Monday, October 25, 2021

The Lost Robert S. Brewster Mansion - 100 East 70th Street

 
The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)


Robert G. Mott and his wife, Mary Agnes, lived at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 70th Street at the turn of the last century.  Mott was described by the New-York Tribune as "one of the oldest members of the New York Stock Exchange."  He died in the house in 1904, and Mary Agnes died two years later on May 6, 1906.

Mary Agnes may have been reluctant to sell her home to millionaire Robert Stanton Brewster, who already owned the two abutting houses on East 70th Street.  Now he wasted no time in acquiring the Mott residence and within one month of Mary Agnes's death his architects, Delano & Aldrich, had  not only filed plans for a mansion on the site, but had awarded the construction contract.  (Brewster's choice of architectural firms was most likely influenced by his college friendship with William Adams Delano.)

The plans called for a five-story residence faced in Indiana limestone.  Thirty-five feet wide on the avenue, it would stretch 76-feet along East 70th Street.  The construction cost was projected at the equivalent of $4.45 million today.

The mansion was completed two years later.  Architect William Adams Delano wrote in The New York Architect, "As far as the exterior treatment was concerned, an attempt was made to build a house of no particular historic style or epoch, and inside to provide rooms of fairly large proportions, the design of which would follow no pronounced style, so that furniture of almost any kind would look well in them.  In short, the problem was to build a simple and dignified home where one could live comfortably."

The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

In fact, however, the façade was undeniably inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture.  The understated base featured an arched entrance with a scrolled keystone below a simple stone cornice.  The second floor openings wore pronounced molded cornices, and a carved cartouche in deep relief clung to the façade directly above the entrance.   The windows of the third and fourth floors were essentially unadorned.  The hip roofed fifth floor was nearly undetectable above the heavy stone cornice, with only its round-headed dormers peaking out.

Robert S. Brewster came from an old American family.  He was descended from William Brewster, who arrived on the Mayflower.  Robert's father, Benjamin Brewster, had been a vice-president of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company.  Although he sat on the boards of many banks and corporations, Robert Brewster preferred to devote his time to charitable organizations.  He was, for instance, the president of the Northern Westchester Hospital, chairman of the finance committee of Flower Hospital, president of the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital, and was highly involved in the Young Men's Christian Association.

Robert Stanton Brewster, from the collection of The Century Association Archives Foundation

He had married Mabel Martin Tremain on June 1, 1904.  In 1907, shortly before moving into their new residence, a daughter, Sylvia was born.  Two other children would follow, Robert Dows and Phyllis.

Like her husband, Phyllis Brewster was more interested in charitable activities than in glittering social events.  She was especially involved with St. Bartholomew's Church.  Therefore, William A. Delano explained, "The program called for a house to be used for entertaining, but entertaining on a small scale.  It was to be a house for dinners primarily, and not for dances or large gatherings."

The Brewster dining room (top) and reception room.  The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

For that reason, the dining and reception rooms were placed on the ground floor, along with the men's and women's coat rooms.  On the second floor were the drawing room and library, and on the third the "ordinary bed-rooms, sitting rooms and bath rooms for the family," according to Delano.

Two views of the second-floor library.  The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

The first floor rooms had 12.5-foot ceilings.  The the walls of the entrance hall were of Caen stone, a soft, yellowish stone with a marble-like look.  The floor was paved in black and white marble squares.

At the second floor the staircase opened onto a 30-by-18 foot hall, which Delano said "is more properly speaking a large living room."  It was paneled in oak, with matching beams spanning the ceiling 15 feet overhead.  At the Park Avenue side on this floor was the library, paneled in Circassian and French walnut.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called the Brewster mansion, "one of the most distinguished-looking houses of the recent constructions in that quarter of the city."

With the townhouse completed, the Brewsters set Delano & Aldrich at work on their country estate in Mt. Kisco, New York.  On December 12, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that plans were being prepared for a residence there to cost just under $2 million in today's money to construct.

Among the first gatherings at 100 East 70th Street was a somber one.  Mabel's widowed mother, Eliza Martin Tremain, died on February 18, 1909.  A service was held in the Brewster house prior to the funeral in Albany the following day.

Mabel's entertainments were almost exclusively for charitable purposes.  On February 25, 1912, for instance, The Sun reported that she would hold "a summer sale" in the house on the afternoon of March 12 for the benefit of the Kip's Bay Day Nursery.  Socialites would be able to shop for all things necessary for the coming summer season.  The article said, "There will be offered for sale at the lowest possible prices the newest models of spring hats, bathing caps, jabots and collars for summer waists, cushions for porches and hammocks," and dozens of other items.

The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

The country house was completed in the fall of 1912.  The Los Angeles Herald noted "Mr. and Mrs. Brewster...made many trips abroad to furnish the Westchester county show place.  There were brought scores of paintings from abroad, tapestries from periods of the middle ages, and a staircase in marble and antique wood imported from Rome."  That staircase alone had cost $10,000.  In all, including the construction, they spent a total of $300,000 on the mansion--more than $8 million in today's money.  

Fifteen servants began preparing the house for the family's initial arrival on April 2, 1913.  There were five furnaces necessary to heat the sprawling structure, all of which were put in service in the chilly March temperatures.  Tragically, one of them was defective.  It overheated and caused a basement fire.  The Sun reported on April 1, "The flames had gained much headway before the servants discovered them...The servants and neighbors did their best to get the furniture from the burning building, but they only saved a little of it."

A messenger arrived at the East 70th Street mansion with a telegram informing the Brewsters of the conflagration.  According to The New York Times, Brewster "made a wild automobile ride from New York in company with Mrs. Brewster...When the automobile sped up the Croton Lake Road to the house Mr. Brewster found the entire structure blazing fiercely, while the Mount Kisco Fire Department had abandoned efforts to save it."  The new mansion burned to the ground.  The New York Times remarked, "Neither Mr. and Mrs. Brewster seemed affected by the large financial loss...but both were overcome to think that their tapestries and paintings were destroyed."  

Delano & Aldrich was re-hired to start the project all over again.  While the replacement was to be a nearly exact copy of the original, this time Brewster stressed that it be "fireproof."

An aerial photograph reveals the scope of Avalon, the Mount Kisco estate.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

In 1917 the Standard Oil Company launched an oil steamer named for Robert's father.  The names of children of high society families rarely appeared in newsprint before their introductions to society.  An exception to that rule was when 10-year-old Sylvia Brewster was given the honor of christening the Benjamin Brewster.

Nine years later Sylvia, in December 1926, was introduced to society with a dance in the main ballroom suite of the Ritz-Carlton.  The Sun called it "a fashionable event."

On March 23, 1929 Sylvia was married to Lieutenant Edward Frederic Maude of the Royal Horse Artillery of Great Britain in a military ceremony in St. Mark's Church in Mount Kisco.  Phyllis was her maid of honor.  The reception was held at Avalon.  The New York Times reported, "After a short wedding trip in this country the couple will sail next month for India, where Lieutenant Maude will rejoin his regiment."

The entrance hall (bottom) and the second story staircase call.  The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

Like her sister, Phyllis's debut into society took place at the Ritz-Carlton where, on December 30, 1932, the Brewsters hosted a "supper dance" to introduce her.  

Robert Brewster preferred to stay out of the public eye, doing his charitable works quietly.  A friend said "His favorite remark was, 'The advantages of obscurity are not half appreciated.'"  But that necessarily changed in 1933.  A devotee of the opera, Brewster had paid $200,000 for Box 4 at the Metropolitan Opera.  When the future of the company was threatened that year, he took a leading role in "the drive to 'save' the Metropolitan," according to The New York Times.  Fellow Century Association member Geoffrey Parsons later said, "The one glimpse the public had of him was through his interest in the Metropolitan Opera House."

He was made a director of the Metropolitan Opera Association that year, and in 1935 he was named president of the Metropolitan Opera and Real Estate Association.  He headed the renovation of the opera house prior to the 1934-35 season.

A view of Mabel Brewster's boudoir.  The New York Architect, June 1908 (copyright expired)

On November 7, 1936 The New York Sun reported on Phyllis's engagement to William S. Farish, Jr., saying it was "of wide interest to society."  Something went wrong in the relationship, however, and the engagement was quietly called off.

In October 1939 Robert Brewster was diagnosed with cancer.  He died on Christmas Eve that year at the age of 64.  His discreet service to the public was revealed in his obituaries.  Geoffrey Parsons described him saying, "He was more of a family man than a club man," and another friend said, "He never did a mean or cheap thing...He was not a great man; but he did what was right as he saw it more than most."

Mabel remained in the East 70th Street mansion with Phyllis.  On February 19, 1941 she announced Phyllis's engagement to John Randolph Burke.  Eight months later, on October 29, Mabel died at the age of 64.

The Brewster mansion was demolished within a few years, replaced by an 18-story apartment building designed by Emory Roth, completed in 1948.

photo via cityrealty.com

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

The John H. Martine House - 446 Sixth Avenue

 



John H. Martine bought four building lots at the northeast corner of 10th Street and Sixth Avenue from William Beach Lawrence in 1834.  He immediately began the construction of two houses on the corner.  The other two parcels sat vacant for several years--possibly due to Martine's stretched finances.

The second pair of houses, 138 and 140 Sixth Avenue (renumbered 446 and 448 in 1926), were completed in the mid-1840's.  Each had a store at street level.  Typical of Greek Revival houses, their attic floors were noticeably shorter than the second.  Simple cornices with block brackets and wooden fascia boards completed the simple designs.

 John H. Martine moved into the upper floors of 138 Sixth Avenue.  He grew impatient with the city when a potentially dangerous post hole was left unfilled in 1848.  At the Board of Aldermen's meeting on July 17, a request was read:

Petition of John H. Martine, (138 Sixth avenue,) to have a hole in the sidewalk opposite his premises, in consequence of the removal of a telegraph post, repaired.

At the time of his request, William H. Snow (who lived next door at 140 Sixth Avenue) ran his watchmaking shop downstairs.

In the 1840's George W. Delavergne's apothecary store was two doors away at 142 Sixth Avenue.  Around 1851 he moved the pharmacy into 138 and his family into the upper floors.  By now he was partnered with Edward H. Andrew in the Delavergne & Andrew drugstore.

Delavergne seems to have soon leased a room in the store to Dr. Henry A. Luther for his dental office.  His advertisements routinely appeared in newspapers, like this one from 1859 in the New York Herald:

Artificial Teeth--Full sets on pure silver only $8; on fine gold and platina, with continuous gums, $25, and warranted equal to any work in New York.  Single teeth, $1.  Teeth filled and extracted without the least pain by a new process, at 138 Sixth avenue, between Tenth and Eleventh streets.  Dr. Luther, Dentist.

Around 1863 Delavergne opened a second drugstore on Sixth Avenue at the corner of 14th Street.  He hired Thomas J. Macmahan as a clerk in that store.  According to The Druggists Circular years later, Delavergne "sold the older one to George G. Porter.  Notwithstanding this, the young clerk [i.e., Macmahan] was sent at frequent intervals to help in the lower store.

Frustrated with his stagnant career, in 1867 Macmahan "secured the job of introducing the freaks at Barnum's Museum," said The Druggists Circular.  After only one day, Porter convinced him not to return to that job, promising him a better career path.  In 1870 Porter took Macmahan in as a partner and on January 1, 1871 Macmahan bought out his former employer.

Handbook of the Benevolent Institutions and Charities of New York for 1877 (copyright expired)

By the mid-1860's the upper floors were operated as a boarding house.  One of the tenants in 1865 was Henry Dibet, who had recently returned from fighting in the Civil War.  On the night of July 18 Mrs. Mary McCrea looked out her window on Pearl Street and saw three burglars leaving the William G. Thompkins dry goods store across the street with stolen goods.  She went to the police "and described the fellows with minuteness," said The New York Times.  Henry Dibet was positively identified by the witness.  The former soldier "was committed for trial at the Court of General Sessions."

Dr. Luther remained in his space in the ground floor through 1869.  In 1870 at least part of the second floor became home to the Great International Employment Office.  It provided domestic servants, stressing it had both "Protestant and Catholic Irish" girls.

Commercial Register, 1870 (copyright expired)

By 1874, however, the firm's policy of placing Irish Catholic girls had changed.  Now calling itself the Protestant Home Bureau, it advertised on October 16, "All families wanting good servants, German, English and Swedish, good cooks and house-workers, for city or country, apply at the Protestant Home Bureau."

In 1879 Thomas J. Macmahan was one of the organizers of the New York State Pharmaceutical Association.  It was about that time that he sold his drugstore and went into business manufacturing "toilet specialties."  The Practical Druggist noted decades later, "The best known of these was a tooth powder and it is said that Mr. MacMahan [sic] was the first man to put up a dentifrice with a handy shaker stopper."

After having been a pharmacy for decades, in 1879 the ground floor space became an eatinghouse run by Nicholas Crocheron, Jr.   Living upstairs that year were the families of Matthew Carroll, who was in the shoe business, and Valentine Stutzmann, whose barber shop was on West 9th Street.

In 1886 the restaurant was being run by Prosper G. Chaley and R. Lecchi, as the "Prosper Chaley and R. Lecchi Eatinghouse."  A decade later it was owned by Frank Harrison.  He found himself in hot water in March 1894 after a sharp-eyed detective stopped in for dinner.

Several weeks earlier the cashier of the high-end Victoria Hotel, Owen P. Breen, notified Police Superintendent Thomas F. Byrnes that expensive silverware had been disappearing.  Within a six-week period, 349 forks, knives and spoons had been spirited away.

On the evening of March 1, 1894 Detective Valley "dropped into a restaurant kept by Frank Harrison at 138 Sixth avenue and ordered some oysters," reported The Sun.  "While eating them the detective happened to glance at his fork, and noticed peculiar scratches on the handle."  Upon leaving the restaurant, he slipped the fork into his pocket and took it to Police Headquarters.  There, under a microscope, the mark of the Victoria Hotel could be made out, despite having been buffed out.

Harrison was arrested the following day.  "Forty-one forks, knives, spoons and miscellaneous pieces of silverware, all of which were identified by Mr. Breen as belonging to the Victoria Hotel, were found in the place," said The Sun.  At Police Headquarters Harrison confessed, saying he had bought the stolen silverware for $1.50 from a waiter in the hotel, Frank J. Deakin.  It was an expensive deal for Harrison.  "Both men were held for examination in $1,000 bail," reported The Sun.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant quickly changed hands.  It was operated by Herman Wolz by that fall.  He and a customer, Edward Van Name, faced off in court in November that year.  Van Name, who was a clerk for the brokerage firm of Rutherford & Co., was charged with passing a worthless check.  On November 25, 1894, The Sun reported, "The accusation was made by Peter Wolz, who keeps at 25-cent table d'hote restaurant at 138 Sixth avenue...Woltz is an open-mannered, bright young man, and there is no reason to believe that he is not honest in his belief that Van Name is the person who swindled him."

According to Woltz, Van Name was a regular.  "He always sat at the back of the room, near the kitchen, and on the down-town side," he said.  On the morning of October 23, according to Woltz, Van Name rushed in and asked if he would cash a check for $3.85.  It was made out to Christian Clausen.  In court Woltz testified, "It was a small amount, and I had seen the man here often, so I said certainly."

Wolz said he asked him, "Is that your name?" explaining, "You see, I had never known his name.  'Yes,' he said."

A few days after Wolz deposited the check, it was returned "no account."  Wolz laid in wait for his former customer, who had suddenly stopped coming by.  He said:

I wasn't likely to forget him, nor to make any mistake about his identity, for he is not an every-day looking person.  His eyes are different from most persons, and his face is a marked one.  I kept an eye out upon the passers by, and on Thursday morning I saw him go past the window.  I ran right out and caught him.

Wolz had him arrested and Van Name protested his innocence.   "How he can accuse me of having had a check cashed by him I cannot understand...I can realize now how it is that innocent men may be sent to jail, or even hanged."  When pressed about his movements on October 23, he said "It is unfortunate that I cannot remember just where I was that morning."  

Although the reporter for The Sun said "No one who casts eyes on him can but be astonished that any one could have mistaken him for another person," Van Name was eventually acquitted for lack of evidence.

In 1897 the restaurant space was remodeled for the offices of the Industrial Co-Operative Building and Loan Association.  With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War the following year, a portion of the offices were given over to a recruiting office.  On April 27, 1898 The Evening Post wrote, "The 1,550 volunteers for William Astor Chanler's regiment, who were enrolled at No. 138 Sixth Avenue, are undergoing their medical examination to-day at that address."

The upper floors continued to be operated as rented rooms for decades.  One was nearly the scene of tragedy in the winter of 1921.  On December 6 The Evening World reported, "Miss Audrey Wack, twenty years old, of 138 Sixth Avenue, was the cause of much excitement at 5 A. M. to-day by being accidentally overcome by gas."   

As she slept, the tube of a radiator became detached and fumes filled her room.  The article said, "Another tenant in the house smelled gas and called Policeman Biene, who found Miss Wack unconscious."  He opened the windows, gave her first aid, and by the time the ambulance arrived the young woman had revived.

In 1966 the upper floors were converted to a single duplex apartment.   By 1984 it was home to securities analyst Joseph Pikul, his wife, Diane, and their two children.  Diane Pikul was an assistant to the publisher of Harper's magazine.

Married in July 1978, the couple maintained a summer home in Amagansett, Long Island.  They were having marital problems in 1986 and were seeing a marriage counselor.  Pikul accused his wife of infidelity.

On October 27, 1987 Joseph Pikul filed a missing person report on Diane.  The following day her body was found in a drainage ditch new Newburgh, New York, wrapped in a green car cover.  A forensic investigation revealed her death resulted from strangulation "by hand and by cord as well as by at least 10 blunt force impacts to the head."

Pikul pleaded self-defense, saying that on October 24 his wife had attacked him with a knife.  "I squeezed her neck as hard as I could, trying to get the knife away," he testified.   Pikul was convicted of second-degree murder.  His attorneys appealed, but he died in June 1989 before the case came to trial.  Ironically, his death resulted in his technical innocence.  New York State law demands that if a defendant dies while an appeal is pending, his conviction must be vacated and his name cleared.


Today there are two residential units above the store.  Appropriately, given its early history, a pharmacy occupies that space today.

photograph by the author
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Friday, October 22, 2021

Alfred Zucker's 1892 5-7 East 16th Street

 


Steps from Fifth Avenue and a block west of Union Square, the houses at 5 and 7 East 16th Street sat within the city's mansion district in the Civil War years.  But by the mid-1880's businesses were overtaking the grand homes as their owners moved ever northward.  In February 1886 Mary A. Lyddy hired architect W. Jones to renovate 5 and 7 East 16th Street into "studios and offices," according to the plans.  Two-story iron storefronts replaced the high stoops.

Apparently not content with the results, only five years later Lyddy demolished both buildings and hired Alfred Zucker to design an eight-story loft building at a cost of $120,000--around $3.5 million in today's money.  The prolific architect would be responsible for dozens of loft, hotel and office buildings in New York.  

His design incorporated a two-story Romanesque Revival base faced in undressed brownstone.   The large entrances that flanked the storefront reflected the English Norman style with compound arches and clustered colonnettes.  On either side of the central opening of the second story were paired arched windows fronted by charming balconettes.  The upper six floors completely changed personality.  Here Zucker turned to a more manicured Renaissance Revival design, and clad the façade in beige brick trimmed in matching terra cotta.  



Lyddy gave her project a name, one that would not catch on.  On November 14, 1891 the Real Estate Record & Guide wrote, "The 'Geraldine,' the eight-story building which is being erected on 16th street, east of 5th avenue, for Mary A. Lyddy...is now up to the roof.  The Guastavino arches are noticeable in the present unplastered condition of the building."  The district had become popular with publishing firms and the strength-giving arch system would be necessary to accommodate heavy printing presses.  The article additionally noted, "The terra cotta work in the front of the building is very credible."

The structure was completed in January 1892 and quickly filled with printers and publishers.  Among the first was the weekly magazine The Illustrated American, which advertised itself as "The handsomest news magazine in the world.  Brilliant and beautiful, clean, instructive, and entertaining."

Two other initial tenants were the Stanley-Bradley Company, and the United States Book Company, which also ran its bookstore in the building.  Among the latter's releases in 1892 were Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company, and three new books by J. M. Barrie including his highly successful The Little Minister.

Scribner's Magazine, December 1892 (copyright expired)

By the latter part of the decade The New York Times Educational Line, which offered an encyclopedia on an installment plan; The Baker & Taylor Co., publishers of school and college textbooks; and Frederick A. Stokes Company leased space in the building..

Frederick A. Stokes published a wide range of books.  In 1899, for instance, it offered several new books for boys, including Stephen Crane's Active Service, Tom Hall's The Fun and Fighting of the Rough Riders, and Jack, the Young Ranchman; or a Boy's Adventures in the Rockies.  For women and girls it offered Maud Humphrey's The Golf Girl; Robert Barr's Jennie Baxter, Journalist; and Cupid and the Footlights by James L. Ford.  There were classics, as well, like Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield and Thackeray's History of Henry Esmond.

The New-York Daily Tribune, December 15, 1900 (copyright expired)

The tenant list began to change around 1904.  While Frederick A. Stokes Company, the Globe School Book Co., and Neumann Bros. bookbinding were still in the building, garment manufacturers were taking space.  In 1904, two new tenants were the embroidery firm of Leon Jobin and Oppenheim & Neuglass, makers of "women's fashionable high grade tailor made suits." 

An advertisement appeared in the Record & Guide on October 15, 1904 that read, "To Settle an Estate the following property will be sold cheap for cash:  Nos. 5 and 7 East 16th St."  The asking price was $210,000--or about $6.3 million today.  It was purchased by Carrie M. Butler.

Five years later she hired the architectural firm of Israels & Harder to enlarge the building by removing the parapet and adding four floors.  Although they copied Alfred Zucker's overall design, none of the ornamentation of the lower floors was continued, making the addition noticeable.  At the same time the top floors were joined internally with 85 Fifth Avenue.

All of the tenants were now involved in the garment industry.  In 1912 they included Hut Neckwear Co.; Louis Kramer's silk neckwear factory; and Picadilly Waist Co.  The waist, or shirtwaist, was the most popular item of women's apparel at the time and Picadilly Waist Co. employed 60 women in its factory.  It had one man on its payroll, presumably the foreman.


In 1919 Golinko & Marks, makers of children's clothing, occupied the fourth floor.  On the morning of November 12 the foreman, Samuel Block, opened the shop to find "the entire floor in confusion," as worded by The Evening World.  The company's safe had been blown open and the explosion "scattered valuable ginghams and linens, scorched and torn."  The safe was empty.

Block telephoned police.  They soon discovered that the burglars had gone throughout the building.  On the fifth floor they had pried open the safe of T. Buchwald, makers of waists.  They removed a strong box and blasted it open.  John W. Burt, manufacturer of umbrellas and parasols on the sixth floor, had also fallen victim.  The "safe had been dynamited and many rolls of valuable silks had ben taken from smashed cabinets."

The bold robbers used bolts of cloth, brought upstairs from Golinko & Marks to deaden the sound of the explosions.  They left the singed remains on the floor of the hosiery firm Wallach & Mayer, Inc., on the seventh floor.  There they had blown open two safes.  Police theorized that one of the thieves hid in the building until after hours, then let his confederates into the building.  Although a precise accounting could not be taken while the police were still investigating, the initial estimate of the total loss was half a million in today's dollars.

The 1920's continued to see apparel firms occupy the building.  Among them were the Reliable Manufacturing House, Schockett Leather Goods, and the Royal Costume House.  One  tenant, however, was, perhaps, unexpected.  On July 3, 1922 The New York Times reported that Edward F. Cassidy, "a former alderman and the Socialist nominee for Mayor last year, was named as the party candidate for Governor by the Socialist State convention at 5 East Sixteenth Street yesterday."

The third quarter of the 20th century saw change come to the neighborhood.  In 1979 the Union Square Theater occupied space in the building, as the high-ceilinged lofts of the upper floors lured photography studios.  Among them was Frank Cowan, who shot ads for corporate clients like Levi's, Pampers and Volkswagen.  He took the top floor in 1970 when a handbag manufacturer moved out, paying $550 per month rent.

Unfortunately for tenants like Cowan, landlords took full advantage of the increasingly trendy tenor of the neighborhood.  In 1981 when his lease expired, Leon Sutton raised his rent to $2,000 per month.

By now the internal connections with 85 Fifth Avenue had been closed off.  In 1987 the Manhattan Cooking Center, a culinary school that offered tastings and lectures, occupied space.  And for years starting around 1994 Ann Sack's Tile and Stone showroom was in the ground floor space.


A renovation in 2008 resulted in apartments on the fourth, fifth, and seventh through twelfth floors--one per floor.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Frederick M. Davies House - 20 East 82nd Street

 


In the 1870's Richard W. Buckley was deemed by the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide to be a "rising young architect."  In 1880 he formed a partnership with developer Robert McCafferty.  Initially McCafferty & Buckley designed and erected rows of middle-class brownstone homes.  But in the 1890's they aimed at a more moneyed customer base.

In 1900 they began construction on a row of sumptuous mansions at 18 through 26 East 82nd Street.  Completed the following year, the Beaux Arts style houses were harmoniously, yet individually, designed.  Like the others, 20 East 82nd Street was intended for a wealthy buyer.  Five stories tall and 26-feet wide, it sat behind elegant areaway fencing with paneled stone gateposts.  Heavy Gibbs surrounds framed the entrance and first floor windows.  A carved stone balcony introduced the three-story midsection.  The fifth floor openings, which sat atop the bracketed intermediate cornice, wore impressive broken pediments.

Robert McCafferty's health began to fail around the time the houses were completed in 1901.  The sale of these and many other properties was held up.  After what was termed “a lingering illness,” he died in his Park Avenue home on February 11, 1905.  Two years later the McCafferty holdings finally began being liquidated.  The New York Times remarked “The sale of the real estate owned by the late Robert McCafferty is an event of unusual interest to the older generation of real estate men in New York, among whom he was for many years a leader.”
On April 16, 1907 Richard W. Buckley "as surviving partner" sold 20 East 82nd Street to Eugene Murrough O'Neill.  Born in Clonroche, Ireland in 1850, he had emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a youth, "following his brother Daniel," according to The Recorder, Bulletin of the American Irish Historical Society later.  He became the editor and publisher of The Pittsburgh Dispatch and then increased his significant fortune in Pittsburgh real estate.
Eugene's brother had married Emily Martha Seely in 1867.  They had three children.  Daniel died in 1877 and two years later Eugene and Emily were married.
Eugene M. O'Neill had retired in 1902.  The purchase of 20 East 82nd Street was, presumably, a gift to Emily O'Neill, his step-daughter, who had married Frederick Martin Davies in 1901.  Nevertheless, he listed his New York address here with the Davies family.
Born in 1877, Frederick Martin Davies had graduated from Yale University in 1899.  He went into the railroad business for two years and then turned to banking.  When he and Emily moved into their new home, he was a partner in Alexander, Thomas & Davies.  The couple had a four-year-old daughter, Emily O'Neill and a one year old son, Frederick Martin, at the time.  A second daughter, Audrey, would arrive in 1912.
In 1914 Frederick "was stricken with a cold, which did not improve," according to the New York Herald.  Hoping that a change of climate would help, he went to Santa Barbara, California.  There he developed pneumonia and his condition was so precarious that his closest friend since childhood, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, "obtained a special train in order to get quickly to his bedside."  
Frederick rallied and the New York Herald said, "Later Mr. Davies went to Palm Beach, Fla., and then took a yachting trip, but neither of these served to improve his health."  On May 2, 1915, Frederick Davies died in the 82nd Street mansion at just 38 years old.  Calling him a "prominent horseman and clubman," The New York Times listed his many memberships in exclusive clubs:  the Metropolitan, Union, Knickerbocker, New York Yacht, Piping Rock, University, Colony, Down Town and The Brook Clubs.
The bulk of Frederick's extensive estate went to Emily.  The will directed her to set aside $50,000, "the income to be paid to Frederick Martin Davies, Jr., until he is 25 years old, or until he shall be graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  Then he is to receive the principal."  Frederick Jr.'s father was obviously intent that his son would attend the Academy.  "Should the boy not choose to enter the academy or fail to finish his course there, the fund is to revert to the residuary estate."  His $50,000 (about $1.3 million today) inheritance would then be divided among him and his sisters.
The will also directed Emily to choose "some articles of jewelry" for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt as a "personal remembrance."  Tragically, on the day before Frederick's death, Vanderbilt had boarded the RMS Lusitania headed for England.  He was among the victims when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7.
Among other bequests was $5,000 to Burton Leopold Powley, "man servant of my father-in-law, Eugene M. O'Neill."  An Englishman, Powley was O'Neill's valet.  The position, like that of a lady's maid, resulted in close, personal relations--despite its being an employer-employee situation.
The family had always summered in Newport.  Now, in November (despite still being in mourning), Emily hired the architectural firm of Mann & MacNeille to design a summer home in Southampton, Long Island.  Upon its completion the Daily News called it "one of the show places in fashionable Southampton."
During World War I, New York socialites threw their support behind the various causes.  Emily showed her support for the troops abroad in what might seem a surprising way.  On January 15, 1918, The Sun reported, "Mrs. F. M. Davies, 20 East Eighty-second street, has generously provided some 67,000 smokes for our soldiers in France."  
Eugene O'Neill's valued manservant, Burton Powley, registered for the draft in September that year.  It may have been his age--he was 41 years old at the time--that kept him from service.  His registration form listed his address at 20 East 82nd Street.
But, ironically, being drafted might have saved his life.  Ten months later, on July 14, 1919, Powley was headed from Manhattan to the Davies country home in Southampton on a motorcycle.  Riding with him was Dora Harding.  They were about two miles from the Davies estate when the motorcycle was hit by an automobile.  Miss Harding was killed instantly and Powley died at the Southampton Hospital a few hours later.
On February 8, 1923, Emily gave a dinner party in honor of William Henry Vanderbilt III, the son of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.  There was more to her tribute to the 22-year-old than the close relationship between his father and Emily's deceased husband.  Later that year, on November 1, her daughter Emily O'Neill Davies and William Henry were married in Grace Church.
The New York Times reported, "A Vanderbilt wedding naturally attracted a large crowd, but the police kept the curious well in hand, although there was a crush of women around the entrance awning."  Eugene O'Neill walked his granddaughter to the altar.  Audrey, who was now 11 years old, was the bride's maid of altar.  
Following the ceremony, the millionaire guests filed into 20 East 82nd Street for the reception.  The New York Times said the house "was simply decorated with large jars of russet oak leaves, dark chrysanthemums and small palms with white and palm hued autumnal flowers in the drawing room, where the bride and bridegroom received congratulations."
In September 1926 Eugene M. O'Neill contracted pneumonia.  He died at St. Luke's Hospital on November 26 at the age of 72.
The marriage of Emily and William H. Vanderbilt was not going well at the time.  That year rumors of trouble circulated when Emily went to Paris while William vacationed in California.  Although William told reporters upon his return to New York that "there was nothing to the reports," Emily returned to Paris that fall.  Friends said she told them "she was through with married life."
In May 1928 Emily sued for divorce.  Gossip said she was having an affair with theater producer Sigourney Thayer.  The rumors proved true when the couple was married in the East 82nd Street mansion on December 7 that year.  The New York Times reported, "The marriage comes as a complete surprise to the friends of the couple, as no preview announcement of the engagement had been made."  Not surprisingly, only immediate family members were present at the ceremony.
Arthur Mefford, writing in the Daily News, was less sympathetic in its reporting of the wedding.  He wrote, "Mrs. Emily Davies Vanderbilt, harum-scarum daughter of Mrs. Frederick Martin Davies, 20 East 82d st., and divorced wife of William H. Vanderbilt 3d, eloped yesterday with Sigourney Thayer, jack of all trades and a rival of the famed Joe Cook as a 'one man show.'"
This marriage did not work out, either.  A year later the couple divorced.  Emily Vanderbilt Thayer spent much of her time in Paris, surrounding herself with literary figures like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  She reputedly had a two-month affair with poet E. E. Cummings.  
The colorful and tragic Emily Davies Vanderbilt Thayer Whitfield.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

When in America, of course, she was either at the Southampton estate or 20 East 82nd Street.  On April 20, 1930 Cholly Knickerbocker, the pseudonym of a group of society columnists, reported in the Times-Union, "Recently Mrs. Thayer has been making her headquarters with her mother, Mrs. Frederick Martin Davies, at 20 East Eighty-second street."  The writer had caught sight of her at the Madison Square Garden circus, proving "that Emily is decidedly more human than most of the ladies who have been in a position to sign themselves' Mrs. Vanderbilt.'"
Emily's place in the spotlight was briefly taken by her mother that year.  On July 19, 1930 The New York Times reported, "Cables were received by relatives here announcing the marriage in Paris yesterday of Mrs. Emily O'Neill Davies, widow of Frederick Martin Davies, to Horace Chase Stebbins...It took place very quietly in the Hotel Crillon."
There would be no time for an extensive honeymoon.  One month later, on August 21, 600 guests were invited to a ball at the Alexander Hamilton Rice mansion, Miramar, in Newport to celebrate the betrothal of the Rice's granddaughter, Diana Dodge, to Frederick M. Davies, Jr.
The wedding on December 6, 1930 in St. Thomas' Church on Fifth Avenue took up nearly a full page of the Daily News.  The article said, "It was a Social Occasion (capitals, please), with every one conscious of the fact that the Dodge-Davies nuptials were bound to be an Event.  Because of the prominence of the two families...Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Newport were as interested in the wedding as Manhattan and sent their highest hats to attend."
Emily Davies Vanderbilt Thayer married again in 1933.  Her husband this time was mystery writer Raoul Whitfield.  This marriage would end in what could have been a chapter from one of his books.  Following her long-established trend, Emily started divorce proceedings in 1935.   The couple had purchased a ranch in Las Vegas, New Mexico called Dead Horse.  At around 7:30 on the morning of May 24 an employee entered Emily's bedroom there to light a fire.  He found her shot dead through the heart.
The Daily News wrote, "Society knew Emily Davies Vanderbilt Thayer Whitfield as either a Scott Fitzgerald flapper born too late or a member of the Lost Generation.  Born to the purple, she inclined toward the mauve."  A coroner's jury deemed the death a suicide, despite the fact that the wound was on her left side and she was right-handed, making it nearly impossible to have been self-inflicted.  Years later Lillian Hellman flatly said, "she was murdered...and neither the mystery story expert nor the police ever found the murderer."
Things had not gone well with Frederick's marriage, either.  In June 1936, Diana Dodge Davies obtained a Nevada divorce and on the day after Christmas she married George Ryan.  The Daily News described the newlyweds as "two of fortune's as well as Society's darlings."  In reporting the marriage, the newspaper recalled, "Her Park Avenue wedding to Frederick Davies, the son of Mrs. Horace Chase Stebbins...was one of the grandest at which the Best People of New York, Newport and Philadelphia have hobnobbed."
In the meantime, Horace Stebbins had adopted Audrey.  He died in Roosevelt Hospital at the age of 73 on June 2, 1947.  Eleven years later, after suffering what The New York Times called "a long illness," Emily died at the age of 82 on October 3, 1958.

The following year 20 East 82nd Street was made Thailand's Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

James S. Maher's 1923 Arts & Crafts Style 401 West 14th Street

 


Despite having permanently stormed off to England with his family in 1891, William Waldorf Astor continued to control his vast real estate holdings in New York City.  He had inherited a significant amount of property in the west side area, including the long northern blockfront from Ninth to Tenth Avenue.

Astor died on October 18, 1919.  His estate soon began liquidating the Manhattan holdings and on November 25, 1922 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "Estate of William Waldorf Astor sold twenty parcels in West Forty-fifth Street and also a Ninth Avenue and Fourteenth Street corner to operators."  The buyers of the Chelsea corner were James S. Maher and John J. Gillen.  

Maher had started out as a builder in the construction firm founded by his father, John Maher.  But around 1899 he added architect to his resume, opening his own practice and designing several industrial buildings in the West Side market district.  He frequently partnered with developer John J. Gillen on projects.

The old buildings on this parcel--401 and 403 West 14th Street and 47 through 59 Ninth Avenue--were demolished.  In their place Maher designed what the Department of Buildings described as a "three-story storage building."  Seemingly as much glass as masonry, Maher's Arts & Crafts style structure must have seemed ultra-modern among its red brick Victorian neighbors.

The use of steel framing allowed for vast expanses of glass that flooded the interior with daylight.  Maher gave interest to what might have been an unexciting rectangular box by placing tall parapets at the corners.  The minimal decoration took the form of brick-framed stucco panels and terra cotta diamonds.

The new building sat within the Gansevoort Market district, established by the city in 1884.  Like all the buildings, 401 West 14th Street would be home to wholesale food merchants.  Upon its completion, George Cook Poultry Corp., dealers in "dressed poultry," moved in. 

Sharing the building by the early 1930's was the butcher operation of Charles Wissmann Company.  The firm had been founded in 1906 by brothers Charles and Louis Wissman.

The large scope of the George Cook Poultry Corp. was evidenced upon George Cook, Sr.'s death in 1943.  His estate was valued at around $4.5 million in today's dollars and George, Jr., who had been in business with his father for decades, received the equivalent of nearly $2 million in company stock.

The 1960's saw the New York Loin Corp. and Joseph Kenney meat purveyors in the building.  On May 20, 1968 New York Magazine wrote, "Behind some of those 19th-century facades in the Gansevoort Meat Market (in the West 14th Street area) you'll find a relatively new kind of veal, called plume de veau."  The article said that until 1960 "New York's finest restaurants ordered their mild-fed veal from Europe, but today Joseph Kenney, 401 West 14th Street, supplies almost all of New York's notable restaurants with plume de veau."

Joseph Kenney posed with his staff (and a lamb carcass) in 401 West 14th Street in 1968.  New York Magazine, May 20, 1968.

After decades of housing only wholesale dealers, around 1975 Frankie's Meat & Food Warehouse opened in 401 West 14th Street.  Consumers willing to travel to the gritty area and to buy in bulk were rewarded with bargain meat prices.  In December 1978, for instance, a 15-pound bag of chicken legs sold for 59 cents per pound.  

Frankie's Meat & Food Warehouse was a destination spot for years.  It was replaced around 1991 by Western Beef, which advertised itself as "The Meat Supermarket."  And like Frankie's Meat & Food Warehouse, consumers traded the inconvenience of the location and the bulk-buying requirements for low prices.

By 1999 the Chelsea neighborhood was seeing change as beef and poultry firms were gradually being nudged out.  Markt opened in 401 West 14th Street in the last week of December 1998.  A week later The New York Times's food critic, Florence Fabricant, said it was located "in what is becoming a Belgian enclave, across the street from a Petite Abeille café and near Waterloo Brasserie."

The former meat market had received a drastic make-over.  Fabricant said, "Markt's look is all-brasserie, with dark wood, etched glass and vintage beer posters.  Mussels and other seafood, with frites, of course, are among the Belgian specialties on the menu, created by the French-trained Edward Pryor."  The dizzying wine menu listed 250 labels.

The first years of the 21st century saw the transformation of the former meat packing district nearly complete.  The first stage of the High Line park began in 2006.  That same year Apple, Inc. purchased the building.


The architectural firm of Cookfox was hired to renovate the abused structure.  Energy-efficient replacement windows were installed, terra cotta tiles and the stucco panels were repaired and cleaned.  According to the firm's website, "Several thousand damaged Hebron bricks were replaced with originals discovered in a Midwestern brickyard."  A new canopy of corrugated glass echoed the original corrugated metal roof over the old loading dock.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Lea and Anne Luquer House - 321 West 80th Street

 

Clarence F. True was among the most prolific architects working on the Upper West Side in the late 19th century.  He would eventually design more than 400 houses in the district, almost all of them a playful take on historic styles.  He turned to the Elizabethan period in 1897 when he designed seven houses that wrapped the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and West 80th Street.

Among them was 321 West 80th Street, which, like its fraternal siblings, was four-and-a-half-stories tall.  The entrance within the limestone base was flanked by engaged Doric columns standing on pedestals.  The upper floors were faced in beige Roman brick and trimmed in limestone.  A paneled parapet atop the three-story bowed facade protected a balcony to the fourth floor.  Here dramatic Gibbs surrounds distinguished the arched windows.  Two complex metal-clad dormers decorated with heraldic shields pierced the mansard attic level.  

Soon after its completion, True sold the 24-foot wide residence to Lea M. and Anne P. Luquer.  As was common, the title was put in Anne's name.  

Lea McIlvaine Luquer was an expert in mineralogy.  A professor of mineralogy at Columbia University, he wrote several books on the subject, including Minerals in Rock Sections.  The Luquer family according to the New-York Tribune, was "one of the oldest families of New York."  Lea's French Huguenot ancestors had settled the village of Bushwick, now part of Brooklyn.  (Luquer Street in Brooklyn is named for the family.)

Lea's wife was the former Anne Low Pierrepont, the daughter of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont and Ellen Almira Low.  Like the Luquers, the Pierreponts had a long New York history and Anne's grandfather, also named Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, was known as "the first citizen of Brooklyn."  Lea and Anne Luquer had four children, Lea Shippen, Ellen Pierrepont, Thatcher Payne, and Evelyn Pierrepont.  

As was the case with all well-to-do New Yorkers, society pages followed the Luquers' movements.  On October 15, 1905, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. and Mrs. L. McI. Luquer and family, of No. 321 West 80th-st., have spent a part of the summer at Bar Harbor, Me."  The family's summer estate there was named Eagle Cliff.

And on May 23, 1908 Brooklyn Life announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Lea McIlvaine Luquer of 321 West Eightieth Street, Manhattan, will sail for Europe next week Thursday by the Deutschland.  They are to return early in September."

Spending the summer season of 1908 in Europe meant that Anne had to dismiss certain servants, and re-staff in the fall.  A skeleton staff (probably two persons) would remain in the house, and two servants--a lady's made and a valet--more than likely accompanied the Luquers on the trip.  But the others would have to find new positions.  Socialites often attempted to help their valued servants, and a month before leaving Anne placed an ad in The New York Times:

Chambermaid--A lady closing her house for the Summer is desirous of finding a situation for her second chambermaid as chambermaid; wages $20; free May 1; may be seen on Monday, from 12 until 4 o'clock.

The second chambermaid was earning a respectable living, considering her position.  The $20 monthly pay would translate to about $145 per week today.

In June 1917 the Luquers sold 321 West 80th Street to Morrill G. Goddard and his wife, the former Jessamine Rugg.  The Goddards had five children, De Witt R., Morrill, Mary R., Jessamine, and Rowenna.

Born in Maine and educated at Dartmouth College, Goddard was hired by William Randolph Hearst as city editor of the Morning World at the age of 20.  A brilliant journalist, he became known in New York as the "infant marvel" and had increased Hearst's circulation from 266,000 in 1893 to 450,000 by the end of 1895.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was conceiving the Sunday supplement.  On October 27, 1917 The Editor & Publisher recalled, "He made the Sunday Magazine sections of the World wholly unique in journalism.  Pictorially, and in text-treatment, they pulsed evenly with life."

The Goddards had a summer home in Vermont, where Morrill's 112-foot yacht, the Bolo, was berthed.  The Goddard children received the best possible educations.  Morrill Jr. (known familiarly as "Morrie" by friends and as "General" by classmates), for instance, was educated at the Horace Mann School and the Tome Preparatory School in Maryland before entering Princeton University.

In September 1924 the West 80th Street house was leased to Mary T. Belden "for a period of years," according to The Sun.  It became Miss Belden's Residence where wealthy out-of-town parents could securely board their daughters attending school in New York.  An advertisement in House & Garden in August 1925 noted, "Chaperonage elective;" meaning that should the parents desire, their daughter would be accompanied by a watchful adult when she ventured out into the wicked city.

The New York Times, May 17, 1925 (copyright expired)

The house was converted to apartments in 1952.  There were now one apartment and a doctor's office on the first floor, and "apartments and furnished rooms" above.  A single community kitchen served all the spaces.  In 2020 the doctor's office was converted to an apartment but, otherwise, the same configuration exists.  Sadly an ill-advised coat of paint disguises Clarence True's contrast of brick and stone, thereby hiding some of the architectural interest.

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