Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The 1902 J. Edgar Willing House - 310 West 92nd Street

photo via streeteasy.com

In 1901 the partnership of Elisha Harris Janes and Richard Leopold Leo was only three years old, but the architects were being noticed for their work like the striking Alimar Apartments on West End Avenue and 105th Street.    That year Daniel Hallecy and John J. Egan, partners in the Egan & Hallecy Construction Company, tried their hand at real estate development and hired Leo & Janes to design four upscale rowhouses on West 92nd Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.

The plans, filed in July 1901, placed the cost of construction at $215,000--or about $1.33 million each.  Completed the following year, the four-story Beaux Arts style residences would have held their own on the Upper East Side or Riverside Drive.  

No. 310 sits in the center of the impressive row of homes.
No. 310 was the centerpiece of the five.  The decorative reserve of its base was more than atoned for by the three-story midsection.  A double-height angled bay was anchored by a stone balustrade that created a faux balcony.   The French windows at this level were topped by a pediment sumptuously overflowing with carved fruits, below which garlands of fruit trailed from lions' heads.  The third floor terminated in decorative carvings above the windows, and scrolled brackets that upheld a wrought iron railed balcony.  Two French cartouches flanked the top floor below the modillioned cornice.

Carved fruit completely fills the pediment above the second story French windows.
In September 1902 Egan & Hallecy sold the newly-completed house to Mary A. G. McLochlin.  Although she bought and sold real estate regularly, the widow purchased No. 310 as her permanent home.  At least for a while.

Four years later, in October 1906 she sold it to Frances Sprague.  Like Mary, Frances was a widow.  She moved into the house with her baby daughter, also named Frances.

The mother and daughter lived quietly, garnering no social comment.  Their low-key existence did not preclude the expected travels to summer resorts and such.  A trip in 1914, possibly to Europe, was extensive enough to warrant Frances's leasing the East 92nd Street house to Harry Lesser.

Society columnists finally had something to report in the summer of 1917.  On June 24 The Sun announced "Arrangements have been completed for the wedding of Mrs. Frances Sprague, daughter of Mrs. Lewis Whitlock, to John Watson Dixon in the chantry of St. Thomas's Church."  The article noted "the bride's only attendant will be her little daughter, Frances Sprague."

photo via streeteasy.com
Dixon was a highly-educated attorney who held two degrees from the University of Nebraska and another from Yale University.  

On June 14, 1919 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Frances had sold No. 310 for $50,000 (about $740,000 today) to a buyer "for occupancy."  That buyer was the Philadelphia-born architect J. Edgar Willing.

As a tragic side note, seven years later, on July 26, 1926, the Buffalo Evening News reported that the four-day heat wave had taken 160 lives.  "Among the New York victims were John Watson Dixon, lawyer and president of the Yale club."  His funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church, where he and Frances had been married just nine years earlier.  His prominence in the community was reflected in the names of the high-ranking mourners present, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, Irving E. Burdick, Charles E. Merrill, Jr., and Alfred E. Schermerhorn.

J. Edgar Willing's wife, the former Grace Lee Smidt, had died in 1911.  As Frances Sprague had done, he moved in with a daughter, Louise.  And as those two had done, the father and daughter traveled to fashionable resorts and abroad.  On August 30, 1921, for instance, The New York Herald reported that they had just arrived in Paris.  And, after the pair had spent the following summer season in Lenox, the New-York Tribune announced on September 3, 1922 that they had just arrived at the Greylock Hotel in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

William was a member of the Architectural League, the University Club, the Players and the American Institute of Architects.  Following his marriage to Aline Lee, around 1927, the family moved to a home in Westbrook, Connecticut.  
No. 310 next became home to the New York School of Music.  Headed by Ralfe Leech Sterner, the institution provided "dormitory accommodations" for out of town students.  

Among the students to earn press attention in 1932 was Mildred P. Greenwood.  She was one of three solo artists invited to play in the grand ballroom of the Hotel Astor before the Drama Comedy Club on February 5 that year.  The young pianist from Atlanta was studying under Arthur Friedham, a former pupil of Franz Liszt, and musical interpretation under Frederick Riesberg.  The Pittsburgh Courier made a special note that "Miss Greenwood is the first colored girl from Georgia to receive a Rosenwald scholarship in music."

On August 26, 1938 The New York Sun reported that Ralfe Leech Sterner had leased the five story mansion at No. 34 Riverside Drive, noting that the New York School of Music Art "has been located at 310 West Ninety-second street for eleven years."  The school remained in No. 310 into 1939 as its new home was renovated.  

In 1946 the Aleena Realty Corporation purchased the former Willing house for $47,000, or around $615,000 today.  It is unclear if it remained a private house for the next two decades or was rented as unofficial apartments.  But in 1964 a conversion resulted in one apartment on the first floor, three each on floors two through four, and two on the top floor.

A subsequent renovation in 2000 nearly returned to house to a single-family residence.  Only the two top floor apartments now remained.  That all changed when No. 310 was recently purchased by owners who are returning the striking residence to a private home.

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