Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The George A. Archer House - 307 West 82nd Street

 

A split stoop is shared by 307 and 309 (left) West 82nd Street, leading to their side-by-side entrances.  (The lamp post handily marks the line between the two houses.)

Charles Berg was a partner with Edward H. Clark in the architectural firm of Berg & Clark.  Like several other architects, he was a real estate developer, as well.  In 1887  he began construction on a row of five upscale homes on the northside of West 82nd Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.   Completed the following year, the firm had designed the Romanesque Revival homes in an A-B-C-B-A pattern.  

The A models, including 307 West 82nd Street, were romantic and fanciful, with a rounded bay that provided a balcony to the third floor, and picturesque dormers that sprouted from the tiled roof.  Both the basement and parlor levels were faced in brownstone with rough-cut bands that created a striped effect, while the upper floors were clad in ironspot Roman brick and trimmed in terra cotta.  A sweeping, split stoop lead to the arched entrance. 

George Augustus Archer and his wife, the former Lavinia Frost, purchased 307 West 82nd Street.  The couple, who had been married on May 4, 1869, had three children: Annie Mililani, and twins George and Kate.  Annie was 18 when the family moved in, and her siblings were 14.

Archer was an architectural engineer with an office at 39 Cortlandt Street.  The family often summered at Newport, Rhode Island, where Archer's yacht, the Lady Direct, was moored.  

Annie (who, interestingly, had been born in Honolulu) pursued a career in art.  By 1899, she was a member of the Municipal Art Society, showing her works at respected exhibitions.  In its March issue that year, The Architectural Review reported on the Architectural League Exhibition, commenting:

The bronze lamp by Miss Annie Mililani Archer possesses much...charm, and the writing trays, candle-sticks and Egyptian pipe-rack are interesting, as showing examples of an effort to apply better ability to the simple things in daily life.

George Archer's expertise was called into service following the horrendous fire in the Asch Building--the event better known today as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire--on March 25, 1911.  On that day 144 employees, most of them young women, perished.  Archer was selected as one of 45 architects and engineers who composed the coroner's jury.  The Evening World said they had "expressed their willingness to serve, notwithstanding the great personal sacrifices entailed.  In this, they declared, they were moved by the imperative need for taking every possible means to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies."  Their findings resulted in the beginnings of strengthened fire codes and better work conditions.

George A. Archer died at the age of 80 in the West 82nd Street house after a brief illness on March 24, 1914.  His wake was unusually short and the funeral was held in the drawing room the following day.

Kate was married at the time, but George and Annie were still living at home.  Each of them inherited $100,000 (more than $2.5 million in today's money), with Lavinia receiving, essentially, the rest of the estate.

Lavinia, George and Annie remained in the West 82nd Street house until 1920.  That year Annie was listed in the Who's Who Among Craftsmen for her metalwork.  She would eventually turn to painting and by the 1940's, now living in Tucson, Arizona, would focus heavily on desert landscapes.

Lavinia sold 307 West 82nd Street in 1920 to Ida Grant, who seems to have rented rooms.  Living here in 1925 was illustrator Genevieve Cowles.  She exhibited eight works in the Architectural and Allied Arts Exposition that year.  (Cowles had stepped away from magazine and book illustration during World War I to work on ship camouflage for the U.S. Navy.)

Genevieve Cowles painted this self-portrait around 1930.

On June 20, 1932 the New York Evening Post reported that Roger Vidal had leased 307 West 82nd Street, noting, "It will be altered into one and two-room apartments and made ready for occupancy about July 1."

The house was acquired by Gallivan Gables in 1950.  He initiated another renovation, completed in 1953, that resulted in two apartments each in the basement and parlor levels, and four furnished rooms on each of the upper floors.   The configuration lasted until 1971 when there were now two apartments on every floor.

Living here that year was 24 year old Donald Phillips, alias Roy Browne.  A petty criminal, his life came to an abrupt end on May 10, 1971 when he and two other men were shot to death by unknown assailants.  The New York Times reported, "The dead men were found in a stolen 1969 Cadillac parked in front of 1115 Walton Avenue, the Bronx.  The police are seeking two gunmen."

In 1989 a penthouse level, unseen from the street, was added to 307 West 82nd Street, to accommodate a duplex apartment extending to the fourth floor.  

photograph by the author
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