Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The 1894 Christian Kruse House -- 329 West 88th Street

Born in Hanover, Germany, Christian Kruse arrived in New York at the age of 14.  In 1851 he ventured well north of the city to establish a grocery business on the Bloomingdale Road (later Broadway) around what would become 83rd Street.  What many might have thought was a questionable undertaking paid off and he continued to purchase property along West 83rd.  

As the neighborhood around him developed into a new suburb, he erected upscale homes on his properties in 1883 and moved his family into a mansion on the northwest corner of 83rd Street and West End Avenue that engulfed four building plots.  On September 4, 1893 Kruse's wife, Maria, died in that residence at the age of 60.

Around the same time developer and builder James Livingston was erecting rows of fine homes in the district.  In April 1894 he began construction on nine 20-foot wide houses on West 88th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.   Designed by Thom & Wilson, they were completed just eight months later, in December.

Designed in the Renaissance Revival style, each cost $20,000 to construct, or about $613,000 today.  Faced in beige ironspot Roman brick and trimmed in ashlar, they rose four stories above the English basement.  Thom & Wilson arranged their three designs in a balanced A-A-B-C-B-C-B-A-A pattern.  

No. 329 is at the right.
Among the first of the row to be sold was No. 329, bought by Christian Kruse on December 6.  It may have been that following the death of his wife and with his six children grown he no longer needed the massive home he had occupied for years.

The double-doored entrance to Kruse's new home sat above a doglegged box stoop and beneath an elaborate stone hood.  A striking female portrait on a shell background filled the tympanum.   An angled, two-story bay at the second and third floors was flanked by engaged, swirled colunnettes which sat upon carved heads.  The fourth floor windows were fronted by the brick and stone balustrade of the bay.  They were framed in intricate engaged columns and decorations that might have been plucked from Verona or Venice.

Moving into the house with their father were Sophia and Charlotte, both still unmarried.  As Christian he had done, Charlotte dabbled in real estate.  And it appears that, also like he, the sisters spoke German as their primary language.  An advertisement for a maid in the New York Herald on October 28, 1900 was vague in duties but specific regarding regional roots:  "A North German girl to do general housework."

Christian Kruse was suffering a persistent illness at the time and he died in the house on March 11, 1901.  In reporting his death the New York Herald called him "an old time resident of the west side" and "one of the pioneers of the neighborhood in which he lived."  He left an estate valued at about $12.6 million today.

Kruse's will divided the estate in equal shares to his six children, with $2,000 each going to his two granddaughters, Mary Elizabeth and Laura Caroline Achenbach.  Their inheritance was to be held in trust until they came of age "unless the interest was required for their maintenance and education."  But their parents were apparently not satisfied with the girls' bequests--equal to about $62,000 each today.

On April 9, 1901 the New-York Tribune reported that Mary Elizabeth Achenbach was contesting her grandfather's will.  Her filing, which no doubt caused upheaval among the Kruse siblings, hardly sounds like the product of a minor.  "The contestant alleges that her grandfather was of unsound mind when he made the will, and that he was unduly influenced by persons whom she does not now know."

Charlotte and Sophia continued on in the house, Charlotte buying and selling properties.  While they did not own a country home, each managed to get away.  On March 27, 1902, for instance, in a column entitled "Along Society's Rose Trimmed Paths," the Evening Telegram noted "Miss Charlotte B. Kruse, of No. 329 West Eight-eighth street, is the guest of Miss Carolyn Kruger, at Lakewood, N. J."

Sophia was the last of the Kruse family in the 88th Street house.  She died on January 2, 1917 at the age of 69.   No. 329 became home to Frederick Grothe and his family, who remained into the 1940's.

The former Kruse home was converted to apartments and furnished rooms in 1951; and then in 1972 to a duplex in the basement and parlor floors, with two apartments per floor above.

Among the residents was physicist Eduardo S. Vera.  He filled his apartment with a striking collection of tapestries.  They were the works of the Bordadoras de Isla Negra, a women's sewing group in the coastal town of Isla Nega, Chile, founded by his mother, Leonor Sobrino de Vera in the 1960's.  

In addition Vera operated the Isla Negra Foundation, established in 1981, from his apartment.  Its immediate purpose was to document and preserve the work, and its eventual goal was to establish a museum for the foundation's collection.

From the sidewalk the Kruse house is, overall, little changed since 1894--a noteworthy presence among a handsome row.

photographs by the author

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