Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Robert Rutter House - 152 West 13th Street


In 1846 a row of five brick-faced homes were built by the heirs of Peter Remsen along the south side of West 13th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Their Greek Revival design included rusticated brownstone basements, floor-to-ceiling parlor windows, and a dentiled cornice above the squat third floor.

No. 128 (renumbered 152 in 1868) first became home to the family of Henry Seaton, then by 1852 to Samuel Roosevelt and his wife, the former Mary Jane Horton.  

Roosevelt was a prominent businessman.  His father, Nicholas Roosevelt, was an inventor who had been involved with Robert Fulton in developing the steamboat.  Samuel's mother, Lydia Selton Latrobe, was the daughter of Nicholas's business partner, architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

The couple suffered tragedy on February 7, 1853 when their youngest son, Frank, died three months before his second birthday.  The little boy's funeral was held in the parlor.

Mary was pregnant at the time.  Ellen Lydia was born later that year.  The couple had two other children, six-year-old Nicholas Latrobe and three-year-old Laura Gertrude.  They would have four more children by 1860, when little Virginia was born.

By then the Roosevelt family had been gone from the 13th Street house for about two years.  It was now home to banker Samuel R. Jacobs and his wife, Jane, at least by 1858.  

A son was born in January 1865 and, tragically, as the Roosevelts had done, his parents had to hold a funeral in the house just eight months later.

Jane was looking for two servant girls later that year.  In December she advertised for "one as a cook and to assist with washing, the other as laundress and chambermaid."  

The Jacobs family remained until 1867 when the house was sold to well-known bookbinder Robert Rutter and his wife, Frances.  Born in Canada in 1828, Robert had come to America at the age of 21.  The couple was married in 1852, two years after Robert opened his bookbindery.  The would have four daughters and a son.

Robert Rutter as he appeared in 1889.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

It was most likely the Rutters who raised the third floor to full height, and updated the entrance with an Italianate surround, rope molding, and up-to-date paneled double doors.

Late in 1879 Rutter discovered that a burglar had entered the house and stolen some of his clothing.  None of Frances's jewelry nor other valuables had been taken.  On the night of December 29 two policemen noticed a man on Waverly Place carrying two overcoats.  When he refused to say where he obtained them, he was arrested.

Police were well-acquainted with Dominick Kilogan.  A few years earlier he had snatched the pocketbook of actress Ada Dyas and was sent to prison.  While serving his term, he inherited $50,000--a fortune of about $1.3 million today.  But, as reported by The New York Times, "on being released he spent it in dissipation, and soon found himself without a cent."

As investigators searched his room, the list of robberies grew.  On January 9, 1880 The New York Times entitled an article "A Sneak-Thief On Trial" and noted that among the items produced as evidence were property belonging to Robert Rutter.

The Rutters experienced a scare on May 18, 1882 when Robert took Frances for a drive in Central Park.   The New York Herald reported that "his team became unmanageable and shortly ran into a T cart, in which Mr. William Fahnestock, the Wall street broker, was driving with a lady and a coachman."  Both carriages were upset and all the passengers thrown out.  

The chaos continued when Frahnestock's horse "took fright" and ran into the carriage of General N. Gano Dunn, oversetting that vehicle as well.  Dunn's horse, in turn, was spooked and ran into a carriage being driven by the son of Judge Hilton, who was thrown to the ground.

The article noted "Mr. Rutter was the only one whose injuries were at all serious.  He was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital."

After having lived at 152 West 13th Street for three decades, the Rutters sold it in February 1899 to Annie Smith for $18,000--about $572,000 in today's money.

Smith operated the property as a rooming house (meaning she did not offer meals as boarding houses did).  Among the residents in 1911 was Hermina Schmitz, an early animal rights supporter.  She railed against the popular Edwardian fashion of decorating women's hats with egret, pheasant and other bird feathers (and at times, entire stuffed birds).  She wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Herald on May 18 that year that read in part:

Since all efforts to successfully suppress this cruel practice have been fruitless thus far, may I suggest one that would be successful?

Let all men show distinctly their distaste for women who wear aigrettes, and let women who wear them and shopkeepers who sell them be arrested and either heavily fined or imprisoned.

The house was initially offered for sale in 1918, described as "12 furnished rooms, full; good condition."  But, instead, Annie K. Smith leased the property to the radical political bi-weekly, The Dial, as its headquartersIn its August 1, 1918 edition, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods reported "The Dial announced that it 'is now established in its New York offices, at 152 West Thirteenth Street."

Poet Marianne C. Moore would later describe the magazine's new home as a "three story brick building with carpeted stairs, fireplace, and white mantelpiece rooms."  In 1919 Harvard graduates James Sibley Watson and Scofield Thayer, purchased the periodical, became its editors, and changed its course from politics to literature.

They made The Dial a vehicle to introduce young, mostly unknown American writers to the public.  In a 1920 press release, Watson's laid out the magazine's new mission, saying in part:

[The editors] believe that the American people really have minds and use them to better purpose than the popular magazines admit.  [We] think that Americans, in every part of America want to know what the finest minds of the world are about, what they are thinking and what they are creating.

Over the coming years contributors to the magazine included E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Marianne C. Moore, John Dos Passos, Kenneth Burke, and William Slater Brown.

The Dial remained at No. 152 until 1938, when Annie Smith again leased it to John and Bridget Cullen.  On May 17, The New York Sun reported that they "will improve and occupy the premises."  

After having leased the house for decades, Annie K. Smith occupied it in the 1940's.  Throughout the subsequent decades it was never converted to apartments and remains a single family home today.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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