Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Abyssinian Baptist Church - 132 West 138th Street


The small group of Black worshippers who defected from the predominantly white First Baptist Church on Gold Street in June 1808 formed their own congregation, taking its name from the ancient name of Ethiopia, Abyssinia.  The Abyssinian Baptist Church would face immense struggles--both financial and social--through most of the 19th century.  In 1834, for instance, the church was attacked by angry mobs in what one newspaper called "blind fury."

Nevertheless, the congregation nevertheless persevered and grew, relocating several times, including to 166 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, which it left in 1903 to move to West 40th Street.  There would be one more move for the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

At the end of World War I, most of the congregants had moved far northward.  On January 25, 1922 the New York Herald reported that the congregation had sold its Midtown property, explaining, "A year ago six lots on 138th street between Lenox and Seventh avenues were purchased for a new church site.  Work on a new structure will begin soon."

The article called Abyssinian Baptist "one of the oldest negro religious organizations in the city," and noted "The Rev. A. Clayton Powell has been its pastor for fourteen years."  The Abyssinian Baptist Church had come a long way from the original group of less than a dozen.  "The church is said to have a membership of nearly 4,000, the majority of whom reside in the Harlem colored section."  

The Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Charles W. Bolton & Son had been commissioned to design the structure, and by April construction contracts were signed.  On April 8, the New-York Tribune projected the costs at $210,000.  The total project, including furnishings, would come to $300,000--or about $4.85 million in 2022.  (Two-thirds of that amount was covered by the sale of the West 40th Street property.)

The cornerstone of the church and community house was laid on June 25, 1922.  The New York Herald reported, "The ceremony was in charge of the colored Masonic Grand Lodge of New York State and many prominent officials and laymen of the order from different parts of the State were present to join with a large assemblage of negroes of this city in making the occasion memorable."  The New York Times added, "The entire block was packed and the housetops and fire escapes were filled with spectators watching the ceremonies."

Laundry dries on lines in the rear of tenement buildings behind the construction site in 1922.  photo by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In his address, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. stressed, "These buildings combine the ideas of a church, social welfare center and school, representing the most serious effort ever made by colored people of the North to better their condition along these lines.  The institution is situated in the midst of 175,000 colored people, a larger number than can be found in any other city on earth."  

The buildings were completed in 1923.  The church proper was a balanced, English Collegiate Gothic structure of rock-faced Manhattan schist trimmed in white terra cotta.  The crenellated central section, flanked by two square towers, was dominated by a massive stained glass window.  Thin, Gothic pinnacles rose from the corners of each tower.

The Community House is to the left.  photo by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The New York Herald reported that the "main auditorium will accommodate 2,000 persons."  The community house, said The New York Times, held "a gymnasium, shower baths, reading room, rooms for cooking and sewing, a model apartment and roof garden."

The church's influential pastor, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., was born to former slaves in the South in 1865.  He was ordained in 1892 and became pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1908.  His focus was as much about the spiritual wellbeing of his flock as it was about their socio-economic condition.  His assistant pastor, starting in 1931, was his son, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who shared his father's passion for equal social and racial rights.

The Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.  image via

Rev. Powell stepped down in 1931, turning the pulpit over to his son.  But his work in the community did not cease.  He was a founder of the National Urban League, and vice president of the NAACP.  The New York Times later reported, "When racial conflict in Harlem came to the surface in 1943, Dr. Powell became co-chairman of the City-Wide Citizen's Committee on Harlem...He laid the trouble to pent-up feelings growing out of the treatment of Negro soldiers at home and abroad, crowded conditions in the Negro areas and the lack of employment for Negro youth."  The 1943 Harlem racial upheaval led to his 1945 book, Riots and Ruins, an academic analysis of its causes and suggestions for improving conditions.

Among the earliest examples of activism within the congregation under Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. followed the death of a young Black man from North Carolina on Welfare Island in September 1933.  The Daily Worker called it a "wanton murder" by prison officials, and said it was "symptomatic of the continuous persecution of Negro workers."  On September 22 throngs of Harlemites crammed 138th Street in front of the Abyssinian Baptist Church to protest the atrocity.  They were joined by white members of the Young Communist League, one of whom was 19-year-old Isadore Dorfman.

The horseshoe-shaped seating in the auditorium shortly after completion.   photo by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When Dorfman witnessed a Black woman being "viciously slugged," as worded by The Daily Worker, by a policeman, he stepped in.  The article reported that Dorfman "was beaten within an inch of his life" and called the actions of the police an "orgy of brutality against the anti-lynching demonstration."  The incident merely fueled Powells' and the congregation's determination to obtain equal rights and treatment.

Rev. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., died on June 12, 1953.  His funeral in the Abyssinian Baptist Church was, understandably, the most impressive to date.  The New York Times reported on June 17, "City officials, including Mayor Impellitteri and Police commissioner George P. Monaghan, joined with several thousand pay final tribute yesterday."  During the service, Powell's secretary, Hattie F. Dodson, "read messages of condolence from the White House, members of the President's Cabinet and leaders in Congress."

At the time of his father's funeral, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. had been a member of Congress for eight years, the first Black man to serve from any Northeastern state.  In 1961 he was appointed chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.  His duties in Washington and legal problems (he was sued for defamation of character) made his visibility at the Abyssinian Baptist Church less than ideal for some congregants.  On August 10, 1964, The New York Times said, "At present [he] is a 'Sunday visitor' to New York City because a summons has been issued (not servable on Sunday) over [a] defamation award he has not paid."  Nevertheless, said the article, "Although his influence is waning, the 55-year-old minister is still a hero to many through his political clubs and his pastorate of the 10,000-member Abyssinian Baptist Church."

Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. from the collection of the Library of Congress

Despite his sometimes contentious pastorship, Powell remained a major influence in Harlem, and in the fight for racial justice.  Following his death on April 4, 1972, The New York Times said he "played many roles during a lengthy and controversial public career and he seemed to play each with his own special exuberance."

His funeral was held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on April 9.  The New York Times reported that more than 2,000 mourners packed the church, "while many thousands more filled the streets outside."  Mayor John Lindsay called him "a man of style, brilliance and compassion--a skilled politician."  But the Rev. Dr. Samuel Proctor perhaps encapsulated him best, saying "He gave us a new basis for hope when our churches, colleges, union, hotels all were segregated.  When my great country, America, screamed at me, telling me I'm a nobody, he gave us all hope."

Three months later Rev. Proctor took the pulpit of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.  He divided his time between his duties here, and his position as professor of theology in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.  His background was as impressive as the Powell's.  During his first sermon, he related that he came from a Southern family "educated by Protestant missionaries who went South in the 1880's to organize Negro colleges."  Among the beneficiaries of that work was his grandmother, "a slave sent to college by her [former] owners.  She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1882."

Rev. Proctor and his assistant pastor, Rev. Calvin Butts, continued and expanded the work of the Powells.  In 1987 the Abyssinian Developer Corporation was formed to improve social services and housing in Central Harlem.  It would build affordable housing complexes and a transitional housing project for formerly-homeless families.

In 1989, Rev. Butts took over the pulpit from Proctor.  Two years earlier, The New York Times had written, "When he was 13 years old, Calvin O. Butts sat in the balcony of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and heard the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. preach.  Today the 38-year-old is a rising voice in the city who has placed himself squarely in the black clergy's long tradition of social action."  As it turned out, Rev. Butts's influence and charisma would equal the man whom he had so admired as a 13-year-old boy.

from the collection of the Library of Congress

Importantly, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was not merely about politics and social reform.  It was (and is) a center of Harlem culture.  Some of the most famous Black figures in America have worshipped from its pews, a fact exemplified by the funeral of Count Basie on April 30, 1984.

Basie was one of the pre-eminent band leaders and musicians of the Big Band Era.  The New York Times reported, "Thousands of mourners, the elite and the plain, the musicians who swung with Count Basic and the dancers who swung to him, filled the Abyssinian Baptist Church and overflowed onto West 138th Street.  They still stood there in the early afternoon rain, as if awaiting one final encore, when the pallbearers emerged with Mr. Basie's coffin on their shoulders."  Among the mourners in the church that afternoon were Billy Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughn, Quincy Jones and Benny Carter.

The church would be the setting for an impressive memorial service for the Rev. Calvin O. Butts on October 30, 2022, who had died two days earlier at the age of 73.  He was praised by Mayor Eric Adams as "a real giant in our city" and compared by former Governor David Paterson to Martin Luther King.  "Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Butts hated complacency," he told The New York Times.  "While some Black leaders would preach that 'Jesus is going to come around and everything's going to be OK, people like Dr. King didn't want to wait around, and neither did Butts."

The Abyssinian Baptist Church has been a political and social center of Harlem and New York City in general since its completion in 1923--its architectural beauty surpassed by its civic importance.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The 1899 Thomas P. Hughes Mansion - 621 West End Avenue


Upon the death of Terence Farley, described by the Real Estate Record & Guide as "one of the most active builders in this city," his sons, John T. and James A. Farley, took over the business.  Operating as Terence Farley's Sons, they continued to make a significant impact on the development of the Upper West Side.

Typical of their high-end work was the row of seven upscale homes that wrapped the northwest corner of West End Avenue and 90th Street, completed in 1899.  They sat within a neighborhood that was filling with opulent residences.  Designed by prolific architect Clarence F. True in the Elizabethan Renaissance Revival style, the homes drew praise from the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, which said, "The architect, Clarence True, has had a large experience in domestic architecture, but nevertheless, this is the best design that has ever left his boards."

The group wrapped the corner, with 621 West End Avenue stealing the spotlight.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, October 7, 1899 (copyright expired)

The corner house, 621 West End Avenue, was the showpiece of the group.  At 32-feet-wide on the avenue and 40 feet long on West 90th Street, the five-story structure was intended for a wealthy buyer.  The entrance sat within an ornate stone frame decorated with Renaissance style carvings.  Its cornice supported a pedimented window flanked by serpentine volutes.  True took advantage of the corner site by tucking the service entrance to the back of the house, on West 90th Street.

While the expertly-crafted stonework survives, the door and window above it are unsympathetic replacements.

The four upper floors of red brick were trimmed in limestone.  Below the fifth floor window on the 90th Street side was a large, carved stone cartouche and above it a was a dramatic Flemish gable.  Two large dormers pierced the peaked roof on the avenue side.

The Record & Guide supplied a hint of the interiors of the row, listing "separate servants' entrances, kitchens, laundries, parlors, drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, butlers' pantries, connected and separate bedrooms, dressing salons, bathrooms, secluded servants' quarters with bathrooms, rear stairs and all other requirements of a first-class dwelling."  The journal added, "A lavish use of beautiful woods, marbles, tiles, plate and colored glass, under artistic guidance, evidence the expenditure of the greatest care and generous use of money to produce the best possible results from both the aesthetic and practical points of view."

Thomas P. Hughes purchased 621 West End Avenue.  A stockbroker, his residency would be comparatively short-lived.  In 1904 he sold it to Harry Wiggin Bennett and his wife, the former Agnes Pattie Smith.  Born in Alton Bay, New Hampshire on February 6, 1866, Smith and Agnes had married in 1891.  When they moved in they had two sons, 12-year-old Tom Wiggin, and 9-year-old Dick Woolson.  Another son, Harry, Jr. would come along in 1907.

Bennett had recently arrived in New York City.  For six years he and the family lived in Mexico where he was the manager of the Woolson Spice Co.  Now in New York, he established the banking firm of H. W. Bennett & Co.  He was, as well, the president and a director of the Cuba Eastern Railroad, the Northeastern Cuba Railroad, the North River Improvement Co., and a director in several other corporations.

Annually included in Dau's New York Blue Book of society, the Bennetts maintained a country home, Great Hill, on Buzzard's Bay in Marion, Massachusetts.  The family summered there until 1909, when they sold it to millionaire Galen Stone, who erected an even more lavish mansion, also named Great Hill, on the estate.  Four years later they also gave up their West End Avenue mansion, moving into a nine-room apartment on West 106th Street.  

Moses Charles Migel and his wife, the former Elisa Parada, purchased 621 West End Avenue.  Elisa was born in Santiago, Chile in 1877 and she married Moses in 1906.  The couple had three children, Parmenia, John Charles and Richard Howell.  Their summer home, Greenbraes, was in Ramapo Hills in the mountains of New Jersey.  

Migel was a fascinating figure.  A retired silk dealer, his parents had been married during the Civil War and initially lived on Canal Street.  But Solomon Migel's asthma forced him to relocate his family to Texas, where Moses was born on November 3, 1866.  Following Solomon's death, Moses's mother brought the children to Brooklyn, and by the time he was a teenager, he and his siblings were orphaned.

Moses and his brother somehow managed to get into the silk business, and by the turn of the century had a Greene Street office and a warehouse in Long Island City.  Moses Migel's fortune grew when, during World War I, he formed an import firm, the Allied Silk Trading Corporation, to bring silk fiber from China and Japan for the manufacture of cartridge cloth needed by the War Department.  

It was that work that began Moses's involvement with the blind.  After the Armistice, he accepted the position of overseeing services for American servicemen blinded in battle who were still in French hospitals.  Upon his return to the United States, he served on the Committee of Direction of the Red Cross Institute for the Blind.

Moses Charles Migel (original source unknown)

Moses became highly involved with the American Association of Workers for the Blind, and in 1914 was treasurer of the Uniform Type Commission, formed to perfect an American system of braille.  He was reportedly the sole source of funds for that commission.

In 1923 Moses and Elisa purchased a five-acre parcel adjoining their summer home.  There they developed Rest Haven, a free vacation home for blind women.  Transportation to-and-from New York City was also gratis.  By now Moses was the chairman of the New York State Commission for the Blind.

Elisa Parada de Migel (original source unknown)

In 1924 Elisa traveled to Chile and visited the Santiago College, a Methodist boarding school for girls where she had spent her formative years.  She and Moses donated $150,000 to the school for the construction of new structures and Elisa became president of its Board of Trustees.

By then, the Migels had been gone from West End Avenue for four years.  They sold the house in April 1920 to Juan Cortada.  In reporting the sale, the Record & Guide noted, "The house was free and clear and was sold for all cash."

In 1941 the house was virtually unchanged.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Juan and Rita Cortada had two daughters, Josephine and Rita, and a son, George.  As some point following Juan's death in 1929, Rita moved to their summer home in Deal, New Jersey.

In 1950 a renovation was begun to convert the mansion into apartments.  Completed the following year, the building's fifth floor had been replaced with a crisp brick box.  Clarence True's gable window on 90th Street was the sole survivor of his dramatic top floor design.  A pair of windows were punched into the third and fourth floors on this side, as well.  There were now two apartments per floor.  A subsequent renovation in 1955 provided two doctors' office spaces on the ground floor.

John Miller lived in an apartment here in the 1960's.  The military veteran was described by The New York Times on October 13, 1964, as "a tall, burly man of 58 and is a father."  John was walking near 91st Street and West End Avenue on the afternoon of March 24 that year when he was arrested on a vagrancy charge by Detective Daniel Koegh.  The problem was not that Miller was a vagrant--it was his outfit that bothered the detective.  According to Koegh in court a week later, "his prisoner had been wearing a brown, two-piece woman's suit, high heels and a fur cape.  He was carrying a purse.  On his head was a gray wig, and on his face, lipstick and powder."

In arresting Miller, who sometimes went by Joan, Koegh had relied on an 1845 vagrancy statute that made it illegal for a person to appear in public with "a face painted, discolored or covered or concealed or being otherwise disguised, in a manner calculated to prevent his being identified."  

The American Civil Liberties Union struck back, calling the arrest of someone who "has done nothing more than wear the clothing of the opposite sex" unconstitutional.  Entering the case as a Friend of the Court, the ACLU purported that Koegh had not arrested Miller for vagrancy, but "because of distaste for his behavior."

Given Moses C. Migel's work, it is appropriate that around 1969 the office of the Elbee Audio Players opened in 621 West End Avenue.  Headed by David Swerdlow, one publication said it performed "contemporary plays like Marty and A Majority of One, dramatically read by blind actors."  It was still operating from the address in 1988, when Resources in Theatre and Disability wrote, "Blind and sighted performers make up this repertory troupe that [performs] in the greater New York area."

Once an architectural grand dame in the neighborhood, the 1950 butchering of 621 West End Avenue makes it easily passed by, unnoticed, today.  

photographs by the author
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Monday, November 28, 2022

The Lost George and Dorothy Draper House - 164 East 63rd Street


The Draper house is to the right.  At left is another Sterner transformation, the J. J. Magee residence at 166 East 63rd Street.  Architecture magazine, May 5, 1918.  (copyright expired)

The wedding of Dorothy Tuckerman, the only daughter of Paul and Susan Minturn Tuckerman, to Dr. George Draper on September 14, 1912 was a socially important affair.  The ceremony took place on the piazza of the Tuckerman's Tuxedo Park mansion.  The New York Times said, "A special train conveyed many of the guests to and from town."  Among them were some of the most prominent names of New York society--Minturn, Alexander, Chanler, De Rham, Stuyvesant, Pinchot, Pyne, Iselin and others.  The article noted "After a bridal trip Mr. and Mrs. Draper will live in New York."

At the time, Frederick Junius Sterner had caught society's attention.  The British-born architect had arrived in New York from Colorado in 1906 and purchased a 19th century brownstone on East 19th Street.  He transformed it into a Mediterranean-style villa with a stuccoed facade and red tile roof.  By 1911, the block was filled with Sterner's fantastic renovations--Tudor and Gothic along with Mediterranean--earning it the nickname "The Block Beautiful."

That project completed, Sterner turned his attention to the Lenox Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side.  In April 1915, Architecture magazine noted “Mr. Frederick Junius Sterner, architect, has started an ideal development of a group of old houses facing on East 63rd Street, New York.  Mr. Sterner’s intention here is to change the exteriors of these houses in East 63rd Street on the same principle that he followed in his development of East 19th Street…Mr. Sterner believes that the interior of a living place should be primarily the thing to be considered, the exterior coming about because of the interior requirements.”

Sterner purchased eight old brownstones between Second and Third Avenues.  He combined and remodeled two for his own use, and sold the others to moneyed clients.  One of them, 164 East 63rd Street, was purchased by George and Dorothy Draper.  (The house had been home to the well-known builder and developer Patrick Farley in the 1870's and '80's.)  Sterner placed the cost of the renovations at $15,000, or just under $420,000 in 2022.

The transformation was completed the following year.  Shorn of its stoop, the entrance was now just below the sidewalk.  An understated service entrance matched the proportions of a window in between.  The ground floor was veneered in brick and the openings wore arched, tile-filled tympani.  Sterner stuccoed the upper floors and removed the Victorian lintels.  A double-height fifth floor was added for Dorothy Draper's studio.  Here a long, iron-railed balcony fronted the vast studio window that continued upwards into the red tiled roof.

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

George and Dorothy Draper would have three children, Diana, George T., and Penelope.  Prior to their marriage, Draper had been affiliated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  He later wrote that his new marital status "necessitated starting the practice of medicine, for browsing in academic halls, though entertaining, was not productive of much support."  He became an assistant attending physician to the Presbyterian Hospital and an instructor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. George Draper (original source unknown)

Dorothy had had a privileged childhood.  Among her ancestors were Oliver Wolcott, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; and her great-grandfather, Robert Bowne Minturn, who had founded a shipping empire.  Dorothy's parents owned not only the Tuxedo Park estate where she was married, but a Manhattan townhouse and a Newport cottage.  Her early education was at home, taught by her governess and tutors, before spending two years at the prestigious Brearly School.

The large studio space on the top floor was a necessity for Dorothy.  Since her marriage, she had decorated the Draper homes with such style that society friends asked her to do the same for theirs.  With northern light flooding in, she worked on her trademark designs--robust colors and oversized prints.  She was a pioneer of the style called Modern Baroque and, later, the Hollywood Regency style.

Dorothy Draper, later in life, leans on a chair upholstered in one of her large-print patterns.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Her success in decorating friends' homes (along with their encouragement) prompted Dorothy to open the Architectural Clearing House in 1925, credited by some as being the first professional interior design firm.  She changed the name to Dorothy Draper & Company in 1929.

On August 10, 1921 lawyer and future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first showed symptoms of polio at the family's summer home in Maine.  Because Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Draper were first cousins, the family was well acquainted with Dr. George Draper, who was by now considered an expert on poliomyelitis.  On September 15, after a 24-hour trip by train and boat, Roosevelt was admitted to the Presbyterian Hospital under the care of George Draper, who would remain Roosevelt's personal physician.

Things seem to have already been growing tense in the Draper household by now.  The couple leased the house for the 1919-20 winter season to Aileen Tone.  She used the Dorothy's studio for a musical reception on the evening of January 6, 1920.  Some of Manhattan's social elite heard Mlle. Mona Gondre's singing of 17th and 18th century songs.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Among the guests were Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. Henry James, Mr. and Mrs. Chester G. Burden, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Potter, Mrs. Le Grand Griswold and Miss Hare."

George's brother, singer Paul Draper, used the house after Aileen Tone.  He and his wife, Muriel Sanders, had two sons, Paul and Raymond.  While living here in 1921, Draper wrote, "I have appeared as soloist with all the important orchestra in Europe and America and have given many recitals."

Next, investment banker Maurice Wertheim and his wife, the former Alma Morgenthau, leased 164 East 63rd Street.  The couple had three daughters, Josephine, Barbara W., and Anne Rebe.  Their summer estate, Wyndygoul, was in Cos Cob, Connecticut.

An early postcard depicted Wyndygoul, the Wertheim estate formerly owned by Ernest Thompson Seton.

Shortly after the Wertheims moved in, a grisly discovery was made at Wyndygoul.  On September 8, 1921, The New York Times reported, "Within a few hours after she had wandered away from Blythewood Sanitarium on the Stanwich Road here, the body of Mrs. Albert Biggs, a prominent resident of Memphis, Tenn., was found in a lake on the Maurice Wertheim estate at Cos Cob."  The troubled woman had filled her pockets with stones to weigh her down, and walked into the pond to her death.

In December 1922 the Drapers sold 164 East 63rd Street to the Wertheims.  Eight years later George and Dorothy Draper would divorce.  They would separately leave lasting legacies in their fields.

Maurice Wertheim, Bankers Magazine, January 1, 1922 (copyright expired)

Maurice and Alma Wertheim filled the 63rd Street house with a magnificent collection of modern art.  Among the paintings lining the walls were works by masters like Cezanne, Gaugin, Manet, Matisse, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.  Alma was particularly interested in and collected the works of Georgia O'Keefe.  She and Maurice were supporters of The Intimate Gallery on Park Avenue, a venue opened by O'Keefe's husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz in Decmeber 1925 to exhibit her works.

Perhaps equaling his passion for art was Maurice's love of chess.  An amateur chess player, he was president of the Manhattan Chess Club and in 1941 would finance the U.S. Chess Championship match between Samuel Reshevsky and I. A. Horowitz.  He later convinced the State Department that a chess match between the United States and the Soviet Union would help defrost the Cold War, and personally paid for the costs.

By then, however, the Wertheims had been gone from 164 East 63rd Street for years.  Their marriage ended in divorce in 1929.  

Sometime after the Wertheims purchased the house, the top floor was renovated and the studio eliminated.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

On April 27, 1939, Adelaide Sedgwick Munroe was married to Prince Kyril Scherbatoff in the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior on East 121st Street.  The New York Times called it a "double crown service, with its traditional ritual and customs."  At least half of the wedding party was titled.  Adelaide's only attendant was the Grand Duchess Marie, and the best man was Prince Paul Chavchavadze.  The New York Times reported, "Ushers were Prince Alexis Scherbatoff, brother of the bridegroom; Prince George Scherbatoff, a cousin; Walter de Mumm, Prince Vladimir Eristoff, Nicholas Holmsen, Alexander Cochrane Forges, Angier Biddle Duke and Alexander Hamilton."  According to the New York Sun six years later, the royal couple were living at 164 East 63rd Street.

In 1958 all the houses from the corner of Third Avenue to, and including, the former Draper house were demolished to make way for a 20-story apartment building designed by Emory Roth.  Completed the following year, the Beekman Townhouse survives.

image via

many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for prompting this post
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Saturday, November 26, 2022

The 1885 P. Ryan Packing Box Building - 109 Reade Street


The Ray family purchased the two-and-a-half story Federal style house at 109 Reade Street in 1833, at a time when the block was lined with similar residences.  Half a century later Patrick J. Ryan ran his packing box business from the converted De Raismes house next door at 111 Reade Street.  But in 1885 he would have move his operation as Maria L. Combes planned to replace that old structure with a modern loft and store building.

The Richard Ray estate followed suit and hired the same architects Combes had commissioned, Berger & Baylies, to erect a nearly identical building on the site of the ancestral Ray house.  Completed that year (and slightly ahead of its twin), 109 Reade Street was faced in red brick above a cast iron storefront.  Its neo-Grec design included projecting pilasters at the sides, segmentally-arched windows at all but the third floor, and touches of stone trim.  Decorative cast iron tie rod plates decorated the piers between the third and fourth floors, and the eye-catching cornice included a prominent semi-circular pediment.  Perhaps because this building was completed slightly before its twin, Patrick Ryan moved his business into this structure.

Trow's Business Directory, 1898 (copyright expired)

The 1890's was a period of extreme police corruption in New York City.  Businessmen like Patrick Ryan dealt with extortion from officers who, in Ryan's case, threatened to fine them for obstructing the sidewalk during loading and unloading freight.  And the extracted bribes were significant.

In 1894 the State Senate formed the Lexow Committee to investigate corruption within the Police Department.  Patrick Ryan was called to testify in 1895 but, like so many other businessmen who feared retribution, he was a reticent witness.  Nevertheless, when confronted with canceled checks written by him--each for $100 each and marked "police money"--he conceded that they covered police "tariffs" on the sidewalk.  Each of those checks would equal more than $3,300 in 2022.

Following Ryan's death around 1902, the P. Ryan business was inherited in equal shares by his children, Francis J. Ryan, James T. P. Ryan and Minnie A. O'Shea.  They continued to run it until about 1914.

In 1915, a new tenant moved into 109 Reade Street--the Crescent Talking Machine company, which leased to floors for storage.  Established a year earlier, the firm manufactured not only record players, but the discs themselves.  The company moved its entire New York operation to Reade Street in 1917, leasing the entire building.  In its May 15, 1917 issue, The Talking Machine World reported, "The sales department, executive offices, repair department and factory of the Crescent Talking Machine Co., Inc., are now gathered under one roof...The production of the Crescent factory is very large, for now that they are manufacturing most of their own motors; practically everything in the Crescent machine is turned out in their own factory."

Talking Machine World, May 15, 1917 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in 1919 boasted that the Crescent phonograph, unlike some manufacturers, played all records.  "The repertoire of the Crescent is not limited to a few singers or musicians under contract with a single record manufacturer, for it plays all records made anywhere by anyone in the world."

Phonographs were not a frivolous investment.  A 1922 advertisement depicted three models, ranging in price from $68 to $198.  Converted to 2022 dollars, the most expensive, the "Queen Anne." would cost more than $3,000.

The Crescent Talking Machine Company went out of business around 1922, the same year that the Ray estate sold 109 Reade Street to the Markham Realty Company.  In reporting the sale on May 15, the New-York Tribune noted, "This is the first sale of the property since 1833."

The building still sported its pedimented cornice in 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Significant change came in 1989 when a renovation was completed that resulted in one residential loft per floor above the store.  The basement space was purchased by James McGown for $1 million in 2006.  He and his tenant, Dimitri Dimoulakis, were slapped with a lawsuit in 2010 for having converted the condo into an "extreme party" space, according to The Post.  Outfitted with a stripper pole, swings, and a slide, clients cold rent the "Playful Tribeca Loft" for $400 a night.  One commentator called it, "what I imagine a residential sex club would look like."

With that chapter behind them, the residents of 109 Reade Street moved on.  Although sadly shorn of its 1885 cornice, much of the building's original detailing survives.

uncredited photographs by the author
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Friday, November 25, 2022

Disfigured -- 244 and 246 Waverly Place


Hester A. Gregory was a significant player in Greenwich Village real estate circles in the second half of the 19th century.  In 1886 she completed two three-story houses at 244 and 246 Waverly Place, between Bank and West 11th Streets, designed by William B. Tuthill.  The 17-foot-wide homes cost Gregory $8,000 each to construct, or about $238,000 in 2022.

The architect simultaneously designed a row of three residences directly across the street at 243 to 247 for John C. Barr.  The two projects formed a harmonious ensemble.  Tuthill blended Romanesque Revival with Queen Anne elements in both, and copied the paired, arched windows of the third floor at 244 and 246 Waverly Place at the second floor of Barr's houses.

While the top floors of 244 and 246 were purely Romanesque Revival, the lower two floors embraced the Queen Anne style.  The entrances of the mirror-image homes sat above short stoops, and were capped by robust pediments filled with cross-hatched millwork.  The paired parlor windows and the openings of the second floor wore small-paned transoms, and terra cotta tiles decorated panels between the second and third floors.  

Photographed during a snowfall in 1941, the houses retained their 1886 appearance.  image via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

As with most of her properties, Hester A. Gregory retained ownership of the houses.  James Frederick Herrick and his wife, Christine Terhune Herrick initially leased 246 Waverly Place.    

Herrick was born in 1851 in Madura, India, where his father, Rev. James Herrick was doing missionary work.  Both he and Christine were writers.  In 1866 he moved to New York City as an agent of the New England Associated Press, and joined The World staff the following year.  The New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier would say of him, however, "Much of his best work has been done outside of the round of regular newspaper work for the weekly papers and magazines."

Christine came from a literary family.  Her parents, Edward Payson Terhune and Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune were both writers.  Born in 1859, she had written six popular books by the time they moved into 246 Waverly Place.  Her numerous articles on housekeeping appeared in Harper's Bazaar.

Christine Terhune Herrick, imagine from A Woman of the Century, 1893 (copyright expired)

The Herricks had two sons, Horace and James.  (A daughter had died at the age of three.)  Their country home, The Outlook, was at Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.  During the winter season, Christine held weekly receptions here.  On April 4, 1891, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted, "She gathered about her on Wednesday evening, as she has done on other Wednesday evenings during the winter, a pleasant company of her writing and artistic friends."

In December 1892, James Frederick Herrick was stricken with typhoid fever.  Three weeks later, on January 2, he died here at the age of 42.  Christine and the boys moved permanently to The Outlook.

Coincidentally, Hester had recently died.  On March 8, 1893, her estate liquidated 20 properties in what the Record & Guide deemed an "extraordinary sale of houses."  The twin Waverly Place homes were purchased by Timothy J. Kieley and his wife, Annie, for $25,900.  They moved into 246 while renting the other.

Born in County Cork, Ireland, Kieley arrived in New York City at the age of 14.   The Merchant Plumber and Fitter said of him, "He went to sea as an apprentice and rose from a stoker's job to an engineer's before he came ashore for good.  In 1872 he was chief engineer for the Butterick Co., wearing overalls, his hands full of cotton waste."

But things would change for the young immigrant.  In 1878 he invented a return steam trap, which captured condensed steam in heating apparatuses and returned it to the boiler.  In 1880 he partnered with Frederick T. Mueller to form Kiely & Mueller to produce the single product.  It made both of them wealthy.  An astute businessman, like Hester A. Gregory had done, he funneled his profits into New York real estate.

Nine months after James Frederick Herrick's funeral was held in the house, there was another.  Annie Kieley died on September 12 and her funeral took place in the parlor three days later.

Thomas Kieley married Margaret V. O'Connor around the turn of the century.  The couple's summer home was in Arverne, New York.  He transferred title to both houses to her in 1912.  

On August 17, 1913, Thomas Kieley died.  In reporting his death, the Merchant Plumber and Fitter commented, "It will be a great surprise to many of our readers to hear that Mr. Kieley, who for the past forty years was known to his intimate friends as 'Plain Tim,' was a millionaire several times over." 

Kieley had no children.  The fortune that he had quietly amassed, reported at $2.5 million, caught the attention of relatives, including Annie's niece, Bessie Graham, who had taken the Kieley surname.  She had, however, incurred her uncle's displeasure when she married a man of whom he disapproved.  

Family members assembled in the Waverly Place house for the reading of the will.  It did not take long.  The New York Times reported, "His will consisted of only fifty words, and left everything he owned to his wife.  The will made no mention of his nephews, John and Daniel Kieley, or of his niece Josephine Waters."  The Merchant Plumber and Fitter added that Bessie Graham "was at the Kieley home in Greenwich Village on the night when the will that didn't mention her was read."

Not surprisingly, given the size of the estate (around $70.6 million in 2022), the relatives joined forces to overturn the will.  The New York Times reported his "nephews and nieces began suit in the Supreme Court to break the will on the ground that he was mentally incompetent when it was made.  They also charged that undue influence was used by Mrs. Kieley, who was a second wife."  After a two-year battle, Margaret emerged victorious on October 21, 1915. 

Despite her massive fortune, Margaret continued to live in the modest Waverly Place house while managing the many properties she inherited.   Her tenants next door, many of them single women, were all well-educated.  In 1909 Bertha B. Corney occupied the house.  That year she co-founded Needleman & Sweetwood, Inc., "printers, stationers, booksellers, etc."

Corney was followed by Sidney Colestock.  A 1909 graduate of  Columbia, she would remain in the house through 1914.  The string of erudite tenants continued with John Burgess, a 1904 graduate of Amherst College, and Louisa Brooke, a 1907 alumna of Vassar.  From 1918 through 1921, A. I. du P. Coleman, a faculty member of New York City College lived in 244 Waverly Place.

In the meantime, Annie Haggerty, Margaret's sister, and her husband, Jeremiah, moved into 246.  Born in 1862, Haggerty was a vice president in Kieley & Mueller.  It is unclear if he held that position while Timothy Kieley was alive, or if Margaret hired him.

Annie Haggerty died in the house on August 24, 1923.  Her funeral was held here on August 28, followed by a mass at St. Joseph's Church on Sixth Avenue.  

Two years later, Jeremiah initiated a large family trip to the Vatican for Holy Week.  The New York Evening Post said he was "accompanied by several of his nieces and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Margaret Kieley."  On April 15, 1925, shortly after returning to the Waverly Place house, Jeremiah Haggerty died at the age of 63.  

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Margaret Kieley remained, now alone again, in 246 Waverly Place and the Averne residence.  She died here on November 24, 1930.  Hers would be the last funeral in the house.

Margaret had converted 244 Waverly Place to apartments in 1926.  A renovation to 246 completed in 1931 also resulted in a multi-family building.

Throughout the 1930's, the occupants of 244 Waverly Place, many of them members of the Communist Party, were closely scrutinized by the Government.  They included Barbara Moneton, simply on the Government's radar because she registered as a Communist and annually voted for the party, and Vera Taft.  In the Congressional hearings on the Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States, the 23-year-old Taft's trip to Russia and Finland in 1938, was brought up.  Especially concerning to the United States House Special Committee on Un-American Activities was Kenneth Hunter, aka Arthur Herzog, Jr.  The committee offered letters written in 1938 from the Waverly Place address as evidence.  In one, Hunter asked a Boston colleague to help recruit two students he had met there.  The letter began:

Dear Comrade Frankfeld:

I have just come from New York district office where I have obtained your name and address from Comrade Wells (in charge of personnel).  The situation which I should like you or Comrade Blake to work on should hardly be distasteful.

The names of the residents of 246 appeared in print for purely academic reasons.  Two New York University faculty members lived here throughout the 1930's, Eleanor Boykin and Donald W. McConnell.  McConnell was assistant professor of economics.  He joined the staff in February 1928, and wrote several books on economics, including Economic Behaviour.  The bachelor underwent an operation on January 24, 1941, and died in New York Hospital at the age of 39 on February 4.

In 1961 the two houses were combined internally.  It was a this time that William B. Tuthill's creative design was brutalized.  The Queen Anne windows were removed and each of the houses lost a terra cotta panel to accommodate air conditioning units.  

Two sections of the quirky 1886 areaway railings were repurposed for the new entrance to 244. 

Both doorways were altered--their unique frames and hoods destroyed.  The entrance to 244 now sits awkwardly below sidewalk level, and that of 246 was moved to the opposite side.  Little hint of their original, picturesque appearance remains.

photographs by the author
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