Tuesday, February 1, 2022

W. J. Merritt's 1896 123 West 95th Street


In the summer of 1886, developer Charles A. Bouton embarked on a project of six rowhouses on West 95th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  His choice of architects was interesting.  William J. Merritt & Co. was a prolific developer on the Upper West Side, occasionally acting as its own architect.  When plans were filed on August 6 the architect of record was W. J. Merritt & Co.--normally considered a competitor of Bouton.

Each of the narrow houses--some were 16 feet and the others 17 feet wide--would cost $10,000 to construct, more than a quarter of a million dollars today.  The row was completed in 1887.  Among the 17-foot-wide homes was 123 West 95th Street, a blend of the Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles.  It shared a stoop (divided by a solid wall) with its neighbor at 125.  The basement and parlor floors of both houses were clad in rough-cut brownstone, their entrances topped with blocky voussoirs.   But there the similarities essentially stopped.

A dramatic, full-height rounded bay rose turret-like to a brick parapet above the dentiled cornice at 123 West 95th.  The windows of the interior hallways of the brick-faced upper floors were noticeably reduced--beginning at about chest height.

Boulton sold the house to Mary V. Terry on March 10, 1888 for $18,000--around $505,000 in today's money--initiating a game of real estate hot potato.  Mary lost it in foreclosure that December.  It was sold at auction to Walter Scott for $14,300, who sold it the following month to Albion L. Warner for $16,000.  

Warner owned four other West 95th Street houses, all of this he leased.  Living here in the 1890's was the family of I. L. Lersner.  A pharmacist, Lersner was prominent among the Jewish community.  He would sit on the sub-committee for the erection of The McKinley Memorial in 1902 to honor the assassinated President.  But he was perhaps best known outside of his druggist work, for translating and publishing the Rules and Regulation of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878.  

The West 95th Street house was the scene of an important social function on February 12, 1900.  Hannah Leonore Lersner was married to Julius Siegel in the drawing room at noon that day.  "After the ceremony there was a breakfast, followed by a reception," reported the New-York Tribune.  The house was filled with some of the most socially important names in Jewish society, including Schwab, Bachman, and Flesichman.

Albion L. Warner sold 123 West 95th Street in May 1904 to Marcus F. Bender.  Interestingly, he, too, was a pharmacist, having started in the business in the 1860's.  His Chelsea drugstore was at 357 West 14th Street, at the corner of Ninth Avenue.

His purchase of the house may have been prompted by a recent windfall.  The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record explained that he "inherited a modest fortune from his relatives in Syracuse."

Born in 1849 in Syracuse, New York, Bender had started out working the drugstore of Charles H. Bell, at Bleecker and Charles Street, as a boy.   He and his wife now had two grown children, Lucia H. and Dr. Leach H. Bender.

Bender suffered a fatal stroke in the house on January 28, 1907.  He was only 58 years old.  His will hinted at tensions between him and his son.  The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record reported that his store, "will be conducted...in the interest of his widow and daughter, for whom he has otherwise provided comfortably."  Nothing concerning Leach was mentioned.

Once again the house saw a rapid turnover of owners.  Three months later it was sold to Charles F. Schorer, who quickly sold it to Josephing I. Harrington, who sold it in May 1908.

By 1913 it was the home of Dr. Alexander Andrade.  In June that year he and his wife looked to take in a roomer.  Their advertisement offered, "Beautifully decorated, three rooms, handsome marble bathroom, kitchen, private residence."

Andrade was born in Colombia, South America.  On Saturday night, January 10, 1914, he attended a meeting of Colombian businessman in the Earlington Hotel.  It resulted in the organization of the Colombian Commercial Club.  The New York Herald reported, "Francisco Escobar, Consul General of Colombia in New York, was urged to accept the presidency of the club, but he declined in favor of Dr. Alexander Andrade, of No. 123 West Ninety-fifth street, who was unanimously elected."

The newspaper added that "a committee was appointed to find a location for the club house."  They did not look far.  In its May 1914 issue, the Bulletin of the Pan American Union reported:

There is now established in New York, at 123 West Ninety-fifth Street, a Colombian Commercial Club, which has for its purpose the bringing about of cooperation and good feeling between the citizens of Colombia and the United States; the free promotion by free instruction of a knowledge of the history, language, and commercial possibilities of those countries; and the maintenance of a library of books, periodicals, newspapers, magazines and other publications relating to the soil, climate natural resources and commercial possibilities of both.

The club was still holding its meetings and lectures in the house as late as 1919.

In the meantime, the Andrades continued leasing the three rooms.  Living with them in 1918 was R. E. Voss.  That year he started a new business, The Voss Alcohol Export Corporation, "to manufacture alcohol, etc."

The residence remained a single-family house until 1977 when it was converted to a total of seven apartments, including a duplex.  That configuration survived until 1996 when a renovation resulted in just four apartments.

photographs by the author
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