Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The 1910 Brentmore -- 88 Central Park West

photo by Wurts Bros. from The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910 (copyright expired)

In 1910 The World's New York Apartment House Album lauded the newly-completed Brentmore as "one of the most magnificent dwellings in the city."  Construction at the southwest corner of Central Park West and 69th Street had begun the previous year by the Akron Building Co.  The architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross had deftly melded the neo-Renaissance and waning Beaux Arts styles to create the 12-story, brick, stone and terra cotta structure.

A light court gave The Brentmore the appearance of two identical buildings.  The tripartite design sat upon a three-story, rusticated limestone base.  The architects clearly defined the mid- and top sections with stone-and-iron balconies that girded the fourth and tenth floors.  The apartments and residential hotels of Central Park West catered to the upper class, and The Brentmore was no exception.  Apartments ranged from seven to nine rooms, with three apartments per floor.

The World's New York Apartment House Album wrote, "The apartments of the Brentmore are arranged duplex, all of the sleeping rooms being on the floor above the parlors, drawing rooms, library and dining rooms."  The passenger elevators opened directly into the apartments.   "A feature of the apartments in the Brentmore are the baths," said the article, "in each one of which are windows quite as large as in any other room of the apartment."

The interior appointments spoke to the well-heeled families who would live here.  The walls of parlors and drawing rooms were lined with silk, custom designed chandeliers hung in each room, and the marble lobby was decorated with antique furniture.

This floorplan shows one duplex apartment (lower right, with staircase) and two simplex apartments.  The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910, (copyright expired)

The Brentmore filled with well-to-do families, like the Jacob H. Schoonmaker family.  A member of Butler Brothers, he and his wife, the former Emma Wilson, would have two daughters, Muriel and Beatrice.  On July 6, 1913 the New-York Tribune announced that the couple "sailed for Europe on Tuesday on board the Rotterdam for an automobile tour through Holland, France, Germany and Switzerland.  They will return to New York in the fall."

Other early residents were the wealthy Edwin E. Bernheimer, his wife, Etta, and their daughter, Isabel.  A native of Mobile, Alabama, Bernheimer had moved his family to New York City in 1908.  He was a partner in the stock brokerage firm Jerome J. Danzig & Co.  The family's summer home was in Deal, New Jersey.

Edwin and Etta Bernheimer went on a drive to Long Island with a friend, D. F. Long, on October 19, 1913.  Their tonneau--an automobile open to the air--was driven by their chauffeur, Carl Steadman.

The Bernheimers' automobile would have been similar to this tonneau (which cost the equivalent of $41,000 today in 1909).

The outing ended disastrously on the way home.  Steadman was headed to the Queensboro Bridge when he swerved onto a set of trolley tracks to avoid a farm wagon that drove directly into his path.  The New-York Tribune reported, "He did not see an eastbound trolley...coming toward him."

Both the trolley and the automobile were badly wrecked.  Steadman was "catapulted from his seat on to the front platform of the trolley car."  The Bernheimers and their guest were slammed against the front seat, and were "bruised, cut and shocked."  Their injuries were not serious enough to warrant treatment and they rented another automobile and motored home on their own.  Their chauffeur was taken to the Flushing Hospital.

Rents in the Brentmore in 1915 were $3,750 per year for a nine-room simplex and $4,000 for a nine-room duplex.  Both apartments had three bathrooms.  The rent for the duplex would be just under $9,000 per month today.

The Bernheimers appeared in the newspapers twice in March 1915.  The first incident occurred when Edwin attempted to cross Broadway on his way to the office on March 14.  At Broadway and Wall Street, he stepped quickly in front of a southbound streetcar.  He did not notice that a northbound car was just yards away.  He was trapped on the strip between the tracks and "the northbound car caught him and wedged him in the narrow space."  Bernheimer appears to have been more emotionally affected by his close call than physically injured.  "An ambulance from Volunteer Hospital carried him to his office, where it was found he was not dangerously hurt," said the article.

Two weeks later a more shocking story appeared in the newspapers.  Among the doormen of the Brentmore was Jimmy Murray, described by the Irish-American newspaper The Advocate as "a handsome and popular young Irish boy hailing from Lanesboro, County Roscommon."  On March 27 the newspaper began an article saying, "The sensation of the week in Irish circles was the marriage of Miss Isabel Bernheimer, the society girl, and heiress, of the Brentmore Apartments, No. 88 Central Park West, to Jimmy Murray."

The article pointed out the stark contrast in the backgrounds of the Irish immigrant and his wife, saying Isabel "is the granddaughter of the late Jacob Rothschild, proprietor of the Hotel Majestic.  Her great-uncle, Joseph Rothschild, is secretary and treasurer of the Rothschild Realty Company."

The path to the altar for the love-struck couple had been rocky.  Etta Bernheimer had hired a lawyer to derail the romance, but was told that there was nothing he could do.  According to Isabel, "Then she consulted me, and arrived at the verdict that I was crazy."  Joseph Rothschild had offered Murray a "$100 to $1" bet that the couple would not last four months together (the boy did not take the bet).  And it was no doubt the Bernheimers' influence that got Murray fired.

The two were married in a civil ceremony with another Brentmore employee, Rosa Clarke, and a friend of the groom as witnesses.  They moved in with Jimmy's aunt in Brooklyn.  When a reporter arrived there on March 26, Isabel told him, "My family disapproves of my choice of a husband to such an extent that they are going to cut me off.  I don't care."  She added, "As for Jimmy, he is going to get a job.  He's going to get a job right away.  He can get one, don't worry about that."

At the time of the upheaval in the Bernheimer household, Max C. Anderson was living in the Brentmore.  He had been in show business for around four decades.  The New York Times reported on March 9, 1915 that he was "interested in or controlled between 150 and 200 theatres, principally in the middle West."  The newspaper place his fortune at the time  at around $10 million--more than 26 times that much today.

When war broke out in Europe, the family of Mayer Swaab, Jr. responded.  Mayer, according to The Pennsylvania Gazette, "Has been doing important war work in this country," and sons Jacques Michael and Frank L. both enlisted.  

Jacques entered the army in June 1917.  (Frank, who was just 18, would have to wait a year before enlisting in the New York State Guard in 1918).  The Evening World reported that Jacques received "his training in the aviation camps at Columbus, O., and Dayton, O. before sailing for France."  Once there, he finished his flight training in France and Italy.

He saw action on September 10, 1918.  On his first flight over enemy lines "he engaged and shot down a Fokker machine," said The Evening World.  "Continuing his return flight he was attacked by a group of German plans, but shot one down in flames and forced another down out of control."  The article noted, "the air battle in which he downed the three Germans may have been his first."

Lieutenant Jacques Michael Swaab.  The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 11, 1919 (copyright expired)

It was not his last.  On April 11, 1919 The Pennsylvania Gazette said, "Of living American Aces, he stands third, while of unassisted victories he stands second in the list of living American Aces."  His experience in war led to his serving as technical advisor to the 1938 film The Dawn Patrol, starring Errol Flynn and David Niven.

The Bernheimers' bad luck with the Brentmore staff continued in June 1920.   The couple was at their summer home when three of the four elevator operators--Peter Martin, William Brenner and Edward Blenstein--orchestrated a complex burglary of two apartments, the Bernheimers' and that of retired merchant Henry Schwabacker.  By sending the other elevator operator to the basement on an errand, they managed to sneak their accomplices, brothers Mont and Benjamin Ayarviaz, into the building unnoticed.

Hours later Brenner reported a break in.  When detectives arrived at the Brentmore, they found Martin and Blenstein  with "scratched faces bearing evidences of a struggle," according to The New York Times on June 8.  Both apartments had been ransacked and the 400-pound safe from the Bernheimers' bedroom had been pried from the wall and taken away.

Detectives suspected this was an inside job, especially considering the fact that the burglars had taken their time.  The New York Times reported, "The detectives found the apartments littered with broken furniture, empty liquor glasses, scores of cigarette and cigar stubs, an empty jam pot and sardine cans."  Under intense interrogation, Blenstein confessed, explained the elaborate heist, and his confederates were arrested.

The Bernheimers' safe was located in a back room of the Dempsey Social Club on West 49th Street, still unopened.  Inside were jewelry and Liberty Bonds that were returned to the couple.  In Mont Ayarviaz's furnished room, police found six suitcases "filled with furs, clothing and jewelry, which they estimated as worth $50,000," said The New York Times.  That amount would be closer to $645,000 today.

The Brentmore continued to house wealthy families, despite the difficulties of the Great Depression and World War II.  Frank Cohen and his family, for instance, lived here in 1945 when his two-masted schooner Voyager II was lost during a storm off Cape Fear, North Carolina.  The Cohens were not aboard, but the four man crew and retired Army officer Gifford Nitz, Jr. and his three children were.  Happily, it was found on December 28 with all persons on board.

Stage and screen star Celeste Holm was, perhaps, the first  entertainment celebrity to move into The Brentmore.  She took an apartment in 1953.  

The building was converted to a co-operative apartment in 1959.  

On May 2, 1970 attorney Jerome H. Adler and his wife, Barbara, left New York on a Dutch Antillean Airlines plane for San Martin.  Adler was a trustee of the Music Performance Trust Funds of the Recording Industry.   There were 63 passengers on board the airplane, which ran into trouble over the Caribbean.  The pilots ditched the craft into the ocean.  Barbara was among the 40 passengers rescued, but tragically, Jerome Adler perished.

Record producer and Columbia/CBS executive Clive Davis and his wife, the former Janet Adelberg, moved into a five-bedroom apartment around 1970.  They paid, according to his 2012 autobiography The Soundtrack of My Life, $55,000.  In it, he described, "It was spacious, and offered a number of terrific features.  The elevator opened directly into the apartment, which had a large vestibule and dining room, and a huge living room overlooking the park, which became the site of many wonderful parties."  Davis estimated spending "an additional $10,000 to fix the place up."

Like so many Central Park West buildings, the Brentmore continued to attract celebrities.  In his 2005 book, Passion and Property in Manhattan, Steven Gaines writes, "When 'broker to the stars' Linda Stein was working with the pop star Sting on a $4.8 million apartment at 88 Central Park West, she gave him orders to shop for a conservative suit at Brooks Brothers for his board meeting and made him promise to 'think Central Casting businessman and father,' which he dutifully did."

The dining room of the Sting residence (above) and the staircase.  photos by Halstead Property

The 7,000-square-foot, 18-room duplex Sting would buy had been home to newlyweds Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, until their pending divorce put it on the market.  Sting (whose given name is Gordon Sumner) listed the five-bedroom, four-bath apartment in 2009 for $26 million.

On June 7, 2012 fire in a lint-clogged drier sparked a fire in the fourth-floor apartment of Academy Award-winning actor Robert DeNiro and his wife, Grace Hightower, who had purchased the unit six years earlier.  FDNY Battalion Chief Mike Meyers said the damages were confined to "three or four rooms" in the apartment, as well as "a few" apartments on the floor above.

After half a century in her apartment, Celeste Holm died in there in 2012 at the age of 95.  Her apartment was put on the market for $13.95 million.  In reporting on the listing, The New York Times said, "Like its longtime owner, the right-room duplex possesses charisma--as well as enduring bone structure."

image via nynesting.com

Unlike early 20th century apartment buildings in other parts of the city, those on Central Park West never declined.  No exception, the Brentmore continues to attract the rich (and in some cases, the famous) more than a century after its doors opened.

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  1. Firstly, I'd like to thank for this excellent and entertaining blog.It's the first thing I look at every day and you never disappoint. Thank you for your hard work keeping us spellbound with the backstories that come with each entry.

    Secondly, concerning the Brentmore, as I scrolled past the headline and encountered the lead photo, I assumed the building was a dark red brick and limestone. My first impression was,"What a magnificent building. So stoic and regal." The last photo was a total shock. The beige brick gives it a totally different aura. Much more casual and rather relaxed.

    1. I'm so glad to hear you enjoy the posts. Thanks for saying so.

      I totally agree regarding the brick. I'm puzzled at why the 1910 photograph appears so dark, but I think I, too, would have preferred red brick.