Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Clarence F. True's 1898 303 West 107th Street


In 1897 real estate operators and builders Perez M. Stewart and H. Ives Smith, partners in Smith & Stewart, commissioned one of the Upper West Side's most prolific architects, Clarence F. True, to design a row of nine upscale houses along the north side of West 107st Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  True's plans, filed in June, said the four-story homes would be "of various sizes."

Completed in 1898, eight of the residences were faced in gray brick or limestone, their bowed facades creating a cohesive light-colored ensemble.  But the eastern-most house, 303 West 107th Street, stood apart.  Above the limestone base, True faced the 17-foot-wide house with red brick.  Stone quoins ran up the sides and around each of the openings.  A balustraded stone balcony fronted the second floor windows.  Noted for his playful mixing of historic styles, True gave the attic floor a Flemish gable.  Above the service entrance, tucked into a recess, a romantic rounded turret that provided a covered balcony to each floor rose to an exotic onion dome.  

On September 4, 1898 The New York Times reported, "Charles E. Schuyler & Co. have sold for Stewart & Smith the four-and-a-half story brick and stone front dwelling 303 West One Hundred and Seventh Street."  It was a propitious deal for the real estate agent.  What the article did not mention was that he and his wife, Adele S. Schuyler, were the buyers, as well.  The couple paid $26,000--or around $837,000 today.  

Schuyler was the head of the real estate brokerage firm Charles E. Schuyler & Co.  He focused on transactions on the Upper West Side.  The couple's summer home was in Shelter Island, New York, where Schuyler was active in the Atlantic Yacht Club.

In town, he was highly involved with Upper West Side community groups.  He was a member of the West End Association and was secretary of the Riverside and Morningside Heights Association, both of which constantly fought against unwanted development and shady businesses.  On June 5, 1900, for instance, the New-York Tribune listed him among the committee that appeared at the office of Highways Commissioner Keating "to discuss methods for preserving the Boulevard [i.e., Broadway] trees which have to be removed on the construction of the subway."

And four months later, on October 11, the newspaper reported that he "said yesterday that the [Riverside and Morningside Heights] association would raise money and assist Bishop Potter in any way possible" in his "crusade against vice."

The Schuylers sold their home to Dr. Berkeley Sherwood-Dunn and his wife, the former Louisa Lucy Knapp, on May 7, 1903.  

Dr. Sherwood-Dunn was a man of many talents.  Born in Rushford, New York to a pharmacist, while in his teens, according to The World, "He invented what purported to be a cough mixture and decorated the fences for miles around with the inscription, 'Kawkawlin Kough Kompound.'"  He graduated from New York University and the University of Paris, before beginning his private practice in New York City.  He and Louisa were married in Paris in April 1892.

In 1900 he joined the faculty of Tufts College in Boston, and later was a surgeon at Cushing Hospital in that city.  He was a co-owner and editor of the Annals of Gynegology and Pediatrics.  But Sherwood-Dunn's interests went far beyond medicine.  

Dr. Berkeley Sherwood-Dunn.  Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pa.) June 25, 1915 (copyright expired)

When he and Louisa moved into the West 107th Street house, he was secretary of the Century Trust Company, a director of the Bankers Life Insurance Company, president of the European-American Bank, the Delaware and Northampton Railway, the New York and Delaware Railway and an officer and director in several other banks and corporations.  In 1900 he and two other investors incorporated the New York Motor Vehicle Company, which manufactured the Volomobile.

A 1902 Volomobile.   image via allcarindex.com

The Sherwood-Dunns had three children, Hamilton, Yerkes and Dorothy.  They maintained a summer home in Nice, France.

When war broke out in Europe, Dr. Sherwood-Dunn responded.  On June 25, 1915 the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania newspaper, Public Opinion, reported, "Dr. Berkeley Sherwood-Dunn of New York, physician and banker, is now at the head of a war hospital in France."  His work with the French Medical Corps would be rewarded with eight decorations, including the Legion of Honor.

By the time he left for to help in France, the family had been gone from West 107th Street for several years.  In 1907 it was home to the family of David C. Myers.   An attorney and president of the Southern Match Company, he and his wife were the victims of an unscrupulous cabbie that year.

Although well-to-do, Myers did not own his own carriage, and so, when the couple prepared to go to the theater on September 17, he called a carriage from the Vigilant Stables on West 100th Street.  When Frank Murphy dropped them off, he was directed to "get in line at 10:30 o'clock and to wait for them to come out of the theatre."  The couple left several of their belongings in the carriage, including Mrs. Myers's pocketbook.  She judiciously removed $50 first, however.

When Myers and his wife emerged from the theater, there was no sign of Murphy.  He and their things--an "automobile coat, valued at $75, an imported umbrella which cost $25, wraps worth $50 and a pocketbook which cost $5," according to The Sun--were gone.  The equivalent value of the items today would be around $4,400.  How Murphy thought he could get away with the theft is perplexing, since Myers had ordered the carriage from his employer.

Murphy was arrested for grand larceny.  He explained his fare had stood him up and he "was going to pawn the things until he was paid."  A bartender had given him $2 for the lot.  The Sun reported, "Mrs. Myers went to the saloon with the detectives and got the things back after identifying them."

The following year it was David C. Myers who was behind bars.  On November 12, 1908, the New-York Tribune reported he had been arrested "upon a charge of uttering forged paper."  A long-term client of Myers, Albert Krumenaker, had been sued by liquor dealers James Egan & Co. for payment of three notes, each for $250.  Krumenaker's signature had been forged, and the notes endorsed by Myers to the firm.  The New-York Tribune said, "Further investigation disclosed that the Egan firm held in all twelve such notes, each for $250, and, in addition, held as security a chattel mortgage, drawn by Myers, presumably for his client, Krumenaker."  The $3,000 in total, not including the mortgage, was a stunning amount.

Not surprisingly, later that year the West 107th Street house was lost in foreclosure.  It was purchased at auction by Hattie Fleischman, who had a daughter, Beatrice.  

In 1941 the turret's onion done was intact, and the entrance was located on the west side of the facade. via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Beatrice seems to have been a modern woman.  New York adopted Women's Suffrage in 1917 and in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson threw his support behind an amendment to the Constitution that would permit women to vote.   In anticipation of the passing of the legislation, New York City opened enrollment locations for women to register to vote.  One of them was in Public School 165, on West 108th Street, where Beatrice attempted to sign up.

On May 26, 1918 The New York Times reported, "The women in this city who enrolled yesterday did so, in most instances, quite as well as men do."  There was one particular occurrence, said the article, during which women outperformed the men.  At PS 165, "the women voters waited from 8 o'clock until noon only to find that no officials had been sent there by the Election Board."  Beatrice and Mrs. A. Benedict took matters in their own hands.

Mrs. Benedict, "who knew all about the law in such matters, appeared and by her direction the entire enrollment machinery was seized by the women.  The policeman on guard was inclined to protest, but Mrs. Benedict squelched him with a forceful dissertation upon the law."  She and Beatrice, along with a female attorney in the group, found 10 women to swear them in as inspectors.  Because Beatrice was a Republican and Mrs. Benedict a Democrat, it worked out perfectly.  The New York Times said, "Mrs. Benedict and Miss Fleischman took over the books and started to enroll all the women."

Frantic, the policeman contacted the Election Board by telephone.  Mrs. Benedict was called to the phone, "whereupon she communicated to the official at the other end her forceful opinion of 'men who handle things in such a slipshod fashion...If that's the way you men to it, it won't be hard for us women to do it much better.'"  Later an official from the Election Board showed up, who "agreed that it was all perfectly proper and that the women could go on with the enrollment if they chose."  Beatrice Fleischman, who had intended to be there only as long as it took to register to vote, remained at her station the entire day.

Fourteen years after purchasing 303 West 107th Street, Hattie Fleischman sold it in June 1922 to the Quezmore Realty Corporation.  By then most of the private houses along the block were being operated as boarding or rooming houses.  Four months later the firm was advertising apartments of "2, 3, 5 rooms."  A two-room apartment with bath rented for $90 per month, about $1,400 today.  The tenants were professionals, like news correspondence David Lentner, here in 1925.

A subsequent renovation, completed in 1963, resulted in two apartments each on the first four floors, and a single apartment on the top floor.  Included in the work was the seamless swapping of the entrance with the ground floor window.  Sadly, the quaint onion dome on the turret--patently Clarence True--has been lost, and a decidedly institutional entrance door replaces the original.  But overall the odd duck of the 1898 row retains almost all of its architectural integrity.

photographs by the author
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  1. This is a really interesting and well-written post. I love all the detail you put into this. It reminds me of one of my favorite blogs I enjoy reading: Ephemeral New York. I really do love New York! There is so much interesting history in the Big Apple.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post. And you're right, New York City overflows with history.