Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The 1893 Charles F. Schmidt House - 30 West 69th Street

Real estate developers George C. Edgar's Sons began construction of six high-stooped brownstone residences on the south side of West 69th Street, just off Central Park West, in 1892.  Designed by Gilbert A. Schellenger in the Renaissance Revival style, the 21-foot wide homes were completed the following year.  No. 30 was somewhat more reserved in its decoration than some of its fraternal neighbors. 

The entrance above the dog-legged stoop was framed in a simple egg-and-dart design and and capped by a triangular pediment.  The strait-laced upper floor openings featured paneled pilasters that upheld molded lintels at the second and fourth floors.  The openings of the third floor wore architrave frames.  The restrained decoration gave an air of polite respectability.

George C. Edgar's Sons sold the newly-completed house to Charles F. Schmidt on October 6, 1893.   Born in Bremen, Germany in 1832, he had come to New York at the age of 20 and became an American citizen.   Charles and Ella Schmidt had a son and four daughters.  

In 1856 Schmidt had established the wine importing firm of Schmidt, Schmidt & Co.  (It was later renamed Charles F. Schmidt & Co. and then, in 1868, Charles F. Schmidt & Peters.)  Now Charles, Jr. was involved in the firm as its secretary and a director.  It dealt in high-end French wines and was the sole American agent, for instance, for Veuve Clicquot Ponpardin of Rheims; Cruse & Fils Freres of Bordeaux; and for Jules Regnier & Co of Dijon.

For the most part, only the wealthy could afford motorcars in 1905.  Motorists were routinely fined $5 or so for speeding violations and released; but Charles seems to have been going far faster than most on April 24 that year.  The New York Herald reported that he "was held in $300 bail for trial" for "speeding his automobile on Sunday afternoon in Fifth Avenue, between Seventy-ninth and One Hundred and Eighth streets."  Magistrate Mayo was serious.  The bail would equal more than $8,800 today.

Before the end of the year Schmidt's health began to fail.  Around December could no longer go to his office.  His condition continued to decline and he died in the 69th Street house at the age of 74 on January 26, 1906.  The Sun called him "one of New York's prominent German merchants."

Not only do the striking stained glass transoms of the parlor windows survive, but so do the interior shutters.

On December 5, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that Ella had sold No. 30.  The article mentioned the high-end nature of the block.  "Both sides of this street are built up with handsome private dwellings."  Interestingly, the buyer was Ella's daughter, Adelaide, and her husband George L. Degener, Jr., who, along with their 7-year old son, George, Jr., already lived in the house with the Schmidt family.

For a while nothing changed other than the holder of the deed.  Ella, Charles, Jr., and the still-unmarried Elizabeth Schmidt remained in the house with the Denegers for several years.

George L. Degener was the senior partner in the stock brokerage firm of Degener & Co.  Like his father-in-law, he was born in Germany.  He graduated from Amherst College in 1892.  The Degener summer home, Cozy Cotz, was in Quogue, Long Island.  

George, Jr. graduated from Williams College in 1924 and entered his father's firm as a partner.  The following year, on October 24, his engagement to Marie De La Roche Anderson was announced. 

The wedding was to be a splendid event planned for March 23, 1926 in the fashionable Brick Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue.  The Colony Club was chosen as the venue for the reception.  But the imposing ceremony was derailed by the death of Marie's grandmother.  The invitations to the wedding and reception were withdrawn.   And while the wedding transpired on the appointed day, it was a decidedly understated affair; taking place in the Park Avenue apartment of the Robert Olyphants with "only the immediate members of both families being present," according to the New York Evening Post.

The newlyweds moved into the West 69th Street house.  Nine months later, on Christmas Eve 1926, George L. Deneger 3d was born.

As with all moneyed couples, George and Adelaide's movements were followed in the society pages.  On May 3, 1928, for instance, the New York Evening Post reported that they "are returning from Europe tomorrow on the Aquitania."  It would be George's last trip abroad.  On May 25, 1929 he died after a long illness at the age of 57.  His estate of approximately $3 million today was left entirely to his wife.

Adelaide almost immediately left No. 30.  In January 1930 she leased the house to Marguerite Moras and moved to No. 575 Park Avenue.  Moras paid a yearly rent of $4,350; or about $5,540 per month in today's dollars.

It is unclear how long Marguerite Moras remained in the house; but it was being operated as a rooming house after mid-century.  In 1997 a conversion was made of the "Class B rooms to Class A apartments."  

Only two of the original row survive.  No. 30 has changed little, even retaining its wooden, double-hung windows.

photographs by the author

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