed copper cornice finished the design.

It took Herman some time to find a tenant for his new building.  But on October 6, 1903 The Evening Post reported that the Panhard & Levassor Company had rented it for a period of five years.  The Paris-based firm was branching into the American market.

On November 19, 1903 a large announcement in the New York Herald announced:

 Messrs. Panhard & Levassor, 
Manufacturers Of 
Automobiles and Motor Boats,
Of Paris, France,
Announce The
Opening of their American Branch
December 1, at 230-232 West 13th St.,
New York City

The advertisement went on to say that along with the sale of cars and motor boats, the firm "will be prepared to make all repairs, to supply spare places for their various products and to furnish information concerning their cars."

The Automobile Magazine was pleased that Panhard & Levassor now had a "fine new building" in America.  In its  January 1904 issue it accused American dealers who sold parts for or repaired the French vehicles as making "dear through the nose."  The article said "It is, therefore, satisfactory to know that in the future, at least, those who buy a Panhard automobile will be sure to get decent treatment, since the West Thirteenth street establishment will carry a full line of Panhard parts, and will have factory mechanics on hand to attend to any repairs necessary."
"Gasoline carriages" like this model would have been on display in the building.  The chassis (which was sold separately from the body) sold for as much as $8,850 in 1904--more than a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, April 1904 (copyright expired)

Panhard & Levassor scored a marketing coup less than a year after moving into the 13th Street facility.  In 1904 William K. Vanderbilt II financed the first of the Vanderbilt Cup races.  It was an attempt to bring American manufacturers into racing, already a popular European sport.  The race took place on October 8 and, just as they did for the horse races, society turned out in their finest.  Most expected to see American machines outrace the European cars.

But it was George Heath, driving a Panhard, who crossed the finish line first.  Panhard & Levassor proudly announced that they would "exhibit at their stand at [the] Madison Square Garden Show" in January 1905 "The Vanderbilt Cup won by Mr. George Heath."

The 1904 Panhard race car was admittedly less elegant that its passenger vehicles. from the collection of the Library of Congress  
For some reason Panhard & Levassor did not remain for the entire five-year lease period.  In March 1906 the "brick factory building," as described by the Real Estate Record & Guide, was leased to the Marine Engine & Machine Co.   The new tenant signed a five-year lease as well.

Electrical Review explained in April that year that the firm "will occupy it as the headquarters of its elevator construction department," saying its increasing elevator business had outgrown the old facility on West 24th Street.  "The company will now have the benefit of up-to-date accommodations and facilities in the new building, which will be very advantageous in every way."

Four years into that lease, on February 9, 1910, the building was rented to the U. S. Chemical Co.  The Record & Guide reported it would use the property "for office purposes, and will make considerable improvements."  And although the firm signed a seven-year lease, it too moved on before its expiration.  By 1914 the building was home to the Barnes School of Embalming.

The American Journal of Nursing, March 1914 (copyright expired)

The relatively quick turnover in tenants continued.  On July 31, 1916 The Sun reported that space in the building had been "temporarily" leased to the drug manufacturing firm, Liggett, Riker & Hegeman Company.  The arrangement was temporary, indeed.  Less than two months later, in September, The Iron Trade Review reported that the Johnson-McCabe Ore Testing & Refining Co. had signed a five-year lease on the building.

The firm, a refiner of graphite, would continue the history of short-term residencies.   Johnson-McCabe had not been in the building half a year when it declared bankruptcy in February 1917.

In 1924 the Moisant Ozonized Water Company took over the building.  The Boston-based firm marketed "The Perfect Drinking Water" for office water coolers.  It, of course, provided the coolers, as well.  The firm touted its process of "purification of drinking water by means of ozone."

The wide-flung tenant list at Nos 230-242 West 13th Street continued when, in 1982, a renovation resulted in a day care center on the first floor with offices above; a configuration which survives today.

Other than replacement windows and the reconfigured bay doors, Robert Maynicke's 1901 design survives remarkably intact; a handsome Greenwich Village structure with an amazingly varied past.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 29, 2019

William Widmayer's 1875 No. 319 Church Street

Charles E. Appleby and Aaron H. Rathbone were professionals--Appleby an attorney and Rathbone and insurance broker.  But they recognized the potential profits in the rampant development taking place in Manhattan following the Civil War.  In 1875 the men commissioned architect William Widmayer to replace the old structures at No. 36 Lispenard and 319 Church Streets with a modern five-story loft and store building.

At the time George F. Dodd ran his store at No. 36 Lispenard Street.  Erected around 1825, the now-converted residence had been home to staunch abolitionist David Ruggles by the mid-1830's.  A reported 600 runaway slaves found temporary haven in the house, including Frederick Douglass who recalled in an 1882 article in The Century “With Mr. Ruggles, on the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets, I was hidden several days."

Ruggles died in 1849 before seeing the emancipation of slaves.  By then his neighborhood showed signs decline and by the mid-1850's his former home was a low-rate rooming house.  An article in the New-York Daily Times on June 22, 1857, began "A young woman, giving her name as Emma Jewett, and her residence No. 36 Lispenard Street, applied yesterday morning, at the Lower Police Court, for a warrant for the arrest of John Moore, whom she charged with committing a felonious assault upon her.  Her face was much blackened and bruised, and her head was covered with deep wounds from which the blood yet oozed."

Now that storied house and the property at No. 319 Church Street were demolished.  Widmayer gave their replacement building with little ornamentation.  The openings of the upper floors sat on simple stone sills upheld by tiny brackets, and were capped by molded cornices.  The architect gave the building an up-to-date neo-Grec style storefront facing Church Street.  Unlike so many other commercial buildings going up in the neighborhood, there were no Corinthian capitals nor pretentious ornamentation; just the no-nonsense geometric lines of the neo-Grec style.  The entrance to the upper floors was around the corner and took the address of No. 36 Lispenard.  

Appleby and Rathbone quickly filled their new building.  In 1876 Henry W. and Clarence Perine's woolen goods firm, Perine & Co. was here; as was Isaac Shackman, "clothing."  Berliner & Strause were another initial tenant, manufacturers of ties.

The location continued to attract apparel and accessory manufacturers.  In the early 1880's it was home to three necktie makers--Weil & Ahronson, Isaac L. Reizenstein, and Henry Lasch--as well as Herbst & Goldstein Brothers, hosiery manufacturers.

One business owner suffered what was diplomatically termed "a reversal" at the end of the decade.  The Evening Star of Washington D.C. reported on October 11, 1890 that Max Wolff, "a manufacturer of cloaks at No. 36 Lispenard Street, New York, has failed."  The article added "Wolf has disappeared."

A day earlier the New York Herald had also reported on the situation, one which his creditors were not taking lightly.  "His numerous creditors have been taking all the means within their power to protect them.  They are all looking for Mr. Wolff with diligence.  Mr. Wolff, however, has disappeared, and not even his wife seems to know where he is.  It is supposed that he has cleared out to escape the consequences of his acts."  Disappearing along with Wolff was almost all of his stock.

In the meantime, the Church Street store was operated as a saloon-restaurant.  By 1897 it was owned by Samuel Goldman, who listed it as an "eatinghouse" in directories.  Goldman's restaurant would give way to Charles Weisner's "soda water stand" in 1901.

Camelia, Inc., dealers in linens, moved in around the end of World War I and would remain for several years.  The fortunes many dry goods business owners reaped was evidenced when J. S. Camelia offered his 16-room home in the "high class residential section in Williamsburg" for sale in May 1922.  It engulfed a full block front and Camelia described it as "A palatial home at a reasonable price."

A tax photograph from around 1940 shows the original storefront and neo-Grec style cornice.  photo via the NYC Department of  Records & Information Services

At some point the cornice was removed, leaving an unsightly scar along the upper rim of the building.  Change in the Tribeca neighborhood in the last quarter of the 20th century was noticeable in at least one tenant by 1978--the New York School for the Circus Arts.  It remained at least through 1983.

The storefront where Samuel Goldman had run his eating-house was home to the Spring Corner Coffee Shop by the mid-1980's.  The restaurant was slapped with repeated health code violations in 1987.  That all changed in 2007 when Philadelphia coffee importer and roaster Jean-Phillippe Iberti and his partners opened La Colombe Torrefaction.  The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant described it on August 21 as "a relaxed but very focused brick-walled cafe...where well-made espresso, cappuccino, latte, American coffee and some teas are served, properly, in china cups."

In 2015 a renovation was completed which resulted in office space on the second floor, and one residential unit on each of the upper floors.  La Colombe remains at street level.  And despite the lost cornice, an unnecessary coat of red paint and the altered cast iron store front, William Widmayer's structure retains its staid 1875 personality.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

McKim, Mead & White's "King's Model Houses" - 203-269 West 139th Street

On August 16, 1890 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that "One of the most important building operations ever undertaken in this city is about to be commenced in Harlem."  The article explained that developer David H. King, Jr. intended to cover the entire block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues (today Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, respectively) and 138th and 139th Streets, as well as the south side of  138th Street between the same avenues with "buildings of a first-class character."

What was most interesting about the project was that the houses (78 in total) would be built around central courtyards, accessed by two wide carriage gates in the center of the blocks.  "By this plan, instead of there being the usual four corners to the entire block, there will be six corners on each street and two corners on each avenue."  The significance of the courtyard, other than providing significant light and air to the rear of the homes, was that there was no need for service entrances at the fronts.  "The courtyards will have handsome ornamental wrought-iron gates at the street and avenue entrances, and through these access will be had by tradesmen as well as servants and residents."

Another interesting wrinkle was that King had commissioned three architects to design the project.  Bruce Price and Clarence S. Luce worked together on the full block, while James Brown Lord worked independently on the south side of 138th.  

As construction proceeded King was apparently well pleased with the project.  On January 27, 1891 the Record & Guide wrote that he "intends to build another block just north of the present block he is improving on 137th and 138th [sic] streets, 7th and 8th avenues."  The new portion, engulfing the northern blockfront of 139th Street, would follow the same plan as the others and be designed by McKim, Mead & White.

Known as the King Model Houses, the entire project was completed by the end of that year.  King's Handbook of New York City of 1892 (there is no apparent connection between the two Kings) noted "An interesting feature of dwelling architecture had reached a definite and gratifying result in the unique blocks of 'King Model Houses,' designed [sic] and constructed by the famous building, David H King, Junior."

The McKim, Mead & White 32-house row was designed, for the most part, in the Italian Renaissance style.  Rusticated brownstone bases upheld three stories of reddish-brown brick.  Each of the offset entrances above a short stoop wore an iron and glass marquee--except for the center house of the eastern group, No. 233, which acted as the focal point of that section.  Its entrance was recessed within an arcade (and its second floor window was given a round-arched pediment).  Why the same was treatment was not given to the center house of the western block is puzzling.

No. 233 stands out from the rest.  Even its facade projects slight away from its neighbors.
At the second floor a centered set of French doors opened onto an iron-railed balcony.  It was flanked by two brick-framed openings and sat below a decorative terra cotta medallion--a common element in Italian Renaissance architecture.  Above a projecting sill course the third floor openings were framed in brick and had prominent cornices.  The fourth floor windows sat on molded, bracketed sills.  Their brick enframements were broken by simple keystones.

The other exceptions to the regimented design were the corner houses, including those on either side of the gateway.  Here the round-arched pediments reappeared, giving visual anchorage to the corners.

A glance through the handsome courtyard gates gives an idea of the ample proportions within the homes.
Little has changed at the courtyard entrance since this photo was taken in 1899.  Architectural Record, June 1899 (copyright expired)
Montgomery Schuyler, the critic of Architectural Record, was pleased.  "It may be said in general that the authors of the southernmost and northernmost rows have apparently built for tenants who, Quaker like, were content to dwell in decencies forever.  Decorum they have in fact and without question attained.  These are 'second-rate, genteel houses,' in which nobody will be ashamed to be caught dwelling."  (Schuyler's use of the term "second rate" was not necessarily a derision, but implied that the houses were not mansions.)
David King retained ownership of the McKim, Mead & White row until 1895, when he sold it to The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.  The firm continued to lease them to financially-comfortable families until 1905, when they were sold as a group to the Lexington Avenue Co.  The new owner had no intention of being a landlord and quickly sold the individual houses.

The new owners were white collar professionals.  Jules A. Coelos, president of Coelos & Fasselle, Inc. and secretary of the Thomas J. Brady Co. bought No. 219; Dr. Thomas F. Macguire and his wife Mary Irene purchased No. 235; and Professor James Furman Kemp took bought No. 221, which he had already been renting.

No. 237 retains its fanciful iron-and-glass marquee.

Born in New York City in 1859, Kemp was Columbia University's professor of geology.  Moreover, he was a nationally-recognized authority on the subject and the author of several books.  A man of several interests, he was also the manager and scientific director of the New York Botanical Gardens; and in 1902 was named chairman of the Faculty Committee on Athletics at Columbia.

James Furman Kemp, photo from the collection of the  American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers.
Following a collapse in the subway construction on Park Avenue in 1902, concerned property owners and residents sought out James F. Kemp "to investigate the condition of the subway and to make a scientific survey of the formation of the rock."  And following 5.1 earthquake in Maine in 1904 that shook areas as far away as Boston, reporters rushed to get Kemp's take on a similar prospect in Manhattan.

Fully aware of the island's bedrock foundation, the geologist calmed New Yorkers.  "Owners and tenants of the big steel structures need have little fear.  If the shock that Boston felt should be transmitted here, the damage would be very slight."

No. 261 was sold in 1905 to Arthur Pillsbury Dodge and his wife, Elizabeth.  Arthur's family had first arrived in America from England in 1629.  With only a scant education, he had served as a drummer boy in the Civil War, then self-educated himself to become an attorney.  He married Elizabeth Ann Day in November 1870 and the couple had six children.  

By the time the Dodges purchased No 261 Arthur had founded and published the New England Magazine, the Bay State Monthly and Granite State Monthly, worked with George Pullman in perfecting a streetcar in Chicago, and with Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William K. Vanderbilt in producing steam streetcar engines.

Arthur Pillsbury Dodge and Elizabeth Ann Day Dodge. photo via The Bahai Encyclopedia Project 

The couple was perhaps best known, however, for their religious affiliation.  They were the first members of the Bahai faith in New York City and were, as worded by The New York Times, "active supporters of the propagation of the Bahai Revelation."

Henry D. Gobber lived at No. 259 and even though several houses separated his from James Kemp's, he still managed to irritate his neighbor.  Gobber was a mortician and he set up his practice in his house, hanging a sign outside.  Neighbors went to court on the grounds that "the street was restricted and that the undertaker could not use his house for business purposes," according to The Sun.  The judge ordered him to relocate his business, but conceded that Gobber could "hang a card in his window similar to those of physicians or dentists, showing that the house was the residence of an undertaker."

So Gobber took down his sign, placed a card in the window, and brashly continued operating his mortuary from the house.  Kemp and another neighbor were incensed.  On March 22, 1913 he and Dr. Henry Spitzer appeared in court and "proved that Gobber had been transacting an undertaking  business from his house."  Gobber was fined $34 for contempt of court.  Despite the neighborly tensions, he remained in the house until 1922.

The architects executed the complex window enframements in brick.
By the time Gobber sold No. 259 the neighborhood had changed from an all-white to a nearly all-Black population.  The New-York Tribune entitled its article reporting on the sale of Nos. 231 and 241 West 139th Street on November 8 1919, "Sales in Harlem Negro Section."  That year the former Kemp house was sold to Vertner W. Tandy and his wife, Sadie.  The Record & Guide identified Tandy on April 26 as "an architect, who will occupy the premises after extensive alterations."

Vertner W. Tandy had entered Tuskegee Institute to study architecture in 1904 and a year later transferred to Cornell University.  Upon his graduation he became the first African American registered architect in the State of New York.  He was as well the first Black architect to gain membership to the American Institute of Architects.  During World War I he achieved the rank of major and was put in command of the 15th Battalion, infantry, of the New York National Guard.  It was, of course, an all-Black unit.

No. 221 was home to both Professor James Furman Kemp and architect Vertner W. Tandy.
The year before moving into No. 221 Tandy had designed what many consider his best work, Villa Lewaro, the country home of Madam C. J Walker.  Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Louisiana where her parents and older siblings had been slaves, she developed beauty and hair products for Black women.  Described by the Guinness Book of Records as being "America's first, self-made female millionaire," she created an empire.  She approached Tandy to design a palatial estate--not to boast of her achievements, but to show other struggling Blacks what was possible with hard work and determination.

Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.
On June 3, 1922 the Record & Guide reported that No. 245 West 139th Street had been sold to "Harry Wills, the colored aspirant for the Heavyweight Championship of the World."  It noted there were "facilities in the rear for a garage."

Wills, who was still working his day job as a dock worker, held an undefeated record in the boxing ring.  Earlier that year, on March 12, sports writer for The New York Herald W. O. McGeehan wrote an article on the "Black Panther."  Wills opened up about his personal life, saying for instance, "What do I read?  I read the papers and I like to read about history.  But the best book I ever had is a book written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  He was a colored man, too, you know."

Harry Wills - from the collection of the New York Public Library

Harry Wills would hold the World Colored Heavyweight Championship three times.  But because of the "color line" held by the Boxing Commission, he never had a shot at his most coveted prize: the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World.  In his interview with McGeehan, he mentioned that fighting Jack Dempsey would be a distinction, but added frankly that the purse for that fight would be welcomed, as well. "It isn't very easy for colored fighters to get any kind of money."

The McKim, Mead & White row has survived remarkably intact.  David H. King, Jr.'s "Model Houses," look little different from when Montgomery Schuyler said of them "The experiment is so successful that one would like to have it again and again repeated, not merely for the sake of having something entertaining to look at...but as a friend of humanity."

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Matthew Priest for suggesting this article

St. Andrew's Methodist Church (West Side Institutional Synagogue) 120 W 76th St

Following a catastrophic fire, only vestiges of the structure's former appearance remain.

With the Upper West Side's population exploding in 1879 and without a Methodist church to serve it, the Rev. W. S. Blake told a meeting of the New-York City Church Extension and Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church that "his people relied upon two things--Providence and the elevated railroads."  Providence came in the form of the stone St. Andrew's Chapel at Nos. 123 and 125 West 71st Street in 1882.  Within three years the congregation gained independence as St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church.

In the winter of 1888-89 a committee was formed to purchase real estate for a new, more substantial church.  On March 2, 1889 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that St. Andrew's had purchased "a plot 130 x 102.2, on the south side of 76th street, between 9th and 10th avenues, for about $15,000 per lot."  The total cost for the seven 18.5-foot plots would equal $2.96 million today.

On May 27, 1890 the New-York Tribune reported that the pastor had commissioned J. C. Cady & Co., “the well-known architects of No. 111 Broadway,” to design a new church on the south side of West 76th Street.  The newspaper promised “The church architecture of this city will be enriched in the course of the present year by an example of great beauty.”  In fact the firm had been at work on the designs for a full year, and offered water color renderings to the press in late 1889.

The rectory sat above a box stoop at the far left.  The dome contained 36 stained glass windows.  The American Architect and Building News - December 28, 1889 (copyright expired)
J. C. Cady & Co. worked in the Romanesque Revival style, making full use of contrasting materials, colors and textures.   Rather than the visually-ponderous granite or brownstone expected in Romanesque Revival churches, the architects used limestone.  The darker stone was used only for the trim, creating a much lighter appearance.

On April 20, 1889 the Record & Guide described the complex, saying the church proper would seat "about 800 people, exclusive of the galleries, which will not be built until they are required, probably a few years hence."  Congregants in the main auditorium sat below a 50-foot-wide dome perforated by stained glass windows.  

The entrance doors sat within a large, medieval-style arch and stained glass transom.  They opened into a 20-foot-wide vestibule "fitted up in oak, with a handsome ceiling and fire-place."  It separated the church from the 33-by-99 foot chapel, which would accommodate another 450 worshipers.  Above the chapel, within the imposing bell tower, were the Sunday school rooms. 

Dr. J. M. King, the pastor, would live in a handsome 18-foot-wide rectory, four stories tall, which carried on the Romanesque motif.  The Record & Guide noted "All the buildings will be finished in massive oak and have steam heat and other improvements."

The complex was completed in 1890 and fund raising to pay off the debt became a major focus.  Nearly a decade later it was still going on.  On December 6, 1899 the New-York Tribune reported "Edgar W. Williams will deliver a lecture on 'My Experiences in Porto Rico,' illustrated with stereopticon views, in St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church on Friday evening.  The proceeds will be applied toward liquidating the church debt.  Eighteen months ago $105,000 was raised for this purpose."

In November 1901 the convention of the Woman's Home Missionary Society was held here.  Women came from around the country to discuss the conditions and progress of missions, schools and orphans' homes.  On November 9, for example, the New-York Tribune reported that "Four little girls from the De Peyster Home, at Tivoli, sang a hymn.  The home is maintained by the society for orphan girls, and now has sixty-nine in its family."  That morning "There were several appeals for money for schools and homes for negroes, and these seemed to meet with peculiarly hearty and generous response."

But the women who had no agenda more controversial than feeding and housing orphans got a surprise guest.  Four days later the New-York Tribune reported that the Rev. Dr. James M. Buckley, editor of The Christian Advocate, "called during the morning session."  He challenged the group to consider two "crying evils"--"the growing disregard of the Sabbath and the enormous increase in the liquor traffic."  Buckley was on his way to Pittsburgh to meet with the missionary committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  His arm-twisting was not subtle.  "I feel that I shall be able to present these subjects more forcibly to my audience on Thursday evening if I am armed with a set of resolutions embodying the sentiments of this organization."

The women complied, skillfully wording a resolution on liquor to fit with their own program.  It said in part "that because the society has for its object the amelioration of the condition of destitute women and children...and because it believes that the liquor traffic is the greatest enemy to the home and to the upbuilding of Christ's kingdom, the society pledged itself to advance in every way in its power the cause of temperance." 

Dr. James Oliver Wilson had joined the staff of St. Andrew's in 1895.  A firebrand of sorts, his sermons sometimes raised eyebrows.  Such was the case on September 15, 1901 when, following the assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, his sermon dealt with the problem of American anarchists in general.  And his solution was straight-forward--kill them.

He said in part "If we have not a law that will hang the anarchist who attempts to kill his victim--and that without any lengthy formality--we ought to have such a law, and will."  He deemed Czolgosz worse than either John Wilkes Booth or Judas Iscariot.  "They were both hypocrites, but McKinley's murderer was the worse...Judas was sorry his treachery was responsible for Christ's crucifixion.  Czolgosz is glad his bullet proved fatal.  The Master once called Judas a devil.  What would he call this monster in human form?  May the law speedily put an end to him and all of his kind."

It may have been his politically- and socially-charged sermons, or simply his own ambition that prompted the board to "take steps to dissolve the pastoral relations with the Rev. Dr. Wilson," as worded by the New-York Tribune, the following June.  A "leading New-York Methodist," felt it was purely a personal choice by Wilson.  "He would like to be a great popular preacher.  That he could never become in St. Andrew's, which is distinctly a family church."

Whatever the cause, the split was not acrimonious.  On March 26, 1903 the members of the church presented Wilson with a good-bye purse of $2,600; a helpful $76,500 in today's dollars considering he had no job.

Wilson's replacement, the Rev. Andrew Gillies was chosen for his progressive ideas.  The committee had informed him what they were looking for.  "We want a family church, as broad a Christianity in its spirit, as aggressive as a modern business house in its methods, and as far reaching as human society in its ministry."

Rev. Andrew Gillies New-York Tribune, November 12, 1904 (copyright expired)

By the time he was hired the Upper West Side had noticeably changed from one almost exclusively of private homes to scores of apartment houses.  He told the New-York Tribune in November 1904 "It can honestly be said that the location of St. Andrew's is one of the very hardest for aggressive and progressive church work.  The middle West Side is filled with apartment houses.  In these are hundreds of families who seldom, if ever, attend church services."  He said that an "aggressive church worker" who tried to reach out to them would find "the apartment house rigidly closed against his unwelcome intrusion."

Nevertheless, the congregation was active in the community.  A group of 30 women did house visits, a deaconess and a "student deaconess" looked after the "the poor, the sick and the indifferent," according to the Tribune article.

Some of the progressive policies of St. Andrew's were already in place when Gillies took the pulpit.  Each summer middle and upper class residents abandoned the stifling city head for fashionable resorts or country estates.  And the businessmen who stayed behind joined their families on the weekends.  Therefore New York City churches routinely closed for at least three months during the summer.  But not St. Andrew's.

On June 5, 1904 The New York Press reported "St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church...this year will again follow its established custom of keeping open throughout the summer.  The Rev. Andrew Gillies, pastor, will fill the pulpit until the first Sunday in August  In his vacation it will be occupied by well known preachers of established reputation."

Gillies's popularity led to an increased membership and by 1906 the gallery that had been included in the 1889 but never constructed was necessary.  The architects, now named Cady & See, filed plans on April 20, with an projected cost that would equal $42,500 today.  The renovations included Formosa marble pilasters by P. M. & W. Schlichter.  On September 29 the Record & Guide pointed out that the pilasters "highly pleased the pastor and board of trustees of that church, as well as meeting with the approval of the architects, Messrs. Cady & See."

Gillies's progressive ideas were carried on when the Rev. Fred Winslow Adams took over the pastorate in 1915.

Rev. Fred Winslow Adams - The Sun, May 2, 1915
He sent his thoughts on women's rights to vote in a letter to the Empire State Campaign Committee that May.  It said in part:

I am most heartily in sympathy with the movement for equal suffrage in this State and in the nation.  Equal suffrage means not merely the right of women to vote, but the larger freedom of the State...Count upon me as ready at all times to do what I can to promote this agency.

Winslow came up with an clever means of finding fodder for a sermon in November 1916.  He asked some of Manhattan's leading citizens what they deemed "the most dangerous temptations that beset young men and young women in New York."  The results were, in some cases, surprising.

President Butler of Columbia University felt it was "the impulse to spend in excess of income."  (He felt this impulse applied only to men.)  Reformer and criminologist Katharine B. Davis said the danger to young women was "The desire for pleasure of the kind that is typified in the glamour and glare of Broadway, of the theatres and cabarets."  And Mabel Cratty" of the Young Women's Christian Association "boils her knowledge down to one word: 'Clothes,'" said The Sun on November 21.

Interestingly, not one of those polled pointed to drugs, gambling or liquor as a dangerous temptation.  Millionaire banker Jacob H. Schiff also had a one-word answer:  women.  The Sun commented on that, saying "Mr. Schiff has stirred up a hornet's nest for himself.  Woman never tempts.  She is invariably tempted."

Nearly half a century after its construction the congregation sold its building.  On June 29, 1937 the New York Evening Post reported "Led by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, several upper West Side residents have purchased St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church at 120 West Seventy-sixth Street for $200,000 and will convert it into a synagogue in September."

Rabbi Goldstein had organized the Institutional Synagogue in 1917.  By now it was known as the West Side Institutional Synagogue.   Like the pastors of St. Andrew's, he was a progressive and his goal was to cater to young, American Jews who could not connect with the old European style synagogues.

His innovations--which later became commonplace in Modern Orthodox synagogues--included English language sermons and cultural programs, some of which might shock traditional congregants, like dances.

The dedication took plat on April 30, 1938.  The New York Post reported "West End Institutional Synagogue today takes over [the] building at 120 West Seventy-sixth Street, which has been called 'the handsomest and most imposing church structure erected by Methodists in New York.'"  Along with Rabbi Goldstein, the speakers included lawyer and politician Charles H. Tuttle, Congressman Bruce Fairchild Barton, and entertainer Eddie Cantor.  A dinner-dance followed at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The congregation took over the building at a time of international upheaval and danger.  Rabbi Goldstein's first Rosh Hashanah sermon here addressed the imminent threat of war.  "We are facing war because we have warred against God's law," he declared.

The coming war had, of course, much to do with the rise of Adolph Hitler, whose racist agenda struck terror in the hearts of Jews world-wide.  On March 26, 1938 The New York Sun reported "At the West Side Institutional Synagogue, 120 West Seventy-sixth street, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein likened he leaders of Germany to 'some maddened beast which seeks to plunge the world again into the hell from which it has so recently and so tortuously emerged.'  He declared that the United States, in inviting persecuted peoples to come to this country, has assumed the moral leadership of all nations."

The synagogue was on the front lines of relief as war raged throughout Europe.  On December 19, 1944 The New York Sun reported "Congratulatory messages were read last night from Gov. Thomas E. Dewey and Mayor F. H. LaGuardia at a meeting in the West Side Institutional which the first unit of a national plan to aid war veterans through synagogues was launched."  The plan, outlined at that meeting, offered veterans "membership in the synagogue club rooms, economic aid through placement and employment assistance panels, assistance to their wives and children and vocational and family aid in neighborhoods on a non-sectarian basis."  The Governor praised the plan as being "devoid of any humiliating suggestion of charity to our demobilized fighting men."

The synagogue attracted youth though activities like this Chanukah Dance.  New York Post, December 5, 1947
Following the war young dances were a popular activity in the 72nd Street space.  They were most often coupled with a more edifying component.  In November 1948, for instance, a newspaper announcement was entitled "FREE--DANCE--FORUM"  Young people coming to dance that night would also hear author and Zionist Beinush Epstein speak on the "Fiasco of Partition."

An exception was the Leap Year Dance on January 17, 1948.  But although the event was purely for dancing (with Sandy Block and his orchestra providing the music), the trade-off was a $1.25 admission.  

In 1958 architect David Moed was commissioned to renovate and remodel the former rectory building.  The plans, which called for removing the stoop, included an apartment on the first floor, classrooms on the second, a social hall, banquet hall, "bazaar" and kitchen on the third and classrooms and a "clubroom" on the upper floors.  With a late 1950's disregard for historic consideration or architectural conformity, he replaced Cady & Co.'s Romanesque Revival facade with institutional metal panels.

A fire cannot be blamed for what happened to the once marvelous Rectory.
Seven years later a devastating fire tore through the main church.  Architect Emory S. Tabor restored and preserved what he could; but the roof and dome had collapsed and the tall gable was now gone.  Tabor's renovations included a modern, rather severe, entrance which, like Moed's changes, were more in keeping with current architecture than an attempt to echo the overall design.

After more than eight decades in the former Methodist church, the West Side Institutional Synagogue continues to be a vibrant force in the Upper West Side's Jewish community.

photographs by the author