Saturday, April 25, 2020

The 1842 Albert J. Hopper House - 41 Bethune Street

In 1842 builder Albert J. Hopper erected a three-story, brick faced home at No. 41 Bethune Street.  A secondary rear structure was almost always included in building projects like this one, variously used as a stable, a small house for rental, or a shop--like a blacksmith or carpentry shop.  It is unclear what the building behind No. 41 was initially used for, but it may have been connected with Hopper's building business.

Hopper and his wife, Eliza, had a son, Jeremiah.  It is unclear if the family ever lived in the Greek Revival style house and, if so, for how long.  In 1846 a dwelling was erected next door at No. 39.  Despite the four years between their construction, the two structures were near mirror images.   John Sigler used that rear building for his picture frame factory, which caught fire in 1853.

Not long afterward, Daniel Hoagland Carpenter bought No. 39 and established his "steam mills" for workworking in the rear.   It was probably at this time that he worked out an arrangement with the owner of No. 41 to extend the mill into his rear business.

Fire broke out in that building on June 29, 1867.  In its report, the New York Fire Department described it as a "4 story brick planing mill."

In 1871 M. Murphey ran the Bethune Moulding Mill in the rear buildings.  Real Estate Record & Guide, November 4, 1871 (copyright expired)

By the 1890's No. 41 was home to the Lynch family.  Lawrence and Margaret Lynch had two children, James and Mary.  They owned a country home in Westchester County.

Lawrence fell ill around 1896 and "after a long illness" died in the house on June 20, 1897 at the age of 58.  The family remained at No. 41.  Son James, who was 26-years-old at the time, took up an interesting career--court stenographer.  By 1900 he was earning $1,600 per year, or just under $50,000 today.  He was one of only five stenographers in the New York County court system.

Margaret died in 1900.  She left the Westchester property to Mary, who promptly arranged to sell it at auction.  James was not happy with the decision and on November 14, 1902 took her to court.  Presumably things were a bit tense within the Bethune Street house for a while.

Following Mary A. Lynch's marriage to James Carroll the population of No. 41 increased by two.  Not only did the newlyweds make their home here, but Carroll's widowed mother, Mary, moved in as well.   She died in 1911 and, as had been the case with Lawrence Lynch, her funeral was held in the house followed by services at St. Bernard's Church.

James E. Lynch received a significant pay raise in 1913.  The "Court of General Sessions of the Peace" resolved to increase his salary to $3,600, or nearly $95,000 a year today.

It was about this time that John Carroll died.  Mary no doubt said goodbye with trepidation when their son, Joseph Gerald, was shipped off to see action in Europe in World War I.  And, if so, her fears were realized on November 22, 1918 when the War Department released its casualty list.  Joseph had been killed in action at Landres et St. Georges, France on October 16.

A memorial service was held in St. Bernard's Church on February 22, 1919; but it would be some time before Joseph's remains would come home.  Finally, on August 30, 1921 his funeral was held in the Bethune Street house, followed by a service at St. Bernard's.

On October 30, 1921 a memorial statue, The Defender of the Flag, was unveiled in Abingdon Square.  The ceremony paid tribute to the boys who had given their lives for their country and to their mothers, as well.  The Evening Telegram ran the headline "This Is Gold Star Mothers' Day in Historic Abingdon Square."   A few days before the event a reporter interviewed Mary at No. 41.

"In the low-ceilinged old-time parlor of her little red-brick home, just off the river's edge, she spoke of the loss that had come to her and her pride in that loss," said the article.  She told him, "I am a widow, and my boy, Joseph Gerald, was very dear to me.  Whatever happens I will be at the ceremonies Sunday."

Not long afterward Mary moved to 130th Street and Broadway.  She died on July 1, 1924 and her funeral was held in St. Bernard's Church where her family had worshiped for decades.

Although erected several years apart, the side-by-side houses are near matches.
The Bethune Street house continued to be occupied by the Lynch family for years to come.  As late as 1940 Michael H. Lynch was listed at the address.

The Michael Lynch family lived in the house around 1941 when this photograph, showing the original doorway and charming areaway fencing, was taken.  from the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
In 1953 Len and Annette Lye purchased the house.  Leonard Charles Hula Lye was a sculptor and film maker, born in New Zealand in 1901.  Annette (known as Ann) was his second wife.  They were married on the same day he received a divorce from his first wife, Jane.

In the more than half century that the Lynch family had owned No. 41 it had fallen into some disrepair.  An article in the Newark News read "The old house at No. 41 would have frightened off one with less courage, tenacity and know-how than Ann Lye.  The stained marble staircase, the collapsed ceilings and the cobwebby walls would have sent a less capable lass fleeing."

While Len worked on his kinetic sculptures and experimental films, Ann threw herself into renovation.  She removed plaster to expose raw brick (the antithesis of Albert J. Hopper's early 19th century sensibilities), and resurrected the random-width pine floors from under layers of linoleum.

According to author Roger Horrocks in his Len Lye: A Biography, the couple made some startling changes, "such as covering a floor at Bethune Street in pigskin.  A special oak seat was made for the toilet, and friends were invited to a 'Bathroom Opening' celebration when it was installed."  An aluminum ceiling disguised the deteriorating condition of the original.  Lye painted murals on some of the walls.

Living briefly in the house with the Lyes was educator and writer Stanley Williams Moore who had taken a one-year sabbatical from Reed College to write in 1953.   Liberal-thinking types often found themselves the target of the Government at the time and on June 2, 1954 Moore found himself in Washington D.C. defending himself against questions by the Committee on Un-American Activities.

Len Lye created his sculptures and films from the Bethune Street house.  In 1956 The Saturday Review reported "of all the industries in need of a good public-relations film the public-relation industry's need is greatest.  Len Lye has organized a small production company called Direct Films at 41 Bethune Street."

In 1963 Ann spearheaded a project to create the first low-income housing cooperative for artists.  Four years later two brick buildings at 12th and Greenwich Streets were converted to studio and living quarters for twelve painters and sculptors.

In the meantime, Len Lye had used the house to create significant works.  It was here, according to The New York Times years later, that he "renewed an early interest in movable sculpture...He became a well-known figure in the international group of 'technological,' or kinetic sculptors" of the 1950's.  In 1961 the Museum of Modern staged a "recital" of his movable works, and in 1965 the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo gave him a one-man show.

The Lyes left Bethune Street around 1975.  No. 41 next became home to Professor Carl Shulman.  He became concerned when the ambitious Westway project stalled.  The plan was meant to do away with the abandoned, rotting piers along the Hudson River, sink a six-lane highway below 220 acres of landfill and cover it with parkland, homes and businesses.  Shulman wrote a letter to the city on June 27, 1984 which said in part:

I would like to tell you how strongly my family and neighbors feel about this marvelous park-and-traffic project.  It is a masterly plan that would have made Olmstead proud.

photo via
Because each family who owned the house did so for decades, No. 41 remained a single family home.  Albert Hopper would have been stunned at the asking price of $7.2 million for his house when it was offered for sale in 2020.

photographs by the author

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