Early in 1898 Tomas R. White and his wife, Henriette K. bought and demolished the two brownstone-fronted houses at the northwest corner of Columbus Avenue and West 80th Street. They commissioned architect Henry F. Cook to design a high-end apartment house on the property. His plans, filed in March, called for a "fireproof" brick and stone structure to cost a staggering $235,000--just under $7.5 million today.
Construction was completed by the end of the following year. Cook's Beaux Arts design include a three-story stone base and seven stories of vibrant red brick and white limestone. The architect relied more on the striking contrast in colors than on the frothy ornamentation expected in the style. For the most part, he forewent fruity swags and garlands, using instead more formal molded lintels supported by scrolled brackets to accentuate his design.
Called the Warwick Arms, there were two apartments per floor--one with seven rooms and the other eight. Each apartment had two bathrooms (one for servants). Tenants paid between $1,600 to $2,200 per year, or about $5,760 per month today for the most expensive apartments. An advertisement stressed that the servants quarters "are totally separate, though in the same apartment."
The building filled with affluent tenants, like Asa Alling Alling, a well-known attorney, and his wife, the former Louise Floyd Smith. Born on May 4, 1862, he had graduated from Cornell University in 1883 and from Columbia Law School in 1885. He traced his American roots to Roger Alling, a Puritan who arrived in 1637.
|Asa Alling Alling - A History and Genealogical Record of the Alling-Allens, 1899 (copyright expired)
Alling was a member of the legal firm Kenneson, Crain & Alling. His social status was reflected in his exclusive club memberships--the Metropolitan and Manhattan Clubs and the New England Society. Sadly, he would not enjoy his new apartment for long. He contracted appendicitis in February 1900 and was confined to home. The Sun said "From the beginning of his illness his physicians, Dr. Bull and Dr. Janesway, had no hope of his recovery." He died in his apartment on April 14.
Broker Byron White lived with his parents here at the time. The young man celebrated Christmas Eve to excess in 1901. The New York Press reported that a resident of Riverside Drive near 79th Street called Police Headquarters that afternoon, frantic because there was a dead man sprawled on a bench in Riverside Park.
A patrolman was sent to the scene and when he began to lift the corpse, it grunted "Lemme alone." The newspaper explained "He was drunk. That was all." About that time two detectives arrived. "They were disgusted when they learned the true state of affairs," said the article.
Officer Sheridan, who was the first to arrive, felt bad about arresting the young man. "It's the day before Christmas, though, and I hate to do it. But this is Riverside Drive." A patrol wagon took the protesting 'dead man' to the police station. There he hiccoughed the information that he was Bryon White. His father arrived that night to post bail. The article said, "No member of his family could be seen last night at the Warwick Arms."
Additional rental income was provided for the building's owner (Joseph C. Levi had purchased the property from the Whites upon its completion) by retail shops on the Columbus Avenue side. An initial tenant was the upscale haberdashery, Butler & Cleland.
As with most similar buildings, an apartment was supplied for the supervisor and his family in the basement. The Langs narrowly escaped a horrific tragedy on June 8, 1903. Arthur Lang was nine years old and was coming home from school that afternoon. As third-graders often do, he bolted across Columbus Avenue and 80th Street without looking carefully. The Evening World reported, "just as he stepped out from behind a north-bound car a [street] car going in the opposite direction at top speed struck him. He was caught full in the back and hurled thirty feet, receiving a fracture of the leg and thigh and a dozen wounds about the face and arms."
The streetcar was filled with women passengers who, "as soon as they recovered from their excitement," rushed to Arthur's aid. Mrs. J. T. Valentine took charge, carrying the boy to the sidewalk, then ordering "a dozen or more women, who had gathered around her, to tear off bandages from their clothing, with which she bound up the little fellow's wounds." Arthur was taken to the hospital and the motorman was arrested.
By 1905 well-known artist Howard Chandler Christy and his wife Maebelle Gertrude Thompson lived in the Warwick Arms. They had a daughter, Natalie Chandler Christy. Born in Ohio in 1872 he became famous for his "Christy Girl," the successor to Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl." The Christy family would remain in the building at least through 1909.
|Christy's World War I recruitment posters were seen nationwide.
Dr. Mary S. Macy was a Warick Arms tenant by 1906. Women who aspired to the title of physician had an especially difficult time in the early 20th century. Most doctors felt women made good nurses, but that the higher levels of the medical profession should be left to men. Mary S. Macy was an early example of a successful female doctor.
She was part of an noteworthy wedding party on June 12, 1906, one of the bridesmaids of Georgetta Aller at her wedding to Winfred L. Potter. What made the event amazing, according to The New York Press, was that both the bride and groom were doctors, as was the entire wedding party. "With doctors for bride and bridegroom, doctors for best man, bridesmaids, and ushers, about eighty doctors for wedding guests and a doctor of divinity as performer of the ceremony," said the article, the wedding "caused much interest in medical and social circles."
Dr. Mary S. Macy was joined in the building by another female doctor, Isabelle Thompson, by 1913. That year both women attended the 15th International Congress on Hygiene and Demography in Washington D.C. Dr. Macy would remain in the Warwick Arms at least through the end of World War I.
In 1907 well-to-do contractor Patrick Henry Hirsch moved in with his wife, Ruby, and mother-in-law. Things went well within their "luxurious apartment," as described by The Evening World, until September 17. In fact, as it turned out, the couple was not married at all and Hirsch had another wife, Bessie, in the deep South. Mrs. Hirsch tracked down her wayward husband and had him arrested. Word arrived at the Warwick Arms that "Mrs. Hirsch" was Miss Ruby Yeargin.
When Ruby and her mother returned home that afternoon the elevator operator refused to take them upstairs. They had to climb the stairs. The Evening World reported, "Presently there came rap on the door. Miss Yeargin, tearful and woebegone, answered the knock. Outside stood Charles Spurgeon, the manager. 'Madam,' he said, 'the proprietor, Mr. L. Hutzler, has instructed me to ask for your keys. You must vacate these rooms at once.'"
Despite a one-year lease, the management was required by law to refuse accommodations to unmarried couples. Ruby pleaded "There are thousands of other women in this city who are doing what I have done!" Spurgeon was unrelenting, and said "I don't want to use force, but if you do not get out peaceably I will have you put out forcibly." Not only was Ruby evicted, she was arrested along with Hirsch. Later that afternoon a truck took away all of the furnishings.
Rosalie Schumar and her son, Otto Hirsch (no relation to Patrick), shared an apartment on the top floor of the Warwick Arms in 1914. Just after 3:00 on the early morning of December 15 Roslie was awakened by a flashlight in her room. The Sun reported "She screamed and saw the burglar make his way hurriedly into the butler's pantry." The crafty thief locked the door so Hirsch could not get in, then climbed down the fire escape. He had made off with a $300 stickpin.
In the morning it was discovered that the burglar had visited the Hammersley apartment on the same floor, taking $50 in cash, and the apartment of A. Kaiser on the second floor, where he made off with $40 in cash and $300 in jewelry. The total heist would be equal to about $18,200 today.
It may have been a remodeling initiated in 1918 that prompted long-term residents like Dr. Mary S. Macy to leave. On March 5, 1918 The Sun entitled an article "Suites For Bachelors" and reported "The Warwick Arms apartment house...is to be made over into small housekeeping suites." Owner Leo Steinfeld had hired the architectural firm of Rouse & Goldstone to make the $50,000 in renovations. Rather than two, there were now six apartments per floor.
Despite being smaller, the apartments still attracted moneyed residents. Living in one of the renovated apartments in 1919 was E. A. Steinfeld. On October 2 he participated in a welcoming parade for King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. Riding in his "big touring car," as described by the New York Telegram, were Police Commissioner Augustus Drum Porter, Captain J. W. O'Connor, and Army physician Dr. Meagher.
The New York Telegram reported, "In order to avoid running down a group who started to cross Broadway," Steinfeld drove his automobile "into a high pile of paving blocks. The pile was bowled over into crowds lining the sidewalks." The New-York Tribune added that the collision "scattered the wooden blocks, some of which struck and slightly injured spectators lining the curb." Dr. Meagher treated the wounded onlookers and O'Connor and Porter "helped repile the blocks before they rejoined the procession."
In 1923 Dr. William Johnston Books and his bride, Florence Margaret Ferris moved in. Although a son, William, Jr., was soon born, things did not go smoothly in the household. Florence accused her husband of giving her $20 per month for personal expenses originally, but soon "doled out" money from 50 cents to a dollar at a time.
On Christmas Day 1925 Florence took their son to her parents' house to "visit" and never came back. The following day she received a stern telegram from her husband that read simply "Have Bill in New York this evening." Finally, in June 1925 Dr. Books filed for custody, but failed.
Three years later the battle was still being waged. On February 9, 1928 he told the court that Florence "pens up" their son. The Brooklyn Standard Union reported "'Chicken wire guarding the windows and but one chair in the room' is the way Dr. William Johnston Books, a physician, of 101 West Eightieth street, Manhattan, describes the locale for his visit to his son, 'Junior.'" It is unclear whether the doctor ever got custody of the boy.
Helen Booz, who lived here in 1934, was the principal of School No. 1 in Fairfiew, New Jersey and a supporter of the visual arts. She was a patroness of an exhibition in the Roerich Museum that fall. But she was shocked when she first viewed one of the displayed paintings, The Head Hunter by Wilson H. Ellsworth. It was a modern take on a Bible story.
"The canvas of 'The Head Hunter' and its suggestion of a modern version of John the Baptist is distasteful and immoral," she wrote to the museum's president, Louis L. Horch. She demanded that the painting be taken down. Instead, the committee in charge of the exhibition decided to keep it on display and simply remove Miss Booz's name from the list of patronesses.
Throughout the 20th century the Warwick Arms would continue to house white collar residents. William J. Simon and his wife, the former Ann Rosenberg, lived here after mid-century. A composer and pianist, Simon had originally gone into medicine, but decided instead on music. He not only wrote music for Broadway, but for radio and television shows. He was associated with the National Broadcasting Company for years. He died of cancer in his apartment here on August 4, 1971.
The basement apartment was home to superintendent Bob Taylor in 1981. It was the scene of a grisly double murder on April 20 that year. Taylor, who was 52 years old, was found gagged and bound to a chair with a gunshot in the head. A second man "had apparently been bludgeoned to death," according to The New York Times. The apartment had been ransacked in what was an apparent robbery.
Henry F. Cook's handsome red-and-white design survives beautifully intact today. A reminder of a time when well-to-do apartment dwellers shared their sprawling homes with servants--who were kept "totally separate."
photographs by the author