Friday, January 31, 2020

The 1914 St. Ambrose Chapel - Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine




Sarah Swan Whiting, known affectionately as Sallie, was the daughter of Augustus and Sarah Whiting (nee Swan).  Introduced to society in 1880, The St. Paul Daily Globe said “among her first admirers was young Oliver Belmont…young Belmont became her devoted slave.”  

The couple was married two days after Christmas that year but it was an ill-fated match.  Within six months they were divorced.  On September 1, 1881 Sarah’s baby, Natica Caroline Belmont, was born.

In 1889 Sarah married George Lockhart Rives, whose first wife, Caroline, had died two years earlier.  A lawyer, politician and author, Rives had just completed his term as Assistant Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland.
In 1912 the massively ambitious project of constructing an Episcopal cathedral on Morningside Heights had been going on for two decades.  Socialites throughout Manhattan hosted teas, receptions and benefits to raise money for the project. Sarah Whiting Rives took it a step further.
Augustus Whiting had died in 1873 and his wife in 1894.   Sarah announced her intentions to donate a chapel in memory of her parents to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the Whiting Memorial Chapel.  It was originally to be erected on the north side of the structure, but there was a change in plans.  On July 13, 1912 the New-York Tribune announced "A change has been made in the location of the Whiting Memorial Chapel, the gift of Mrs. William C. Rives [sic], as part of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine...The place finally decided upon for the structure is the south side, next to the Potter Chapel."  The article said that work had just begun on the foundation and placed the anticipated cost at $100,000--or about $2.67 million in today's month.
There would be another change before long.  A plan to create seven chapels representing "the Seven Tongues," as described ed by The Evening World resulted in a name change.  On November 17, 1913 The Evening Telegram reported "The Whiting Memorial chapel...is named for St. Ambrose, and here the services will be in Italian."
In the meantime, construction was well underway.  Sarah had commissioned Carrere & Hastings (which had designed the Rives's mansion in 1907) to design the chapel.  Ralph Adams Cram, a fierce proponent of the Gothic Revival style, had recently been appointed supervising architect of the cathedral.  It is doubtful that his discussions with Thomas Hastings over the project were always affable. 
Hastings designed an Italian Renaissance chapel the lightness and grace of which contrasted sharply with Cram's medieval Gothic ideal.  As the chapel neared completion in May 1913, Hastings addressed the Royal Institute of British Architects.  His comments read like an intentional slap at Cram.  He said in part that "the Renaissance style represents the main line of evolution in the architecture of Greece and Rome...while the Gothic style was an evolutionary incident, an outcome of the evanescent morbid spirit of devotion peculiar to medieval life."
The Architectural Record agreed.  In its August 1914 issue it called the chapel "a noteworthy example of the use of the Renaissance style to express devotional feeling in design."  By the time of its completion, the cost had rise to $150,000; nearly $3.9 million today.  The high-end materials contributed greatly to that figure.
The walls were clad in Rosato marble and the vaulted ceiling, embossed with delicate carving, was of white marble.  The complex floor design was executed in gray Siena and red Verona marble.  The magnificent altar and reredos, atop steps of Cenere marble, were of white alabaster, inset with three gold ornaments (a lamb with a cross flanked by angels swinging incense).
Three large, clear windows allowed light to pour into the space.  At night four antique silver lamps which hung from the ceiling provided lighting.  
All three windows were originally clear glass.  The center window is draped in this photograph, possibly simply to block the glare for the photograph.  Architectural Record, August 1914 (copyright expired)
The chapel was guarded by a superb wrought iron Italian screen.  It was topped by a series of seven gilded and painted scenes from the life of St. Ambrose.  Seven tall candle sticks separated each section and at either end stood an angel.  Beehives, the icon of St. Ambrose the patron saint of beekeepers, appeared discreetly throughout the design.

Tall candles lined the top of the screen.  Architectural Record, August 1914 (copyright expired)
The chapel was dedicated at 11:00 on April 23, 1914.  By now it served as a memorial not only to Sarah's parents, but to other members of the Rives and Whiting families, including Sarah's daughter Natica, who died in 1908.  Although The New York Times commented that "Only the immediate relatives and a few friends have been invited to attend the ceremony," it was no small affair.  It was officiated by Bishop David Hummell Greer; and assisted by Dean William M. Grosvenor; Rev. Dr. Charles L. Slattery, rector of Grace Church; and Rev. Stanley C. Hughes, rector of Trinity Church in Newport.
The blind arches were carved in a  trompe l'oeil suggestion of three-dimensions.  The figures in the spandrel panels represented Old Testament figures on one wall, New Testament figures on the other.
The first Italian service was held in the chapel on June 7 that year.  The Churchman reported "The whole service was in Italian, Canon Nelson preaching in this language to a congregation which filled the chapel, and many stood outside unable to gain entrance."
Delicate Renaissance-style carving embellishes the chapel throughout.
Not surprisingly, the chapel would be the venue of Rives weddings.  On April 11, 1917 Mildred Rives was married to Frederick Marquand Godwin here.  Because her father was too ill to attend, her brother, F. Bayard Rives, gave her away.  The guest list was most impressive.  It included Marshall Orme Wilson and his wife, the former Caroline "Carrie" Astor, who had been close friends with Sarah since childhood; the Henry Marquands; Prince and Princess Troubetskey; the H. McK. Twomblys; and Mrs. Frederick N. Goddard among others.
Only three weeks later F. Bayard Rives's marriage to Helen Hunt was celebrated here.  His best man was his new brother-in-law, Frederick Marquand Godwin.  The New York Herald explained "The marriage had been arranged for early June, but wad advanced as the bridegroom is a member of the Officers' Reserve Corps."

That the family had not necessarily been totally in agreement with the renaming of the chapel in 1913 may be reflected in the fact that press coverage of the engagements and weddings referred to it as the Whiting Memorial Chapel, ignoring any mention of St. Ambrose.
Family weddings continued to be held here.  A niece, Evelyn Rives Smith, was married to Roderic Wellman here on April 5, 1921.  The socially important event was broadly covered in society columns.
In 1923 Sarah Rives replaced two of the clear glass windows with magnificent stained glass panels.  They were dedicated on March 4 by Bishop William T. Manning.  Close inspection reveals that beehives are scattered among the honeycomb patterned sections.

Dr. Robert J. Nevin had been rector of the American Church in Rome until his death in 1906.  He willed to the Cathedral his collection of early Italian art.  On June 21, 1930 the New York Evening Post reported that "Recently some of these interesting pictures have been placed in the Italian Chapel of St. Ambrose, and are now on view."
One of the Nevin paintings hangs above the magnificent alabaster altar.
They were in the company of another handsome gift.  In 1929 Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini presented two silver candlesticks to the Italian chapel.  They were still in place in April 1932 when Colonel J. W. Finger gave a lecture on the cathedral.  The Newburgh News noted that he spoke about the St. Ambrose Chapel, saying, "This is exquisite.  The altar is all overlaid with gold.  The Mussolini candlesticks, a gift to the Italians, was [sic] also shown."  

As construction continues on the cathedral around it, the stunning 1914 St. Ambrose Chapel continues to awe visitors.  
photographs by the author
many thanks to Cathedral Program Manager Jimmy Newborg and staff member Dana Settles for their time and incalculable help

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Brutal Renovation - 162 Eighth Avenue



Frederick Van Axte's 1871 stable, directly behind, has received the same vinyl siding as the main building.

In January 1847 the four new houses at Nos. 158 through 162 Eighth Avenue were offered for sale.  The wood frame house and store at No. 162, at the northeast corner of 18th Street, was three bays wide on the avenue.  Its prim wooden cornice was in the relatively new Italianate style.  The ample living space within the two upper floors were intended to be home to the proprietor of the ground floor shop.  (The structure sneaked in just under the wire.  In 1849 the city banned wood-frame construction below 32nd Street.)

No. 162 was purchased by John P. Hamilton who moved his hardware business into the store.  That month he joined 53 other hardware merchants to announce what must have seemed a generous employee benefit:

We, the undersigned, Hardware Merchants, desirous to allow our Clerks time for mental improvements after the employments of the day, have concluded to close our stores at 8 o'clock, P.M., except on Saturday evenings, for 3 months from the 4th January, 1847.

The Hamiltons had scarcely settled into their new home before it was the scene of a funeral.   James H. Weed died on May 21 at the age of 37.  The New-York Tribune reported that his funeral would take place "from the residence of his brother-in-law, Mr. John P. Hamilton, 162 Eighth-avenue."

Hamilton was apparently financially comfortable.  In 1848 the State of New York began fund raising for the enlargement of the Erie Canal and the completion of the Genesee Valley and Black River Canals.  Bids for loans to the state were advertised on June 28, with Hamilton offering $10,000 with proposed interest ranging from $2.50 to $3.03.   The principal would equal more than $325,000 today.

Around 1850 Hamilton retired.  Directories listed his profession as "late hardware" and his address at No. 139 West 21st Street in 1853.  The Eighth Avenue store was being run by William Johnson at least from 1850 to 1851.  He is listed only as "merchant" with no description of the business.

In 1855 William P. A. Stranahan and his brother, Henry, Jr., ran their grocery store, Stranahan & Brother, in the space.  They moved on by 1859 when the grocery store of Charles D. Mathews was here.   He remained longer, staying until 1868 when another grocer, Frederick Van Axte (sometimes spelled Vanaxte), purchased the building.

Van Axte and his wife, the former Anna Kruse, would own the property for decades.  In 1871 Frederick hired architect W. H. Hart to design a two-story brick stable directly behind the store.  It was possibly at this time that the pressed metal lintels were installed over the upper windows of No. 162.


from the Directory of Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, 1876 (copyright expired)

In his off time Van Axte was a member of the State National Guard Third Regiment of Cavalry.  On February 10, 1875 he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Van Axte considered selling the store in 1878.  His advertisement on May 13 offered "For Sale--A First Class Corner Grocery Store, in one of the best avenues in the city.  Inquire of Van Axte, corner 18th st. and 8th av."  But he either changed his mind or there were no serious takers and he would continue to run the store for several more years.

It appears that he attempted to attract more customers by adding wine or spirits to the stock.  On June 30, 1880 he paid $30 for his excise (or liquor) licence.

Earlier, in 1853, New York State investigators had discovered a despicable practice among dairy farmers outside of Manhattan.  They found that some dairymen were diluting the milk with water, then adding flour, molasses or even plaster of paris to restore its consistency.  

Unbelievably, the problem was ongoing three decades later.  And on September 16, 1881 The New York World reported that Frederick Van Axte was among three grocers charged by the Board of Health "with selling adulterated milk."

A significant change to the corner store came after Van Axte moved his home and business to West 125th Street.  He retained possession of the property, but the decades of its being home to a grocery store came to an end.  William Woodward converted the space to a saloon, subleasing it to the brewery P. Ballantine & Sons.

By 1893 McCrocken Bros. took over the lease.  The brothers ran three saloons in the neighborhood, the others on Seventh and Ninth Avenues.  The Eighth Avenue bar was run by Owen McCrocken.  They sold the lease in 1898 after which Ernst and William H. Meyer operated the saloon.

In the meantime, the upper floors were run as a rooming house.  Francis Grand, a coal dealer, was here in 1898, as was Ella Adams.  She was arrested by officer Lenihan on September 29 that year after she robbed William Brown of $6 in cash at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 16th Street.

William Muro set up his bootblack stand outside the saloon in 1901.  He shared the sidewalk with Peter Manatos the following year when the latter obtained a license for a fruit stand.

A novelty introduced around 1900 was the "nickle-in-the-slot" machine.  Customers inserted their coin, then viewed a series of quickly flipping photographs that nearly approximated a motion picture.  The vignettes were sometimes risque, at least by early 20th century standards.

T. M. Moeller was operating the saloon in 1911.  He apparently felt that a nickle-operated peep show was just the thing to attract patrons.  The police disagreed.  On November 22 the New York Morning Telegram headed an article "Indecent Pictures In Court" and advised that Moeller had been arrested for keeping a picture machine and was being held for trial.

Frederick Van Axte died at the age of 75 on October 28, 1913.  He left the bulk of his estate, valued at more than $3.3 million in today's dollars, to his wife, including No. 162 Eighth Avenue.

Leonard Heffernan was most likely the last proprietor of the saloon.  The space was converted to a restaurant in the early years of Prohibition.  The upper floors continued to be rented to tenants of moderate means.  Frank McDonald was listed here in July 1919 when word arrived that he had been severely wounded in battle overseas.


In 1932 Walter's Food Shoppe & Restaurant occupied the former saloon space.  Frederick Van Axte's stable building directly behind has been converted to a store.  photo by Charles Von Urban from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
William B. Callaghan, a grain merchant, was here in 1923; and by 1926 Patricia Woods rented an apartment.  An actress and amateur artist, she took her own life on April 21 that year.  The New York Evening Post reported that she drank poison in her living room.  "Collapsing as she drained the bottle, the young woman fell across a picture of her sister, Hazel, on a desk.  She had painted the picture some time before from a photograph."

In 1959 a renovation resulted in three stores at ground level (including the former Van Axte stable), four apartments on the second floor and three on the third.  An alteration in 1964 was most likely responsible for the removal of the historic architectural detailing and the installation of vinyl siding.

For years in the late 20th and early 21st centuries the ground floor was home to a wine and liquor store, recalling a long tradition of the space.  In 2015 the Eighth Avenue space became home to France-based gelato and chocolates shop, Amorino, now closed.  


The old neon blade sign survives as a reminder of the liquor store that was here in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The rare wooden building no longer exhibits any trace of its architectural past, nor does it exhibit any redeemable design that might excuse the callous make-over.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Frederick J. Sterner House - 154-156 East 63rd Street






British-born architect Frederick Junius Sterner came from to New York from Colorado in 1906.  He purchased a Victorian brownstone on an East 19th Street block lined with similar high-stoop homes.  Before long he had transformed it into a Mediterranean-style villa with a stuccoed façade and red tile roof.    By 1911 the block was filled with Sterner’s fantastic renovations, earning it the nickname “The Block Beautiful."
In July 1914 Sterner purchased the two three-story brownstones at Nos. 154 and 156 East 63rd Street with plans to convert them into a single residence.  The rear yard would hold a single-story structure for his architectural studio.
Sterner combined the vintage houses internally and remodeled the exterior in his trademark stucco-covered style.  The entrances were moved to the former English basement level.  The studio was accessed by a tunnel behind a gate.  Its brick surround was embedded with ancient-looking sculptures.
The main entrance was behind the brick gateposts at left.  Architecture magazine, April 1915 (copyright expired)
The second floor openings were covered with decorative Mediterranean style grills which were echoed in the playful railing of the two-bay-wide balcony at the top floor.
The gate to the rear studio was a fantasy of sculptures and panels.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Sterner settled into the house with his sister, Maude.  Working from his Mediterranean style study in 1916 he remodeled the two houses directly across the street at Nos. 153 and 155 into a Spanish Revival style villa for Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt as a wedding present to her daughter, Barbara Rutherford, and Cyril Hatch.
Neither Sterner nor his sister appeared often in society columns for their entertainments.  But an event on February 25, 1916 was a notable exception.  The New York Tribune's article entitled "Young Men Give Backyard Party" reported that Sterner, Frank Crowninshield, Bertram de N. Cruger and Henry Clay had hosted a "'Gothic backyard party' last night in the studio of Mr. Sterner," adding "Many interesting features were arranged for the entertainment of the guests."
Those guests were among the most notable in Manhattan society, including the Mayor, John Purroy Mitchel and his wife; Mrs. John Astor; the I. Townsend Burdens; Charles Dana Gibson and his wife; the Conde Nasts and many others.
In March 1917 Sterner sold the residence to Leonard Moorhead Thomas and his wife, the former Blanche May Oelrichs.  Thomas immediately hired architect F. Burrall Hoffman to make alterations.  A stairway was added, the plumbing updated, and a dumbwaiter shaft installed.
Leonard and Blanche had been married in 1910 and now had two children, Leonard, Jr., who was six years old, and Robin May who was two.  The New-York Tribune commented "Mr. Thomas is the son of one of Philadelphia's wealthiest families, a graduate of Yale, and a member of a dozen clubs.  For months after the marriage he and Mrs. Thomas entertained lavishly at their home in Narragansett Avenue, Newport."
The Thomases filled the "big room" (top)with antique tapestries and furniture.  The dining room featured an intricately stenciled ceiling, tiled floors and wall murals.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Although active in society, Blanche's schedule was filled with more than merely afternoon teas and charity receptions.  She was a successful poet, wrote a play, and was a ardent suffragist.  But it was perhaps her striking beauty for which most knew her.  In 1913 French artist Paul César Helleu had arrived in America "to find the most beautiful woman."  As he prepared to sail home to pair he told reporters "I found her.  I found her in Mrs. Thomas."  Blanche would be remembered for the rest of her life as having been deemed "America's most beautiful woman."
Blanche Thomas was considered America's most beautiful woman.  New-York Tribune, April 20, 1920 (copyright expired)
In April 1920 New York society was stunned when it was discovered that Blanche had obtained a divorce in Paris several months earlier.  A reporter from the New-York Tribune caught up with Blanche on April 20 in the East 94th Street apartment she was leasing.  She confirmed the divorce but refused to give details.  "I am sure that our friends would not be interested in anything of the kind," she said.
The living room featured leaded glass windows and a barrel-vaulted Tudor style ceiling.  photo by Wurts Bros from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Of course, they were interested.  And so was the rest of America, especially when news of Blanche's marriage to actor John Barrymore in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on August 5 was published.
Thomas left No. 154, initially leasing it to banker Walter Lewisohn and his family, and then to the Benjamin Moores.  By 1929 it was home to the well-known and powerful attorney and politician, judge Samuel Seabury and his wife, the former Maud Richey.  
While Seabury busied himself with court cases and politics, Maud entertained.  On November 15, 1929, for instance, The East Hampton Star reported that she had hosted a luncheon here, "preceding the first session of the yearly fall meeting of the Garden Club of America."
Samuel Seabury.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
Seabury was highly involved in politics (in 1916 he was the Democratic nominee for Governor of New York).  As votes were counted in the 1933 mayoral race, candidate Fiorello LaGuardia chose to wait it out at the Seabury house listening to the results on the radio.   On November 9 the New York Evening Post wrote that when his victory was assured, thousands cheered in the streets.  "But in the early Italian dining room of Samuel Seabury's home at 154 East Sixty-third Street, Fiorello LaGuardia, Mayor-elect, sat in a straight chair, oblivious to the back-slapping of his sponsors, deaf to the concessions of his adversaries and the rising tide of his plurality."  LaGuardia could only recall his earlier attempts at office.  "In victory, Fiorello LaGuardia remembered only defeat."
When LaGuardia was reelected four years later, he chose to take his oath of office in the Seabury house.
The Seabury summer home was in East Hampton.  For some reason Samuel came briefly back to the city in July 1938.  Because the domestic staff was with Maud, only he and the chauffeur, John Mooney, were in the house.
Seabury was reading in the library and Mooney was asleep just after midnight on July 12 when an explosion rocked the house.  Both men rushed to the top floor, normally occupied by servants, "where they found flames shooting upward," according to The New York Times.  Fire fighters extinguished the blaze, but not before extensive damage was done to the fourth floor and attic.  Two fire fighters were overcome by smoke inhalation.  Investigation traced the cause to an electrical short circuit.  Had Seabury not made the unusual trip home, the structure may well have been destroyed.
Other than the living room mantelpiece little in these two rooms has been replaced. photos via Guillaume Gaudet via The New York Times
In 1948 the Seaburys sold No. 154 to the Source Teaching Society, run by Mary Benzenberg Mayer.  Remodeling resulted in the kitchen and other school-related rooms in the basement level, with the upper stories used as "residence of staff," according to the Certificate of Occupancy.  
Mary Benzenberg Mayer had been a student of Sigmund Freud.  The purpose of The Source Teaching Society was to "permit modern man to have religious and mystical experiences despite materialistic pressures."  One skeptical writer called it "a group of Jungian nature-worshipers."

A garage replaces an entrance and the fourth floor balcony has been remodeled.
In 1961 another renovation resulted in a triplex in the ground floor through second.  It shared the basement level with a garage.  One apartment each were now on the third and fourth floors.  In 1994 a conservatory was erected on the roof.
Frederick J. Stern's studio survives--albeit it gussied up. photo via Guillaume Gaudet via The New York Times 
By the time the house was placed on the market in 2019 it had been returned, essentially, to a single-family home although the top floor apartment was still in place.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Bruce Addison for suggesting this post.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Thom & Wilson's 1886 190-198 Columbus Avenue (100 West 69th Street)




In the mid-1880's developer George J. Hamilton was busy erecting rows of high-stooped houses on the Upper West Side.   He added an apartment building to the mix in 1885 when he commissioned the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design a "brick flat and store" along with four four-story row houses at the southwest corner of Ninth (later Columbus) Avenue and 69th Street.

The group was completed in July 1886.  Thom & Wilson, known for its distinctive take on popular styles, did not disappoint with the flat building.   Ground floor shops faced Columbus Avenue, while the residential entrance was located at No. 100 West 69th Street.  

The upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in stone.  Predominantly neo-Grec in style, the architects liberally splashed the design with Queen Anne elements.  The 69th Street elevation featured two Palladio-inspired openings at the second floor.  At the third floor the outside windows wore half-bowl decorations--adequate for a pot of flowers or the elbows of an inquisitive housewife.  Each of the top floor windows was capped by a deeply carved fan.  The pressed metal cornice included a handsome wave crest pattern between the brackets.

The more visible Columbus Avenue side was dominated by the unusual treatment of the top-heavy chimney backs which widened into full-blown chimneys that broke through the cornice line.  The central chimneys embraced a pediment that included an arch filled with exuberantly carved vines and fans. 



The corner shop was leased to Gustave Loetdje for his "handsome grocery store," as described by The Evening World.  Loetdje, who had come to America in 1881, seemed confused when the Federal Government stepped in to break up the monopoly of the sugar industry, the "Sugar Trust," in 1888.  His focus was more on the struggling refinery workers who would lose their jobs.

On January 30, 1888 a reporter from The World said "he thought it very hard on the hundreds of poor workmen who were thrown out of employment at this time of year by the shutting down of some of the sugar manufactories."

Among the tenants in 1893 was 20-year old Mable O. Clark, wife of Frederick Sherwin Clark, who was two years older.  The couple had been married on June 27 that year but, according to The New York Times, "the honeymoon lasted until July 1."  According to Frederick, it had been a shotgun wedding, "forced upon him at the point of a pistol."

The article explained that the pair had lived together for some time, but on that night Mable's mother and aunt appeared with a minister.  "Mrs. Clark threatened to shoot him and then commit suicide," said the newspaper.  "Clark preferred not to be shot."

But after returning to the city on July 1 and taking rooms at No. 100 West 69th Street, Frederick vanished.  He then hired a private investigator to gather evidence to file for divorce.  

Unaware of his actions, Mabel sued for lack of support and appeared in court with her mother on July 19.  Clark was there with his father.  After the judge decreed that Clark was to pay $5 per week to Mabel, all parties began to file out of the courtroom.  It was then that Clark's private detective approached Mabel and tried to serve her with the divorce papers.

"She discovered his game and shouted out that she was being assaulted," reported The Times.  Mabel and her mother nearly lost the detective in the crowded hallways, but he caught up with them on the street.  "Mrs. Clark ran around an ash barrel.  The detective ran after her.  Around the barrel they raced again and again.  A crowd gathered and watched the novel game of hide-and-seek."

"At last," said The Evening World, "Wells caught her and thrust the paper into her hands."   But then, back in the courthouse, detective Wells made a crushing discovery--the divorce papers were still in his vest pocket and he had served Mabel with his New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad timetable.

The names of most of the residents appeared in newsprint for respectable reasons--like Gertrude de la M. Ludlam, whose daughter, Helen Denison Ludlam, was married in their apartment to Herbert F. C. Ashenden on June 6, 1900.  But occasionally a tenant would find himself on the wrong side of the law.

Such was the case on March 2, 1907 when Deputy Police Commissioner Hanson and six detectives raided a poolroom on Broadway between 75th and 76th Streets.  The term poolroom referred to an illegal gambling operation, normally involving horse racing.  The New York Press reported "With his detectives he made a quick dash at the door and gained admission without difficulty.  He found sixty men in the room, he said, gathered around racing charts and other paraphernalia."

Among the "prisoners and the plunder" that were carted away in a patrol wagon was Monroe Voorhess, of No. 100 West 69th Street.   He was charged with aiding and abetting John Davis, who headed the illegal operation.

Alfred M. Woolley and his wife lived in the building at the time.  He and W. E. Woolley, presumably his brother, were proprietors of the Hotel Marie Antoinette on Broadway between 66th and 67th Streets.   Captain Walter G. Smith had been Alfred Woolley's secretary since 1898.  

On Sunday January 19, 1908 Smith told one of the clerks that he was going to take a walk.  He never returned.  His friends began a frantic search and a week later a reporter knocked on the Woolleys' apartment door.  Alfred was not there, but his wife said in part, "Mr. Woolley is greatly worried...He has heard nothing from him since he left the hotel last Sunday.  Perhaps Captain Smith has been injured in some way or has become ill."

The reason for his disappearance soon became evident when it was discovered that about $12,000 (about $338,000 today) was missing from the Hotel Marie Antoinette.  Four months later, on April 6, Smith was found in the Susquehanna River with a bullet hole in his head.  But if the discovery initially seemed to have closed the case, it did not.

On April 27 Alfred Woolley had Deputy State Attorney General William E. Kisselburgh, Jr. arrested for defrauding the hotel out of $4,000, $2,263 of which was written on bad checks.  More importantly, it appeared that Kisselburgh had been involved in Smith's embezzlement.  The Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal reported "The charge is now made that Smith advanced part of this sum to Kisselburgh and two other men as I.O.U.'s and worthless checks."

Kate F. Hanley, who made her living as a dressmaker, lived here in 1915 when she visited James Butler's grocery store and butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue and 68th Street on January 8.  Between the two sections were swinging doors.  The butcher shop was then one step down.  

As Kate passed from one store to the other she did not notice the step and fell.  She sued Butler for negligence.  The jury did not agree and found in favor for Butler, saying that instead it was Kate who was careless.  The feisty dressmaker did not accept the verdict and as late as 1915 was still battling in court.

And while Kate was fighting for justice, 12-year old Alexander Discount was doing the same, albeit in a much different way.  On January 28, 1915 the boy surprised a burglar, William Fiore, "ransacking a bureau in his room," according to The New York Herald.  As the thief ran down the hallway stairs, Alexander flung himself from the second floor landing onto his back.

"Screams brought women tenants with brooms.  The young man was being subjected to a severe pummeling when Policeman Heaney arrived and arrested him on a charge of burglary," reported the article.   Alexander's dresser was obviously not Fiore's first target that night.  "Three watches and a quantity of silver were found in his pockets."

Although they were middle class, several of the residents were affluent enough to purchase automobiles in the post World War I years.   Buying one and successfully driving one were separate issues, however.

On August 11, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported "A car driven by Louis Starvides, of 100 West Sixty-ninth Street, crashed into the machine of Miss Gertrude Mooney, twenty-one, of 1027 Carroll Street, Brooklyn."  The impact was such that Mooney's car was overturned.  She suffered a fractured skull and two of her passengers were severely injured.  "Mrs. George Mooney, fourth occupant of the car, was treated for hysteria and shock," said the article.

Three years later, late on the night of March 18, 1922, 24-year old M. Alexander was driving his automobile in the Inwood section.  The Evening World reported "St. Patrick's Day worshippers returning from church soon after midnight to-day saw a powerful touring car plunge over an eighteen-foot embankment of Vermilye Avenue."   The screams of women attracted police who, with several civilians, pulled Alexander from the wreckage.  "He has a possible fracture of the skull and lacerations of body and head," said the article.  "The car was badly damaged."

In 1929 renovations were made to the building and it was most likely at this time that the 69th Street entrance was bricked up and the doorway moved to Columbus Avenue.

Another alteration in 1981 resulted in a total of 14 apartments above the six ground floor stores.  Over the next decades the shops reflected the increasingly trendy personality of Columbus Avenue.  The Robert Marc eyewear boutique and optician office was here by 1984 and still remains.  Other shops along the row in the 1980's were Contre-Jour, the furniture and housewares store which owner Bill Roach described in 1986 as carrying only "things I would have myself;" and Judy Corman, which dealt in modish accessory items.

The new century saw the Frank J. Miele Gallery, gourmet shop Oliviers & Company, and French tea importer La Palaise des Thés among the ground floor tenants.



The brick and stone have been painted and the windows, of course, replaced.  But other than the blocked up entrance on 69th Street and altered storefronts, Thom & Wilson's somewhat quirky building survives little changed.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Lost Charles A. Baudouine House - 718 Fifth Avenue



In 1906, about the time of this photo, Ulman Bros. had moved into the altered ground floor of the former mansion.  The house next door, still intact, was the home of the Andrew C. Zabriskie family.    from the collection of the New York Public Library.

When laborers returned to New York after having served in the Civil War, construction resumed throughout the city.  The blocks above 42nd Street along Fifth Avenue saw rapid development as fine stone-fronted mansions rose to accommodate the ever northward moving wealthy.  Among the active developers were Charles Duggin and James Crossman, responsible for rows of speculative, upscale residences throughout the district.  Although they were builders they preferred to design their own projects, thereby eliminating the cost of a professional architect.

In 1877 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called Duggin & Crossman "the great leaders of fashion in house building," but refused to let them get away with calling themselves architects.  They were "really artist builders," it said.  Nevertheless, the caliber of their product was superb.  In April 1878 the journal said that their "workmanship is superior, the supervision steady and systematic, and all material used of the first-class."

In 1872 Duggin & Crossman had erected a row of five top shelf homes that stretched west from the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.  The corner mansion, No. 718 Fifth Avenue, was of course the showpiece.  Four stories tall above the English basement, it was faced in brownstone.  The architrave frames of the second and third floor windows approached baroque in style.  The quoins that ran up the sides at this level alternated between vermiculated and planar stone.   The lentils of the formal openings of the fourth floor were upheld by fluted Corinthian pilasters; and a row of carved rosettes formed a frieze below the solid cornice.  Two fourth floor oculi on the 56th Street side were engulfed by cornucopia.   A regal stone balustrade crowned the roofline.

No. 718 was purchased by the massively wealthy cabinetmaker Charles A. Baudouine.  Born in New York City in 1808, he had opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830.  As highly-ornate Victorian style came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him the reputation as one of New York’s premier cabinetmakers.  His sole competitor in New York was John Henry Belter with whom he was (and is) consistently compared.


This Rococo Revival sofa came from the workshop of Charles Baudouine -- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
When Cyrus West Field hired Baudouine to fully furnish his new Gramercy Park mansion around 1845, it was the first time in New York that a private residence was decorated by a professional decorator.

The Charles and Ann Baudouine had two children, Abram and Margaret, known as Maggie.  Following Margaret's death in November 1866, her two sons, John and Charles, legally assumed the Baudouine surname.  Charles moved into the new Fifth Avenue mansion with his grandparents.

Distinguished from his grandfather by the addition of "Jr." to his name, Charles became enamored with a neighbor, A. Maude Rutter.  On December 28, 1883 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A large and fashionable wedding took place yesterday at 4 p.m. at the house of Thomas Rutter, No. 849 Fifth-ave.  Mr. Rutter's daughter, Miss A. Maude Rutter, was married to Charles A. Baudouine, jr."  John served as his brother's best man.

The continued close ties with his grandparents was evident as both sets of Baudouines summered together.  On August 12, 1889, for instance The Daily Saratogian reported  "Charles A. Baudoine [sic] and wife and C. A. Baudoine [sic] and family of New York are cottagers at the United States hotel."

When wealthy families left the city for fashionable summer resorts like Saratoga, they most often left a small staff behind to maintain their townhouses and, as importantly, to protect them.  Among those in the Baudouine house during the summer of 1891 were Delia McGonigal and Annie Smith.  For several days before the two girls walked the five blocks to St. Patrick's Cathedral for the 7:00 mass on Sunday, August 9 Delia had been acting strangely.

The following day The Sun reported "For the past few days Delia McGonical, a servant employed at the residence of Charles A. Baudouine, a retired merchant who lives at 718 Fifth avenue, has manifested signs of insanity."  Those signs were most peculiar.  "Her principal delusion was an imagining that she saw moving pictures upon the wall."  

Now, just before mass ended, Delia arose from her seat and began pacing around the cathedral aisles.  The Sun described her as "wringing her hands and folding and unfolding a handkerchief."  Annie finally calmed her friend down, but she initially refused to go home.  It appears that Delia's days of working in the Baudouine mansion were over.  "A policeman took her to Bellevue Hospital, where she developed a mild form of religious dementia," said the article.

The aging Baudouine and his grandson shared a passion for coaching and horses.  During the United States Horse and Cattle Show in June 1893 they participated in a coach-and-four competition.  The New-York Tribune said "Charles A. Baudouine, sr. and jr., drove their orange and black coach, harnessed to which were the horses Buckshot and Random in the lead, and Lady Gorden and Tip Top for wheelers."

A year later Charles, Jr. was again living in his grandparents' home.  On November 13, 1894 The Sun reported "The acquaintances of Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Baudouine, Jr., were surprised to learn yesterday that the couple had separated."  Charles returned to No. 718 Fifth Avenue and Maude went home to her parents.  (Unlike his grandfather, Charles, Jr., had never held a job, living instead off his inherited wealth.  In reporting on the separation the newspaper said merely, "Mr. Baudouine is a member of the New York Athletic, Driving, and Jockey clubs, and until last May he was President of the New York Tandem Club.")

Two months later to the day, on January 13, 1895, Charles A. Baudouine, Sr. died in the Fifth Avenue mansion at the age of 86.  In reporting his death the Buffalo Courier noted his "fortune is estimated at nearly $3,000,000."  That figure would be closer to $92.5 million today.

Commerce was already encroaching on the neighborhood at the time of Baudouine's death, and within two years the estate converted the ground floor of the former mansion for business, with high-end residential spaces above.


New-York Tribune, October 28, 1897 (copyright expired)

The shops that elbowed their way into the exclusive neighborhood were upscale--art galleries, jewelry stores and high-end dressmakers, for instance.  The initial commercial tenant of No. 718 was Pauline, who outfitted socialites in European fashions.

The apartments on the upper floors were leased, for the most part, to wealthy bachelors.  In 1902 retired financier John H. Murphy lived here, as did Count Solon J. Vlasto, described by The Evening World as "an importer and editor of the Greek periodical Atlantis" and "a well-known figure in society."

Trouble came to Vlasto ("whose title is purely one of courtesy," cautioned The World) the following year when his wife, from whom he had been separated for 17 years, sued for divorce.  The suit became scandal when she simultaneously sued Mary J. C. Culver, the married daughter of Senator William A. Clark (and sister of Huguette Clark, more well-known today) for $500,000 for alienating her husband's affections.

In reporting on the suit on November 25, 1903, The Evening World said that Vlasto "is one of New York's social mysteries.  He dines nightly at Delmonico's and has luxurious apartments at No. 718 Fifth avenue."  But, perhaps attempting to circumvent his wife's demand for alimony, he told the courts that "his income was $200 a month from the sale of coffee and sulphur and his literary work, and that he had frequently to borrow money from his brother Demetrius to pay his living expenses."

Mary Culver, by the way, denounced Mrs. Vlasto's charges.  "Mr. Vlasto is an old friend of our family.  He is a particular friend of my father and has been like a father to my sister and myself."

Another prominent bachelor living here at the time was John Duveen, whose family's high-end art gallery would later move up Fifth Avenue to the site of the former George Kemp mansion at No. 720 Fifth Avenue on the opposite corner .  But long before that John would leave No. 718.  On April 19, 1903 The Sun reported that he "gave his bachelor dinner last night at Martin's."  (The high-end apartments above the store were respectable enough for well-heeled bachelors, but not for newly-married society couples.)

Two months after Duveen's party the real estate office of Collins & Collins moved into half of the retail space at No. 718.  Headed by Richard Collins and Minturn Post Collins, the firm dealt in high-end residential properties.  A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City said "They have disposed of...several well-known mansions on Fifth Avenue."

Perhaps because of that, and despite their operating from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, Richard Collins denied that the neighborhood was becoming commercialized.  On December 16, 1905 he was quoted in the Record & Guide saying "With few exceptions there are no business houses on 5th av above 47th st.  The section from that thoroughfare up to 90th st is now and will always be, at least for years to come, the center of fashion."

Nevertheless, the following November Collins & Collins sold their lease to bankers and stock brokers Ulman Bros.  The apartments upstairs continued to house well-heeled bachelors.  John H. Murphy was still living here when Ulman Bros. moved in.  By 1907 W. H. Stiles, secretary of the Brooklyn Football Club was here; and in 1910 stock broker Hosmer James Barrett lived at the address.  (That year Barrett made headlines when he was arrested for having ridden a horse hired at a riding academy so hard that it had to be shot.)

Another Duveen opened his shop in the ground floor of No. 718 in 1913, a mere stone's throw from Duveen Brothers.  Before moving in he hired architect Henry Otis Chapman to redesign the storefront.


photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Charles Duveen dealt not only in European antiques and artwork, but in entire rooms dismantled from venerable English and Continental homes.  His advertisement in Art News in 1914 offered "fine old Elizabethan, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Georgian and Adams Rooms" as well as "tapestries, early English furniture, Georgian and Adams marble mantelpieces, and rare China and European porcelain."  

The Cottier Galleries shared space with Charles of London.  Their opening in November 1913, according to American Art News, featured "early English, Dutch, German, Flemish and modern Foreign masters."


John Singer Sargeant's "The Countess of Warwick and her Children" was among the modern pictures sold at Cottier's opening.  from the collection of the Worcester Art Museum

At some point a rather unattractive top floor was added which bore the name Charles of London along its parapet.  The firm remained at No. 718 until February 1920 when it subleased the space to the shoe store of Hanan & Son.  The Sun reported "The new tenant will make extensive alterations and will use the grade [i.e. ground] floor for their own business and lease the upper portion of the structure."


A French settee is displayed in the side show window a few years before Hanan & Son would remodel the outmoded storefront.   from the collection of the New York Public Library
Architect A. D. Seymour, Jr. removed the glass-and-iron marquee and updated the show windows.  The renovations were completed before the end of the year, allowing Hanan & Son to open on December 20, 1920.


Architectural Record, June, 1921 (copyright expired)
Sixty-five years after the Baudouine mansion was erected it was demolished, replaced by the Corning Glass Works for its Stueben Glass Company showrooms and offices.  Designed by William and Geoffrey Platt, the Art Modern structure was ground breaking in its use of glass blocks (manufactured by Corning's Pyrex division).


from the collection of the Library of Congress
That building was significantly--and many say tragically--remodeled in 1960 for jeweler Harry Winston by architect Jacques Rénault.


photograph by Saul Metrick, corporate portfolio image.