Architect Max Hensel designed a row of five brownstone-fronted homes on West 74th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, for developer William H. Jacobs in 1889. The A-B-A-B-A configuration meant, in fact, that he had to come up with only two designs.
The 20-foot wide, four-story residences were completed in 1890. The easternmost, No. 41 (an "A" design), featured a muscular box stoop that changed directions three times before reaching the entrance. The doorway was flanked by two engaged columns, their stylized Corinthian capitals slightly different--one in the form of blooming flowers, the other of ferns. They upheld a foliate-carved arched. A rounded, three-window bay dominated the second floor. A wide carved band ran between the third and fourth floors.
|The house was originally identical to No. 45, seen here.|
Jacob was certain he had sold No. 41 in June 1890. The Real Record & Builders' Guide reported that Joseph Hammerslough and his wife Helen had paid $45,000 for the property. But something went wrong. On October 1 the Hammersloughs transferred the title back to William H. Jacobs. The developer immediately sold it, however, to Julia A. Shaw. She got a bit of a discount, paying $500 less than the Hammersloughs. It was nevertheless a pricey transaction--equaling about $1.27 million today.
Julia A. Shaw was the widow of Samuel P. Shaw who had opened the block-engulfing Grand Union Hotel in 1869 with Simeon Ford. Their business relationship expanded to a family relationship when Ford married the Shaws' daughter, Julia, in 1883. The Shaws had two other children, Samuel T. and Joan B. Shaw. Julia maintained a summer residence near Rye, New York on the Long Island Sound and a farm in Peekskill.
Two years after purchasing No. 41 Julia initiated a significant alteration. In July 1892 she commissioned architect Francis H. Kimball to add an extension to the rear, rearrange the interior walls, and raise the upper floor Unmentioned in the plans was the addition of a dramatic copper balcony. The alterations cost Julia the equivalent of more than $85,000 today.
|Kimball's copper balcony may not have been architecturally congruous, but it was most definitely striking.|
An astute business woman, she had managed the Grand Union Hotel following the death of her husband. Like so many upscale hotels at the time, it welcomed both transient and permanent guests.
In 1882 Carolan O'Brien Bryant had checked in with his two daughters. A year earlier the girls had received $180,000 in the will of their grandfather, John Anderson--a hefty $4.56 million today.
While the family lived her, according to The Evening World, Julia "advanced money for the medical attendance of the daughters." Most likely because she was aware of the fortunes coming to the girls, Julia also did not press for the rent on the suite of rooms. But after the Bryants checked out in 1885 and dodged Julia's attempt for payment for nearly a decade, she took them to court.
On November 8, 1894 The Evening World entitled an article "Mrs. Shaw Wins" and reported that not only did Julia recover the $19,298.80 in rent and the loan; but Justice Barrett threw in another $1,108.51 for good measure. Julia's judgment would equal nearly $670,000 today.
Julia's sister, Ann (known as "Annie") Twybill Allen was also a widow. The two women summered together at Julia's Rye-on-the-Sound home. As the summer of 1897 drew to a close Annie fell ill. She was too sick to travel and as the other summer homes were closed up, the two women stayed on. Then, on November 15 the 65-year-old Annie died. Her funeral was held in the summer home; Julia arranging for carriages to meet mourners arriving from Grand Central Station.
Julia died at the Rye-on-the-Sound house on November 6, 1901. Two days later carriages once again waited at the Rye train station for mourners arriving from Manhattan.
Julia's estate equaled about $15.8 million in today's dollars.
She was generous to her servants in death, giving, for instance, $300 and $200 to maids Annie Darby and Kate O'Connor, respectively; and $100 to Maggie O'Neill, her dressmaker. Annie's windfall was a little more than $9,000 by today's standards.
Joan received $25,000 and her sister, Julia, inherited the Rye residence. Julia's husband, Simeon Ford, received $50,000. Samuel was given the Peekskill farm and the West 74th Street house. Julia was specific in her will about the fate of the Grand Union Hotel.
The New-York Tribune reported "the remainder of the estate, including the Grand Union Hotel, is left to Mrs. Shaw's children, and they are to run it. The trustees named are Simeon Ford, Mrs. Julia E. Ford and Samuel T. Shaw. They are to manage the hotel."
Julia and her husband had been well known as art connoisseurs and collectors. Following her death the Julia A. Shaw Memorial Prize was established by the Society of American Artists. It was annually presented "for the best work of art by an American woman."
Samuel Shaw did renovations to his mother's former home, and then leased it. The first tenant was Louis B. Fleischmann and his family. On July 24, 1902 The New York Times wrote "The Fleischmann home on Seventy-fourth Street has just been completed, and the family moved in some time ago."
In fact, the work was not totally completed. On the day before the Times article there was a crew of a dozen "painters, carpenters, and frescoers" at work. At the time all the family except son Charles were at their summer home in the Catskills. The servants had accompanied the family, leaving only the housekeeper back to take care of things.
Charles's mother and sister, Annie, came home briefly on the evening of July 23, so he hurried home from his Broadway office. They all arrived at the house around 6:00. When Charles went to his rooms on the third floor later that night he found that his door had been had jimmied open.
The Times reported "He said that he found that no great search had been made to the rooms, but that the thief had opened a drawer in a chiffoniere and secured a morocco case." In that case were gold jewelry, diamond and pearl stickpins, a seal ring, and oddly enough, "a woman's ring, two pearls surrounded by diamonds." Charles explained the ring "belonged to a friend, and he was rather at a loss as to how to explain its disappearance."
Samuel Shaw moved his family into No. 41 following the Fleischmanns' departure. Their impressive summer estate was in Centre Island near Oyster Bay, Long Island, described by the New York Herald as "being "situated near the Seawanhaka Yacht club House, and just across the bay from President Roosevelt's residence." The family was still there in October 1903--rather late in the season--when disturbing incidents began occurring.
One of the cows was "thrown and her legs tied up in a cruel manner" and then, according to the Herald, "one of Mr. Shaw's valuable dogs has been crippled by the same miscreant, it is believed. The animal was either kicked or beaten."
The vandalism climaxed on the stormy night of October 11. The Herald reported "The members of the family, comprising besides Mr. Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, four sons and an infant child, were asleep in the second story when Mrs. Shaw was awakened by a noise. She aroused her husband." The couple hurried downstairs to find one of the porches on fire. Shaw ran through the house waking the servants and getting the family out of the burning house.
Because the season had ended, the district was "practically deserted," according to the newspaper, "and but little assistance could be had." The house was destroyed, along with Mrs. Shaw's jewelry, rare rugs and paintings. The personal loss (not including the house) was estimated at around $206,000 in today's money.
A reporter arrived at No. 41 West 74th Street a few days later. Shaw told him "I am completely exhausted with the excitement and loss of sleep which I suffered on Saturday night." He was asked if he thought the fire had been started by "some enemy." Shaw replied "Any man who did what was done to my fox terrier would not stop at anything."
In 1905 Shaw was again leasing the house, now to the family of wealthy sand paper manufacturer Herman Behr. The house was the scene of daughter Margaret's introduction to society at an afternoon reception on December 21 that year.
The following year Max Howell Behr was married to Evelyn B. Schley in mansion of the bride's parents at No. 845 Fifth Avenue. Herman Hall Behr was his brother's best man.
The family was still leasing the house when another son, Frederic, was married to Alice Cramer Vernam on December 4, 1907. Like's his brother's wedding it took place in the bride's home, this time in Morristown, New Jersey.
The family's social status was evidenced when invitations arrived to the wedding of Beatrice Kobbe and Remond Demorest Little. On January 9, 1907 the New-York Tribune listed the guests, including not only the Behrs, but socially-elite names like the August Belmonts, the Hamilton Fishes, Roosevelts, Livingstons, Whitneys and Frelinghuysens.
The Behrs remained at No. 41 until 1909, when Samuel T. Shaw offered the house to The Society of American Fakirs as its clubhouse. An organization of students of the Art Student's League, "its principal function" according to The Evening Post, "is an exhibition caricaturing paintings hung in the annual spring exhibition of The National Academy."
The students, in other words, produced fakes of serious paintings. An earlier catalog explained "A fake is a cold, cruel, remorseless, ridiculous swipe on the hard labor of an American artist. It may be an intelligent criticism, or it may be flamdoolery."
Since its founding, the club had been loosely organized. Shaw wanted to create officers, committees and an elective membership system. On December 1, 1909 The Evening Post said he "gives his home for a term of three years, a sufficient time, he thinks, to test the practicability of the scheme. The house is decorated by F. S. Church and C. C. Curran, and has a great many large rooms, which can be used for exhibitions or for clubrooms."
The club's housewarming took place on December 22. The New-York Tribune reported "The feature of the evening was the presentation to Samuel T. Shaw, the founder of the club and the owner of the house, of a silver loving cup mounted on a square ebony base."
The Fakirs remained in the house for nearly two years, after which Shaw sold it to George Randolph Chester and his wife, Lillian E. Chester in September 1912 for $57,500 (just over $1.5 million today). The title was put in Lillian's name.
Born in Cincinnati on January 27, 1869 Chester was an author, some of whose popular works were made into silent films. His success in selling stories to The Saturday Evening Post had led him to relocate to New York. A year before buying the 74th Street house, Chester's first wife, Elizabeth, discovered that he was living in London with American writer and widow Lillian Josephine Hauser DeRimo. She filed for divorce and when Chester and Lillian received word that the divorce had been granted, they married. The pair worked on collaborative stories and plays in No. 41, as well as individual works.
The Chesters remained only two years. In 1914 George leased the house to Echlin P. Gayer who was self-described as "the famous English actor and playwright." He operated the home as what he described as "a novel and charming idea in metropolitan living," the Kenilworth House. "Neither a hotel nor a boarding house, a most unique furnished private residence for the connoisseur of luxury." Those renting suites would enjoy "sumptuous furnishings and appointments automatic electric elevator...instantaneous hot water service day and night." He listed electric lights, steam head, phones in every suite, and four English servants as amenities.
But it appears that the Chesters were not pleased with their property being used as a de facto hotel. A multi-day auction was held within the house in December that year. The announcement touted the "artistic and exquisite furniture, art treasures and appointments contained in the palatial residence of Echlin Gayer, Esq."
The residence continued to house wealthy families. In 1928 it was home to Grace Tumbridge Mason, whose ex-husband, millionaire John W. Tumbridge was the former owner of the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn. The former Grace Goudie, once a Brooklyn debutante, she lived here with her 13-year-old daughter, also named Grace. That year Grace took her former husband to court in an attempt to have the amount of her daughter's support increased.
"She wanted the girl to live amid the comfort and advantages that generally are the lot of a millionaire's child," explained the Brooklyn, Standard Union on October 27, 1928. But the stress of appearing in court, not to mention seeing her husband's new wife there, was too much for Grace.
The Standard Union began its article dramatically, saying "A mother's life, snuffed out amid tragic and dramatic circumstances, is the toll chalked up to-day in her futile battle against her Brooklyn millionaire ex-husband to win ease and luxury for her poor-little-rich-girl daughter." As charges "flew back and forth," Grace had become enraged at Tumbridge "and leaped from the witness stand and lunged at him, swooning to the floor as she did so." Grace never regained consciousness."
Two more families would live in the house while it was still a private home. Mary E. Gould, widow of Arthur Gould, lived here until her death at the age of 74 in August 1941. She was followed by Roger Andrews and his wife, Eleanor.
Then a renovation completed in 1954 resulted in two apartments on each floor. The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the former basement level. The brownstone facade was painted white.
|Even the copper balcony was painted white. photo via corcoran.com|
photographs by the author