Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Maria Colgate House - 122 East 19th Street (77 Irving Place)


The windows and entrance would have been very similar to the house at right.  photo via

By 1850 the newly-created Gramercy Park was ringed with the mansions of some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  Its elegant tone radiated into the blocks surrounding the exclusive enclave.  Around this time a substantial brick and brownstone mansion was erected at the southwest corner of 19th Street and Irving Place.  Four stories tall above an English basement, the house was 25 feet wide on 19th Street and stretched back 100 feet along Irving Place.  Molded brownstone lintels originally graced the elliptical arched openings.

No. 42 East 19th Street (renumbered 122 in 1868) was home to Maria Colgate and her brother, Clinton Gilbert Colgate.  It was an interesting situation, since their parents, William Colgate and his wife, the former Maria Gilbert, still lived in the mansion at No. 22 East 23rd Street where the siblings had grown up.  William Colgate was the head of the hugely successful William Colgate & Co., makers of starch, soap and candles.  The firm would go on to become the Colgate-Palmolive Company.

Occasionally Maria took in a single boarder.  In 1853 Jane Thomas, a dressmaker, was here; and in 1856 Edward Austen, a merchant at No. 287 Pearl Street, boarded in the house.  But for the most part Maria and her brother lived quietly alone in the commodious residence surrounded by their servants.

Clinton left home in 1861 following the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter.  He joined the 15th New York Engineer Regiment and on October 3 that year the New York Herald reported that he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 

Clinton G. Colgate, from the collection of the Library of Congress

He served under General Daniel P. Woodbury defending Washington D.C. from October through March 1862.

Stephen B. Colgate, who ran a feed business on Seventh Avenue, lived on East 16th Street when the war broke out.  Possibly because with her brother fighting the war Maria was now left alone, he moved in by 1864.  

At the end of the war, by 1867, the Colgates had all left the 19th Street house.  Mary married attorney Robert Colby and they moved back into the Colgate mansion on East 23rd Street (Mary's mother had died in 1855 and her father in 1857).  Clinton moved into a fine home at No. 425 Lexington Avenue and Stephen relocated to New Jersey.

No. 122 East 19th Street was operated as a high-end boarding house for a few years.  Carpet merchant John W. Hoyt lived here in 1867 and the following year, two brokers, Michael S. Bright and John McGinniss were boarders.  

Banker Joseph A. Jameson lived in the corner house in 1876 when it was the scene of a glittering social event.  On March 25 The Daily Graphic reported "There was a brilliant concert at No. 122 East Nineteenth street last evening, in aid of the Chapin Home.  The artists were Miss Adelaide Phillips, Miss Emma C. Thursby, Signor Ferranti, Mr. Joseph White, Mr. S. B. Mills, and Mr. Alfred Pease.  There was a distinguished company present, all of whom voted the concert the best of the season."

Other boarders over the next few years included Walter E. Lawton, a dealer in guano; Olney B. Dowd who ran a lumber business on Avenue A; and book dealer Hubbard H. Gibson.  

The upscale tone of the house was suggested in an advertisement in the New York Herald on November 5, 1879:  "Suit of elegant newly furnished rooms, second floor, front, with good Board, for a genteel party of adults; house brown stone, with modern improvements."

Among the residents in the 1890's were opera singer William Owen; the widow Aline Renault; and Frederick Luere and his wife, Madame Camilla Urso, considered one of the finest violinists of her time.

The opera bass announced that he was available for hire in this ad.  The New York Dramatic Mirror, November 11, 1893 (copyright expired)

The Lueres were involved in a frightening accident on the evening of September 24, 1892.  They were crossing Broadway on their way to the Sixth Avenue elevated station at 66th Street "when both were dashed to the ground by a bicycle that rushed on them from behind," as reported by the New York Herald.  

The newspaper had no sympathy for the biker, saying "Although at a street crossing where he must have known that in all likelihood there would be pedestrians who could not hear the noiseless approach of the bicycle over the smooth asphalt, the wheelman did not ring a bell or give any warning."  To make matters worse, it became a hit-and-run case.  After Frederic got back on his feet and was attending to his wife, the cyclist mounted his bike and rode away without a word to the couple.

Mme. Camilla Urso, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Passersby helped Frederic carry Camilla, who was semi-conscious to the elevated station.  At their 19th Street rooms Dr. Julio Henna "pronounced the woman's injuries serious, she having sustained a severe shock in addition to the fractured arm and other injuries," said the New York Herald.  A day later The Evening World gave more optimistic news:

Mme. Camilla Urso, who in private life is Mrs. Frederic Luere, is to-day carrying her left arm in a sling, the result of being knocked down by a bicyclist on the Boulevard [i.e. Broadway] Saturday night.  The right arm is also tightly bandaged, but her doctor tells her that no bone is broken, and the world will not, therefore, be deprived of again hearing one of the greatest of violists.

Aline Renault's deceased husband, Alfred G., had come from Cognac, France and was described by The New York Times as being "for many years a wine merchant of this city."  She died in her room here on the morning of October 20, 1897 at the age of 58.

The turn of the century saw the first of a string of artists living here.   Artist Everett Shinn and his illustrator wife, Florence Scovel Shinn, were here in 1900 before moving west to Waverly Place.  Shinn was born in Woodstown, New York and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he met Florence.  They graduated in 1897 and were married the following year.  While her husband was known for more serious painting, Florence illustrated magazines and books--like Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and The Autobiography of a Tomboy.

On May 30, 1901 The Morning Telegraph reported on the "splendid crayon portrait of Julia Marlowe, for which she has been posing for some time to Everitt Shinn, of 122 East Nineteenth street."  Marlowe was one of the most popular actresses of her time.  The day before the article the completed portrait had arrived at her rooms in the Hotel Earlington.  

The actress leaned it against the wall before going out.  When she returned she found that her little water spaniel, Taffy, had seriously damaged the picture.  "It looked very much as if Master Taffy had destroyed two months' hard work," said the article.  "Miss Marlowe wept with no simulated grief.  She was late in reaching the theatre last evening."

The elegant accommodations at No. 122 were reflected in a help-wanted at in 1902:  "Waitress wanted; experienced; wages $15, apply after nine at select boarding house, 122 East 19th st."  "Waitress" was the term for the servant who served meals to the residents.  She was expected to be more polished than other servants, like chambermaids, for instance.  The advertised salary would be equal to about $450 a week today.

In May 1907 No. 122 was sold to the Investors' and Traders' Realty Company.  It signaled changes to come to the former Colgate mansion.

On August 22, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that architects Thain & Thain had been commissioned to convert the lower floors for commercial purposes at a cost of $10,000--just over a quarter of a million in today's dollars.   The following month an auction was held of all the household goods, including "furnishings, carpets, etchings, engravings, bedding, mirrors and bric-a-brac, tableware, Fischer upright grand piano."

The stoop was removed, the residential entrance moved around the corner to No. 77 Irving Place, and storefronts installed in the ground and second floors.

The Parish Monthly, November 1909 (copyright expired)

Initial commercial tenants were the fur store of Herman Schmerl, and the private detective firm run by Thomas Smith.  Smith advertised for drivers in December 1909, with "department store experience, for detective work."

In the meantime the three upper floors continued to house respectable tenants.  Modernist artist Leo William Quanchi lived here in 1917 when one of his works was shown in the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.

Quanchi's Backyards may have show the view from his studio here. 

Sarah J. Harrison moved into an apartment upon the building's renovation.  She was the mother of well-known stage director Bertram Harrison, and the widow of importer William F. Harrison.  Eight years after moving in, she died in her apartment on November 17, 1917.

Three months earlier Margaret Faith Robinson Haggin was married to City Magistrate Joseph Eugene Corrigan.  The wedding attracted press attention because the bride had previously been married to wealthy artist James Ben Ali Haggin.  And a year earlier Judge Corrigan's wife had jumped overboard from the steamship Rochambeau after have spent 19 months nursing wounded soldiers in France.  Newspapers had blamed "the terrible nervous strain of war nursing" on her death.  Now The Sun noted that after their automobile trip through New Jersey, the newlyweds "will make their home at 77 Irving place."  

The house would be home to important literary and musical figures.  By 1919 journalist and critic Paul Rosenfelt lived here.  In her 2004 book Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, Hunter Drohojowsky-Philp wrote:

Rosenfeld's elegant corner apartment in a stately building at 77 Irving Place was decorated with antique furniture in the style of a European drawing room, and hung with modern paintings by Marin, Hartley, Dove, and O'Keeffe as well as photographs by Stieglitz.

He remained throughout the 1920's and hosted parties "at which composers Leo Ornstein, Edgar Varese, and Darius Milhaud played and poets Hart Crane, E. E. Cummings, and Marianne Moore read their latest work."  Among the conspicuous guests were O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz and Rosenfeld's intimate friend, Edmund Wilson.

Paul Rosenfeld was photographed by his good friend Alfred Stiegletz from the collection of the National Gallery of Art

For a few weeks in the summer of 1921, novelist and critic Waldo Frank was a houseguest of Rosenfeld before he moved into an apartment on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village.

Alfred Kreymborg was also a tenant.  The well-rounded writer was a novelist, poet, playwright and literary critic.  On January 20, 1927 Ernest Hemingway sent a cable to literary editor Maxwell Perkins.  In it he said, "last summer I promised Paul Rosenfelt [sic] a long bull fight story called A Lack of Passion."  He went on to say he had re-written it, adding "I may cable you tomorrow to turn it over to Kreymbourg at 77 Irving Place."

In the early 1930's the Gramercy Book Shop operated from one of the commercial spaces, and the following decade Sari Dienes' art gallery, Studio 5, was here.

The brownstone front and the brick Irving Place side have been painted an unflattering barn red, but nevertheless it is easy to imagine the building when it was the sumptuous home of a soap heiress and her brother in the 1850's.

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