Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The 1899 Charles Austin Bates House - 109 Riverside Drive

From the corner vantage point, the sliced-off  section is glaringly obvious.  photo courtesy of LandmarkWest!

Prolific architect Clarence Fagan True focused his attention almost entirely on the Upper West Side.  He would eventually produce more than 270 Upper West Side residences designed in his trademark eclectic mix of historic styles.

When True first opened his architectural office in 1889 Frederick Law Olmsted’s rambling Riverside Park had been taking shape for 14 years and would not be completed until the turn of the century.  The naturalistic park with its wide drive and breathtaking vistas across the Hudson River was expected to lure wealthy homeowners away from Fifth and Madison Avenues.  Riverside Avenue, later renamed Riverside Drive, began at 72nd Street and upon completion would follow the curving topography to 129th Street.

The potential of the Drive was not lost on True who, according to an 1899 brochure "Riverside Drive," was "so thoroughly impressed with the possibilities of the river front as a residence district that he secured all the available property south of 84th street, and by covering it with beautiful dwellings, insured a most promising future for the Drive."

In 1898 True began construction of a group of six upscale houses on Riverside Drive between 82nd and 83rd Streets.  The northern-most house opened onto West 83rd Street, but took the more impressive address of No. 109 Riverside Drive.  In fact, it engulfed two buildings plots, stretching 75 feet along the Drive.

The Elizabethan Revival style house created an imposing anchor to the row.  Perhaps to maintain the rhythm and balance of the other homes, True designed the Riverside Drive elevation in two parts, looking at a glance like a pair of houses.  Most formidable was the rounded tower shape of the corner section which rose to a crenelated parapet.  The angled southern wing carried on the arched openings of the ground floor and copied the fenestration of the second through fourth floors.  The design broke away at the attic level where a solid wall with embrasures (historically, slots for archers to fend off attack) partially hid a tall dormer.  Its pyramidal cap was covered in the same red clay tiles of the mansard roof.

The double-wide house (on the left) originally looked at a glance like two.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The limestone framed entrance on 83rd Street took the form of a one-story Elizabethan gatehouse.  Its lavish ornamentation included faceted colonnettes, niches and a double-doored entrance within a molded arch.

photo courtesy of Landmark West!
True sold the house to Charles Austin Bates and his wife, the former Belle Brandenburg.  In 1902 Bates transferred title to Belle, a common practice at the time.  

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1866, Bates wrote books on "the art of advertising in its various phases," according to Who's Who in New York, and contributed articles to trade journals.  He and Belle were married on September 11, 1890.  Their sole child, Margaret, was born the following year.

The seemingly indefatigable Charles Austin Bates did not slow down.  In 1903 he formed the Bates Advertising Co, and in 1905 he backed the Colorado-Yule Marble Co., touted as "the largest and most reliable deposit of high-grade white marble known to exist in the world."  In 1908 he diversified again, organizing the Rutherford Rubber Co. and assuming its presidency.

from the collection of the New York Public Library
But it was Belle whose name appeared in print most often.  She was highly involved in various charitable and social organizations.  On April 2, 1902, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "The final meeting of the season of the auxiliary of the Riverside Day Nursery will be held on Friday, April 25...at the home of Mrs. Charles Austin Bates, No. 109 Riverside Drive." 

The Society of the Daughters of Ohio in New York absorbed much of Belle's focus.  On March 6, 1904 the New-York Tribune reported on an entertainment she had hosted for the group the previous week.  "Mrs. Bates wore a gown of point duchesse lace, with diamond and pearl ornaments," the article noted.

But things were about to sour.

Belle and about 14 other members revolted following the election of officers in November 1905.  On December 16 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on "the conditions on which Mrs. Charles Austin Bates and her adherents will consent to remain with the Daughters of Ohio."  Belle and her cohorts demanded, "If you want us to stay in you must agree to set aside the recent election, to elect an entire new ticket and to review the constitution to make it agree with the charter."  Newspapers followed the upheaval until "the dove of peace" finally roosted on the Daughters of Ohio.

The Bates family maintained a summer home, Camp Cabates, in Old Forge, New York.  Newspapers that reported on their comings and goings there each season referred to it as their "lodge in the Adirondacks."  In 1907, however, they spent the summer elsewhere.  On April 28 The New York Times reported that the family, along with Charles's mother, Margaret, who lived on Central Park West, "will leave town shortly for a trip of several weeks through Colorado."

Belle was also a member of the College Woman's Club and it was an entertainment she held for that group in May 1908 which was among her most unusual.  The New-York Tribune reported "Eighteen young Italian boys, dressed in Roman togas, with sandals on their feet, made a picturesque group in the parlor of Mrs. Charles A. Bates, No. 109 Riverside Drive, yesterday afternoon, while they sang in the sweet young voices a number of songs."  The boys were from the Elizabeth Street tenements.  The group had been formed by the Rev. Father W. H. Walsh of the Church of Our Lady of Loretta.  And while the society women may have been charmed by their renditions of songs like "The Owl and the Pussy Cat" and "Birds in the Night," the street-wise boys dressed in togas must have been humiliated.

The Bates' chauffeur, Thomas McKenna, caused his employers difficulties in 1909.  The first incident, in fact, dated back three years.  On December 16, 1906 the James H. Sullivan was struck and injured by Bates' automobile.  Sullivan sued Charles Austin Bates, even though he was not in the car.  The legal back-and-forth continued until April 1909 when Bates was found liable for the $1,000 damages.  The verdict held that since the chauffeur was "engaged in the business of his employer," that employer was responsible.

Two weeks after the disheartening verdict, on April 30, McKenna was driving Belle through Midtown when he was arrested for reckless driving.  Belle posted the Riverside Drive house as security to provide his bail.   The New York Herald noted "Her home is valued at $85,000, she said."  (That amount would equal about $2.45 million today.)  "After obtaining the release of the chauffeur, Mrs. Bates resumed her ride," said the article.

The third incident that year was not McKenna's fault.  On October 20 The Evening Telegram reported the terrifying story entitled "Woman Escapes Automobile Blaze."  The article began "Flames almost enveloped the fine car in which was Mrs. Charles Austin Bates, of No. 109 Riverside drive, and she had a narrow escape today when the automobile, ablaze from the gasolene tank underneath, was brought to a stop at Seventh avenue and 114th street."

McKenna realized the car was on fire just in time.  The newspaper said he "was literally surrounded by fire when he stopped the car and leaped to the sidewalk.  Mrs. Bates jumped from the inside of the automobile at the same moment."  The trauma was too much for the chauffeur to handle.  "Greatly excited, McKenna rushed into the Rochambeau Apartment House, nearby, and fainted.  He was soon revived."  The article noted "While a large crowd was gathering, Mrs. Bates left the scene in a cab."

Those problems paled when compared to the troubles the couple would face in 1910.  Since 1899, the year the six houses were completed, Mrs. Charlotte Y. Ackerman had battled in court complaining that they encroached six feet past the property line.  Mrs. Ackerman lived at No. 331 West 82nd Street, a three-story house about 30 feet east of Riverside Drive.  Her suit maintained the houses obstructed "a good clear view of the majestic beauties of the Hudson River, not to mention the more artificial beauties of the Drive."

The neighbors strongly disagreed.  One told a reporter "This view which she talks so much about is not her view at all.  Her house faces south, and her only possible opportunity of looking northward at all is by standing on that second floor balcony and craning her neck around the corner of her own house.  And, besides that, you'd think she'd have enough 'view' as it is, with the whole expanse of the Hudson to gaze upon and Riverside Park, too."

After more than a decade in court, the 80-something year old Charlotte Ackerman won.  The homeowners were directed to remove the portions of their homes that overstepped the property line.  On July 2, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported "Park Commissioner Charles A. Stover is going to send a crew of his men over to that locality this morning to erect scaffolding, preliminary to tearing out the front walls of that row of fashionable dwellings."

Belle Bates fought back, threatening to sue the City for $30,000 in damages "if she was unable to save her house."  In the end, it was a lost cause.  On April 1, 1911 the Record & Guide reported that architects Tracy, Swartwout & Litchfield were designing the alterations which would cost Bates the equivalent of $139,000 in today's money, not to mention significant square footage.  The firm carefully removed Clarence True's architectural details, reincorporating them into the new design.

In 1911 scaffolding went up as preparations for removing the Riverside Drive facade were underway.  from the collection of the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
Belle resumed her social activities in the remodeled home with its now-flattened side.  On January 24, 1913, for instance, she hosted a benefit dance for the College Women's Club in the house.

Then, in 1917 the Bates house was sold to Leonard Lewisohn.  A listing of household items offered for sale in January gives a hint of Belle's decorating taste.  Included were"Oriental Rugs; Tiger, Polar and Grizzly and Mountain Lion Rugs; Oil Paintings, Bric-a-Brac, and some Furniture."

Lewisohn was leasing the former Bates house to May Futrelle in 1920, who shared it with her daughter, Virginia.  May and her husband, short story writer and novelist, Jacques Futrelle, had been on the doomed maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic in April 1912.  Because Virginia was a student at the Convent of Notre Dame in Baltimore, she had not accompanied them.  Only her mother had returned on the Carpathia.

Virginia, now a well-known singer, did most of the entertaining in the Riverside Drive house.  On November 20, 1920, for instance, The New York Herald reported that "Miss Elizabeth Hanneford, equestrienne of 'Good Times' at the Hippodrome," was to be the guest of honor at a "farewell bachelor dinner" that evening.  Elizabeth was to be married the next day.  "The dinner will be given by Miss Virginia Futrelle, Hippodrome singer...107 Riverside Drive"

A week later The New York Herald reported "Following the Army and Navy game at the Polo Grounds this afternoon, Miss Virginia Futrelle, one of the principal singers in 'Good Times' at the Hippodrome, will entertain the entire Navy squad and about fifty other midshipmen at a buffet supper at her mother's home, 107 Riverside Drive."  Virginia's brother, John, had was a member of the next graduating class of the Naval Academy.

Within two months May and Virginia Futrelle were forced to find a new home.  On January 30, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that the estate of Leonard Lewisohn had sold the house to Romualdo Sapio, an Italian accompanist, opera coach and conductor. 

Romualdo Sapio and his wife, Mme. Clementine De Vere-Sapio.  original sources unknown
Sapio's wife, Clementine De Vere-Sapio, was a former operatic singer.  She made her debut as Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots in Florence at the age of 16.  She and Romualdo were married in 1892.  Now, like her husband, she was a vocal teacher and conductor.

The end of the line for the former Bates house came in 1937 when it was converted to apartments--one on each floor except the fifth, which held two.  Among the first residents was stage and motion picture actress Benay Venuta, who signed a lease in November 1937.

Born Benvenuta Rose Crooke in 1910 or 1911, Benay was a well-rounded entertainer--an actress, singer and dancer.  Her first appearance in silent films was in the 1928 Trail of '98.  She would go on to have roles in successful talkies like Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Mister, and Bullets Over Broadway.

Modern Screen magazine, July 1945
Clarence True's imposing mansion with its sliced-off side is still a commanding presence at the 83rd Street corner.  Nevertheless, one cannot help but wishing that castle-ready tower were still intact.

photo courtesy of Landmark West!

1 comment:

  1. I sympathize with the Bates and their two next door neighbors in their prolonged confrontation with Charlotte Ackerman. Yes, their homes did project six feet over their property lines; but from a 180 degree vista Ms Ackerman lost maybe 1 degree. She was just a wealthy, old woman looking for a fight (and maybe attention). Today, in a homeowner association she would be the one always looking for an infraction, or possible infraction upon which she could pounce. It's why I will never live in an adults only retirement community. There was once a lawsuit in Florida over how much noise a van door made when it slammed shut a 6pm every evening. Life is too short.