Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Watts C. Livingston House - 351 West 30th Street

Dr. Watts C. Livenstone was born near Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1819.  For some reason, at some point he changed the spelling of his surname to Livingston.  In 1841 he married Eleanor Palmer and shortly afterward relocated to New York City to study at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1852.

Livingston was made a house surgeon at the New York Hospital, at around the time he and Eleanor moved into the newly built house at 229 West 30th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues (renumbered 351 in 1868).  Three stories tall  above a brownstone English basement, it exhibited elements of the popular Italianate style--a pressed metal bracketed cornice, full-height parlor windows and molded lintels.  The architect, however, forwent the pedimented entrance more expected in the style, in favor of a brownstone cornice upon scrolled brackets.

Livingston became a well-respected member of the medical community.  In addition to his position at the New York Hospital, in 1855 he was appointed a lecturer on surgery in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  He lectured, as well, at Columbia College.  Additionally, he was a trustee of the public school system and president of the Physicians' Widows and Orphans Aid Society.

The Livingstons maintained a small domestic staff.  In July 1865, they sought "A girl, who knows how and is willing to do the housework of a small family."  The applicant would be tidying up for a boarder, as well.   The Livingstons took in one boarder at a time, like George C. Hall, a clerk, in 1858 through 1862, and another physician, Charles L. Vontrenck in 1867 through 1869.

In the spring of 1874 the Livingstons downsized, moving to the 18-foot-wide house four just houses away at 359 West 30th Street.   No. 351 became home to Prince Nickerson, a brick  merchant.

The Nickersons, too, took in a boarder.  William J. Dalrymple lived here in 1879 when his love life took a dark turn.  On March 12 the 26-year-old traveled to Brooklyn to visit his sweetheart, Nelly Lee.  The Brooklyn Eagle said, "a quarrel took place between them, in reference to another young woman, with whom Nelly accused him of being on too intimate terms."  Dalrymple said she was being overly jealous, and "his feelings, he said, were so much overcome that he did not care to live any longer."

To Nelly's shock, he pulled a revolver from his pocket and threatened to shoot himself.  Nelly rushed forward and grabbed the gun by the muzzle.  In the struggle, it went off, shooting Nelly through the hand.

Despondent over what had happened, Dalrymple returned to New York and got drunk in a saloon-restaurant on Fulton Street.  He had what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called "a hearty supper," then refused to pay.  He picked up a carving knife and "threatened to cut his way out of the place."  A policeman was able to disarm him before anyone was hurt.  After hearing his story, police were dispatched to Brooklyn to interview Nelly Lee, who substantiated his statement.  Rather unbelievably today, despite his wounding Nelly, threatening to stab saloon patrons and employees, and refusing to pay for his meal, since no one made a complaint, Dalrymple was released.

The Nickersons moved to New Haven, Connecticut by 1892.  The West 30th Street house was next home to the well-to-do contractor George W. Prodgers.  And by 1901, it was being operated as a high-end boarding house.

Among the residents that year were G. L. Gray, the manufacturer of Gray's Perfect Elbow Patterns, a guide for plumbing pipe makers; H. Vartain, and Dr. Joseph Adler.  As had been the case with William J. Dalrymple, the fairer sex landed both Vartain's and Adler's names in the newspapers.

H. Vartain visited a brothel on 137 West 33rd Street and was robbed of $130 cash by Laura Williams.  Very often such crimes went unpunished because the victims were reticent to report them.  Vartain, in this case, chose justice over humiliation.

Dr. Adler had earlier treated an actress, Ruth Russell.  According to The Morning Telegraph on July 13, 1901, "he lured her back from the valley of the shadow to such purpose that she owed him $7."  After sending her several bills, the 28-year-old doctor decided to visit her home personally.  He took along a good friend and policeman, Charles Pfeifer.

The Morning Telegraph reported, "A negro maid opened the door, the doctor alleges, and upon learning he was in search of money, slammed it in his face."  Russell's manager, William J. Cookson then appeared and "they said to one another much which was all too displeasing."

So displeasing was the back-and-forth that Dr. Adler landed a punch on Cookson's nose.  (The newspaper said the blow "rendered that organ temporarily, as least, hors du combat.")  Adler was arrested and, in court "Mr. Cookson placed in evidence his discolored nose."  The doctor was held on $300 bail awaiting a hearing.

The boarders in 351 West 30th Street were decidedly artistic in the years that followed.  An advertisement in The Evening Telegram on October 1, 1903 read, "Violin playing thoroughly taught by painstaking Italian instructor, either residence; moderate terms."  On October 22, 1913 an advertisement said, "Refined Parisienne as visiting governess; all branches of French, drawing, painting, English tutoring, long experience.  Mademoiselle, 351 West 30th."  And the following year an ad offered, "Artist gives lessons drawing, painting, oil, water color, decorative painting."

By 1922, 351 West 30th Street contained furnished rooms.  The tenants were, nonetheless, still middle-class.  Among them was William T. Fitzgerald, a general contractor.  He received the contract that year to erect the five-story nurses' training school and dormitory for the Broad Street Hospital.  

Another, Joseph Bigay, was not experiencing such success.  Separated from his wife, he had also lost his job.  It became too much for him, and on January 2, 1922 he was found dead in his room with a bullet wound to the head.

Thomas E. Foie lived here in 1964.  On October 18, a Queens couple, Mr. and Mrs. Morris Liss, were walking along East 51st Street when they heard screams.  A man's body had just crashed to the sidewalk from 358 West 51st Street, and as they approached, Thomas E. Foie bumped into them as he rushed out of the building.  The Lisses followed him for nine blocks, finally getting the attention of a patrolman.  The 34-year-old Foie (it was, coincidentally, his birthday) "put up a fight," with Patrolman Patrick O'Sullivan, according to the Daily News, but was subdued and taking in for questioning.

At the police station, Foie admitted to having quarreled with Hector Galvez over the $25 Galvez owed him.  He said they got into a fist fight and one punch knocked Galvez backwards, crashing out the widow to his death.  The Daily News reported, "The apartment showed signs of a fierce struggle."  Foie was charged with murder.

Around 1978, 351 West 30th Street became home to Barbara and Peter Moore.  Barbara was an art historian, writer, rare book dealer, and editor of Something Else Press.  Born in London in 1932, Peter was a well-known photographer of the performing arts.   The couple were intimately involved in the Fluxus art movement, a community of artists, composers, poets, and designers in the 1960's and '70's that stressed the artistic process over the finished product.

Peter Moore died in 1993, and in July 2005 the Barbara and Peter Moore Fluxus Collection was acquired by the Harvard University Art Museums, partially as a gift from Barbara Moore.  The HUAM calls it "one of the most important groups of Fluxus materials in North America."

image via

In 2013 a renovation of the vintage house was begun.  Among other changes, interior walls--like the separation of the parlor and dining room--were removed.   And because the house had never been converted to apartments, many of the original 1850's elements survive.

photographs by the author
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  1. The top photograph appears to no be 351 W. 30t. The bottom one does.

    1. Thanks for catching. Inserted the wrong photo! All fixed.