Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The 1893 George H. Studwell House - 129 West 80th Street


Real estate developers Giblin & Taylor embarked on an ambitious project in 1892--the construction of eleven 21-foot wide rowhouses on the south side of West 80th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Designed by the firm of Neville & Bagge, the residences were completed the following year.  Each was four stories tall above an English basement.

Like its neighbors, No. 129 was a blend of the Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles.  A dog-legged stoop led to the parlor level where double entrance doors sat below a generous fanlight.  Faced in undressed stone, the beefy Romanesque elements of this level briefly relented to Renaissance Revival with a delicately carved panel below the window.

The wistful face of a girl, quite possibly the anonymous relative of the carver, appears hauntingly within the parlor floor panel.

The two-story central section was faced in beige Roman brick and trimmed in brownstone.  A three-sided oriel dominated the second floor.  Projecting piers clung to the third floor.  The fourth floor took the form of a slate-shingled mansard, its stately dormer mimicked a Grecian temple, complete with akroteria on the corners of the pediment.

Giblin & Taylor sold the house to George Hanford Studwell in 1893 for $37,000--just over $1 million in today's money.  He and his wife, the former Susan Wyckoff, had a grown daughter, Ella (another daughter, Harriet, had died as a toddler).  Studwell was a partner in the leather firm of Studwell & Sanger with Ella's husband, Eugene B. Sanger.  George and Susan shared No. 129 with the Sangers--Ella, Eugene, and their daughter, Emma.

The underside of the oriel is lavishly carved with a stylized plant snaking from a flower pot.

The Sangers maintained two country estates, one in Bridgehampton, Long Island, and the other, Broad Lawns, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  But their enviable lifestyle was about to crumble.

For years Studwell had administered the estate of Joseph Studwell, Jr., who had died on January 30, 1864.  The will stipulated that he paid interest on the income of a large trust each year to Joseph's widow, Matilda, and daughter, Jennie--each to receive half.  Upon the death of Matilda, Jennie was to inherit the entire estate.

In 1894, the year after Studwell purchased the West 80th Street house, Studwell & Sanger declared bankruptcy.  While Eugene Sanger changed course and became a real estate broker, Studwell retired.  Apparently to keep up appearances, he began skimming money from the estate.  Then, upon Matilda's death, he could no longer hide his embezzlement and fled to Florida to escape arrest.

But when Susan died on October 10, 1898, George was forced to return for her funeral.  On November 26 The New York Press reported on his arrest for having "converted for his own use" equivalent of nearly $2 million in today's money.  "Studwell denied that he had misused the money entrusted to him, and said that he had given the $60,000 to an attorney to invest and had never been able to get an accounting from the lawyer."  Strangely, however, he could not provide that lawyer's name nor explain why he had left the state.

The title to No. 129 had been transferred to Ella, thus saving it from seizure.  Eugene Sanger's real estate business was successful enough for the couple to maintain the West 80th Street house as well as a country place in Larchmont, New York.  The family was in Larchmont during the summer of 1900 when, early on the morning of August 29, according to The New York Press, Ella heard the sound of a pistol shot.  She "awakened the other members of the household" who found George Studwell "lying on his bed with a bullet wound in his temple."  The 79-year old "had been despondent" since his wife's death, said the article.  Saying that he was "at one time a wealthy leather dealer," it diplomatically did not mention the embezzlement.

The following year Ella sold No. 129.  It became home to Caroline Littlefield Duncan, the widow of John Meston Duncan, and her daughter, Mabel Harrison Duncan.  The women's names appeared often in the society columns.  On October 25, 1903, for instance, the New York Herald reported that they had "returned from their summer outing in the White Mountains" and that "Mrs. Duncan contemplates resuming her series of winter whist meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria this season."

Caroline Littlefield Duncan (original source unknown)

The women spent the following summer season in Europe, extending their stay into November.  They returned in time for Caroline's annual series of whist parties in the Waldorf-Astoria.  On February 19, 1905 the New York Herald announced the date of the fourth in that season's series, noting "At three previous meetings the attendance has each time exceeded one hundred women, and the success of former years is being equalled [sic] this season."

Mabel Harrison Duncan was an accomplished artist and would go on to hold positions as instructor and lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Mabel Harrison Duncan's Still Life With Flowers in a Bowl.  image via askart.com

By 1909 the Duncans had left West 80th Street and the house was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  Among the residents that year were Geraldine Beardsley whose Boston terrier, Beardsley Boy, was registered with the American Kennel Club; and Thomas E. Adams who was affluent enough to afford an automobile.  It got him in trouble in Staten Island in August 1910 when he was fined $20 for speeding (a significant $555 in today's money).

John DiCasse Edmond, his wife the former Dollie Schultz, and their two daughters Laverne and Juliet took rooms in February 1911.  The family had spent ten years in Europe where Edmond was a foreign representative of a hardware company.   Soon after moving in, on February 23, Edmond resigned.  The Norwich Bulletin explained, "He was thought to be tired out from overwork."  Tragically, the following morning the 48-year old shot himself in the head.

No. 129 was offered for sale in February 1916.  It was returned to a private house when it was purchased by Dr. Gustavus Aldridge Humphreys and his wife, the former Blanche Bibb.  The couple had a son, G. Aldridge Humphreys, Jr., and a daughter, Barlow.

The focus of entertainments in the Humphreys house turned to Barlow during the winter season of 1927-28.  In an article entitled "Parties Continue To Be Arranged for Debutantes" on October 18, The New York Sun reported "Mrs. Gustavus A. Humphreys of 129 West Eightieth street will give a luncheon on December 27 for her daughter, Miss Barlow Humphreys."

Barlow appeared prominently in the society pages in November 1929.  The New York Times ran the headline "Miss Barlow Humphrey's Ceremony Is to Be Held on Tuesday in St. Thomas's" and began the article with "One of the notable weddings of this week will be that of Miss Barlow Humphreys, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Gustavus Humpreys, to William Sticking Gould Jr."   

The noted the bride's impressive pedigree, saying, "Miss Humphreys belongs to families that have been prominent in the history of the South.  She is related to the Humphreys of Virginia and the Aldridges of South Carolina.   Through her mother she is descended from the Bibb family that gave two Governors to Alabama...Miss Humphreys is also related to George M. Bibb of Kentucky who succeeded Henry Clay in the Senate and later was Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Tyler."

Clumps of Romanesque style carvings decorate the stoop walls.

Three months after the wedding, on February 10, 1930, Dr. Humphreys died in the West 80th Street house at the age of 63.  The Shreveport Journal noted, "He has been in poor health for the past year."

Blanche remained in the house with her son.  She continued to busy herself with social activities, including being president of the Society of Kentucky Women.  Gustavus, who was known as G. Aldrich, had graduated from Princeton University in 1927 and followed his father's profession.  He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1932.   He was a resident in urological surgery with the New York Hospital when his engagement to Frances Osborne Bryan was announced on October 30, 1936.

The end of the line for No. 129 as a private home came in 1943 when a renovation resulted in a mixture of apartments and furnished rooms.  Following a subsequent remodeling completed in 1981 there was just one cooperative apartment per floor.

The top floor co-op became home to actress and comedian Amy Schumer in 2014.   She listed it the following year for just over $2 million.

photographs by the author

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