Friday, December 25, 2020

The Squadron A Club -- 1321 Madison Avenue


photo via

In the late 1880's the tide of fashion was moving ever northward, past the millionaires' Midtown mansions.  In the neighborhood that would later be known as Carnegie Hill stalwart developers were replacing small farms and wooden houses with upscale dwellings.

In February 1890 developer James v. S. Woolley purchased the large plot at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 93rd Street from Seth M. Milliken.  The $40,000 price for the vacant parcel reflected the soaring property values in the neighborhood.  It would equal $1.16 million today.

James E. Ware designed a row of five brick and stone houses in the popular Queen Anne style for the site.  The corner house was the most impressive.  Three stories tall above an English basement, its avenue façade was faced in brownstone.  A dramatic story-high dormer broke through the cornice of the pyramidal attic floor.  

Ware placed the entrance on 93rd Street where a sideways stoop rose to the entrance.  Here the architect departed from Queen Anne, embellishing the doorway with carved Renaissance Revival pilasters and an ornate hood.  The motif was echoed in the arched window to the side.  The entranceway was crowned by a stone balustrade that matched the stoop railings.

The fact that Woolley did not sell No. 1321 Madison Avenue until November 1892 may have been a reflection of the commercialization of the thoroughfare.  The problem that had plagued Fifth Avenue millionaires stopped at Central Park, where the now one-sided avenue did not lend itself to stores, restaurants and hotels.  But the wide avenues to the east were fertile ground.

Martin Frank first purchased the house, and it changed hands several more times until 1911 when the newly-organized Squadron A Club acquired the property.  On September 14 that year the club was incorporated "to conduct a clubhouse for Squadron A and Troop A of New York City."

The mansion was conveniently close to the Squadron A Armory on Park Avenue and 94th Street.  The group had unlikely origins.  In 1884 some of the wealthiest and most prominent of New York's gentlemen banded together in their love of horsemanship.  They created a private unit—originally a social club—called the First New York Hussars or First Dragoons.  The men drilled at Dickel’s Riding Academy where they had use of an assembly room and lockers.  They created their own dress uniforms based on London’s 10th Hussars.   

At the same time the National Guard had a problem.  Since 1877 it had had no mounted unit.  Whenever 
an escort was required for visiting Presidents or other dignitaries, the infantry or artillery made do.  More importantly, military leaders became concerned about the lack of a cavalry in the major urban area.   

And so in 1889 the 53-man unit became Troop “A,” an official part of the New York National Guard.   The Troop was put under the command of West Point trained Major Charles F. Roe, a veteran of the Civil War and former Indian fighter.  

The elite members, accustomed to smoking rooms and evening clothes, found themselves quickly in less than elegant conditions.  In August 1892 the Troop was sent to Buffalo, New York to quell the riots that erupted during the railroad strike there. 

Even before the Squadron A Club was formed, the Squadron and Troop A acted the part of a gentlemen's club within its armory when their services were not needed.  “The organization resembles a club in other social customs,” remarked The Times on January 23, 1898.  “’Smokers’ and entertainments for various purposes are held from time to time in its assembly room and outside of their homes.  The reading hall is always free to members of the organization."

Now ensconced in the Madison Avenue mansion, the Squadron A Club had the well-appointed spaces its wealthy members were accustomed to--dining rooms, billiard and card rooms, a reading room and such.  It was the scene of receptions and dinners, and offered members sleeping rooms on the upper floors.  (When well-to-do families closed their homes for the summer months, men who came back to town to conduct business would most often stay at their clubs.)

Reflecting its beginnings, the club was best known for its polo playing.  On June 25, 1916 The Sun wrote, "Squadron A. has kept up the game [at Van Cortlandt Park] for fifteen years and several very fine players and teams have been graduated from the regimental field to win cups at the club  tournaments."  The club held an annual open tournament in September.

The size of the club's stable was evidenced in 1916 when the National Guard seized horses for military use.  "A present day instance of the adaption of polo mounts is that the call for the mobilization of the militia transferred automatically the fifty-two nags in the polo barn of the Squadron A Club at Van Cortlandt Park into active service," reported The Sun on June 25.

On February 20, 1920 The Sun reminisced about the 
accomplished players that had filled its rolls.  "Undoubtedly the strongest player developed by the Squadron A club is J. Cheever Cowdin, who in polo circles at present is regarded as a contender for a place on the next American international polo team," it said.  "Others of note were Leavitt J. Hunt, Joseph Hunt and Alexander D. B. Pratt."

But that had ended.  The Squadron's polo club, "which for nearly twenty years furnished New York with the only polo matches that were open to the public gaze, has disbanded," reported The Sun.   Simultaneously the Squadron A Club left its Madison Avenue clubhouse, moving to rented rooms in the Biltmore Hotel.

By the time Daniel Casey, Jr. purchased the building from Mildred S. Wells in February 1923 it had been converted to "two-room and bath apartments," according to The New York Times.

The march of commerce finally caught up with No. 1321 Madison Avenue in 1930 when a renovation resulted in a projecting two-story commercial extension at the front, a single apartment on the third floor and a duplex on the fourth and attic level. 

photo via NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

At mid-century the Caligor Physicians' Supply Co. was in the ground floor.  Beginning in 1959 the upper floors were home to members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Mission staff.  

A renovation completed in 2017 resulted in a single family residence above the ground floor store.  Soviet Mission staff member Nikolai Aleksandrovich Sakharov resided there at the time.

Despite the 1920's renovations, the charm of James Ware’s corner house remains evident today.  With only a little imagination one can envision an 1890's mother hurrying her children up the outside stairs, finally home again.

non-credited photos by the author


  1. I remember this building, from when I used to live in the neighborhood in the 1960s. Later, when my mother lived on East 87th Street, I used to see this building in the 1980s to the end of the 20th century. Thanks for the history lesson!

  2. The 1945 movie, The House on 92nd Street, involved the FBI tracking down a group of German spies. Despite the title, the house used as the spies’ location was at 55 East 93rd Street. That building, now demolished, was just east of 1321 Madison, which can be seen at some points during the movie.