Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Milton S. Sommerich House - 44 West 91st Street


After having been a broker, Dore Lyon turned to speculative building in 1877.  The change in careers worked.  The New York Times later said, "His first building operation was eight houses on Ninety-third Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Others followed until his business amounted to millions of dollars."  

In 1887 Lyon began construction of an ambitious row of 18 brick- and stone-faced homes along West 91st Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.   In designing them, architect William H. Boylan enthusiastically embraced the Queen Anne style, creating nine delightful models arranged to create a mirror-image row.  Construction was completed in 1888.  Lyon did not sell the houses, preferring instead to lease them.  He shared ownership with his colorful wife, Anne E. Dore, known by the press as The Queen of Clubs because of her involvement in so many women's clubs, associations and committees.

Among the new residences was 44 West 91st Street.  Its basement and parlor levels were clad in rough-cut brownstone.  A slightly-bowed bay at the second and third floors rose to a  romantic pressed metal, crenellated parapet.  Lyon leased it to Philip Leserman on May 1, 1888.  He was the senior partner in the Leserman Mfg. Co. with his son, Philip, Jr.

The Dores sold the row in October 1890.  Six of the houses, including 44 West 91st Street, were purchased by music publisher James M. Jaques, who paid a total of $4.8 million in today's money.  Following his death in 1893 the houses were inherited by his children.

No. 44 became home to Benjamin Edmund David and his wife, the former Hannah Mendel.  Born in Krefeld, Germany, David was the principal in the silk firm B. Edmund, David, Inc.  The couple had two daughters, Marguerite, born in 1897, and Ruth Elizabeth, born the following year.  

Tragically, the house was the scene of a somber ceremony on May 18, 1899--the funeral of five-month-old Ruth Elizabeth.  Two years, on September 27, 1901, Benjamin Edmund David, Jr. was born.

Earlier that year, after having lived on a muddy, dirt street for years, Hannah David joined her neighbors in petitioning the city.  Their appeal said in part, "The laying of such as asphalt pavement would furnish the connecting link between Riverside drive on the west and Central Park West, on the east, making a continuous asphalt roadway from Riverside drive to Central Park, it being the only block on West Ninety-first street at present unpaved with asphalt."  The petition added, "The street at present is in a very poor condition."

Following the David family in the house was the Milton Sommerich family.  Sommerich's father had arrived in America in 1846 at the age of 16, eventually establishing S. Sommerich & Co., milliners, in 1872.  While his brother, Edwin, took over that business in 1889, Milton Sommerich  became a member of Sommerich, Kalischer & Loewith, importers of flowers, feathers and novelties.  In its March, 1917 issue, The Illustrated Milliner said, "For half a century the name of Sommerich has been identified with the millinery trade, and it is to be hoped that the younger generation will continue in business until it can celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their connection with the trade."

The Illustrated Milliner, March, 1917 (copyright expired)

Like all well-to-do families, the movements of the Sommeriches were covered in the society columns.  On April 12, 1908, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Milton S. Sommerich, 44 West Ninety-first Street, will sail for Europe in a few days.  Mr. Sommerich has been in poor health for some time, and he will try Berlin for a season."

The Sommeriches' daughter, Aline, was not mentioned in the article because she had not yet been introduced.  Her social anonymity ended with her debut.  

On April 13, 1917 The American Jewish Chronicle reported, "Miss Juliette C. Rosenthal, of 21 Claremont Avenue, gave, last Sunday night, one of the many entertainments which have been lavished this winter on Miss Aline J. Sommerich...whose engagement to Mr. Herbert Schloss has, some time since, been announced."  The couple was married in the St. Regis Hotel on April 23.

Whimsical carvings decorate the second floor bay.

The Sommeriches remained at 44 West 91st Street until around 1922.  It remained a single-family house until 1997, when a doctor's office was installed in the basement and the third floor was converted to an apartment.  A subsequent renovation completed in 2021 resulted in two duplex apartments.  And while several of the houses along the row have lost their stoops, 44 West 91st Street is little changed since its completion nearly 135 years ago.

photos by the author
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1 comment:

  1. As a current resident in one of the houses,it was interesting to learn the background on 44 West 91. One correction, however: the houses are on the South side of the street.