Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The 1895 Arthur L. Niles House - 315 West 80th Street


Developer Bernard S. Levy was prolific on the Upper West Side in the last decades of the 19th century.  He created long rows of residences as well as several "flat," or apartment buildings.  In 1894 he started on another project--a row of six houses on West 80th Street, just steps from elegant Riverside Drive.

Given the upscale neighborhood--filled with spacious mansions--Levy's decision to squeeze six homes into the property is a bit surprising.   While other developers may have filled the parcel with four 25-foot wide mansions, Levy's six residences were 16- and 18-feet wide.

But what the homes lacked in width they made up for in architectural charisma.  Architect Charles Israels designed them in the Gothic Revival style.  Their rough-cut stone bases upheld three floors of beige Roman brick.  Israels configured them in an A-B-A-A-B-A pattern, the A models boasting angled oriels at the second floor and sharp gables at the fourth.  All the houses were replete with stained glass that filled the transoms and announced the street number above the doorway.
Bernard Levy offered the houses for $24,500 to $26,000--the higher price equal to about $807,000 today.  A brochure described:

On the low stoop entrance plan, with dining room, butler's pantry and kitchen on the same floor.  Two bathrooms, exposed plumbing, parlors in red mahogany, dining rooms quarter oak, second story oak, third and fourth stories ash, 17 rooms in each house.

Among the B model houses, a blend of Renaissance and Gothic Revival, was 315 West 80th Street.  Levy sold it to Arthur L. Niles, a bachelor stock broker whose marital status was about to change.

Arthur was a partner in L. H. Niles & Co., the brokerage firm founded by his father, Lucien Hanks Niles.  His wedding to Clara Hotchkiss on June 26, 1895 was a socially notable event.  Clara was the daughter of the well-known broker Horace Leslie Hotchkiss.  

Like all families along the block, Arthur and Clara had a domestic staff and a summer home.  In 1900 there were three servants living in the West 80th Street house.  The Niles family originally maintained a country home, Greenacres, in Rye, New York, but by 1907 their summer residence was at Bound Brook, New Jersey.

The first of the couple's three sons, Arthur, Jr., was born in 1897.  Philip Bradford would arrive in 1901, and Jonathan Hotchkiss in 1908.  All three boys would attend Princeton University.

Arthur, Jr., however, left school to fight in World War I with the Naval Reserve Force.  The trauma of war stayed with him after peace was declared--what today is known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 1919 Philip was a freshman at Princeton.  He and Arthur went with their parents to Bound Brook that summer.  Although he was not among the graduating class, Arthur and his fiancée, Dorothy Hathaway Sutton, attended the graduation  of what would have been his class on June 17.  Following the event, they took a train to Manhattan.  Although their families anticipated a society wedding, the love-struck 22-year-olds could not wait.

They obtained a marriage license, then rode around in a taxicab "in search of as obscure a parsonage as could be found," according to The Sun.  They decided on the West Side Methodist Episcopal Church on West 44th Street near Tenth Avenue.  The newspaper explained that it was "a place where there was no likelihood whatever of the elopers encountering any one of their acquaintance."

The Sun reported, "Agreeing that they would notify their parents later, bride and bridegroom then went to the Commodore [Hotel]."  The following morning Arthur left Dorothy there, while he went to Bound Brook.  She said later that when they said goodbye, "He was in the best of spirits."

Dorothy most likely assumed that the purpose of her husband's trip was to inform his parents of the marriage.  Instead, he asked for the keys to the West 80th Street house, saying he needed to get some personal items.  

When Arthur never returned to the hotel, Dorothy understandably became alarmed.  She telephoned the Bound Brook house, told Arthur, Sr. about the marriage, and that Arthur Jr. was missing.  When he had still not turned up on June 20, Arthur and Philip returned to Manhattan.  The Sun reported, "As they had no keys and the house had been boarded up for the summer they were forced to break in through a front window."  Their investigation would end tragically.  "After searching through the house the father found the body of the young man on the floor of a little used bedroom on the third floor.  He had a bullet wound through the forehead."  Arthur had been dead for three days, according to the coroner.

After Arthur and Clara consulted with Dorothy's family, a formal announcement of the wedding appeared in the newspapers the following day.  On the same page was Arthur's death notice.  Although, initially, no reason for his action could be discerned, three years later the New York-Tribune noted that he "died as a result of shell shock during the war."

The Niles house is second from left in the charming row.

Clara's mother died on February 25, 1921.  The following year, on March 26, 1922, she hosted a socially noteworthy dinner for her father's 80th birthday.  Despite its printing the long list of guests, the New York Herald noted, "As Mr. and Mrs. Niles are in mourning only relatives were present."

Arthur's father, Lucien Hanks Niles died later that year.  His estate, around $4.5 million today, was divided among his children.

Philip graduated from Princeton in 1921.  On November 12, 1924 he was married to Joan Channing in a double ceremony.  The bride's sister, Mary, was married to Gregory Johns Tobin.

Jonathan would not marry until September 22, 1931.  His wedding to Carlotta Elvidge Ramsey took place "in the Italian garden of the Ambassador [Hotel]," with a reception in the Louis XV Ballroom.  Jonathan's bride was an actress, known on stage as June Elvidge.

Clara Niles died in 1938 and around 1944 Arthur sold 315 West 80th Street, moving to 20 East 76th Street.  He died there at the age of 81 on March 14, 1951.

In the meantime, in 1945 the house Niles had called home for half a century was converted to a two-family residence.  That configuration remained until a renovation headed by Allanbrook Benic Czajka Architects and restoration firm Preserve returned it to a single-family home in 2004.

photographs by the author
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