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In 1868 brothers David and John Jardine, partners in the architectural firm D. & J. Jardine, were hired by developer Abraham B. Embury to design a row of five brownstone-faced homes at 128 to 136 East 38th Street. Completed the following year, the Anglo-Italianate style houses rose four stories above short, four-stepped stoops. (David Jardine was apparently pleased with the results, moving into 136 East 38th Street.)
The owners of 130 East 38th Street offered it for rent in September 1877, their succinct advertisement reading simply, "To Rent--On Murray Hill, a small house, No. 130 East 38th st." A month later it was home to a dressmaker. High-end dressmakers often worked from their homes, and the best of them could afford to live in refined neighborhoods. The thriving business of this one was reflected in an ad on November 12, 1877: "Wanted--Several thoroughly competent hands in a private dressmaking establishment; references wanted."
The dressmaker would have to find new accommodations the following year, when Mary Caroline Ellis Hargin purchased the house. Born in Onondaga Hill, New York on September 8, 1812, she was the daughter of Major General John Ellis, who had distinguished himself in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. Her husband, Charles B. Hargin, had died on August 6, 1840.
In 1885 it suddenly seemed that Mary was about to come into a unexpected windfall. She discovered that five years before he died, her husband had purchased a large amount of land in Syracuse, New York. The Democrat and Chronicle described it as "a big tract of land some distance from the town," and said "his widow was so ignorant of her right that she did not know she had any claim upon the real property." A portion of Syracuse University and a large cemetery now sat on what had been undeveloped land.
In August Mary began action "for the recovery of her dower interests," said the Springfield Journal. "Her claim is said to be unquestionable, so that her prospects of wealth are good." The courts did not agree, saying in part, "More than twenty years having elapsed" since the current owner took possession, her claim had expired. Mary's hopes of unanticipated financial gain were dashed.
Emmeline Sinclair purchased 130 East 38th Street as an investment property by 1890. She lived in Long Branch, New Jersey and on May 1 that year leased the house to Charles W. Handy for five years. It was the scene of genteel entertainments during the family's residency. On March 19, 1893, for instance, The World reported, "Miss Handy, of No. 130 East thirty-eighth street, gave a luncheon on Thursday for Miss Heimburghe, of Albany, who is her guest at present."
Upon the expiration of the Handys' lease, the Murray Hill house was rented to Grace Wolfe, a very colorful character. Her name almost immediately appeared in newspapers. For some reason she had refused to pay her Fifth Avenue dressmaker, Phoebe A. Smith $279 for gowns (about $8,870 today).
Smith had obtained a judgement against Grace, who still refused to pay. On October 29, 1895. the New York Herald reported, "Miss Wolfe was directed to appear and submit to examination...She did not do so and was then directed to show cause why she should not be punished for contempt." Instead, Grace simply ignored the second order to appear. The newspaper said that it was charged "that Miss Wolfe, who is a woman of wealth, has been trifling with the dignity of the Court."
The following year she was involved in a peculiar case. She had rented the 38th Street house through the real estate firm of Francis Frederick Georger. Georger and his wife Florence were married about the time Grace Wolfe moved in. Florence gave birth in Washington D.C. on February 11, 1896. The infant's arrival was kept secret from her family because Georger feared his father-in-law would disinherit Florence.
And then, the baby boy was spirited away from the hospital. Court papers later revealed, "A certain Sophie Landgraf, procured by Grace Wolf [sic], might solve the mystery...Amelia Ries, known as Grace Wolf [sic], unsavory, was a tenant of Georger's firm at 130 East Thirty-Eighth street, at the time." Landgraf had taken the infant to the home of Louise Ries, a sister of Amelia (or Grace). The convoluted case came to light when the Georgers divorced in 1910 and Florence first attempted to find her child.
Grace left East 38th Street in 1897, following her marriage to William Ash. The Sinclair family continued to lease the house until February 1915 when The New York Times reported that George T. Sinclair had sold the property after his family had owned it for half a century.
It was purchased by actress and singer Ida Adams. Her first stage appearance was in the 1909 The Candy Shop. In 1912 she appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's A Winsome Widow, and appeared in his Ziegfield Follies of 1912.
Ida Adams was the first owner to make renovations to the now-dated house. On July 5, 1919, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that she had hired the architectural firm of Warren & Clark to install new plumbing and heating, and a "new front." The remodeling resulted, according to The New York Times columnist Christopher Gray decades later, in the stripping off of the brownstone and replacing it with "tinted stucco and leaded glass windows."
Ida lived in the house with one live-in servant, her cook. Among her good friends was Helen Elwood Stokes, the wife of millionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes. Things were not going well between the Stokeses, and Helen occasionally found refuge in the East 38th Street house. During the well-publicized divorce proceedings, the address repeatedly was brought up.
On October 15, 1923, for instance, a former Stokes domestic, Anna McIntosh, testified that in May 1914 she saw Mrs. Stokes "at the home of Ida Adams, an actress, at 130 East thirty-eighth Street." The New York Times reported, "The witness took in a bottle of whisky and one of vichy and some cigarettes, she testified."
In August 1938, the house was sold to Harry I. and Mary G. Phillips. Following Mary's death in 1938, Harry sold it and it underwent a series of owners over the next two decades.
A renovation completed in 1958 replaced the windows (Ida Adams's leaded glass windows were apparently lost in this remodeling), altered the entryway, and introduced new ironwork. The interiors were altered for offices throughout the house with a caretakers bedroom on the top floor.
In 1978 the house was returned to a single-family dwelling. Art publisher Barnett Brimberg had the facade installed for Ida Adams by Warren & Clark removed. It was replaced with scored stucco that simulates brownstone blocks, while the openings were given eared architrave frames more appropriate to a Greek Revival house of a generation earlier. (Brimberg told Christopher Gray in 2002, "It was a nothing facade, so I felt that since it wasn't original, I could remove it.")
The interiors were gutted in 2014, leaving little if anything of the historic detailing.
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