Saturday, May 16, 2020

Lyndon P Smith's 1898 76 Irving Place

Born in 1815, Francis Ferdinand Marbury married Elizabeth McCoun in 1843, three years after being admitted to the New York Bar.  His success was rapid and by 1850 he had purchased a fine 26-foot wide home a block south of fashionable Gramercy Park, No. 76 Irving Place.  They had two children at the time and three more would be born in the new house, including their second daughter, Elisabeth Marbury, on June 19, 1856.  Elisabeth would go on to become one of the most influential women in New York social and theatrical circles, a noted and respected producer and literary agent.  She was, as well, a pioneer in same sex equality, later living openly in a relationship with actress and interior designer Elsie de Wolfe.

On March 9, 1895 The Evening Post reported "Francis F. Marbury, one of the oldest lawyers in the city, died yesterday at his home, No. 76 Irving Place."  A month later, almost to the day, an advertisement appeared in The Evening Post announcing the auction of "The handsome 4-story high-stoop and basement brick house."

The property was purchased by Pauline Scheible for $35,750, or just over $1 million in today's money.   It was not until February 5, 1897 that her architect, Lyndon P. Smith, would file plans to replace the old dwelling with a six-story brick and stone apartment building to cost $40,000--in the neighborhood of $1.27 million today.

Scheible's choice of architects is interesting.  Born in 1862, he had partnered with the architect John H. Edelmann to form the firm Edelmann & Smith in 1887.  That partnership dissolved in 1890 after the completion of their sole project together, the Riverside Baptist Church.   

Two years after being hired to design Pauline Scheible's flat house he would receive the commission to design the Bayard Building on Bleecker Street.  Smith collaborated with Chicago architect Louis Sullivan who designed the building's masterful facade.  After that Smith's name fades away.

For Scheible's project Smith faced the upper floors in beige Roman brick.  The openings--two per floor--were flanked by stylized Corinthian stone columns decorated with swirling bands.  Sinuous iron French style grills prevented flower pots or children from tumbling to the sidewalk.  The entrance sat within a limestone base above a short stoop, and it was at this level that Smith lavished his attention.  Drawing from the emerging Art Nouveau movement, he placed a portrait head above the window and embellished the entrance with flowing ribbons and meandering shapes flanked by two chubby youths (which were decidedly not in the Art Nouveau style).

The building was intended for well-to-do residents in keeping with the upscale neighborhood.  There was just one apartment per floor, each having eight rooms and two baths (one for the servants).  An advertisement in 1899 touted "Every known improvement.  Exceptionally fine decorations and fixtures."   Enjoying the location and amenities did not come cheaply.  Monthly rent in 1899 was the equivalent of about $4,250 a month today.

After her marriage to Floyd E. Baker in 1901 Pauline Scheible Baker sold the building to another female real estate operator, Lucy A. Knight.

At the time Joseph Harrington worked as the building's elevator boy.  Following a rash of burglaries in January and February he repeatedly took detectives to various apartments to interview residents who reported missing items.  Among the victims was artist Benjamin West Clinedinst whose gold watch was gone.

The tenants were no doubt shocked when Harrington was arrested on February 15 for the theft of Clinedinst's watch.  The Evening Post reported "he admitted that he had stolen the watch.  He had duplicate keys made for all the flats in the house."  The young man's motive was an old one: infatuation.  "He had stolen in order to give presents to a girl he was in love with, he said."

Clinedinst presumably got his watch back.  He had already achieved artistic success, having attended the Ecole des Beaus Arts in Paris and studied in the studios of Alexandre Cabanel and Léon Bonnat.  In 1900 he had won the Evans Prize of the American Water Color Society.  Specializing in battle pictures and portraits, his sitters included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Bret Harte and Admiral Robert Peary.

Clindenst was known for his depictions of wartime scene.  image via
Mary Hurley left her apartment at around 4:00 on March 26, 1901 to go shopping.  When she reached 20th Street around 4:00 "she was suddenly seized from behind, her hands pinioned, and her pocketbook pulled from her hand," according to The Evening Post.   Twenty-five-year old Joseph Lyman's getaway lasted only a few feet.

A passerby, Hubert Kelly saw the assault and seized Lyman, who tossed Mary's pocketbook, wrenched himself free and ran.  At 23rd Street Policeman Ringler nabbed him.  Mary regained her purse and justice prevailed.

The hair atop the sculptured head above the ground floor window mimics a day lily, an important motif in the Art Nouveau movement; and the hair at her shoulders resembles swirling ribbons more than tresses.
As G. A. Fuller prepared to leave for Europe in 1903, he gave a splendid description of his apartment which he hoped to lease.  His ad in the New-York Tribune on April 26 described his "elegantly appointed apartment" as "consisting of two parlors, four bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, private telephone, laundry, etc.; all modern conveniences; electric lights; elevator, night and day; party, on account of illness, going abroad at once; an opportunity for one wishing a First Class Apartment."

Mrs. Alexander Stewart, who lived in the third floor apartment, suffered a fright in December 1904.  A nephew, five-year old Finley Stewart, had been visiting for several days on December 9 when at around 2:00 that afternoon he was permitted to play with the niece of the building's janitor.  What Mrs. Stewart did not know was that soon afterword little May Wagner offered "to show the boy where Santa Claus held forth," according to The Sun.  They set out into the streets only to become hopelessly lost.

At 7:00 that evening Mrs. Stewart rushed to the second floor apartment of Third Deputy Police Commissioner Harris Lindsley.  He called Police Headquarters and set officers scrambling.

"By the time the alarm had been sent over the police wires," said The Sun, "the sergeant at the Charles Street station was listening to a tot with tear stained cheeks, who said he was 
Finley Gregg Auld Stewart.  With him was a six-year-old girl, who knew she was May Wagner and that her uncle was the janitor of an apartment house on Irving place, but just where she did not know."  Two policemen escorted the children back to No. 76 Irving Place where "There was great rejoicing in the home of Mrs. Stewart, on the third floor, and in the quarters of the janitor, in the basement."  The article noted that Commissioner Lindsley "was thanked by both."

Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1870, Lindsley was the son of esteemed physician Dr. Van Sinderen Lindsley.  The Lindsley family had been in American since 1650.  Educated as an attorney, he had seen action in the Spanish-American War, then came to New York City in 1899 to practice law.  His career path changed the following year when he was appointed Third Deputy Police Commissioner.   The Memorial Cyclopedia of the Twentieth Century said of him, "He was very fond of athletics and devoted considerable of his leisure time to outdoor exercises, having played football while in college and afterwards polo, tennis, golf, etc."

Lindsley shared the apartment with his brother, Van Sinderen Lindsley.  A few months after the incident with little Finley Stewart, Commissioner Lindsley's engagement to Evelyn Pierrepont Willing was announced.   The couple traveled to Burlington, Vermont that summer where they were to be married.  

A week before the wedding, on August 14, they and Evelyn's young nephew, Ambrose Cramer, were in an automobile driven by chauffeur J. Adamson.   At about 4:00 the "big touring machine," as described by The New York Times, climbed a steep embankment leading to a railroad track.  The newspaper reported "There was a curve near the crossing.  Adamson says he did not see the train until it was upon them."

The powerful collision of automobile and locomotive threw the train off the rails, tore up the tracks for about 100 feet, and tossed the heavy vehicle into the air.  Upon impact the car rolled over and over for ten or fifteen feet.  The New York Press reported Miss Willing and Mr. Lindsley were hurled beside the track.  Their bodies were pierced by jagged fragments of the wooden sides of the car...Miss Willing's head was found resting on the maimed hand of her finance."  The New York Times added "The automobile was smashed to pieces and afterward destroyed by fire."

A policeman was sent from headquarters to No. 76 Irving Place to notify Van Sinderen Lindsley.  Told by a maid that he was out, the policeman waited uneasily in the parlor for his arrival.

Lindsley's body was returned to New York on August 16.  He lay in state in the 12th Regiment Armory under a guard of honor until his funeral on August 18.  The Memorial Cyclopedia of the Twentieth Century recounted "the bier was placed upon a gun carriage and escorted by the entire 12th Regiment and one thousand five hundred members of the Police Department to the Brick Presbyterian Church."

Free-standing stone columns flank the deeply-recessed windows of the upper floors.
In August 1919 the building was sold for $55,000 (about $815,000 today).  The Record & Guide reported "The purchaser is to alter the building, providing two apartments on a floor instead of one as of present."

Although now only half as large, the apartments continued to be home to well-heeled residents.  Among them was engineer and financier Frank B. Robinson, a widower, who shared an apartment with his daughter, Elsie Gertrude Robinson.  Robinson had been president of the Carbon Steel Company of Pittsburgh, which supplied the steel for the Manhattan Bridge.  He retired in 1910, but retained a large portion of the stock.  The New York Sun said that Robinson was "credited with being among the first to make professional baseball pay in this city.  He succeeded in making fans out of Richard (Boss) Croker, the Tammany leader, and Andrew Freedman, who later became one of the owners of the old New York Giants."  

On December 17, 1931 Robinson went to the Engineers' Club to celebrate his 78th birthday.  He had just walked through the doors when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

In the 1940's educator Elsie Clapp spent time in the apartment of her sister, Marjorie, who was married to James Myers.  Clapp, whose innovative ideas on education are credited with the development of modern schools, was the author of Community Schools in Action and The Use of Resources in Education.

Three of the French style window grills are still in place in 1941.  photo via NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The building underwent another renovation, completed in 1958, which resulted in four apartments on each floor.  One of those was briefly home to novelist and short story writer Patricia Highsmith in the 1960's.  Two of her works, Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, were adapted for film, stage and television.  She was as well the author of the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, written under the pen name Clare Morgan.

A heinous crime which took place in one of the apartments in 1961 was solved by clever forensic work.   On October 5 28-year old Mack Jenkins broke into the apartment of a 28-year old electronics engineer.  He not only robbed, but raped her.  In fleeing he dropped his glasses.

The glasses were stamped with the optometrist's name.  The doctor identified the owner as Jenkins, described him, and mentioned that he had "a penchant for Village spots."  Detectives were detailed to watch coffee shops.  It did not take long for their patience to pay off.  On October 18 The New York Press reported "A Greenwich Village coffee house patron was held today on rape and robbery charges after police traced him through a pair of eyeglasses."  Jenkins received a sentence of 35 to 50 years in state prison.

Although the cornice has been lost and the entrance given regrettable replacement doors, this rare extant work of Lyndon P. Smith survives well intact, including those remarkable carvings on the ground floor.

photographs by the author

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