In December 1883 developer Daniel Hennessey began assembling plots along East 73rd Street at the corner of Fourth Avenue (later Park Avenue). Five months later, on June 7, 1884, The Real Estate Record & Guide announced his plans "to erect ten four-story dwellings...to cost $20,000 each." That cost would translate to about $528,000 each today.
Hennessey hired the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design his row. The firm was busy at the time, much of their work being on the opposite side of Central Park. Interestingly, they alternated divergent Queen Anne with Renaissance Revival styles along row in an A-B pattern. And while the homes in either of the styles were similar, none was identical.
Among the five Queen Anne houses was No. 108. Completed in 1885, its basement level and stoop were sandstone rather than the more expected brownstone. The upper four stories were clad in red brick and trimmed in stone. Carved panels playfully featured heads of lions, children and mythical characters. A slightly projecting bay rose the full height, terminating in a pediment that interrupted the slate-shingled mansard.
|A second glance reveals a lion's head and a female portrait within the swirling foliate carvings of these panels.|
On March 5, 1886 Hennessey sold No. 108 to Julius Bowman for $27,500--about $757,000 today. He and his wife, the former Caroline Bamberger (known as Carrie), had five children: Nathan, William, Harry, Leon, Eva and Sophia.
The Bowman children were approaching adulthood and in 1890 Leon was enrolled as a freshman in the "Scientific Course" at New York City College. He would go on to a distinguished career as a physician.
The girls soon married. Sophie's engagement to Moses Joseph Freund was announced on January 13, 1892. The newlyweds moved into the 73rd Street house.
Julius Bowman, who dealt in real estate, devised a shady system to increase profits. He brought a son, presumably Nathan, along to at least one auction of his properties on May 6, 1896. The scheme was that the son would blend into the crowd and bid up his father's properties.
But after John McClenahan had successfully bid $27,000 for one house, he realized that he was bidding against Bowman's son and refused to complete the deal. Bowman sued and the case ended up in court. Julius Bowman no doubt regretted his action. The judge decided that the "employment of a private puffer" rendered the sale void and that, in fact, Bowman had committed fraud.
|A rather flat bas relief profile appears above the second floor windows.|
The Bowman family remained in the house. Leon, now a respected doctor, held interviews here on the night of August 16, 1905 to fill "vacancies in the various departments of the dispensary of the Washington Heights Hospital," as reported in the International Record of Medicine. The population of the house increased again in 1915 following Leon's marriage to Lillian Freed.
|Rather than the expected shell motif in the concave tympanum above the second story hall window, Thom & Wilson added foliate carvings with a hidden bird and two fearsome beasts.|
Jacob J. Bowman died in the house in April 1919. His was the last of the family funerals held here. In June 1921 the Bowman family sold No. 108 to Mrs. A. W. Watson.
Apparently widowed, she hosted at least one notable event here. On December 22, 1927 The Hempstead Sentinel reported "Miss Watson gave a reception at her home, 108 East 73rd street, on Tuesday afternoon to introduce her nieces, Miss Gladys Sutton Cowdrey of this place and Miss Virginia Wyckoff of 118 east 54th st. New York...Following the reception a dinner and theatre party were given for the debutantes."
By the following summer No. 108 was occupied by the Benjamin Clark family. Clark was a partner in the banking and brokerage firm of White, Weld & Co. He and his wife, the former Dorothy O. Pardee, had two daughters, Dorothy and Catherine, and a son, John.
Having settled into the 73rd Street house, the family--all but John--boarded the steamship Aquitania for a vacation in Europe on July 8, 1928. John went to the Clark's summer home in New Canaan, Connecticut.
The family narrowly escaped tragedy when they hired an automobile and took a drive into the French countryside on July 18. Also in the car was "a young man friend of the family." The automobile swerved off the road and into a tree. Dorothy and the girls suffered serious head wounds and one of the girls received a broken arm.
Perhaps because of its narrow proportions--just 17-feet wide--the house was never divided into apartments. In the last quarter of the 20th century it became home to Guernsey's, the Auction House, founded in 1975 by advertising executives Arlan Ettinger and Barbara Mintz. Through the decades it handled artifacts from the RMS Titanic, a Babe Ruth baseball that fetched $3 million, a necklace and matching earrings from the estate of Princess Diana, and the contents of the Tavern on the Green.
Today the house is once again a private home. It is the best preserved of the 1885 row and an architectural charmer.
photographs by the author