Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Louis Philip Siebert House - 25 Washington Square North


In 1837 wealthy merchant Samuel Shaw Howland lived in the elegant mansion at 12 Washington Square North, on the corner of Fifth Avenue.   That year James DePeyster Ogden sold him the leasehold on the vacant lot at 25 Washington Square North.  The land, as was with case with Howland's house, was the property of the Sailor's Snug Harbor.  The leasehold came with the covenant that a dwelling be erected by 1840.  It appears he and his son-in-law, George B. Dorr (who was married to Joanna Howland), cooperated in that project.  The upscale residence, completed in 1839, was taxed to Dorr, but both men managed its leasing.

Given the matching roofline and similar elements, it is possible that it was designed by the architect responsible for 24 Washington Square North, completed two years earlier.  The Greek Revival structure, faced in red brick above the brownstone basement, rose three and a half stories.  A Doric portico sheltered the entrance where the elegant doorway was framed by palmetto-topped pilasters, narrow sidelights and a gracefully leaded transom.

Interestingly, the Dorrs, who had been living with the Howlands in 12 Washington Square North, did not move into this house, but into 26 Washington Square North next door, completed the same year by James DePeyster Ogden.  Instead, Howland and Dorr leased No. 25.  For some reason, their first tenant left their furnishings behind (possibly there was possibly death involved).  The advertisement in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer in 1842 read:

To Let--The house No. 25 Washington square.  It is nearly new, replete with every convenience for a large family, and in perfect order.  It is one of the most desirable situations in the city.  The furniture, which is nearly new and made in the most fashionable style, may be had with the house on reasonable terms, if desired.  Can be examined at any time during the day.  For further particulars, please apply to S. S. Howland, No. 12 Washington Square, or George B. Dorr, No. 20 Exchange Place.

Living here in the mid-1840's was Lyman Denison and his family.  A wholesale grocer, his expansive business had three locations--on Fulton, Dey, and West Streets.

Following the Civil War the house became home to wool merchant Louis Philip Siebert and his wife, the former Eliza Oothout.  Interestingly, Eliza had spent much of her life next door, in the former George and Joanna Dorr house.  Her father, John Oothout, the president of the Bank of New York, had purchased that house from Dorr.

Siebert was born in Worms-on-the-Rhine, Germany in 1831.  He came to the United States in 1855 and went into business.  At the outbreak of Civil War, he joined the New York Cavalry and in April 1865 he was made a colonel.  The New York Times later said, "He served at Gettysburg in the Third Cavalry Division, commanded by Custer, and in all the Valley campaigns under Sheridan.  After the war he returned to commercial pursuits in New York, where he married Miss Eliza Oothout."

The couple had three children, Louis Phillippe, born in 1868; John Oothout, born in 1872; and Sophie, who was born in 1875.  Not surprisingly, Eliza sought German-born servants.  Her advertisement in the New York Herald on April 4, 1877 sought "A reliable German Protestant girl, with a fondness for children and experience as a nurse for two young boys in an American family."

It was no doubt the Sieberts who replaced the iron fencing and stoop railings with modern Italianate versions.  It was the only exterior updating that was done.

In 1882 Louis Siebert retired at the age of 51.  After the family took on a tour of Europe, they relocated to Washington D.C.  The Washington Square house was purchased by Philip Schuyler, who does not appear to have ever lived here, but leased it.  

By 1891 the Doster family occupied the home.  Lillian Dudley , a 28-year-old friend of the Doster's daughter, Leonore, left Marion, Kansas on December 20 that year "to visit friends in the East," according to the Democrat and Chronical.  Her long journey took her to Brooklyn, Wisconsin, where she spent Christmas, then to Lyons, New York.  Her eventual destination was the Doster house, where she was to arrive on January 19.

Lillian left Lyons on the Central-Hudson Railroad that morning, and then sent a telegram to Leonore informing her that her connecting train at the village of Fonda, New York was three hours late.  Leonore went to Grand Central Depot to meet her friend, but she was not among the passengers.  Four days later the Democrat and Chronicle reported, "and she has not been heard of since."

Leonore went to police headquarters "and asked that a general alarm be sent out."  Authorities, however, did not seem overly concerned.  The article said, "The police believe that something induced Miss Dudley to change her mind about coming to the city, and that she forgot to notify Miss Doster."  

The episode ended as mysteriously as it began.  Just over two weeks after she went missing, the LeRoy [Kansas] Reporter published a cryptic one-line article:  "The Kansas girl, Miss Lillian Dudley, reported lost in New York, is at home in Marion."

Philip Schuyler sold 25 Washington Square North in February 1895 to J. Herbert Johnson.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described the property as "running through to and including a two-story stable fronting on Macdougal Alley."  By 1897 Clement March was living in the house, and on April 5, 1899 Johnson sold the leasehold "together with alley-way rights" to him.  March's annual rent on the land was $1,500--or $48,000 in today's money.

March came from an old American family.  The first of the Marches arrived in New Hampshire from England in the 17th century.  He was born on November 21, 1862 in the mansion of his grandfather, Charles March, at 23 Fifth Avenue, near the corner of 9th Street.  His parents were John Pyne March and Mary Livingston Lowndes.  

Clement's father died in 1873 and his mother in 1893.  Her estate, "estimated at $1,000,000," according to The New York Times on October 14, 1893, went to Clement (his only brother, Charles, had also died).  The generous charitable bequests she made in her will were not to be distributed until "the death of the testatrix's son, Clement March," explained the article.

March moved among Manhattan's most socially elite figures.  On February 15, 1892 Ward McAllister had explained to a reporter from The New York Times why only 150 names, not 400, had appeared in an article about high society.  He said that during each year's winter season there were three dinner dances.  "So at each dinner dance, you know, are only 150 people of the highest set...So, during the season, you see, 400 different invitations are issued."  To set the record straight, McAllister provided a complete list of those included in The Four Hundred.  Among them was Clement March.

Although educated as an attorney, March did not rely on his profession, but lived on his inherited fortune (more than $30 million in today's money).  Instead, he devoted his time to civic causes.  He sat on the board of managers of the House of Refuge on Randalls Island (the nation's first juvenile reformatory), and in November 1905 Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. appointed him to the Board of Education.  When the United States entered World War I, he served in the Department of Military Intelligence, translating "important editorials printed in Spanish and Portuguese," according to The New York Times.

In 1925, four decades after moving into the Washington Square house, Clement March purchased an estate, Greenland, in Kinderhook, New York, where he retired.  He died there 12 years later, on March 23, 1937, at the age of 75.

In the meantime, the Washington Square residence now  held (unofficial) sumptuous apartments.  Among the select residents was Blanche Wetherill Walton, the widow of Ernest F. Walton, who had been killed in a train accident in Grand Central Terminal in 1901.  Blanche held frequent musicales in her apartment, but not the expected type that featured sonatas and such.  She and the musicians she gathered around her were interested in "the music of the aborigines in Africa, Asia and the Americas," according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle later.

It was here on June 3, 1934 that musicians George Dickinson, Carl Engel, Gustave Reese, Helen Roberts, Joseph Schillinger, Charles Seeger, Harold Spivacke, Oliver Strunk and Joseph Yasser, formed the American Musicological Association.  (Three months later the name was changed to the American Musicological Society, and then to the American Society for Comparative Musicology.)

The name would changed again--and not for reasons of simplification.  On April 5, 1936 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "At the meeting of the  American Society for Comparative Musicology, held at the home of Mrs. Blanche W. Walton, 25 Washington Square North, New York City, on April 4, steps were taken to change the name of the society to the American Section of the International Society for Comparative Musicology."  The article noted, "The aim of comparative musicology is the study of all primitive and non-European musics in a precise and scientific way."

Today there are still just four apartments in the former mansion.  The gentile residence, from the exterior, looks almost no different today than when the Sieberts changed out the ironwork in the first decades after the Civil War.

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

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