Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The William Wright House - 248 West 22nd Street


The top floor was added in 2008.

William Wright was a builder and a manufacturer of corrugated metal roofing.  He and his wife, Mary Ann, had a son, William, Jr.  

The success of his businesses was reflected in their handsome 25-foot wide Greek Revival house at No. 176 West 22nd Street.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, it was three stories tall above the high English basement.  The entrance sat within an earred surround crowned by a triangular pediment.  The parlor windows stretched to the floor, suggesting that they were originally fronted by a cast iron balcony.  A simple fascia board ran below the bracketed cornice.  Along the eastern side of the house a narrow passage, or horsewalk, provided access to the rear yard.

On November 28, 1852 an advertisement in the New Y0rk Herald touted the fireproof qualities of Wright's roofs:

Iron Roofs--The corrugated iron roofs are the lightest, cheapest, most handsome, and durable fire-proof roofs in the world, for dwelling and warehouses, railway termini, or all buildings worth saving from fire.  The cost of the roof may be gained in a short time on the insurance.  Manufactured by
                        Wm. Wright, 176 West Twenty-second street.

William Wright, Jr. embarked on a far different career.  He advertised his fertilizer in the May 4, 1854 issue of The Country Gentleman.  He promised farmers and gardeners that his Superphosphate of Lime cost "little more than one-half the price of guano" and its effects would last "for 5 or 6 years."  That, said the article, made it "the cheapest and best fertilizer known at the present day."

Later that year the Wrights' house was burglarized by an unexpected thief.  On October 9 The New York Times reported that a "young girl, of very respectable connections, named Emma Turner" had been arrested for "entering the house of Mrs. Mary Ann Wright, No. 176 West Twenty-second-street, and stealing a gold watch and other property."  She had made the mistake of falling for a bad boy.  The article said rather frankly, "Joseph Sands, a young man with whom she had been intimate, persuaded her to commit the theft.  He was arrested, but escaped from the officers."  Emma's brother put up her significant bond, equal to $15,700 today.

Wright sold the house to another builder, John Ludlum, around 1858.  Born in New Berry, Connecticut on February 7, 1810, Ludlum and his wife, the former Eleanor Wines, had four children.  

By the time son Henry Clay Ludlum married Mary Adaline Hills in 1869 the street had been renumbered, giving the house its new address of No. 248 West 22nd Street.  That year John transferred title to the house to Henry--but this was no wedding gift.  He charged his son $35,000 for the property, or around $677,000 today.

A game of real estate hot potato began in 1873 when Henry sold the house back to his father for the exact amount he had paid.  John then sold it to Morris S. Thompson on December 10 that year for $25,000--$10,000 less than he had just paid.  Thompson sold it to Eleanor Ludlum five days later for the same amount.  It is unclear exactly what the point of the complicated series of transfers was.

By 1876 the Ludlums had moved to Hempstead, Long Island and the 22nd Street house became home to attorney Philip Malone.  Sharing the house was his daughter, Margaret, and her husband Patrick Olwell.  (It appears that Malone's wife was deceased.)

Malone's comfortable financial situation was reflected in his real estate investments.  In April 1885, for instance, The American Architect and Building News reported that he was erecting two five-story apartment buildings at Nos. 409 and 411 West 16th Street at a cost of about $796,000 in today's money.

In the spring of 1889 Philip Malone contracted pneumonia.  He died in the house on March 29.  Interestingly, his funeral was not held in the house, as was customary, but at St. Columba's Church on West 25th Street.  His estate was executed by attorney Philip F. Olwell, Patrick's father.

Three years later there would be another family funeral in St. Columba's Church.  Patrick Olwell died on July 16, 1892 and his funeral was held there three days later.  Margaret's in-laws, Philip F. and Bridget Olwell, moved into the 22nd Street house with her.  

Bridget died there on October 7, 1899.  Two weeks later, while the family was still deep in grief, the house was burglarized.  The New York Times reported "Shortly after midnight of Oct. 22 a thief entered the home of Philip Olwell, at 248 West Twenty-second Street, and stole $500 worth of diamonds, a gold watch, &c."  It was a significant heist, worth nearly $16,000 today. 

Two months later another funeral at St. Columba's Church was interrupted by law enforcement.  Edward Flanagan was attending services for his aunt on December 1 when police entered the church and arrested the 28-year old.  They had been searching for the ex-con since the stolen Olwell goods turned up at pawn shops where Flanagan was identified.  After police "watched his accustomed haunts" with no success, they decided to nab him at the funeral.

The Olwell family remained in the house until 1906.  It was resold the following year to Maria S. Simpson who operated it as a boarding house.   Among her initial tenants was Mrs. Tessie Osraff.  On the night of September 20, 1907 Tessie was on 34th Street near Seventh Avenue when William W. Hart saw a man who appeared to be annoying her.  (Hart, incidentally, was among the best-known taxidermists in the country and had stuffed the P. T. Barnum's famous elephant, Jumbo.)

The New York Times reported that Hart "tried to interfere, but the man turned out to be Detective McManus, and after a struggle both Hart and the woman were arrested."  Exactly what Tessie Osraff was doing to cause her arrest was not reported.

The horsewalk to the side was protected by a wooden door around 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Writer John Dowling rented a room here during the World War I years.  Ardently patriotic, the 61-year old had served in the U.S. Cavalry and his son was currently a captain in the British Army.  He was arrested on the night of April 24, 1918 "for hauling down the British flag from Shakespeare's monument in Central Park," as reported by The New York Times.  Despite the fact that his son was serving in the British Army, Dowling pleaded to the judge that "he thought the flag was a Socialist flag."  He was fined the equivalent of $255 today.

The roomers were decidedly blue collar in the post war years.  Arthur Priest made his living by running a lunch wagon in 1922, for instance.  

Prohibition brought with it an unforeseen evil--deadly bootleg liquor.  James Brady purchased questionable whiskey in 1929.  On October 14 the Daily News reported that "acute alcoholism--with the possibility that poison liquor was the final cause of death" had claimed the 46-year old.  He "was found dead in the hallway of his home at 248 West 22d st."

Things had did not improved by the 1940's.  A retired steamfitter, 80-year old Charles B. Richmond had a furnished room here in 1941, as did 55-year old Wong Kee, who made his living as a dishwasher.  Kee, who had come to America in 1918 from China, was described by The New York Sun as "only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighting 90 pounds."  He was arrested with the murder of the elderly man on July 1 that year.

The house was diminished by its late 19th and 20th century neighbors in 1935.  photo by Wurtz Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The New York Sun reported "Richmond was stabbed in the chest with an icepick and beaten over the head with a cleaver."   The article noted that old elderly victim "had half a dozen bankbooks with deposits totaling about $34,000."  It was a tempting motive, worth about $590,000 today.

Despite the location of the body in the hallway, according to the newspaper on October 29, Kee claimed that he and Richmond "had been drinking" and "Wong contended that Richmond had hit him over the head with a bunch of keys."  He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.

In 1969 aspiring singer Judy Kreston purchased the house for $125,000, more in the neighborhood of $871,000 today.  There were two rental apartments on the upper floors, but the house was in dilapidated shape.  She told reporter Barbara Whitaker from The New York Times later "About the only thing that could be counted on was that, when it rained, the living and dining room floors would flood from the rear."

Little by little she and her husband, musician and arranger David Lahm, renovated the house.  The work stepped up when the cornice began to fall off in 1993.  Kreston recalled that a contractor who climbed a ladder to inspect the job.  He explained that he could not do the job--there was a bird nest in the cornice and "If I move the nest, the mother won't be able to find the baby."  Kreston took care of the pigeon nest and the work proceeded.

Significant changed came with the next owners.  A renovation completed in 2008 resulted in an additional (rather unattractive) floor and a total of two residential spaces.  The parlor windows have been shortened, the stoop removed, and the entrance moved to the former horsewalk.

On the market in 2021, it is touted as "non-landmarked" with renderings of a replacement buildings.

photographs by the author

No comments:

Post a Comment