Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The 1889 Frank William Olds House - 44 West 71st Street


John Farley was among the most prolific real estate developers in 19th century New York City.  In 1889 he commissioned the equally prolific architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design an ambitious row of ten rowhouses along the southern side of West 71st Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  Among them was 44 West 71st Street which, like its neighbors, was intended for a well-heeled family.

Completed within the year, the 20-foot-wide, four-story residence sat above a high English basement.  A dog-legged stoop led to the double-doored entrance within the brownstone-clad parlor level.  Brilliant stained glass filled the parlor transoms.  The three upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  A bowed bay dominated the second floor.   Thom & Wilson used brick in designing the spandrel panels between the third and fourth floors and the eyebrows over the fourth floor windows in brick--a creative cost savings for Farley.

On March 29, 1889, while the house was still under construction, it was sold for $29,250 to Chauncey Newell Olds.  The price would equal about $840,000 today.

Olds lived in Ohio where he had served as a state senator and as Ohio Attorney General.  He and his wife, Mary B. Williams Olds, did not purchase the house for their own use, but for their 36-year-old son, Frank William Olds.

Frank was born in Circleville, Ohio on June 19, 1853.  He had attended the Williston Seminary preparatory school in Easthampton, Massachusetts and graduated from Williams College in 1876.  Olds went into medicine, graduating from the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1880.  He was appointed to the house staff of Belleview in 1882.

Most likely Chauncey and Mary Olds purchased the house as a pre-wedding present.  Frank married Harriet C. Nash on December 10, 1890.    

A well-respected physician, Olds had published Outline Note and Case Book in 1885.  In 1892 he was appointed a physician for the New York Board of Education.

His position with the Board of Education would be very short-lived.  That same year he and Harriet moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts.  They sold the 71st Street house to Henry Demarest Brewster.

Brewster was the general manager for Brokaw Brothers, a large clothing concern.  He traced his American roots to Elder William Brewster who arrived on the Mayflower.  He and his wife, the former Mary Emma Sandford, had four children, Le Roy, Grace Sandford, Mildred and Helen.  

The family had not lived in the house long before Henry narrowly escaped injury in a frightening accident.  On Sunday night, December 18, 1892, he was riding in a hansom cab in Central Park near 66th Street.  It was struck by a "light box wagon" driven by Charles Kane.  The force of the collision threw Kane from his seat and his horse ran away "at a mad gallop down the drive toward Fifty-ninth street," as reported by The Sun.

The panicked horse with its wagon bouncing behind then collided with a buggy driven by Charles Richman.  "Wreck and ruin followed," said the article, "and Mr. Richman was thrown violently into the street, severely cutting his head and receiving painful bruises about the body."  Happily, at least for Brewster, he survived the mayhem uninjured.

The Brewsters' country home was in Bayshore, Long Island.  They and other residents opened their homes to soldiers serving in the Spanish-American War in the fall of 1898.  On September 15 The Brooklyn Times reported on several shore dinners and boat trips.  It mentioned, "Benjamin Woog, of Washington D. C., a soldier from Camp Wikoff, was entertained this week by Mr. and Mrs. Henry D. Brewster, of Bay Shore."

Brewster was not only a resident of the summer community, but was involved in its development.  On the same page as that article, The Brooklyn Times reported, "Henry D. Brewster will soon have a new house built on the Mill property at the foot of Ocean avenue, and it will be occupied by George Watts."

Two years later, on January 4, 1900, the newspaper reported, "The Bay Shore Yacht Club House at Fire Island was sold at auction...The highest bidder was Henry D. Brewster, who conducted the auction, and he will utilize the building in some way."

In the meantime, Mary busied herself with civic activities.  She was president of the Aid Society of the Bay Shore Methodist Episcopal Church, and back in New York City was involved with the Riverside Day Nursery and the Woman's League for the Protection of Riverside Park.  Henry was a member of Ye Olde Settler's Association of Ye West Side.

The first years after the turn of the century would bring significant events for the Brewsters.  On January 24, 1901 Henry and Mary celebrated their 25th anniversary "by giving a reception and dance at the Hotel Majestic," according to The Evening Telegram.  The following winter season saw Grace's debut.  On December 21, 1902 the New York Herald announced, " Mrs. Henry D. Brewster gave a reception at her residence, no 44 West Seventy-first street, to introduce her daughter, Miss Brewster, who was in a gown of white silk and lace."

A less joyous event was held in the drawing room on November 21, 1904.  Mary's widowed mother, Mary J. Sanford, lived in Plainfield, New Jersey.  But following her death there, her funeral was held in the Brewster house.

By 1906 Henry had taken on the position of president of the New York Throat, Nose and Lung Hospital.  It had been organized in 1893.  He was, as well, a trustee of the nearby Rutgers Presbyterian Church on Broadway at 73rd Street.

That church would be the scene of Grace Sanford Brewster's wedding to King Smith on February 7, 1912.  Le Roy's wife was her matron of honor.  It would be another nine years before the last of the children was married.  On April 17, 1921 the New York Herald reported, "Miss Mildred Brewster and Major James P Swettenham of England...will be married in June in the Embassy Church in Paris."

With their children all married, Henry and Mary donated the 71st Street house to the Rutgers Presbyterian Church.  They moved to 125 East 72nd Street.

The church moved its offices into 44 West 71st Street, at least initially.  By 1926 the upper floors were being rented as unofficial apartments.  When it was sold to an investor in 1942, the New York Sun remarked, "The house has been fully renovated."

A remodeling completed in 1969 resulted in a total of four apartments and seven single rooms.   That configuration lasted until 1980 when there were now two apartments in the basement, a triplex on the parlor through third floor, and one apartment on the fourth.

photographs by the author
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