Thursday, July 2, 2020

The 1902 Rhinelander Apartments - 12 Fifth Avenue

photo via

In 1834 construction was completed on the impressive mansion of Henry Brevoort, Jr. at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 9th Street.  The residence, which sat on land owned by his father, was surrounded by undeveloped land.  Fifth Avenue was still unpaved at the time.  But a decade later upscale homes were rising all around.

In 1848 Brevoort started construction on four houses in the newly-popular Gothic Revival style a block to the south of his own home.  Stretching from No. 10 at the northwest corner of 8th Street to No. 16, they were clad in brownstone and featured medieval touches such as incised panels with quatrefoil designs and square-headed eyebrows over the windows.

No. 12 Fifth Avenue was a match to Nos. 14 and 16, seen here.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
At the turn of the century most of the millionaires had abandoned this section of Fifth Avenue, moving further northward towards Central Park.  On January 18, 1902 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that developer Max Juster had purchased No. 12 Fifth Avenue with intentions of erecting a nine-story apartment hotel.  The journal made note that it would be a step up for him, saying his "operations heretofore have been confined to tenement houses."

Juster announced his choice of architects, Louis Korn, the same day.  The well-known architect was known almost exclusively for his designing of tall loft and store buildings and the Rhinelander would be a notable departure from his comfort zone.  

Korn's plans, filed on February 14, 1902, projected the cost of construction at $150,000--or about $4.6 million today.  When construction was completed in 1904, Korn had produced a somewhat bizarre design that caused The New York Times architectural journalist Christopher Gray to call it decades later "a confusing assemblage of four distinct sections."

Those sections sat upon one another like unrelated building blocks.  The entrance sat within a handsome columned portico.  The rusticated two-story stone base supported four floors of red brick dominated by a powerful two-story Beaux Arts style limestone window and balcony.

photo by Spencer Means
The entire seventh floor was visually a part of the massive cornice which introduced the eighth and ninth floors.  Korn forwent a terminal cornice in favor of parapet, broken by balustrades, and topped by a  partial flat roof on stilts.

Louis Korn's design is best described as eccentric.  photo by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Apartment hotels blended the permanency of an apartment with the convenience of hotel living.  Residents enjoyed maid and hallboy service (hallboys ran errands, delivered mail and packages, and helped tenants as needed) and could dine in the building's restaurant.  

An advertisement in October 1904 described the building as "perfectly appointed, located in the best section of Manhattan" and added, "Modern in the strictest sense, and conducted on the highest plane of efficiency, this hotel appeals especially to discriminating and refined people."  The apartments ranged from two to six rooms.  The ad noted "Restaurant a la Carte, Table d'Hote."

The hotel management was put in an uncomfortable situation in the spring of 1906.  The Bolsheviks sent author and Socialist activist Maxim Gorky to the United States on a fund-raising trip.   When he arrived in Hoboken on the ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse on April 10, he was received with overwhelming warmth.  The New York Times reported that “the reception given to Gorky rivaled with that of Kossuth and Garibaldi.”  Gorky related that now his long-cherished dream to visit the free land of America had come true.  It was a love affair that would be short-lived. 

On April 15 the New-York Tribune said that while he had been overwhelmed by the "warmth and welcome" he had received, he "has also learned that it is unfortunate to lend his name to expressions of sympathy to those who are held for crime in this country without a clear knowledge of all the circumstances."  Gorky paid for his outspoken opinions by finding himself and "Madame Gorky" evicted from their rooms at the Lafayette-Brevoort hotel.  Its proprietor sent their bags to the Rhinelander with a message to hold rooms.  He apparently did not say for whom.

But the Tribune reported "When they got to the Rhinelander an house before midnight, however, they were told by Frank Geraty, the manage, that they could not stay there and that their baggage must be removed immediately."  They went from there to the Hotel Victoria, and then to the Hotel Belleclaire, receiving the same cold reception.

In the meantime, the well-heeled residents were an interesting lot.  Lemuel Ely Quigg had started his career as a journalist, working with newspapers like the New-York Tribune and the New York Press.  He turned to politics and was elected to Congress in 1894.  By the time he moved into No. 12 Fifth Avenue with his wife Ethel, he had become the right hand man of Tammany leader Boss Tom Platt.  Known as "The Accelerator," he admitted later than he had distributed $200,000 in bribes on the rapid transit project.

Engineer John E. Starr and his wife lived in the Rhinelander in 1906 when he was called upon to solve a potentially disastrous problem.  The head of the Starr Engineering Company, he was well known for his expertise in refrigeration.  The New York Times said that he "invented several absorption refrigerating devices and a machine that produces temperatures from 30 to 75 degrees below zero."

On January 3, 1906 The Patterson Morning Call reported on a terrifying situation in the Brooklyn-Manhattan rapid transit tunnel.  Cast iron rings which connected the concrete sections had failed and the newspaper reported that "a small twenty inches below the adjoining section on the New York side."  Trains came to a halt, of course, pending a solution.

"Meanwhile, the company, after failing to devise a plan for readjusting the sunken part of the tube, has engaged John E. Starr, a prominent mechanical engineer, to remedy the difficulty and has accepted a novel plan of his invention," said the article.  Using ammonia, Starr froze the river bed, telling reporters "It has been shown that frozen mud has the stability of concrete."  Four feet of mud was frozen, thereby stabilizing the broken section and making repairs possible.

Alida Blake Hazard headed the New York branch of the Florence Crittenton Association, founded in 1883 "to aid and encourage destitute, homeless, and depraved women who wish to seek reformation."  Her outspoken opinions are, perhaps, surprising today.  

"White slavery," or forced prostitution, was a significant problem in New York City.  After an Italian immigrant girl's body was discovered in June 1917, The Evening World launched an investigation which revealed a horrifying truth.  In the past six months more than 700 immigrant girls had been reported missing in New York City.  Alida Hazard campaigned to end the "vulgar explosion" of press coverage, and accused the newspapers of profiting from the crimes.

She was equally outspoken against women's right to vote, warning that it would lead to Socialism, a "greater evil."  She pointed out a "curious alliance...between the Socialists and the Suffragists."

Dr. Frederick S. Mason and his wife were living at No. 12 Fifth Avenue in the years preceding the outbreak of World War I.  In addition to his medical practice (he would be remembered for his experiments in the treatment of gonorrhea), Mason was the head of a perfume factory.

In 1913 the couple traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador where locals were battling an outbreak of bubonic plague.  But the Masons came home earlier than expected.  On January 2, 1914 the New-York Tribune entitled an article "Returns To Face Suit" and reported that Dr. Mason and his wife had arrived in New York the previous day.  "As soon as the vessel docked Dr. Mason and his wife hurried to their home.  Neither would discuss Miss von Huber's suit."

Miss von Huber was Dorothy L. von Huber who had filed a $200,000 suit for breach of promise.  The young woman had been an employee in the perfume factory and told reporters "that for more than two years the doctor kept company with her, taking her to places of entertainment."  Her "love suit," as described by the New-York Tribune, would amount to $5.28 million today.

Dr. Mason's defense was persuasive.  While he emphatically denied the allegations, he also pointed out "that she had a husband in Washington" and therefore was unable to accept an offer of marriage had it been offered.

With the unpleasant matter behind them, the Masons traveled to Europe where war had just erupted.  They returned from France in September 1914 to relate the horrors they had witnessed.  The New York Evening Telegram reported "In the Paris General Hospital, Dr. Mason said he saw two Belgian girls, sixteen and twenty-five years old, respectively, who are recovering from serious wounds inflicted by German soldiers."

Diana Leighton and her husband, a traveling salesman for a Chicago-based woodworking firm, lived in the building in 1922.  On August 2 her husband was out of town and Diana went to Central Park to ride on the bridal path.   The Brooklyn newspaper The Daily Star reported "An automobile operated by Charles Yacobellis...was commandeered by Mounted Policeman William J. Garvey in Central Park yesterday to carry Miss Diana Leighton, 23 years the Reconstruction Hospital after she had been thrown from a horse."  Tragically, two days later the young woman died.

Descendants of Henry Brevoort, Jr. lived in the apartment building at the time.  Their letters to editors of newspapers may have raised eyebrows around town.  On April 24, 1922 The Evening Telegram printed an opinion sent in by Anton Brevoort supporting the concept of branding thieves on the face.  His letter said in part:

Branding of criminals under the left eye for the first offence of stealing cattle in the far West years ago and under the right eye for the second offence--letter "T," one inch--was the cure for cattle thieving at once in Wyoming...Now, if New York State had such a law Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, &c., would be more comfortable places for thieves, thus relieving New York State.

The following month Livington Brevoort sent a question to the editor of The Evening Telegram:

Kindly advise me if my wife has any legal right to punch me in the eye on Decoration Day, making it black and blue?  This she did last Decoration Day and threatens to this one.

As the Masons had done in 1913, Majorie Howarth and her husband traveled to Ecuador in March 1922; however theirs was purely a pleasure trip--or at least it started out that way.  The Unitarian Register reported "only after their arrival in South America did they decide to include the dangerous journey over the Andes among their pleasures."  

Upon their return to New York in October The New York Times ran the headline: "New York Woman Scales The Andes / Mrs. Marjorie Howarth First of Her Sex to Cross the Third Range."  The 885-mile trek over land and water included an ascent of 14,600 feet above sea level.  At one point, after Mr. Horwarth became so ill that he had to be carried, Marjorie took command of the expedition.  

The Horwarths returned to No. 12 Fifth Avenue with exotic souvenirs and an unexpected memento.  The Times reported "Besides such trophies as a couple of jaguar skins, one of a young boa-constrictor, a live parrot and several grains of puree gold, which the Indians presented in return for gifts of stores, Mr. and Mrs. Howarth have as a further souvenir of their jungle experiences an Indian boy...This Indian is named Segendo Garzon.  He pleaded so hard for a view of the United States that the explorers consented to bring him along."

In 1949 a renovation resulted in a doctor's office on the ground floor and four apartments each on each floor other than the seventh and eights, which had three.  An addition on the roof contained one apartment.  It was most likely at this time that the limestone entrance portico and the parapet roof were removed.

The removal of the portico left nearly no trace.  photo via
That configuration remains today.  Other than the mid-century alterations, Louis Korn's rather unconventional building looks much as it did when the first tenants moved in in 1904.

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