In 1875 leather merchant Samuel Phillip Mendel and his family were living at 402 East 52nd Street. Mendel and his wife, the former Julia Seckelman, had two children--four-year old Jennie and one-year-old Sarah. He submitted a petition to the city in January that year which said in part, "They wish to change their names legally to Samuel Mendel Phillips, Julia Mendel Phillips, Jennie Mendel Phillips, and Sarah Mendel Phillips."
The reason behind the name change is intriguing, but seemingly lost. It would cause confusion in newspapers, books and various organizations for years with the names Mendel and Phillips haphazardly being swapped back and forth.
By the early 1890's there was a third daughter, Paula. By now the had family had moved to 62 East 83rd Street, one of a row of high-stooped Italianate brownstones erected around the time of Samuel's petition.
Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 erroneously used Phillips's former surname, (copyright expired)
Phillips was born in Elmshorn, Germany in 1844 and arrived in New York City in 1866. He was a partner with B. J. Salomon in the leather firm of Salomon & Phillips, founded by Salomon in 1867, and in the Armstrong Leather Company established by both men in 1890. New York-1894 said the latter "manufactures colored calf, goat and sheep skins, and the products of their factory at Peabody, Mass.,...have at once taken a prominent position in the market." The book described Phillips as "an active and enterprising man." He was, as well, a director in the Hide and Leather National Bank.
Phillips was strongly attached to his German heritage (making his switching to an English surname puzzling). He was an active member of the Freundschaft Club, the oldest German men's club in the city. And the domestic staff of the Phillips house were seemingly all German. An advertisement in the New York Journal & Advertiser on September 18, 1899 sought someone to "Cook, wash, iron; German girl."
The Phillips women, too, were involved in things German. On November 3, 1895, for instance, The New York Times reported, "To the untiring efforts of a number of enthusiastic German women of this city is to be accredited the assurance of the erection of the beautiful Heine Memorial Fountain upon some suitable site in New-York." The article noted that one of the three women forming the Committee on Decorations and Space was "Miss Jennie Mendel." (Once again showing that Phillips was not always recognized as the family's name.)
By the turn of the century, Julia had died and Jennie and Sarah had married. Jennie and her husband, Pertz Rosenberg, lived in the 83rd Street house with her father and Paula (who was an instructor of English at Dr. Sach's School for Girls). Sarah and her husband, Ludwig Harberger, lived elsewhere.
On the morning of March 24, 1905 Phillips was preparing to leave the house when he suffered "apoplexy"--a term which today refers to a stroke or cerebral hemorrhage. Despite his legal name change and the fact that his firm was clearly Salomon & Phillips, not Salomon & Mendel, his obituaries all referred to him as Samuel Phillips Mendel. His funeral was held in the drawing room on March 26.
The 83rd Street house was bequeathed to the three daughters. On May 4 Jennie purchased her sisters' shares for a total of about $974,000 in today's money.
Peretz Rosenberg was affiliated with Felix Salomon & Co., a German-based company which dealt in paper and paper stock. He and Jennie had two children, Julian Dellevie and Rosalie.
When Julian graduated from Columbia University in 1917, war was raging in Europe. He put off his career to join the army and served as a corporal in France. At the end of the war he returned to 62 East 83rd Street and re-enrolled at Columbia, earning his graduate degree in law in 1921.
Both Julian and his sister were interested in nature. Rosalie was a long-term member of the Torrey Botanical Club and her brother would later be highly involved in environmental causes like the preservation of the Connecticut River Valley.
Julian Rosenberg became a well-respected attorney. But another world war would again interrupt his career. He served as a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence during World War II.
The 83rd Street house was sold after the war and in 1950 was converted to apartments, one per floor. A subsequent renovation completed in 1962 removed the stoop and lowered the entrance to the English basement level. The building now held two duplex apartments. That configuration lasted until 2006 when an extensive renovation was initiated to return the house to a single-family dwelling.
Despite the fact that the house was neither landmarked nor sat within a historic district, the architectural firm of Anita Bartholin Brandt Architect painstakingly refabricated the lost stoop, and replicated the original cornice and other missing details. Completed in 2009, the superb restoration resulted in the Phillips house again looking as it did in the 19th century.
photographs by the author
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