Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Leyland - 306-308 West 80th Street


On December 3, 1898 the Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide reported that developer Michael Tully had commissioned the architectural firm of Janes & Leo to design a six-story "brick and stone apartment house" on West 80th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  Both avenues were seeing the rise of opulent private homes, and so The Leyland would be a high-end residential building.

Completed in 1899, its rusticated stone base upheld five floors of red brick trimmed in limestone.  The sophisticated Renaissance Revival design included bellflower carved pilasters that flanked the second floor windows, classical pediments with elaborate cartouches above the third floor openings, and terra cotta banding at the sixth floor.

An advertisement for The Leyland said it sat within the "most aristocratic location on the west side."  The seven- or eight-room apartments included a private servants' entrance, electric lights, and "hall service."  The term referred to uniformed hallboys who ran errands, carried packages and performed other such services.

Among the initial residents were Carl Von Goeben, a construction engineer, and his wife; and dry goods importer Victor Erbacher and his wife and son.  Born in Vienna in 1863, Erbacher had come to America as a child, and was now a partner in Erbacher & Byram.

Stock broker Howard Crosby Foster and his wife, the former Ethel Emmagene Pratt, were married in 1903.  An 1898 graduate of Princeton University, Foster was a member of the firm of Foster & Adams (formed the year of his marriage).  The couple maintained a summer home in Plainfield, New Jersey.   When they moved into The Leyland, they had a daughter, Marion, born in 1905, and a baby son, Howard, Jr., born on April 13, 1908.

Howard Crosby Foster--Class of Eighteen Ninety Eight Twenty Fifth Year Book 1898-1923 (copyright expired)
Ethel Pratt Foster--from the collection of the Plainfield Garden Club

Tragically, their apartment would be the scene of 14-month-old Howard's funeral in May 1909.  There would be another funeral in the apartment two years later, on December 18, 1911--that of Ethel's mother, Emma Leffingwell Pratt.

A more joyful event was the wedding of Lola Pauline Kalman, the daughter of the Adolph and Julia Kalman, to Maurice Adelsheim on February 22, 1912.  Kalman was born in Hungary and had originally immigrated to Minnesota where he became a partner in the August Oppenheimer Company, makers of millinery and fancy goods.  The family still maintained a home in St. Paul, Minnesota.   Now, with Lola married, the Kalmans, only 15-year-old Emil remained with his parents.

At the time of the wedding, residents were paying $1,400 per year for an eight-room apartment--about $3,000 per month in today's money.  

Among the residents in 1915 was Francisco Urquidi, the Villista Consul to New York City.  Former bandit Pancho Villa had become a general during the Mexican Revolution that forced out President Porfirio Diaz.  Now Villa was one of two figures seeking recognition as the legitimate authority over Mexico, the other being Venustiano Carranza.  

A reporter from The New York Press who interviewed Urquidi in his apartment on September 19, 1915 was told, "General Villa does not expect to be recognized by the United States."  His expectations were met.  After Villa raided the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, in hopes of goading the United States into invading Mexico, he was regarded as an outlaw.  Presumably, Francisco Urquidi gave up his apartment in The Leyland soon afterward.

The Leyland continued to be home to upscale families in the post World War I years.  The residents appeared in the society columns' reports of weddings and funerals.  The engagement and wedding of Helen Marie Henderson, the daughter of Ernest Kirtland Henderson and his wife, for instance, in 1920, was followed by the social writers for months.

But the Hendersons' lease and those of the other residents would not be renewed.  On May 29, 1920 The New York Times reported that the building had been sold to the Weiss-Green Realty Company, "which will alter the property into small apartments."

The smaller apartments, coupled with the advent of the Great Depression, changed the tenor of the once-refined Leyland.  Resident Dominick Ceninati was arrested with Florence Maldine on September 34, 1934 for passing counterfeit bills.  Their mistake was in targeting the same store twice.  When Florence took items to the counter of an Astoria, Queens store in August, the owner recognized her as having previously passed a fake bill.  The New York Press reported that Cleon Psmopoulous "pulled out a revolver...when the woman started to pay for purchases and kept her covered until police arrived."

And 43-year-old Joseph Miller was arrested three years later for fraud.  Irving Winokur had placed an advertisement asking for a job "and saying he was prepared to invest money in a good business."  It caught the eye of Miller, who offered him a position at $25 per week, "if he posted $1,000 as a guarantee of faithful performance."  After working three months, Winokur became suspicious and demanded his money back.  "It was not forthcoming," said The New York Times.

Things got worse in 1947 when the building was converted to 16 and 17 single occupancy rooms per floor--commonly referred to as a flop house.  

On September 15, 1974 The New York Times began an article saying, "At least 16 persons have been murdered in single-room occupancy hotels in Manhattan's West Side in the last 12 months, according to [police] records."  Among them was 52-year-old Nora Cancel, who was murdered in The Leyland shortly after 1 a.m. on February 2.  She had been strangled to death by her 33-year-old live-in boyfriend, Jose Muniz.

The following year, just before noon May 6, 1975, Jackie Coleman forced his way into the fifth-floor room of 65-year-old Cobie Wheeler.  He not only robbed her of $15, but attacked her, trying "several times to push her out the window," according to police.  Police Officer Arthur J. Esposito was on  patrol on West 80th Street, when he heard Cobie's screams, and then saw Coleman run from the building.  He chased him down and "after a scuffle," disarmed him.  The New York Times reported, "He was charged with attempted murder, robbery, possession of a weapon, burglar tools and stolen property, and resisting arrest."

Redemption came as the neighborhood turned around in the next decade.  A renovation completed in 1987 resulted in "class A apartments" throughout, with a penthouse addition, unseen from the street, that included the upper halves of two duplex apartments.

Despite its renaissance, The Leyland still had one more unsavory connection.  In September Federal investigators busted a Columbian cocaine smuggling ring that "acquired apartments in quiet residential section of Manhattan for stashing drugs, money and weapons," according to agents.   One of those was The Leyland.  The New York Times reported, "In late June, Drug Enforcement Administration agents recovered $2.5 million in drug earnings from apartment 1-D at 306 West 80th Street."

Other than replacement windows and gray paint on the ground floor limestone, The Leyland retains its aristocratic 1899 appearance.

photographs by the author
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