Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The 1892 William E. Diller House - 62 West 69th Street

Beginning in 1892 the south side of West 69th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue filled with groups of rowhouses erected by several developers.  Most interesting is that all of them used the same architect--Gilbert A. Schellenger.  The result was an architecturally cohesive block despite the various owners.

Among the earliest were the eight Renaissance Revival style houses at Nos. 48 through 70 West 69th Street which Schellenger designed for Dr. William Edward Diller.   Diller was apparently pleased with the row, for he moved his family into No. 62.

Like every other house on the block, No. 62 rose four stories above an English basement.  A stone stoop rose to the entrance which was flanked by fluted Corinthian pilasters.  They upheld sturdy foliate brackets which, in turn, supported a second floor balcony.

A diminutive engaged column that clung to the facade between the parlor windows sprouted an angled bay which supported a second balcony.  Intricate carvings covered the base of the bay and filled the spandrel panels of the parlor level and the second floor.  The openings of third floor wore molded cornices and those of the fourth triangular pediments.  A cast metal cornice completed the design.

Delicate carved panels, now painted, filled the panels.
Dr. Diller was born in New York City on July 31, 1858.  A graduate of the University of Virginia, he married Elizabeth A. Crawford in 1884.  The couple had two daughters, Mary Elizabeth and Virginia Crawford Diller.  The successful physician added to his significant wealth by speculating in real estate.  He and Schellenger would work together on several other projects.  

Dr. Wm. Edward Diller - University of Virginia, Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, 1904 (copyright expired)
The family lived quietly in the house, garnering little attention.  The Diller name appeared in newspapers only in relation to William's buying and selling of properties.  In August 1900 Diller sold his 20-foot wide home to John C. Duenhauer.

Born in Bavaria in 1847, Duenhauer was listed as a butcher as early as 1870.  He and his wife, the former Marie Louisa Jung (known as Mary), were married on May 28, 1878.  They had five children, Rose, John F., May, Frederick, and William Leonard.

John Duenhauer was no store front butcher.  An advertisement in The Sun on March 7, 1909 described his operation on Spring Street as "City Dressed Prime Beef and Provisions."  His customers included hotels, steamships and restaurants.   Living with the family in the 69th Street house that year were three servants, 37-year old Hungarian-born Anna Manak, the cook; Mary Holdstetter, the 21-year old maid who was also born in Hungary; and Sophie Green, the 24-year old Irish-born laundress.

Despite the family's comfortable finances, it appears that John saw no reason to overspend on the children's educations.  In 1902 William was enrolled as a sub-freshman in the Free Academy of the City of New York in the "Language Course, Classical."  The sons would eventually all be taken into their father's business.

Young William was apparently more free with his money.  Only his name appeared in society columns.  Such was the case on August 1, 1909 when The New York Times reported that the 20-year old was a guest "at the Friday night card party at the Warwick Arms" in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

On April 6, 1913 May's engagement to Frederick H. Knocke was announced.   The wedding took place in the 69th Street house on October 8 that year with Rose as her sister's attendant.  The New York Times described the rose point lace veil as being "caught up with sprays of lilies of the valley, and [the bride] carried a shower bouquet of lilies of the valley."  On her satin gown was the diamond bow-knot given to her by the groom.

Frederick and John J. branched out that year by incorporating the Roydi Realty Corp.   The brothers pooled $20,000 to start their firm (more than half a million in today's dollars).  By 1915 they took William into the business as secretary and director.

The original stoop can be seen in this 1941 photo.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Marie Louise Dauenhauer died on New Year's Day 1920 at the age of 64.  Her husband and son, Frederick, remained in No. 62 for another decade.  John died on April 1, 1930 at the age of 82 and Frederick left soon afterward.

By 1932 the house was being leased as unofficial apartments.  It was not until 1958 that an official conversion was completed, resulting in two apartments on each floor.  It may have been at this time that the stoop was removed to create a more open entrance to the former basement level, and a metal replacement installed.

The original stoop was a straight version of the one next door.
Among the tenants in the 1970's were Ralph Alswang and his wife, Betty.  He was described by The New York Times as "the Broadway scenic designer who turned a stunning series of stage successes into a career as one of the nation's foremost designers of theaters."  After having designed the sets of hits like The Rainmaker, A Raisin in the Sun, and Sunrise at Campobello, Alswang switched careers to design theaters.

He won acclaim for his designs of playhouses like the Palace and Uris Theaters on Broadway, the Latin Theater in Las Vegas, the New Orleans Civic Center, and the Pine Knob Pavilion in Michigan.

Betty Alswang died in 1978.  The following year, on February 15, Ralph suffered a fatal heart attack in his apartment.  He was 62 years old.

The stone facade of the Diller house has been painted and the entrance door replaced.  Nevertheless, even with its missing stoop, the residence retains most of its architectural integrity after more than a century and a quarter.

photographs by the author

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