Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The 1889 "The Adrian" - 58 West 72nd Street


Terence Farley was among the pioneer developers of the Upper West Side, the Real Estate Record & Guide calling him "one of the most active builders in this city."  In 1888, he began construction on a flat and store building on the southeast corner of Ninth Avenue (soon renamed Columbus Avenue) and West 72nd Street.  The four upper floors would hold high-end apartments, the second floor six offices and a "bachelor apartment," and there would be four stores at ground level.

The equally-prolific architectural firm of Thom & Wilson had designed a blend of the Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles for the upscale building.  Its residential entrance would be located at 58 West 72nd Street, with a second doorway that accessed the second floor on Columbus Avenue.

Farley would not live to see his project completed.  His business was taken over by his sons, John T. and James A. Farley who forged on with the construction.  (Oddly enough, the Farleys operated both as Terence Farley's Sons, and J. F. & F. A. Farley.)  The structure was completed in 1889 and called The Adrian.  Upper West Side apartment buildings often were given enigmatic names--the Viola and the Sylvia, for instance.  Adrian, however, was almost assuredly a tribute to a real deceased little boy.  At the third floor on the Columbus Avenue elevation, terra cotta plaques, each designed with a shield, decorate the spandrels between the windows.  Two, however, are different,  They are a touching portrait of a young boy, about three years old, dressed in Victorian garb--quite likely a silent memorial.

The poignant bust of the little boy is haunting.

The residential entrance on 72nd Street was graced by a granite columned portico.  Residents entered a 45-foot long hallway.  "It is lighted by means of a stained-glass ceiling, looking out on a courtyard, which runs to the top of the building, and which also gives light to all the rear windows of the various suites of apartments above," said the Record & Guide on April 27 1889.  

There were two apartments per floor, each with nine rooms including "reception, music, dining and drawing rooms," three bedrooms, a servant's bedroom, a "bathroom with all the conveniences," and a "well-appointed" kitchen.  The reception rooms, according to the Record & Guide, "are handsomely fitted up with mantels of special design, with mirrors and fireplaces, andirons, etc.  The walls are covered with cartridge paper and the ceilings are decorated.  There is no attempt to be gaudy, nor is there anything to offend good taste."

The initial tenants of the ground floor stores were H. A. Casebeer's pharmacy, a real estate office, decorator shop, and a Western Union Telegraph Company office.  Terence Farley's Sons moved its offices into one of the second floor offices.  Other second floor tenants were also involved in the construction industry, including builders Francis Crawford, C. W. Luyster, and architect Ralph S. Townsend.  The Record & Guide pointed out "The Adrian is now managed by [Terence Farley's] sons, who have resolved to hold the property as an investment for the estate."

Among the early residents were the W. H. Busteed family.  Their son, Joseph, made an attempt to show off his wealth and sophistication on September 4, 1893, with disastrous results.  The Sun reported that the 21-year old "took three young women into the Manhattan Café on Monday evening and ordered a $15 dinner.  At the conclusion of the meal he ordered cigars for himself and 90 cents' worth of cigarettes for his companions.  Then he told the waiter to 'chalk it up.'"  (Joseph's bill would be in the neighborhood of $475 today.)

Joseph's grandiosity came to a quick and humiliation end.  The manager, John Dunson, refused to give him credit.  Busteen explained he had no money, and while his female companions did have cash on them, The Sun said "they declined to part with it."  Busteen was arrested.  When he appeared in court two days later, his father paid for the dinner and the young man was allowed to go free.

By 1897, the family of Eugene V. N. Bissell, a member of the auction firm E. Bissell & Son, lived in the Adrian.  He and Mary Valentine Yale had married in 1888 and the couple had three children.  According to the New York Herald, they had "two servants and a maid."  Unknown to her husband, Mary was spending lavishly.

The problem came to light in March 1897 when a dressmaker, Anna C. C. Zann, sued Bissell for $1,080 Mary had spent on gowns.  Six months later the New York Herald said "Soon other case came up against Bissell because of his wife's fondness for extravagance."  By now he was faced with $10,000 for dresses and flowers (nearly $320,000 today).  And now John T. Farley added $333.32 in past due rent to the debt.

Mary was forced to testify in court when the furriers Revillon Freres sued for unpaid bills.  Women across New York were no doubt shocked at her admitted extravagance.  On September 23 she was asked by a lawyer how often she wore a dress before she considered it useless.  She replied "Five times; sometimes not so often."

The Morning Telegraph said of her, "She soon acquired a reputation as a spendthrift and was known as 'the Lady of Violets,' owing to her fondness for adorning herself with the small but most costly blossoms...Mrs. Bissell was noted for her beauty.  She was a large, handsome blonde and frequently covered herself completely with violets."

The publicity ruined Bissell.  His father forced him out of the business "on account of my wife's extravagance," he explained.  He divorced Mary, who quickly remarried by 1899.

Another tenant who garnered unwanted publicity was stock broker Ross Miller Turner.  On May 17, 1903, he took a drive in Central Park in a runabout.  Suddenly his horse shied and fell to the ground.  In doing so it knocked Madeline Neubeck, a dressmaker, to the pavement as well.  "The horse kicked her in the leg, but she was not badly hurt," reported The Sun.  An ambulance surgeon (the equivalent of today's EMT) dressed her wounds and everyone went on their way.

Turner's name was back in the newspapers the following year.  Just as today, the weekend crowds headed to the beach were significant.  On Sunday, August 21, 1904, the 31-year-old waited for the elevated train to Coney Island with a friend, Newell Blass.  The Daily Standard Union said "Mr. Turner and Mr. Blass made two of an immense waiting crowd."  When the train pulled in, it was packed so Turner "tried to get a seat on an 'L' train by jumping through a window."  He was immediately "hauled out" by a policeman.  Blass bailed him out of jail.

When he appeared in court to pay his $3 fine, the judge reprimanded him severely.  "I should think that you, an evidently well educated and apparently sensible man, would be deeply ashamed of having shown such greed for a seat.  In a crowd such as goes to Coney Island on Sunday afternoon it is the place of such men as you to set an example.  Consider the result, if all men of your pattern acted as you have done."

By 1912, the apartment of opera singer Bertrand de Bernyz doubled as his vocal training studio.  In an advertisement in September that year he called himself "the renowned European Grand Opera and Concern Singer and Director."  Within three years he used the apartment, as well, as the headquarters of the Bertrand de Bernyz Opera, Oratorio and Concert Society, which gave concerts at the Hotel Majestic.

De Bernyz was also the president of the American Opera Organization, "founded to aid needy American talent and to provide opportunities for the same," according to the New-York Tribune.  Among those was Roland-Douvall de Martinez-Campus whom de Bernyz described as "a great tenor voice of exceptional quality and volume, who has all the qualifications necessary to become a successful rival to Caruso."  The New-York Tribune announced on March 21, 1915, "Professor de Bernyz invites all interested in hearing this newly discovered voice...to attend the public operatic rehearsals held every Saturday afternoon at 5 o'clock in Studio Hall, 58 West Seventy-second Street."

De Bernyz became involved in a tangled custody case in 1921.  Among his students was 11-year old Bessie Connell Harring, "a singer whose voice can reach above high C," according to the Daily News on May 29.  She had lived with her widowed father, Thomas H. Cornell, an engineer, until he became seriously ill and was confined to the Harlem Hospital.  Bertrand de Berynz agreed to take the girl into his care.

But Bessie's maternal grandmother, Martha Connell, had other ideas.  After the girl disappeared from The Adrian, she was found with Mrs. Connell.  (Martha was charged with disorderly conduct for the kidnapping.)  The grandmother insisted she wanted custody because "she loves her granddaughter as much as anybody."  De Bernyz accused her of wanting to start her "on a professional career now."

On May 29, 1921 the Daily News reported "King Solomon was outdone by Magistrate John E. McGeehan in West Side Court yesterday.  When a controversy, based on the age-old theme, 'who gets the child?' came before the Magistrate, he settled it by taking the child into his own custody."

Obscured by a fire escape, a niche on the Columbus Avenue side is graced with a stylized potted flower.

In 1935, one of the second floor offices was leased by dentist Alex Paigen.  At around 11:00 on the morning of December 3, four young men entered.  One told the assistant, Rae Sharet, he needed dental attention.  Dr. Paigen was working on a patient, so the men calmly read magazines until the patient left.  They then pulled out guns.  The New York Times reported they "held up the dentist and his assistant, binding them to chairs with twine."  They took $35 from Rae's purse and $160 from the doctor's wallet "and walked quietly down the stairs and into Seventy-second Street."  

The Adrian was renovated in 1938, resulting in five apartments per floor.  That configuration lasted until 1998 when a penthouse level, invisible from the street, was added.  Once again there were two apartments each on the third through fifth floors, and three duplexes above.

In the meantime, beginning around 1980, a Charivari store occupied one of the ground floor spaces for at least a decade.   Another space was occupied by Diane's, which offered one of "the best choices for hamburgers," according to The New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton on December 31, 1982.  In December 1997, Ordning & Reda opened a store in 253 Columbus Avenue.  Its wide variety of stationery products--diaries, address books, portfolios, photo albums and such--were designed and handmade in Sweden."

Although the ground floor shops have been extensively altered, the upper floors of The Adrian are strikingly intact, including the haunting portraits of the young boy who has looked out onto Columbus Avenue for more than 130 years.

photographs by the author
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