photo by Ted Leather
On October 1, 1856 an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald titled "Houses On Murray Hill, Near Fifth Avenue." It touted, "Just finished, and for sale, Nos. 42 and 46 West Thirty-sixth street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. They are first class houses, with brown stone fronts, and built in the very best manner throughout." Although just 16-feet-wide, they were, indeed, first class houses. The block was filling with handsome residences as the fashionable tenor of Fifth Avenue spilled down the side streets. No. 46 (which was most likely a twin to 42) was designed in the popular Italianate style. A high brownstone stoop led to the entrance, and handsome Renaissance style pediments sat above the upper windows.
Surprisingly, the developer could not find a buyer for 46 West 36th Street. A year later in September the advertisements were still appearing. It seems he leased the house for two years, then tried again. This time the advertisement was slightly reworded:
For Sale--The handsome four story brown stone English basement House 46 West Thirty-sixth street, Murray Hill. The house is elegantly finished, frescoed throughout and ready for immediate occupancy. A large amount of the purchase money may remain on mortgage.
A buyer was finally found in Emanuel Augustus Thouron and his wife, the former Hannah Neilson Borrowe. The couple had been living at 68 Bond Street, once among the most fashionable streets in Manhattan, but now becoming severely commercialized.
Thouron was a well-respected merchant and a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He and his brother, Elisha Henry, were partners in Thouron Brothers & Despres at 62 Reade Street and in Philadelphia.
The childless couple remained in the house through 1866, after which it was sold to John Wentworth and his wife Mary. John was the principal in the furniture firm of Wentworth & Sons, which he ran with his two sons, Mitchell E. and Joseph W. Joseph was living in New Jersey at the time, while Mitchell and his family moved into the house next door to his parents, at 44 West 36th Street.
The wives of well-to-do businessmen were expected to involve themselves in a least one charitable organization. Mary E. Wentworth's choice was the Morning Star Union Mission Sunday School. Interestingly, it was an interdenominational institution, the New York Herald noting, "The officers and teachers are volunteers from the various churches." Mary was in elevated company. Heading the committee for a fund-raising fair in 1874 was Melissa Phelps Dodge, wife of millionaire William E. Dodge.
The uncomfortable commute from New Jersey to Wentworth & Sons at 109 Bowery may have proved too much for Joseph. By the time of that fair, his parents had moved to 150 East 38th Street and Joseph and his family were living at 46 West 36th Street. Presumably Joseph paid rent, since the title remained in John Wentworth's name.
By the late 1870's the once-fashionable block was becoming increasingly commercial. Although Mitchell and his family remained at 44 West 36th Street several more years, in 1878 the Joseph Wentworth family left No. 46. His parents leased lower floor rooms in the house to doctors. It became a sort 19th century version of a medical building.
Among the initial tenants were Dr. Pilcher and Dr. M. J. De Rosset. The apparently busy De Rosset was, according to the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in 1878, "Ophthalmic Surgeon to Dispensary Holy Trinity, Assistant Surgeon New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, etc. etc." Both physicians were published that year, Pilcher's "letter" on "Colles Fracture--Urethral Stricture and Diluting Urethrotomy--Obscure Abscess of the Liver, their Association with Hypochondria, &c." appeared in the North Carolina Medical Journal.
The 1890's saw the offices of Drs. Caleb J. Wood, Thomas M. Dillingham, Ernest W. Auzal, and Ellsworth Eliot, J. in the former house. Dillingham was joined in his practice by Dr. Arthur G. Allan in 1895.
Dr. Caleb J. Wood was in Madison Square park on November 18, 1891 when a woman named Addie Davis "held him in conversation," according to the New York Herald two weeks later. He had no way of knowing that the woman was "one of the 'badger' girls of the East Twenty-sixth street gang." While Addie had Dr. Wood distracted, Maggie Jones snatched his gold watch and chain. The entire gang was arrested and brought before a judge on November 29. Wood was there to identify his robbers.
Dr. Dillingham took on a heart-wrenching case on April 4, 1892. For about a week Elizabeth Beale's friends "noticed she was depressed," according to The World. The newspaper described the unmarried 48-year-old as belonging "to an old New York family and for a number of years [she] taught the higher branches to young women of wealthy families." Dr. Dillingham prescribed a "much-needed rest," and called upon Rev. S. S. Seward, who invited Elizabeth to stay at his house on Lexington Avenue with his family for a while. A professional nurse was engaged to watch over her.
The next night Elizabeth was "very excited" and "walked the floor until 4 o'clock...but was closely watched by the nurse." Unable to get any sleep herself, the nurse began to prepare coffee at 6:00 on Wednesday morning while Elizabeth was in bed. When she returned to Elizabeth's room, she found her
She ran downstairs to a horrible discovery. "A servant girl informed her that Miss Beale lay on the flagging outside." Mrs. Seward, had heard the ghastly thump of Elizabeth's body hitting the stone paving of the areaway where it landed headfirst. Dr. Dillingham was summoned, but he said that taking her to the hospital was "useless, as Miss Beale could live only a few hours." She died at 9:00.
Dr. Dillingham appeared in court during the trial of Herman Clarke on November 12, 1894. Clarke was a member of the stock brokerage firm of Hunter, Clarke & Jacob and had been arrested for forgery and falsifying the firm's books. His embezzlement caused the firm to fail. Dillingham testified that Clarke's actions were prompted by a drug addiction. The Sun reported, "Dr. Dillingham said that he knew Clarke to be a user of drugs which made him entirely irresponsible mentally and morally." He petitioned the judge to send Clarke to an asylum for the insane, rather than to a prison. (It was the rather ineffective 19th century equivalent of a drug rehabilitation center.) Dillingham's efforts were only partially successful. Rather than send Clarke to State prison for five years, the judge sentenced him to two years and four months.
Around November 1, 1897, Dentist William Kenzel took an office here. But, according to the other tenants, he "spent very little time there." In fact, he would never see a patient in his new space. His worried sister came to his office looking for him several times. Kenzel checked into the Warwick Hotel on November 5 where his physical condition alarmed the staff. The New York Herald reported that he was taken to New York Hospital that afternoon. His condition worsened and he was transferred to Bellevue Hospital. Three days later the New York Herald he was "dangerously ill with phthisis," known today as pulmonary tuberculosis.
While physicians and dentists operated from the basement and parlor floors, the top two were rented as upscale bachelor apartments. Ironically, given the nature of the building's professional tenants, among the residents in 1899 was 19-year-old Henry Caney, a Christian Scientist. Described by the New York Journal and Advertiser as "well dressed and of good appearance," on August 17 Caney "was found in Fifth avenue near Fortieth street...uttering injunctions to a number of persons and a policeman about the ethics and physics of Christian Science."
Caney was incoherent and a crowd began to collect around him. When a policeman arrived, according to The New York Times, a "handsomely dressed girl" told him, "He's ill. Why don't you call an ambulance?"
The comment caught Caney's attention. "Ill, madam? No, indeed. I am never ill. Nor are you ever ill, Madam. If you think you are ill all you have to do is to pray, and you will be cured. Just pray."
Canney was, however, ill. He was taken to New York Hospital where he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He was given medicine, which he surprisingly took, and then the attending doctor accompanied him home. Equally surprisingly, The New York Times reported, "At 46 West Thirty-sixth Street last night the servant refused to admit callers, saying that Henry Caney was ill."
Living on the top floor in 1901 was Julian Potter. The Morning Telegraph explained, "Mr. Potter is a nephew of Bishop [Henry C.] Potter and lives at 46 West thirty-sixth street, a fashionable neighborhood." Potter, said the newspaper on May 18, "loves to burn the midnight oil and linger over his favorite magazines. His aversion to early rising is equally pronounced." But the continuing changes in the "fashionable neighborhood" were disturbing Potter's routine. Behind the house, on West 35th Street, a new commercial building was being constructed.
Potter went to the West 30th Street police station on May 17, 1901, telling the desk sergeant, "These men come there early in the morning and wake me up with the noise they make. Why, they come right under my window, in the rear of my house, where they are leveling a building. Really, I am nearly dead for sleep."
His complaints went further. "At night these workmen keep a bonfire going continually. The glare is reflected on my bedroom windows and this keeps me awake all night." Sergeant Norton promised Potter "he would do all in his power as a police official to remedy the evil." In the meantime, a journalist went to 46 West 36th Street to ask the landlady "as to Mr. Potter's means of livelihood." She replied, "He is a gentleman of leisure, sir."
In 1914 the Wentworth estate sold house to the Collingwood Realty Co. for $55,000--just over $1.5 million in today's money. The firm hired architect Adolph Mertin to alter the building "into store and residence purposes," reported the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide on February 26, 1915.
Mertin removed the stoop and installed a two-story storefront that projected forward to the property line. Faced in gray brick, its no-nonsense design was vaguely Arts & Crafts in style. The facade of the two upper floors, which now held furnished rooms, was left unscathed.
The commercial spaces were home to a variety of small businesses, like the Select Hat Frame Co. which moved in during the summer of 1922.
Living in one of the rooms on the third floor that year was 32-year-old Marc Connelly, who had reportedly begun writing plays at the age of five. In 1921 he had teamed up with the drama critic for The New York Times, George S. Kaufman, to write comedies, two of which were staged in 1922: To the Ladies and Merton of the Movies. Connelly was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table and would receive the Pulitzer Prize for his 1930 drama The Green Pastures.
Moving into a fourth floor room in 1922 was 20-year-old Ellen Miriam Hopkins, who had come to New York with her sister Ruby and was working as a chorus girl, sometimes getting small parts in plays. According to Allan R. Ellenberger in his Miriam Hopkins, Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, "She moved into a boarding house at 46 West Thirty-Sixth Street, a small dark cell on the fourth floor that delighted her because it was utterly shabby. Struggling artists and authors lived there."
Like Marc Connelly, Miriam Hopkins would rise far higher than her humble start. She landed a role in the 1926 staging of An American Tragedy, and by 1933 was a leading lady, starring in the Broadway production of Jezebel. By then she had been on contract with Paramount Pictures for three years.
Little changed to the building for half a century as soaring office towers rose around it. A renovation completed in 1970 resulted in a restaurant on the ground floor, offices on the second and third, and two apartments on the fourth, a configuration that lasts today.
Squeezed in between modern structures, the former Thouron house looks sadly beleaguered. Yet a hint of its once-proud history is evident on the upper two floors.
Many thanks to reader Ted Leather for suggesting this post
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