Monday, February 28, 2022

The Lost Relic at 202 Spring Street

from the collection of the New York Public Library

On October 20, 1852, an advertisement appeared in the New York Morning Courier that offered:  "Grocery Stock--At 10-1/2 o'clock, at No. 202 Spring street, corner of Sullivan, will be sold without reserve, the stock and fixtures of a large grocery store; also, liquors; the lease of the premises, a valuable horse and wagon, &c."  

The frame building in which the grocery had operated had been built about two decades earlier.   A "center chimney" house-and-store, its graceful arched residential entrance was typical of the Federal style.  While the Sullivan Street side was clad in clapboards, the Spring Street facade was faced in more expensive brick.

Jackson B. Shreve, who lived a few blocks away at 31 Renwick Street, purchased the grocery store.  Rebecca Kennedy, the widow of Patrick Kennedy, lived in the upper portion of the building, taking in two boarders, William B. Brown, a driver, and importer Charles Klett.

By 1860 Irish immigrant Patrick J. Burke had converted the grocery store to a saloon.  He and his wife, Anne Terressa, now lived in the upper portion.  It was one of three saloons Burke owned, the others at 185 Prince and 40 Laurens Street (later West Broadway).  Tragically, Anne died of consumption--the then-current name for tuberculosis--four days before Christmas that year, at the age of 27.  The funeral was held in the house.  In reporting her death, the New York Herald noted, "Dublin papers please copy."

In 1863 Burke sold the saloon to John Caldwell, who ran a second saloon on James Street.  Five years later, he sold the operation to Dunigan & Devlin, operated by Irishmen William H. Devlin and John Dunigan.  They quickly ran afoul of the law.  On November 5, 1867 John Dunigan was arrested "for not keeping his place closed on Sunday," according to the New York Herald.  The judge held him on $300 bail--nearly $5,500 today.

A back room of the saloon was used for meetings, and one of them got out of hand on June 8, 1871.  The New York Herald reported that during a "republican enrollment," there was a "general scramble at the meeting in question, and that oaths and chairs were very freely thrown around, and that the general instructions given to hit a head wherever they saw one was very implicitly obeyed."

Two men, Theodore Allen and William P. Burke, were arrested for felonious assault.  The judge imposed a massive bond, equal to $220,000 in today's money, which, understandably, the defendants could not raise.  Despite his ability to inflict bodily injury, Burke was suffering from tuberculosis, and the New York Herald said he was brought into the courtroom "looking more like a corpse than a human being."  Given his medical condition, it was suggested that bail be reduced.  "Justice Cox promised to consider the matter," said the article.

In the meantime, the upstairs boarders continued to be working class.  In 1873 they included dressmaker Emma Gebelin, laborer Robert Madine, and Eugene Miroy, a driver.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

William L. Becker installed his drugstore in the former saloon space in 1878.  It would remain a pharmacy for decades.  It was home to Henaro's Drug Store on the afternoon of January 11, 1905, when fire broke out at 3:45.  It resulted in about $3,000 in damages by today's standards.

Among the tenants living above the pharmacy in 1907 were the Grosso family.  Their 18-year-old son, John, and a friend attracted the attention of a policeman on December 21 that year, as he carried two silk gowns down Fifth Avenue.  Grosso explained that "a tailor friend of his had no means wherewith to celebrate Christmas, and that he was trying to dispose of the dresses," according to the New York Herald.

At the station house, however, the teens confessed that they had stolen a total of four gowns from A. J. Frank & Co.--two of which they had sold to tailor Samuel Wintergarten for $7 each.  The dresses had cost A. J. Frank & Co. $80 each.  John Grosso spent his Christmas in jail.

The more than century-old structure was remarkably little changed in 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In October 1919 it appeared that the end of the line for the venerable little building was near.  That month The 202 to 206 Spring Street Company, Inc. was formed "to take over the two and a half story frame and five and six story brick buildings," said The Sun.  If the new owners intended to replace the structures with a modern building, they changed their minds.  Instead, the upper floors were altered to office space.  Among the initial tenants was the office of the New York Pie Baking Company, the bakery of which was a block away at 82 Sullivan Street.

The ancient anachronism managed to survive until 1954, when it was finally razed for a parking lot.  A seven-story apartment building, built in 2001, occupies the site today.

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Saturday, February 26, 2022

The 1839 Peter O. Grilliet House - 39 West 10th Street


Andrew Lockwood was a Greenwich Village builder, responsible for numerous structures in the early 19th century.  In 1835 he purchased property on Amos Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, but it would not be until 1838 that he began construction on four handsome brick-faced houses.

Completed the following year, each was built for a separate client, although they were essentially identical.  Their Greek Revival design included a brownstone-clad basement level, a high stone stoop, and the heavy stone entrance enframement typical of the style.  A dentiled cornice ran above the short attic level.

No. 39 Amos Street (renamed West 10th Street in 1857) had been erected for Peter Omer Grilliet.  He was a partner in the commission merchant firm of Grilliet & Hoguet at 4 South William Street.  

By 1851 Maria Heiser Clum occupied the house.  Her husband, Philip, had died in 1829 and her son, Philip, Jr., was 30 years old in 1851.  It does not appear that he lived with his mother, and her residency was short.  She died at the age of 67 on September 9, 1853 "of congestion of the brain," according to the New York Herald.  The newspaper noted, "Her remains will be taken in the country for interment."

The house next became home to the Herzog family.  Simon Herzog operated a shirt business at 35-37 Vesey Street.  His son Salomon worked in the family business by 1859.  The Herzogs remained in the house until about 1863.

Merchant Lewis H. Redfield and his family lived here by 1867.  The Redfields cautiously rented extra space in the house in 1869, their advertisement making it clear that the roomer would have to find his meals elsewhere:

A private family will let one or two well furnished rooms to gentlemen, without board.  Apply at 39 West Tenth street, near Fifth avenue.

The 1880's saw the Frederick A. Booths living at 39 West 10th Street.  Booth was the treasurer of the Domestic Sewing Machine Company.  He and his wife were active members in the Association for Indian Affairs, an organization that lobbied for Native American rights.

The Booths, incidentally, rented the house from millionaire James Hood Wright, who went professionally by J. Hood Wright.  Born in Philadelphia in 1836, he had begun his career as a bookkeeper with the banking firm of Drexel & Company.  He rose through the firm rapidly and around 1864 was made a partner.

After relocating to New York, Wright became a partner of  Drexel, Morgan.  He was a member of the syndicate that funded Thomas Edison's project to illuminate Manhattan.  That led to Wright's becoming banking director of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company.  The Wright house on Kingsbridge Road near 175th Street that was the first New York City residence to be electrically lit.

The Booths continued to be involved in charitable causes.  In 1900 Mrs. Booth was president of the Free Home for Destitute Young Girls on East 11th Street.  Frederick was its treasurer.  The aim of the organization was:

To afford gratuitous aid to destitute girls, and especially to provide a temporary home for poor and friendless girls who are exposed to the temptations of the city, and after sufficient instruction, to provide them with positions in Christian families.

The Booths remained in 39 West 10th Street for about two decades, until May 1905.  Thomas Thatcher had purchased the house two years earlier, and now sold to Thatcher Magoun Adams, Jr.  The young man no doubt purchased the house in anticipation of his upcoming wedding.  He married Edith Atlee Jackson on November 1 that year.  

Adams already had a fascinating background.  He was born in 1874 to William and Helen Coolidge Adams.  Following his father's death in 1888, he was adopted by his uncle and aunt, Thatcher M. Adams and the former Frances Charlotte Adams, and took his uncle's name.  He attended the private Cutler School in New York City, and the preparatory Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.  Following his graduation from Yale University's Scientific School, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  Thatcher M. Adams helped set him up in a brokerage firm, Adams & Clarke in 1897.

On February 24, 1907, Thatcher and Edith a child, Thatcher M. Adams.  Tragically, the infant died six days later.  A second son, also named Thatcher Magoun Adams, was born in 1912.

In 1914 the Adamses moved to Mendham, New Jersey.  Thatcher died there on April 1, 1916 from a heart attack brought on from pneumonia.

Herbert T. B. Jacquelin had purchased the house from Adams.  A member of the firm Jacquelin & DeCoppet, organized in 1879, he had been a member of the New York Stock Exchange since 1894 and a member of its Board of Governors since May, 1912.  Jacquelin and his wife, Edith, had two teenaged daughters, Marjorie and Eugenie.  

The girls' mother paved the way to their upcoming debuts into society by being a patroness of the Junior Assemblies, the successors of the Junior Cotillions.  Other patronesses were Mrs. Pierre Mali, Mrs. J. Pierpont Morgan and Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge.  

The three dances it organized each season were "important events of each winter...among the members of the younger set in society," according to the New York Herald.  Prior to the dance on December 1, 1914, Edith gave a dinner party to which several very eligible young bachelors were invited.

Edith did the same before the first of the Junior Assemblies dances the following winter season.  On December 1, 1915, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Herbert Jacquelin gave a dinner at her home, 39 West Tenth street, for her daughters, the Misses Marjorie and Eugenie Rand, afterward taking her guests to the dance."  It would be be the last pre-dance entertainment.  In May 1916 the Jacquelins sold the house to Oliver H. Sawyer.

The West 10th Street house became home to poet and novelist Jean Toomer and his bride Marjorie Content in 1934.  Toomer's first wife, author Margery Latimer, had died in childbirth two years earlier.  Marjorie Content was a photographer and had been married and divorced three times.

Majorie Content photographed Toomer in the window of 39 West 10th Street in the spring of 1934.  from the collection of the National Gallery of Art

Toomer was known best for his 1923 novel Cane, which dealt in part on the author's early years in the segregated South.  Praised by critics as an important work of the Harlem Renaissance, Toomer bristled at being classified as a Black writer--preferring the term "American author."

39 West 10th Street as it appeared when the Toomer-Contents lived here.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The couple remained in the West 10th Street house until 1940, when they moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

The stoop was removed during a renovation completed in 1946, which lowered the entrance to the basement level.  There were now a dentist's office on that level, a duplex on the parlor and second floors, and one apartment on the third floor.  

The entrance as it appeared following the 1946 renovation.  via 

The house was sold to composer Jonathan Sheffer for $1.4 million in April 1993.  With plans to reconvert it to a private home, he had the interiors gutted to the studs.  Then, in August 2015, with no work done (other than the destruction of the 1839 interiors), he sold it for $18.1 million.  

The new owners announced plans to spent another $7 million to $10 million to add a penthouse and new basement, expanding the floorspace to 7,500 square feet.  Included in the work was the fabrication of a period-appropriate Greek Revival style entrance.

photographs by the author
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Friday, February 25, 2022

The William H. Wood House - 233 East 31th Street

In 1861 the family of William H. Wood lived in the newly-built brownstone house at 128 East 31st Street (renumbered 233 in 1868).  The 20-foot-wide, four-story house was designed in the popular Italianate style.  Above the high stone stoop, the arched entrance was crowned with a classical pediment.  Floor-to-ceiling windows added drama as well as light and ventilation into the parlor.  The openings of the second and third floors, sitting upon bracketed sills, wore pronounced molded cornices, while the simpler architrave frames of the top floor windows were gently arched.

On June 19, 1865, the Woods' eldest daughter, Annie A., was married to Alexander Pollock.  Almost a year to the day later, on June 14, 1866, the parlor was the scene of Josephine's wedding to James William Boyle.

The 21-year-old groom was an oyster dealer, but would go on to greater things.  He would eventually become one of the largest oyster dealers in the country and a force within Tammany Hall.

Two years after Josephine's wedding the Woods sold the house to Joseph A Monheimer, an alderman and contractor, and his wife Emma.  Monheimer enjoyed large civic contracts, such as the one signed on May 15, 1870 for "the paving of Seventh avenue, from Fourteenth to Fifty-ninth street, with the Stafford pavement."

It is possible that Joseph Monheimer's position as alderman contributed to his city contracts.  And whether it did or not, the situation would certainly be called out as a conflict of interest today.  At the time of the paving job, Monheimer was earning $4,000 per year as alderman.  In September 1873 he received an astounding 50% raise to $6,000--about $135,000 in today's money.

Like all affluent families, the Monheimers spent at least part of the summer season away from the city.  In 1874 their trip nearly ended very badly.  On August 17 the New York Herald reported, "Alderman Joseph A. Monheimer is reported lying very low of fever on the coast of Maine, whither he had gone fishing in the early part of the summer season."

A glimpse into the stair hall reveals remarkably surviving elements--an etched glass door and electrified gas chandelier.

The Monheimers remained at 223 East 31st Street until March 1880, when they sold it to Emeline and John O'Byrne for $15,000 (about $392,000 today).   O'Byrne was an attorney with offices in the Stewart Building on Broadway, having entered practice in 1862.

O'Byrne took on a major client in January 1889, the Oyster Dealers' Association, represented by, coincidentally, James William Boyle, who had been married in the 31st Street house 23 years earlier.  O'Byrne was retained to obtain rights from the State for the usage of the water front on the Hudson River from West 10th to West 11th Street, at the time known as the Oyster Basin.

Boyle's involvement with Tammany Hall may have been a major factor in the transaction being closely scrutinized by the city's Commissioners of Accounts.  In July O'Byrne received $13,000 payment for his services--more than $375,000 today.  The Commissioners of Accounts wanted to question him about the massive fee (especially since the oystermen had already been using the water front in question before he was hired).

On November 20, The World reported that John Redmond attempted to serve a subpoena at 233 East 31st Street, but "was met by Mrs. O'Byrne, who said that her husband was ill in bed and could not attend the dock investigation today.  She promised to send to the Corporation Counsel a doctor's certificate."

Indeed, Dr. T. F. Joyce sent a note which said in part that O'Byrne was "suffering great pain from a severe attack of sciatica; that said John O'Byrne is now confined to his bed and room and is utterly unable, and will be for a few days, to leave his house."  The World said, "The genial Colonel was out with Mrs. O'Bryne yesterday evening and did not return till late, so an employe[e] of the Corporation Counsel's office says.  He was stricken, however, about that time."  Finally, on November 29, a warrant for O'Byrne's arrest was issued.

O'Byrne weathered the legal storm and the couple remained at 233 East 31st Street until 1898 when it was purchased by Robert Loercher.  Loercher was president of A. Haug & Co., an importer of ornamental papers used in bookbinding.

The Loerchers, whose son, Walter, was attending the City University of New York in 1901, took in a boarder.   Annie C. Ackerly was no retiring widow.  In 1895 she had been hired by the New York Custom House as an inspector, attached to the Special Agent's Office.  She still held the position on the evening of January 11, 1907 when she died "suddenly" in the East 31st Street house.  Her funeral was held in the parlor the following Monday morning.

The Loerchers' boarders continued to be city employees.  Their next boarder was James J. Lynch, a "keeper" with the Department of Corrections.  In 1909 Michael J. Deviney lived with the family.  The bachelor had been a clerk in the County Clerk's office since the 1880's.

When World War I broke out, the Loerchers had three boarders.  One, Frank P. Young, was declared exempt from military service because of his position as cashier in the New York County Sheriff's Office.  Eugene M. Masterson, who lived here with his wife, the former Winnifred M. Young, was not so lucky.  He was killed in action on September 29, 1918.  His body was returned to New York and his funeral was held in the nearby St. Stephen's Church on November 21.

The house remained a single family residence until 1970 when a renovation resulted in two duplexes.  The configuration was altered eight years later when each floor from the basement through third now held one apartment, and a duplex in the fourth and new penthouse level (unseen from the street) were created.  

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for prompting this post
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Thursday, February 24, 2022

Samuel A. Warner's 1855 45 Murray Street


Until 1841, Rev. Dr. Barry's Academy operated from the five-story house at 45 Murray Street.  The property was acquired by clothing manufacturer Francis W. Hutchins in 1850.  It appears he lived in the house until 1854, when an auction was held of "the entire furniture."  The listing hinted at the sumptuous interiors, including "elegant chandeliers," rosewood parlor furniture, a rosewood piano, and "center tables, with marble tops."  The announcement noted, "the building is to be removed."

Hutchins erected a 26-foot-wide, five-story store-and-loft building on the site.  Architectural historians agree that the architect was most likely Samuel A. Warner, whose works include the Marble Collegiate Reformed Church on Fifth Avenue.  Faced in marble above the cast iron storefront, the Italianate structure featured blind balustrades below the tall second story windows.  They supported graceful volutes that flowed down from the scrolled brackets of the gently-arched window cornices.  The third floor openings were treated similarly, while those at the fourth and fifth floors were less showy.  The brackets of the pressed metal terminal cornice flanked panels within the marble frieze.

The second story windows have, sadly, lost their cornices, but overall the striking details survive.

On January 10, 1855 Hutchins offered "The lower part of the new first class marble front store" in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer.  The ad promised that the building "will be finished 1st Feb."

Answering the ad was Townsend, Boynton & Jones, makers of women's pantaloons.  They shared the building with their landlord, Francis W. Hutchins, who moved his wholesale clothing operation into the upper floors.  

By 1860, the store space was occupied by the auctioneering firm Lockwood Bros. & Underhill.  It liquidated excess stock, or the stock of companies that had gone out of business.  The sale of the goods were often ordered by the City Marshall.  But in September 1860, it was a German peddler, James Dryfous, who suspiciously brought "eighteen dozen men's shirts and five dozen ladies' and gentlemen's under-garments," according to The New York Times.  It did not take authorities long to track the items, "recently stolen from the store of Mr. James S. Davie, No. 78 Cedar Street."  Dryfous was arrested and held for trial.

Francis W. Hutchins was gone from his building in 1861.  Lockwood Bros. & Underhill were still in the store, the second floor was occupied by the wholesale button and "general finding" store of T. S. Wheeler, the third by shirt manufacturer Hecht Friedland, and on the fourth and fifth floors were wholesale clothier A. Weinstein & Co. and Churchhill, Ingalls & Co., "merchants."  At around 11:20 on the night of September 9 that year, fire was seen in the fourth floor.

Although fire fighters were quickly on the scene, according to The New York Times, "owing to the peculiar, inflammable nature of some of the materials, the fourth and fifth floors were completely enveloped in flames."  Within half an hour the entire building was engulfed, the flames lighting up the night sky.  At about midnight, the rear wall collapsed.  The New York Times reported, "the heat was so intense on the opposite side of Murray-street at one time, that several of the hose[s] had to put constant streams of water, until the walls and roof of No. 45 fell in."

The intense fire was the subject of a Currier & Ives print, The Life of a Fireman.

In the end, only the marble fa├žade was left standing.  The newspaper said it was too soon to know the exact loss, "but it was estimated by good judges that it could not be less than $150,000."  (That amount would equal about $4.5 million today.)

Within two days the fire marshal announced he "strongly suspected" arson.  The fire had started in A. Weinstein & Co. and, according to Katharine Greider in her 2011 The Archaeology of Home, "All these facts seemed to imply that someone, maybe even someone connected to Abraham Weinstein, set the fire to make good on fall merchandise that otherwise would have to be chalked up to a loss."  The investigation waned and no charges were ever pursued.

Although the newspapers called 45 Murray Street a total loss, Francis Hutchins rebuilt the gutted interior.  Following what was approximately a two-year renovation, the building filled with a new batch of drygoods merchants--Meriman & Long, Lewis Mills, Alexander Munkitrick, and yarn dealer C. R. Cutler & Co.

The neighborhood saw new types of businesses in the last years of the 1860's.  In 1868 wine merchants Wilson, Morrow & Chamberlin were in the building (the name was changed to Morrow, Chamberlin & Co. the following year).  Another non-drygoods related firm, the American Papier Mache Company was here by 1870, and flooring manufacturer Drew & Bucki opened a branch office in the building around 1874.

Real Estate Record & Guide, September 26, 1874 (copyright expired)

The trend continued, with Northampton Cutlery Co. and Wittemann Brothers, makers of tin foil, calling 45 Murray Street home in the early 1880's.  They would have to find a new location, however, in 1884 when cork dealer John Robinson & Co. leased the entire building.

In 1885 New York's Leading Industries described the business as a "manufacturer of corks and bungs, and importers of corks, dealers in brewers' and bottlers' supplies."  Founded in 1874, the firm employed an average of 150 workers at its Brooklyn factory at any time.  Most of the activity in the Murray Street building was "cork sorting." The firm's offices and salesroom were in the ground floor store level. 

As the name implied, John Robinson was the principal in the firm.  He was affiliated with another cork firm, Armstrong Brothers & Co. of Pittsburgh.  Although, according to The Sun, "Mr. Robinson was generally supposed to be wealthy," he declared bankruptcy on May 5, 1891.  The firm now continued as Armstrong Brothers.

The company remained at 45 Murray Street until about 1901 when the building once again saw multiple tenants.  Among them were the Carter Medicine Company; the Comstock Hoff Mfg. Co., leather goods dealers; and Lamson & Goodnow Manufacturing Co., makers of cutlery and knives.

Hardware Dealers' Magazine, February 1910 (copyright expired)

In 1907 Brent Good, president of the Carter Medicine Company, purchased the building.  He continued to operate his business here, while leasing space to other tenants.  He had started out in the "proprietary medicine" business in 1866, and in 1880 had co-founded Carter Medicine Company with Samuel J. Carter.  The firm's one product was a pill, promised to cure "headache, constipation, dyspepsia, and biliousness." 

Carter's Medicine Company targeted the military in this 1914 advertisement.  copyright expired)

Good traveled to England in 1915--a dangerous time to be abroad.  The previous year, in December, Germany had begun aerial bombing of Great Britain.   Now in October 1915, Brent Good found himself in the midst of the upheaval.  On November 11, The Sun reported, "While in London on business a few weeks ago he was shaken up during a Zeppelin bomb raid and collapsed soon after returning home."  The 68-year-old never recovered from the shock and died on November 10.  The article noted, "He had made a fortune in the manufacture of pills."  By the time of that comment, the catchy name "Carter's Little Liver Pills" became a household phrase.

Carter Medicine Company continued at 45 Murray Street.  The changing tenor of the neighborhood was reflected in the tenants at the time.  Despite rampant anti-German sentiments, in 1917 Otto Goetz imported "German china, fancy goods, Bohemian glassware, beer steins, bisque novelties."  In the post war years Wallach & Behrend Co., dealers in chinaware and cafeteria equipment, was here, as was the Chemical Co. of America, makers of dyestuffs.

Carter's Medicine Company left Murray Street in 1935.  (In 1951 the Federal Trade Commission ordered it to change the name to "Carter's Little Pills," saying the "liver" in the name was deceptive.)

Throughout the rest of the century more industrial tenants occupied the building.  For two decades, starting in 1935, the International Plumbing Supply Co., and the Enbee Mfg. Co. were here.  The 1940's saw Harrington J. Bradford & Co., and Universal Budget Systems, dealers in "inexpensive family budget books," in the building.

Today an Indian restaurant occupies the former store space, while the upper floors continue to house small businesses and factories.  Despite the unfortunate loss of the architectural detailing of the second floor windows and a devastating 1861 fire, Samuel A. Warner's striking 1855 design is incredibly intact.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Dwight Townsend House - 344 Lexington Avenue


In the 1850's elegant homes rose along Lexington Avenue in the fashionable Murray Hill neighborhood.  Typical of them was the 19-foot-wide house at 344 Lexington Avenue, between 39th and 40th Streets.  One of a row of identical brownstone-fronted residences, it rose four stories above an English basement.  Its Italianate design featured a double-doored entrance beneath an impressive arched pediment, floor-to-ceiling parlor windows, and molded architrave frames around the elliptically arched upper openings. 

The house was purchased by Elias William Van Voorhis as an investment property.  But, in fact, it appears he never actually enjoyed the rental income.  Van Voorhis died in August 1869, and his will explained that for years he had given his daughter, Sarah Ann Brintnall, the rents, and that the "house has been called hers, although the same belongs to me."  Interestingly, she did not receive the property outright.  It was inherited in equal shared by all the Van Voorhis siblings. 

At the time of Van Voorhis's death, the family of Robert McElrath Strebeigh lived here.  Born in 1826, Strebeigh and his wife, Agnes, had three children, one of which, Isaac Lefferts Strebeigh, was a freshman at Columbia University in 1869.

The Strebeighs were followed in the house by the Francisco G. Guimaraes family.  Sadly, Cecile, the eight-year-old daughter of Francisco and his wife Emma, died on September 18, 1872.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room two days later.

The Guimaraeses left seven months later.  It was common for well-to-do families to sell their furnishings and start anew when then moved.  And so, on April 25, 1873 an auction was held in 344 Lexington Avenue, the inventory of which hinted at the home's elegance.  Included was custom-made furniture by Pottier & Stymus (one of the foremost cabinetmakers in the country at the time), "black and gilt Parlor Suits, in red silk; elegant inland Cabinets and Tables, [and] elegant Pier Mirrors."  Notable among the inventory was the rosewood grand piano.

The early 1880's saw J. Mills Smith and Mary A. Smith in the house.  On January 15, 1883, The Daily Graphic noted that two days later, "J. Mills Smith, of No. 344 Lexington avenue, will give a masquerade party."

Around 1888, Fanny C. and Charles T. Dillingham began renting the house.  Moving in with them was Charles's brother, Dr. Frederick H. Dillingham.  

Charles was the principal in the large publishing firm and book store, Charles T. Dillingham & Co.   He was, as well, a stockholder and director in the New York Amusement Company which owned the New York Baseball Club.  But upheaval within the ranks of the players, exacerbated by a catastrophic losing season in 1890, left the club hemorrhaging cash.  It resulted in whaThe Sun called "the disastrous baseball war," and in Dillingham's resignation after he "soon became tired of putting his hand in his pocket."

A graduate of Bowdoin College Medical School, Dr. Frederick H. Dillingham was a specialist in transmissible diseases like typhoid fever and yellow fever.  In addition to his private practice, he worked in the city's Bureau of Contagious Diseases as an "inspector of vaccinations."  His research is evidenced in a short note to the editors of the North Carolina Medical Journal in December 1888.  "I am now using Lactated Food in a case of typhoid fever, where it agrees better with the patient than anything else.  It has also proved beneficial in several other cases."

The Dillinghams leased the house through 1891, when it became home to Dwight Townsend and his wife, the former Emily Hodges.  The couple had a daughter, Anna Helmet.  Born in 1826, Townsend was a direct descendant of John Townsend, one of the three brothers who arrived at Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1665.

Dwight Townsend made his fortune in the sugar refining firm of Havemeyer, Townsend & Co.   He served in the United States House of Representatives from December 1864 to March 3, 1865, and was re-elected in 1871, serving until March 3, 1873.

Dwight Townsend, from the collection of the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

In 1895, Sarah A. Britnall bought out her siblings' shares of the property, and then sold 344 Lexington Avenue to the Townsends for the equivalent of $731,000 in 2022.  Emily entertained frequently.  On April 3, 1895, for instance, The New York Times reported, "The last of the four recitals given by William H. Barber took place at the home of Mrs. Townsend, 344 Lexington Avenue," and on February 2 the following year, The Press said Emily's recitals "have been the most exclusively smart musicales of the year."

Dwight Townsend died at the age of 74 on October 29, 1899.  Emily remained in the Lexington Avenue house until June 1904 when it was sold to Dr. George V. Foster for $27,500--about $825,000 today.  The Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the new owner "will make extensive repairs," before leasing it.

But after the renovations were completed, Foster and his wife, Anna, sold it, instead, to Howard Herrick Henry and his wife, the former Frances Burrall Strong.   Henry was the senior member of the stockbrokerage firm Henry Bros. & Co., and a former governor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The Henrys, who had two daughters, Grace and Frances, immediately hired architect Robert S. Stephenson to enlarge the house with a three-story addition to the rear.  Construction was completed just in time for Grace's introduction to society.  On December 2, 1906 The Sun reported, "Mrs. Howard H. Henry...will give a tea on Friday afternoon, when her daughter, Miss Grace Henry, will be the debutante."  The New York Times noted, "The Henrys are descended from one of the old Quaker families of New York, who at one time lived in the great brownstone mansions and villas which were built in the early part of the last century on East Broadway and Rutgers Place."  The article added, "Mrs. Henry will give a dance later for her daughter."

On the afternoon of April 8, 1909 Frances attended services at St. Bartholomew's ChurchThe Sun reported, "She noticed behind her a man who was praying fervently."  Frances went to the communion rail, and when she returned to her seat, her handbag and purse were missing--and so was the passionately praying man.

The following day, before Frances had reported the theft, Detective William O'Brien's suspicions were raised when John Curdley, an out-of-work theatrical scenery and property man, attempted to pawn a bag and purse.  Upon questioning, Curdley admitted he had stolen them from St. Bartholomew's.  In court, he explained to the judge, he "had to steal or starve."  He was held on $500 bail--more than $14,500 today--awaiting trial.

Two months after the incident, the Henrys brought back architect Robert S. Stephenson, now with the firm of Stephenson & Wheeler, to renovate the rear addition by altering interior walls.

On October 27, 1912 the New York Herald reported on the announcement of France's engagement to Harvey Graham, "son of Mrs. Hubert Vos and brother of Mrs. Jay Gould."  The article noted that Frances was "the sister of Miss Grace R. Henry, one of society's best known amateur playwrights."

It was an unusually long engagement.  The couple was married nearly four years later, on May 1, 1916, in St. Bartholomew's Church.  Grace was her sister's bridesmaid and a reception was held in the Lexington Avenue house afterward.

Another notable incident for the family happened a few months later.  On September 11, The New York Times reported, "Photographers have completed the film for the moving picture play, 'The Treasure of the Inca,' which will be presented in the entertainment, 'The Lenox Follies of 1916'...The drama was written especially for the Lenox colony by Miss Grace R. Henry."

Howard Herrick Henry died in the Lexington Avenue house on March 31, 1917 at the age of 60.   Five months later, on August 3, the New York Herald announced, "The future home of Mrs. Howard H. Henry and Miss Grace R. Henry, who have lived at No. 344 Lexington avenue for several years, will be at No. 46 East 64th street."

With the United States drawn in to World War I, Frances leased 344 Lexington Avenue to the Junior Officers' Club.  The organization would remain throughout the conflict.

Although she never again resided in the Lexington Avenue house, Frances Henry was still concerned about the neighborhood.  On April 15, 1921, The Evening World reported, "A number of old Murray Hill families appeared before the Estimate Board and protested against changing from a residence to a business district under the zoning law, both sides of Lexington Avenue from East 39th Street to a point midway between East 40th and East 41st Street."  Among the vocal opponents, said the article, was Frances B. Henry.

At the time, she was leasing the house to John Russell Taber, described by The New York Times as a "millionaire maker of decorative marble."  The newspaper said "Mr. Taber, known for many years as the 'Marble King,' had been deaf, and blind in one eye for some time."  The elderly man shared the house with his unmarried daughter, Marion, who was secretary of the State Charities Aid Association, and was in charge of the occupational therapy work at Bellevue and Fordham Hospitals.

On the night of October 31, 1922, the 78-year-old Taber attempted to cross Park Avenue at 78th Street.  He was hit by a cab and taken to Bellevue Hospital where he died the following day.

Frances Henry died in 1924.  The Lexington Avenue house saw several owners over the next decade until, as Frances Henry had feared, it was converted to a store in the basement level and furnished rooms above.  The stoop was removed and the residential entrance removed to sidewalk level.  Surprisingly, while the carved frames of the upper windows were shaved flat, the exuberant, original entrance was kept intact.  Even the double doors were preserved, which now opened onto a tiny railed balcony.

The original appearance of the upper floor windows can be seen in the once-identical house next door.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Trouble came in 1978 when police raided the former parlor floor.  On May 12, The New York Times reported, "Eighteen persons were arrested last what police said was a $50 million-a-year gambling operation controlled by the Vito Genovese crime family."  The article said, "One of its sites--on the second floor of 344 Lexington Avenue--had the most sophisticated gambling equipment they had ever seen, police said."

In the early 1980's the ground floor space was home to Scheherezade, a French continental restaurant.  It was replaced around 1987 with Christine's Polish Restaurant.  On May 4 that year New York Magazine said, "There's nothing particularly elegant about this place, but it does serve three kinds of borscht, and the food is good, and cheap."  A third regional restaurant, the Bombay Grill, opened here around 2007.

In 2009 a sidewalk shed was erected at 344 Lexington Avenue.  It remains there thirteen years later.  Peeling paint flakes from the timeworn brownstone facade, and yet, above that sidewalk shed, the handsome 1850's entranceway still recalls when wealthy New Yorkers once lived here.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Isabella Merritt Hawley House - 49 West 71st Street


In January 1885, architect John Sexton filed plans for seven four-story brownstone houses on the north side of West 71st Street, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.  The 19-foot-wide homes would cost the developer, Owen Donahue, $12,000 each to construct (about $329,000 today).  Donahue may have run into financial problems, because before the project was completed his builders, George and Andrew Crawford, held title to the properties.

Although the row was completed in 1886, the Crawfords retained possession of 49 West 71st Street until October 23, 1890 when it was sold to Louis Stix for $34,500--just over $1 million today.  The Real Estate Record & Guide noted, "This is the last house of the row built by Mr. Crawford on 71st street."

The house was identical to the other six along the row.  Designed in the neo-Grec style, its openings sat within architrave frames, each having a molded cornice and bracketed sills.  Identical pressed metal cornices graced each house along the row.

49 West 71st Street is easily identified along the row of once-identical homes by its 1909 French makeover.

Louis Stix purchased the property as an investment.  (He and his family resided in another of George Crawford's houses on the block, 35 West 71st Street, just steps away.)  He leased it  to Isabella Meritt Hawley.

Isabella was born in St. John's, New Brunswick, where she received a private education before attending the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, and then Mrs. Mears' Boarding and Day School in New York City.  She was the widow of Peter Radcliffe Hawley, an officer of the U. S. Coast Survey, a Government-run scientific organization.  They were married in 1856 and had five children.  

Isabella Merritt Hawley was no  hapless widow.   An accomplished dancer and musician, the 1898 Emma Willard and Her Pupils noted that she was, as well, a "contributor to the daily newspapers on current topics, and has translated from both French and German."  That same year, on December 9, The Argus reported that she had incorporated the stock brokerage firm, I. M. Hawley Company with her sons Alan and William.  The New-York Tribune commented that she spoke "fluently French, Italian and German and was especially interested in Oriental philanthropy and religion."

One of Isabella's two daughters was Wilhemina Douglas Hawley, born in 1860.  Like her mother, she showed early artistic talent and in 1879 enrolled in the Cooper Union Women's Art School, and the following year she entered the Art Students League--eventually becoming its first female vice president.

When her mother moved into 40 West 71st Street, Wilhemina was in Paris, studying at the Academie Julian.  She would never return, settling permanently in Europe where she pursued her career as an artist.

Equally noteworthy was Isabella's son, Alan Hawley.  His interest in stocks and bonds paled to his passion for flight.  Born in 1869, he attended the prestigious Trinity School in New York City.  He would become a balloonist and early aviator.  In 1910 he entered and won the Gordon Bennett International Balloon Race, and in 1916 was first passenger to fly in an airplane from New York City to Washington D.C.

In the meantime, Isabella carried on the expected routine of a wealthy socialite.  On June 28, 1898, The Evening Telegram announced she "has leased a cottage at Seabright, N.J. for the season."

The house was sold to George Potts in 1901, triggering a rapid succession of owners and occupants.  Potts resold it the following year to Irving I. Kempner.  In 1903 it was purchased by Lewis C. Marshall, who sold it to Elizabeth E. Mack in April 1909.

As Louis Stix had done, Elizabeth purchased the property as an investment.  A professional lecturer and speech instructor, she had studied under Sarah Bernhardt.  The unmarried speaker gave lectures and dramatic readings on subjects like "Current Events of the New York Theatres" and "Modern Poets."

Before leasing the house, Mack hired the architectural firm of Herts & Tallant to modernize it.  A three-story addition was constructed in the rear, the stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the basement level, and a striking copper oriel was added to the second floor.  The former parlor level was given French windows fronted by bulbous faux balconies.

The glass of the original oriel window panes would have been curved to follow the shape of the bay.

Mack's first long-term tenant came in 1917 when Nelson W. Greenhut and his wife, the former Cecile Erstein, moved in.  Greenhut was a partner in the private banking firm of Greenhut & Co., founded by his father, Joseph B. Greenhut.  (Joseph Greenhut had distinguished himself in the battle of Gettysburg, earning a special commendation from Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson.)

Jacob H. Scheuer purchased the house in 1924.  After the Scheuer family sold it two years later, it was operated as an unofficial apartment house, home to professionals like attorney Joseph Ankus throughout the Depression years.

In 1947 a renovation resulted in two apartments per floor.  During the Cold War years of the 1960's it was owned by Lino Quirko, who installed a Federally registered fall-out shelter in the cellar level.

A resident in the summer of 1969, Karen Sue McKee, led police in several counties on a nearly year-long search for her.  The News-Review reported on March 5, 1970, "Police say she went on a shopping spree last July in Suffolk [county] stores, concentrating on Riverhead, Patchogue, and other Brookhaven communities, writing forged checks ranging from $180 to $220, and purchasing small articles."  The total value of her buying binge was more than $2,000--nearly seven times that much in today's dollars.

The 29-year-0ld was arrested in November 1969 in Rhode Island, "but jumped $2,000 bail on Nov. 13," said The News-Review.  It all ended without drama when McKee surrendered to County Police at Hauppage, New York on March 3, 1970.

The appearance of the original stoop can be seen next door at 51 West 71st Street.

Outwardly, 49 West 71st Street is little changed since Elizabeth E. Mack gave it an architectural split personality in 1909.

photographs by the author
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