Monday, December 11, 2023

The Lost George Harrison Byrd House - 69 Park Avenue


A landau awaits in front of the Byrd house on March 26, 1902.  from the collection of the New York Transit Museum

George Harrison Byrd was born in Brandon, Virginia on May 8, 1827.  He descended, according to the New-York Tribune, "from one of the oldest and most prominent families of Virginia."  Byrd's wife was the former Lucy Carter Wickham.  In January 1866, three months before Robert E. Lee surrendered at 
Appomattox Court House, their second child, Alfred Henry, was born.  Perhaps unexpectedly, with Northerners' memories of the bloody conflict still raw, Byrd brought his family to New York City in 1867.

Byrd was a partner in the cotton firm of Wyman, Byrd & Co. and a director in the Bank of New York.  He and Lucy rented a new home at 69 Park Avenue in the fashionable Murray Hill neighborhood from Samuel G. Weyman.  Located on the east side of the avenue just north of 38th Street, the Italianate residence rose four stories above a rusticated English basement.  A wide, stone stoop led to the parlor floor, where the windows wore classical pediments that echoed that of the entrance.  A molded bandcourse that connected the sills of the fourth floor windows broke up the verticality of the design.

Alfred's sister Anne Harrison was seven years old when the family moved in.  Three more children would add to the population of 69 Park Avenue.  Lucy Carter, Francis Otway, and Edward Wickham would be born in the house.

George Harrison Byrd (original source unknown)

George Byrd retired in 1890 at the age of 63.  He would continued to rent the 24-foot-wide residence until, after nearly four decades in the house, he purchased it from Samuel Weyman's estate on March 1, 1900 for $81,000--about $2.9 million in 2023.  

The Byrds were among the "prominent and well known guests" of the Saranac Inn in the summer of 1900, according to the New-York Tribune.  The article hinted at the activities the family enjoyed.  "The golf course retains its popularity, and tennis and boating have their share of devotees.  The casino and billiard rooms always present a lively appearance during the evening."

But the family's attention would quickly turn to a serious threat to their townhouse.  The construction of a subway tunnel up the middle of the avenue was not merely an inconvenience, it was a danger.  On January 27, 1902, a massive explosion at Park Avenue and 41st Street rocked the neighborhood for blocks around, killing six persons and injuring hundreds more.  Damage to nearby structures like the Murray Hill Hotel was substantial.  

On March2 3, 1902, Byrd and his neighbors, "driven to desperation by the series of tragic accidents which have occurred along Park avenue between Thirty-fourth and Forty-second streets," held what The World called "a desperation meeting" in the Manhattan Hotel.  "The residents feel that the occupancy of their homes at present is unsafe," said the article.

George and Lucy Byrd had good reason to be nervous.  At the time of the article, the row of houses directly across the avenue had been so badly undermined that they were being carefully demolished.  The World explained, "the front of three houses on the block had caved in and to laymen it seemed as if the other houses on the east side of the street would also cave in."

The houses opposite the Byrd mansion were shored up and being carefully dismantled on March 26, 1902 when this photograph was taken.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Then, on January 30, 1903, the New-York Tribune reported that inspectors and engineers of the Buildings Department had discovered that the Barney mansion next door "had settled," and that three others, including the Byrd house, had sunk "an inch."  The article said that a "large force of men" had been put to work installing "pushing braces to support the front walls" of the houses.  The braces, which were embedded into the sidewalk at a 45-degree angle, "do not prevent the houses from settling, but insure the walls from cracking while the settling is going on," said the New-York Tribune.  T. O. McGill, speaking for the Buildings Department assured owners that, while the houses might sink another two inches, "There is nothing alarming about this settling, and people should not be frightened because they see a large force of men bracing up some buildings."  Despite those assurances, three days later the newspaper reported that an inspection of the houses was being made every two hours.

Irate, George H. Byrd and his neighbors sued the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners on September 7, 1905.  Byrd's claim covered damages caused by blasting, "damages generally," legal expenses, and other items.  It totaled $17,250.79 (nearly $600,000 today).  

In the meantime, life went on in the Park Avenue house.  On May 4, 1904 George and Lucy announced Lucy Carter's engagement to Dr. Ellsworth Elliot, Jr.  The couple was married in the Church of the Incarnation on June 15.  The New York Times noted, "A small reception for the relatives and intimate friends followed at the residence of the bride's parents."

George Harrison Byrd fell ill in June 1910, and died a few days later on June 10.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune pointed out, "Mr. Byrd's mother was before her marriage Miss Anne Harrison, whose family was equally prominent in Virginia as the Byrd family.  President Harrison was a distant relative."  Byrd's body was transported to the family cemetery in Berryville, Virginia for internment.  On August 6, The New York Times reported that he left an estate of $1,205,902, the equivalent of $38.3 million in 2023.

Lucy and Anne, who was still unmarried, re-entered the social circle following their period of mourning.  On February 27, 1912, for instance, The New York Times reported that a meeting of the Sewing Class in Aid of Seamen would be held "at the home of Miss Byrd, 69 Park Avenue," on  March 27.  Lucy was involved in a sewing class, as well, one organized by the Colonial Dames.

When this photo was taken on April 19, 1920, the end of the line was near for this block of Park Avenue.  To the right of the Byrd house is the Charles Barney mansion.  It may have been the damage from the subway construction that resulted in 71 Park Avenue, on the other side, being demolished and replaced with the fine home we see here.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Anne Harrison Byrd never married.  She and her mother  lived on in the house with their staff of servants as Park Avenue changed from a quiet, mansion lined street to a busy thoroughfare.  Then, on April 19, 1923, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Lucy Carter Wickham Byrd, the widow of George Harrison Byrd, died on Tuesday at her home, 69 Park Avenue."  As had been the case with her husband, her funeral was held in Virginia.

Before the end of the year, the Byrd house and its neighbor at 71 Park Avenue were demolished to make way for a 13-floor apartment building designed by Walker and Gillette. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Campe Building - 85 Franklin Street

In 1860, John Mack began construction of a five-story, marble faced loft and store building at 85 Franklin Street in the neighborhood that was transforming into the new dry goods district.  A manufacturer and wholesale merchant of ruches (the ruffles or pleats used in the making of fine women's apparel), he would use a portion of the new 24-foot-wide building, completed in 1862, for his own firm, while leasing unused space.

Not long after his building was completed, John Mack was appointed a Commissioner of Internal Revenue.  The building now housed not only his ruches business, but his Commissioner's office.  An notice in The New York Times advised that his office was "open daily for the transaction of business form 9 a.m. to 1 pm., noting, "Distillers, Brewers, and Coal Oil Distillers, within the said district, are requested to apply to the Collector for forms and books to be kept by them in accordance with the above law."

In 1863, the Conscription Act was passed, initiating a draft to swell the ranks of Union soldiers.  Potential draftees could avoid the draft by paying a fee or by paying someone to take their place.  On August 23, 1863, an announcement in The New York Times notified drafted soldiers in the Fourth District who "prefer giving the money instead of their services," that they could pay their "$300 commutation fee" at Mack's office here.

Leasing space from Mack in 1866 were Strouse, Rowe & Co., makers and dealers in "clothing and goods for men's wear;" and the recently formed commission firm of Neuss & Hesslein, which moved into the building in February that year.

The Chronical, April 10, 1869 (copyright expired)

E. M. Drake and Jabe O. King organized the linen thread importing firm King & Drake on January 1, 1870, and moved into 85 Franklin Street.  It was not long before King became the victim of a serious accusation.  He was charged by the Society for the Prevention of Gambling with patronizing "Beers' and Chamberlain's gambling houses."  On the stand in court on July 9, King asserted that he was being confused with another merchant, Joseph L. King.  When the latter was confronted, he testified he was being mistaken for Jabe O. King.  It appears that the stand-off resulted in neither man being convicted.

At the turn of the century, the tenants of 85 Franklin Street were linen importers Freund & Foise & Co.; two suspender makers, Berman Bros. and C. S Smith; the neckwear manufacturer Meyer & Faingloss; and C. Onnstein, makers of umbrellas.  

On December 17, 1903, fire broke out in the basement.  The New York Herald reported, "To save adjoining buildings filled with valuable and inflammable merchandise, the firemen ran pipes through adjacent windows.  In the rush of this assault two large windows were smashed above [Battalion Chief Thomas] Larkin and his men and the falling glass cut the scalp of the chief and dazed him for a moment.  It also cut the hands of Fireman James Andrews and George Cunnigham."  The wounded fire fighters were treated at the Hudson Street Hospital.  All of the tenants suffered losses, either by fire or water, and the damage to the building was estimated at $10,000 (about $343,000 in 2023).

A tragic story played out in the summer of 1907.  Shortly after he arrived in New York, a young German immigrant named S. Menmark found work in the leather firm of Eisenstack & Lippschitz.  He started work on July 31.  The next morning he started to cross Broadway at Franklin Street on the way to work just as a trolley headed towards him.  The New York Times reported, "He had time to step from its path, but seemed to be dazed and did not heed the warning shouted by a hundred men and women.  He was killed."

The manager of Eisenstack & Lippschitz, Abe Gilman, went to the Leonard Street Police Station and identified Menmark's body.  He told police, "the boy had only recently arrived in this country and was unused to the busy streets here."

In 1935, 85 Franklin Street was purchased by the Campe Corporation, underwear manufacturers.  The firm hired architect Thomas White Lamb to make overwhelming changes to the building.  The top three floors were lopped off, and the cast iron storefront and marble facade of the second floor removed.  The now two-story structure was given an Art Moderne facade of cast stone, corrugated metal panels, and expanses of glass.

Lamb left no hint of the early Victorian, marble structure in his Art Modern design.  Stylized metal letters spell out CAMPE above the doorway.  image via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Campe Corporation moved uptown around 1945.  The following year, on August 26, 1946, The New York Sun reported that the newly-formed National Cancer Foundation had established its headquarters here.  The article said the organization was "designed to press for Government aid in the fight against cancer and to provide a new hospital for those suffering in the last stages of disease and who find it difficult to enter other hospitals."  

Spokesperson Jay Pearlmutter explained the "first major step" of the foundation would be the establishment of Hope Institute, which he described as "a new type of private room hospital for the care of those in the last stages of the disease who at present have no place to turn."

Thomas White Lamb's Art Moderne facade has been seriously abused.

By the mid 1960s, the building was home to Del Electronics Corp.  The 21st century saw Maurice Arlos Fine Art here by 2002, and the florist Elan Flowers in the building in 2015.

Because 85 Franklin Street sits within a historic district, when a second significant change to the now-distressed property was proposed in 2018, the Landmarks Preservation Commission became involved.  The plans submitted by studioMDA  included adding five floors and restoring, while slightly altering, Thomas Lamb's existing 1935 design.

studioMDA's rendering supplies a before and after view.  

When completed, the renovated structure will hold residential units above a ground floor gallery.

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Friday, December 8, 2023

The 1840 J. Lee Smith House - 29 Bank Street


Like many other Greenwich Village merchants and businessmen, William Harsell invested in real estate as the formerly bucolic hamlet expanded.  A sash and window frame maker, in 1835 he purchased vacant property on Bank Street between West Fourth Street and Greenwich Avenue.  It was not until 1840 that he erected two fine, brick-faced Greek Revival homes on the property.

Like its identical neighbor, the 25-foot wide 29 Bank Street was intended for a merchant class family.  A high stone stoop rose above the rusticated English basement.  The red brick facade was trimmed in brownstone.  Rather than the peaked roof with one or two dormers seen in Federal style houses of a generation earlier, a squat attic floor sat below the simple cornice.  Harsell advertised it as "an excellent House, in a good neighborhood."

As a sash maker, William Harsell was well acquainted with J. Lee Smith, who was a partner in the glass business of Morgan, Walker & Smith.  Smith moved his family into 29 Bank Street and before long was assisting Harsell with his real estate ventures.  The Smiths remained here until February 1845, when an advertisement in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer offered both 29 and 31 Bank Street for sale.  It noted, "Apply to Wm. Harsell, or J. Lee Smith."

Robert Niles Eldredge purchased 29 Bank Street.  Born in Mystic, Connecticut in 1812, he came from an old New England family.  His first American ancestor, Samuel Eldred, arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts from England prior to 1641.

Robert Niles and Melinna Louise Eldredge, from Ancestors of Edward Irving Eldrege and His Wife Helen Louise Dutcher, 1925

Listed as a "fishmonger," he was the head of Robert N. Eldredge & Co. in the Washington Market.  He and his wife, the former Melinna Louise Johnson, had four daughters--nine-year-old Melinna Louise; seven-year-old Eliza; Frances Burrows, who was four; and two-year-old Helen.   A son, William Henry, was born on March 2, 1845, just weeks after the family moved in.  Melinna and Robert would welcome eight more children, the youngest, Edward Irving, arriving on September 27, 1857.

Despite what must have been snug conditions in the house, Robert's brother and business partner Nathan Eldredge lived with the family in 1857 and 1858.

The birth of Edward Irving brought the population of 29 Bank Street to 16, including the infant's uncle.  It was possibly the over-crowding that prompted Eldredge to sell the house in April 1859.  The advertisement described it as "well-built and neatly finished" and noted, "Croton water, gas, &c."  

Joseph R. Hoff was almost assuredly acquainted with Robert N. Eldredge.  A produce merchant, he, too, operated from the Washington Market.  He and his wife, Mary Ann, moved into 29 Bank Street in 1859.  The couple had a son, Harry W.  Sadly, less than three years later Mary Ann died on New Year's Day 1862 at the age of 37.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

In the early 1870s, Joseph began taking in a boarder, one at a time.  In 1873 it was Margaret McCowan, most likely a widow; and in 1876 John Stuart, a metal dealer, lived in the house.

Joseph Hoff modernized 29 Bank Street in 1878 by raising the attic to a full third floor.  Simultaneously, his architect added Italianate rope molding to the entrance, molded lintels above the windows, and a modern Italianate cornice.

The renovations may have been in anticipation of Hoff's remarriage.  By April 1881 title to the house had been transferred to Catherine Hoff.  That month builders W. Wakeman and C. W. White filed plans for a two-story brick extension to the rear of the house.  The renovations cost the Hoffs the equivalent of $29,500 in 2023.

Following Joseph R. Hoff's death around 1884, Catherine operated 29 Bank Street as a boarding house.  Among her boarders in 1885 were J. W. Randall and his wife; and Joseph Diss Debar, his wife, and their two children, Alice and Julia (known as Dodo).  Madame Diss Debar was a spiritualist.

The Diss Debar girls played with the Randall children.  Mrs. Randall formed a close relationship with the girls when Madame Diss Debar went away on a lecturing tour and Alice became ill.  The New York Times later explained, "Mrs. Randall nursed her until she recovered.  The girl conceived a very deep attachment for Mrs. Randall during her sickness."  During that time, Alice told Mrs. Randall that her father was portrait artist and, indeed, she "saw paintings in a finished and unfinished condition in the apartment of the Diss Debars which Alice told her had been painted by her father."

Mrs. Randall was understandably confused, since she knew Joseph Diss Debar was not an artist.  What none of the boarders were aware of, however, was that the Diss Debars were not married.  "Madame Diss Debar" was the widow of portrait artist Paul Noel Mesant and Alice was the child of that marriage.  Joseph Diss Debar had a wife and children in Philadelphia.  Who Dodo's true parents were was unclear.

In April 1888, Joseph Diss Debar and Madame Diss Debar were imprisoned.  By now, the Randalls lived uptown and the girls (Alice was now 14 years old and Dodo was 8) were briefly taken to the Randall house on Alice's pleading.  In court on April 29, Madame Diss Debar's brother, George T. C. Solomon testified to the couple's illicit living arrangements, said he "did not believe that 'Dodo' was his sister's child."  The New York times reported that he went on to say his sister "was bringing up Alice as a spiritualist, and he considered that her home influences were bad, and that it would be desirable to have Alice and Julia out of her control."  The judge had the girls removed to the custody of the Gerry Society (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

Around 1890 Catherine Hoff married Walter Hart.  Her step-son, Harry W. Hoff, now grown, continued to live with them here.

In February 1896, 55-year-old George Vailiant leased a room.  A drafting engineer, he was employed by the Dutton Pneumatic Lock and Engineering Company.  That summer, however, he began having problems at work.  According to Walter Hart he was "a quiet man of good habits and character."  The New York Press said, "He said little about himself or his belongings, but went to his work every day."

Valiant was married, but his wife Emma's relatives had persuaded her to leave him in 1890.  Adding to his problems were the difficulties with co-workers that arose in the summer of 1896.  According to Valiant, he had been working 12 hours a day.  One of the other draftsmen decided that he was "an agent of the secret police appointed to watch and to report upon his actions."  The man was able to convince at least two other workers of his baseless theory.  Finally, on August 3 he was terminated.

Totally dejected, on August 6 Valiant sat in his room, swallowed enough laudanum to kill himself, and began writing.  His letter explained his unfair treatment by his wife's relatives, the conspiracy theorists at work, and his unjustified firing.  He detailed who should receive his drafting instruments and books, and forgave everyone.  His lengthy letter would have gone further, but he noted, "I must hurry this, my dying statement, as I find the narcotic--laudanum--is commencing to affect me."

When Walter Hart had not seen Valiant for a few days, he checked his room.  On August 10, The New York Press began an article saying, "In his room at No. 29 Bank street the badly decomposed body of George Valiant was found yesterday morning."  

After having been in the Hoff family for more than half a century, 29 Bank Street was sold in May 1913.  By the Depression years it was home to Luther Orange Lemon.  Born in Richmond, Indiana and a graduate of Earlham College and Columbia University, he was assistant treasurer of the J. Walter Thompson Company, an advertising agency.

On June 20, 1940, The New York Sun reported on his marriage to Hortense Bleeker in St. Luke's Chapel on Hudson Street.  It signaled the end of Luther Lemon's residency in the Bank Street house.  The article noted, "He and his bride will go to South America on their wedding trip, and after July 4 will be at home in Morristown [New Jersey]."

A renovation completed in 1949 resulted in apartments and furnished rooms within the house.  The configuration lasted until 2013 when it was returned to a single-family home.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The 1906 Arthur Gibb House - 14 East 55th Street


photograph by the author

Around 1870, a four-story, high-stoop brownstone was erected at 14 East 55th Street.  Midblock between Fifth and Madison Avenues, it was home to the Alexander Marsland family at the turn of the century.  In 1901 Marsland joined others in the neighborhood to petition the city for enamel street signs to be affixed to lamp posts.  The petition pointed out, "it is next to impossible for a stranger to find the names of many of the streets of the city unless he is fortunate enough to encounter a Policeman."

The architecturally outdated Marsland house and five of its abutting neighbors were purchased by the prolific real estate developers William Hall's Sons in 1904.  The firm began construction of a row of six opulent residences on the sites designed by the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell.  Each of the 23-foot-wide homes would be individual, yet would flow  harmoniously together.

Completed in 1906, 14 East 55th Street was faced in red brick above the limestone-clad ground floor.  Designed in the American basement plan, the entrance was just a few steps above the sidewalk.  The fifth floor took the form of a stylish, slate-shingled mansard punctured by two dormers.  An advertisement in August 1906 noted it was "Ready for Occupancy," and read:

New English Basement Dwelling.  Passenger elevator, steam heat, and hot water from street.  Restricted private house location on front, rear and sides.

The mention of the "restricted" location referred to the prohibition of any commercial activities within the surrounding blocks.

The Hall brothers sold 14 East 55th Street to Lila Gilbert, the wife of millionaire H. Bramhall Gilbert.  She had no intentions of living here, having a fine mansion at 826 Fifth Avenue.  It was, instead an investment.  But after leasing it a few years, she sold what The New York Times called "a fine residence" in August 1909 to Arthur and Emily M. Gibb.

Gibb was born in Brooklyn in 1858.  Following his graduation from Adelphi College, he worked for his father's business, Mills & Gibb, until 1897 when he became a partner in the Brooklyn Department store, Frederick Loeser & Co.  By the time he and Emily purchased 14 East 55th Street, he was its head.

Three of the men in Arthur Gibb's family had recently been the victims of a string of rapid-fire deaths.  His brother Howard died in Paris in June 1905; two months later, Gibb's father, John, died at his summer home in Islip, New York; and on July 22 1906 John Richmond Gibb (who was head of Frederick Loeser & Co. at the time) died at the age of 47.  Arthur was left with one surviving brother, Walter, who was also involved with the department store.

Following the death of John Richmond Gibb, Arthur not only took over his position at Frederick Loeser & Co., but his wife.  Almost immediately after the end of her mourning period, Emily married Arthur in 1908.  She brought two daughters, Dorothy and Ruth, and a son John, from her previous marriage to 14 East 55th Street.  The Gibbs summer home was in Glen Cove, New York.  

The purchase of the house came just in time for Dorothy's debut.  On December 15, 1909, The New York Times reported that Emily had given a reception to introduce her.  In the receiving line were socially recognizable names like Atterbury, Havemeyer, and Granville.  The article noted, "There was a dinner for the receiving party after the reception, following which the young people went to Miss Brown's theatre party at Daly's Theatre."

At the time of the event, Arthur Gibbs was not well.  Suffering from kidney disease, he had recently turned over the operations of Frederick Loeser & Co. to his brother Walter.  In January 1911 he was admitted to a private sanitarium on West 61st Street where he underwent an operation on January 11.  The Sun reported, "it was thought that he would recover, but he failed to rally."  The 53-year-old died four days later.  

The New-York Tribune reported that he left an estate of "more than $2,000,000."  (That would translate to about $64 million in 2023).  Emily received the Manhattan and Glen Cove residences and $108,509 outright (approximately $3.45 million today).

Although in mourning, the Gibbs women still needed to be properly coiffed.  On March 3, 1911, Emily accompanied Dorothy to a hair salon.  The New York Times said that Emily "stood near her while the hair-dresser worked."  Abruptly everything went wrong.  The article related, "The dresser used an electrical apparatus.  Suddenly there was a sharp explosion and a spark darted from the machine into Miss Gibb's hair.  In a moment her hair burst into flame."

Dorothy "cried out in pain" and tried to beat the flames out with her hands.  The panicked hairdresser ran around the room trying to find something to use to extinguish Dorothy's burning pate.  Only Emily was level-headed enough to act.  She whipped off her fur stole and threw it over Dorothy's head, "muffling the flames beneath it and beating them out."

The New York Times said "both mother and daughter were hysterical" and initially it was feared that Dorothy had been severely injured.  She and Emily were driven in an automobile to New York Hospital where it was discerned that she suffered only minor burns, although "much of her hair had been burned away."  She was kept in the hospital for several days.  Five days after the incident The New York Times noted, "Her mother was still ill from the shock at her home yesterday."

On January 18, 1914, The Sun reported, "Invitations will soon be sent out for the wedding of Miss Ruth Harold W. Carthart of this city, in St. Thomas's Church on February 19."  The New York Times added, "Miss Dorothy Gibb will be her sister's maid of honor."

John Richmond Gibb gave his sister away and after the fashionable ceremony, Emily hosted a reception in the East 55th Street house for which, according to The New York Times, "700 invitations were sent out."  The article added that Emily, "who was in the receiving party, was in a white moirĂ© gown, topped by a black tulle trimmed hat."

A year later, almost to the day, the process was repeated.  On January 24, 1915 Dorothy married Bache McEvers Whitlock in St. Thomas's Church "in the presence of a large gathering," according to The Sun.  Once again, John Gibb escorted his sister down the aisle.  The article said, "Immediately after the ceremony there was a reception at the home of the bride's mother, 14 East Fifty-fifth street."  

At the time of Dorothy's wedding, the neighborhood around 14 East 55th Street was by no means any longer "restricted."  Millionaires were rapidly abandoning the area below 59th Street and their mansions were being razed or converted for business.  

By 1924, the ground floor of the Gibb house had been converted to the Maybell Manning dress shop.  An advertisement in May that year touted, "Great reduction in charming afternoon and evening creations.  Personal inspection invited."

Architect Louis A. Kornum was commissioned to remodel the first two floors in 1926.  A limestone frame now engulfed two stories of vast show windows.  The exterior of the upper floors remained unchanged.  

Maybell Manning remained into the early Depression years.  A subsequent renovation completed in 1938 resulted in two apartments each on the upper floors.  Where Maybell Manning had operated, the French fashion house of Henry a la Pensee now sold glamorous gowns and dresses.

Although its name was still emblazoned above the first floor, Henry a la Pensee had moved out in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In 1940 two sets of newlyweds moved into apartments here.  The first were Katherryn Hernan, a professional model, who married chemist Dr. Eugene McCauliff in St. Patrick's Cathedral in April.  The groom of the second couple had a distinct connection to the house.  Bache McEvers Whitlock, Jr. was the son of Dorothy Gibb and Bache Whitlock.  He married Philbin Heath on December 22, 1940.  The Nassau Daily Review-Standard said, "After a wedding trip to Palm Beach, Fla., the couple will be at home at 14 East 55th st., New York City."

photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

By 1946 the Gould Galleries occupied the store space.  The upscale firm sold American and foreign paintings.  In the 1970s and '80s, the society beauty salon of Pipino-Buccheri was here.  Run by Richard Buccheri and Marc Pipino, the salon was visited by The New York Times journalist Alexandra Penney in November 1977.  She wrote, "I was pleased by such touches as au courant Italian leather furniture."

In July 2013 Vivienne Westwood purchased 14 East 55th Street.  The fashion designer had established her business in London in 1971 and now had shops in Los Angles, Honolulu, and Paris.   A renovation to the storefront included a new marquee, and the brick was painted.  The upper floors were converted to two duplex apartments.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The 1854 No. 348 West 20th Street


The first floor, originally rusticated, has been smoothed over.

James N. Wells was highly instrumental in the development of the Clement Clarke Moore estate, Chelsea, into a new residential neighborhood.  In 1853, he began a project of six handsome homes on the south side of West 20th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  When they were completed in 1854, Wells presented one to each of his children.  It does not appear that any of them moved in, but used the houses as rental income.

The easternmost house, 230 West 20th Street (renumbered 348 in 1865), was designed, like its identical neighbors, in the Anglo-Italianate style.  Four-stories tall, its short, three-step stoop above the basement level rose to the entrance within the rusticated base.  A prominent cornice supported by scrolled brackets protected the doorway.

The house saw a succession of tenants over the first decades, almost always being shared by two families.  In 1864, for instance, the Reverend Aaron H. Burlingham and Frederick R. Wood were listed here.  Wood was in the carriage trade, with five locations around town.

In 1867 the families of Charles B. Husted, a surveyor, and Edward H. Scofield, a clerk, shared the house; and the following year it was home to Alexander C. Dean, a clerk, and Israel Henoch, who was in the clothing business on Warren Street.

When the house was advertised in April 1868, the rent was $1,600, or around $34,000 per year in 2023 terms.  Whoever signed the lease ran it as a boarding house.  An advertisement the following year offered, "pleasant rooms with first-class board.  Terms reasonable."

The boarders were respectable and professional.  The four boarders (some with families) in 1878 were Charles A. Daveridge, a "packer;" attorney Charles T. Dunwell; Edward Post, a "carrier," or drayman; and Edward Underhill, who worked as a stenographer in the Surrogate Courts.  Edward was paid $2,500 in 1879, a salary equal to $75,000 in 2023.

While boarding houses were cautious about admitting unmarried women--and in many cases flatly refused to take them in--there were two here in the early 1890s.  Albertina Peters obviously posed no threat to the reputation of the boarding house.  When she died here on April 8, 1891 she was 93 years old.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Ella C. Williams also had an untarnished reputation.  The well-educated bachelorette was a member of The Scientific Alliance of New York, and of the New York Mathematical Society.

A scourge to boarding house operators were bandits who rented rooms merely to gain access to other boarders' valuables.  In December 1896, Chelsea police were searching frantically for a young man who had struck dozens of times.  On January 24, 1897, The Sun explained, "His game was to go to a boarding or furnished-room house shortly before supper time, hire a room and tell the landlady that he wanted his supper immediately and that while she was getting it ready he would wash his hands.  When the supper was ready the man was gone with all the available clothing."

By the time of the article, two boarders of 348 West 20th Street had already been victimized--Charles Schumacher and Ada Bligh.  Based on numerous descriptions supplied by landladies, police finally spotted the thief entering a saloon on January 23, 1897.  In his pocket were 19 pawn tickets and a notebook with the addresses of the boarding houses he had robbed.  "He kept it to avoid visiting the same house twice," explained police.  The Sun reported, "The man called himself James Richardson, James Roberts, John Russell, John James, James Williams, James Rogers, John Jones, and James Smith."

The ground floor rustication was intact in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The house continued to be operated as a boarding house through the World War I years, and then as a rooming house.  It was home to 48-year-old Dennis Malone in 1913.  The salesman was crossing Seventh Avenue at 23rd Street on December 27 that year he he was stuck by a streetcar.  His skull was fractured and he was removed to New York Hospital. 

Living and working in a furnished room in 1923 was 55-year-old attorney and writer George H. Paine.  Despite his somewhat minimal accommodations, The New York Times said he was "reputed to be a member of a prominent New York family and wealthy."  A member of the Fur, Fins and Feather Club, Paine was an outdoorsman, and wrote numerous stories and articles about his hunting and fishing trips.  Each day Frances H. Beard, his secretary, would arrive here to work with him.

Early on the morning of August 20, 1923, the smell of gas was traced to Paine's door.  The proprietor entered, and found him dead on the bed.  It did not appear to be a suicide, since the window was slightly open.  Police surmised, "that as Paine turned out the light before stretching out for a rest he knocked the other connection loose."

At some point prior to 1970 the rustication of the ground floor was smoothed over.  A renovation completed in 1989 resulted in a medical office in the basement level, one apartment on the first floor, and a triplex on the top three.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Alexander and Augusta Boehm House - 263 West 93rd Street


The Boehm house is the middle of the three.

Brothers William W. and Thomas M. Hall were prolific developers at the turn of the last century.  At a time when millionaires were moving into lavish Fifth Avenue palaces along Central Park, the brothers erected speculative residences that held their own among the custom-designed mansions.  In 1897 they tested the opposite side of the park, hiring architect Alexander M. Welch (with whom they worked repeatedly) to design three upscale townhouses on West 93rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

Completed early in 1898, the homes were advertised as "the most attractive, medium sized, moderate priced Private Houses ever offered.  Accessible restricted location."  (The reference to "restricted location" meant that no businesses were allowed in the neighborhood.)

While the ad hinted that the three homes were not as sumptuous as some of the palazzos the Hall Brothers erected on the East Side, 261 through 265 West 93rd Street were undeniably first-class.  Welch designed them as American basement houses, foregoing the high stoops which were falling from fashion.  Each identical house had a rusticated limestone first floor designed in the Beaux Arts style.  The ornate keystones above the arched openings did double-duty as brackets for the slightly projecting bays at the second and third floors.  A center bracket took the form of an elaborately carved cartouche surrounded by leaves and vines.  French gave way to Italian on the upper floors as Welch turned to Renaissance Revival.  The prim limestone bays sat against a wall of gray Roman brick.  The fourth floor openings were separated by Doric pilasters, above which the cornices were decorated with swags.

On November 12, 1898, the Record & Guide reported that William T. Hall had sold the center house to Augusta Boehm, the wife of Alexander Boehm.  (The title to real estate was commonly placed in the wife's name within well-to-do couples.)

Alexander Boehm was a partner in the women's garment manufacturing firm of Boehm & Levine.  He and Augusta had two children, Herbert Leo and Meta Gertrude.  Herbert, who was 19 years old when the family moved in, enrolled as a sub-freshman in the Free Academy of the City of New York in 1901.

On March 10, 1903, the New York Herald reported that "in the presence of relatives only," Meta Gertrude "was married to Mr. Maurice Sichel yesterday afternoon, at Delmonico's.  The ceremony was followed by a reception, dinner and dance."  The article noted, "Mr. and Mrs. Sichel sail for Europe to-day."

Seven years later, on March 9, 1910. Herbert was married to Josephine M. Clute.  Now empty nesters, the Boehms leased 263 West 93rd Street to Richard Melancthon Hurd in 1911.

Hurd married Lucy Gazzam on September 22, 1898, and the couple had four children.  The president of the Lawyers Mortgage Co., Hurd was an expert in real estate economy and the author of the 1903 Principles of City Land Values.  The Hurds' collection of Italian primitives included artists like Fra Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Antonio Veneziano.

If the Richard Hurd family moved into 263 West 93rd Street at all, their stay was short.  More likely, Richard signed the lease for a relative, Ebenezer Hurd, who was undergoing financial hardships at the time, and who was listed at the address in 1912.  On May 10 that year, The New York Times reported that Halstead & Co., of which Ebenezer Hurd and James W. Halstead were partners, had declared bankruptcy.  The article noted, "The petition says that Hurd, who lives at 263 West Ninety-third Street, New York, refused to join in the petition, but that he and Halstead and the company are all insolvent."  Hurd managed to survive the bankruptcy, and the following year was operating on his own as a member of the New York Produce Exchange.  

Hurd appears to have remained in the 93rd Street house until around 1915.  Marion L. Wilder was leasing it in 1917.  She was a 1908 graduate of Mount Holyoke College.  Marion would have to find other accommodations when the house was sold in March 1921 to Henri M. Barron and his wife Alice Kraft Baroni.

Musical America, April 9, 1921 (copyright expired)

Barron was an operatic tenor, and his wife was a coloratura soprano.  Henri Barron was known to opera audiences, but it was Madame Alice Kraft Baroni who stole the limelight.  On February 28, 1925, Equal Rights magazine wrote, "Prima donna of opera, concert and song recital and actively engaged in her career, she has also found time in the past year to assume editorship of the Musical World, a review that has met with much encouragement and success owing to her extensive acquaintance with musical conditions in Europe and our own country."

Madame Alice Kraft Baroni.  Equal Rights, February 28, 1925 (copyright expired)

Alice's American roots were deep.  Her first ancestor arrived in 1638, and Equal Rights noted, "On her maternal side she is descended from Captain James Lawrence of 'Don't give up the ship' fame, and the Moreheads.  Two brothers and a son of this family were among our early Governors."  She had begun her career at the age of 14, and had performed in the leading opera houses of Europe.  In addition to her concert work and editing, Alice Baroni made time for women's causes.  She was a founder of the National Woman's Party.

No. 263 West 93rd Street survived as a private home until 1967, when it was converted to two apartments per floor.  That configuration lasted until 2010 when it was returned to a single family residence.  Much of Alexander M. Welch's interior detail from 1898 survives.

photographs by the author
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Monday, December 4, 2023

The Lost East Side Airline Terminal - First Avenue and 37th Street


The Manhattan Post Card Publishing Co. produced this image of the newly-completed terminal in 1953.

At mid-century, the Airlines Terminal Building in Midtown, across from Grand Central Terminal, was obsolete.  Designed by John B. Peterkin in 1939, it had solved the problem of airports being remotely located from urban passengers.  Buses ferried fliers from the terminal to the New York Municipal Airport (later renamed LaGuardia Airport).  By now, however, the terminal building was overcrowded and the tangle of buses along with their suffocating exhaust had become intolerable.

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority brought Peterkin back in 1951 to design a larger facility blocks away near the East River.  The site that engulfed the block between 37th and 38th Streets on First Avenue was out of the way of Midtown businesses, yet still convenient for passengers. 

Ground was broken on July 25, 1951 and construction was completed two years later at a cost of $684,100 (around $74.8 million in 2023).  Peterkin's Modernist design smacked of the sleek ocean liners of the period--its long, low profile punctuated by regimented rows of windows.  The architect's minimalist treatment of the exterior relied on clean lines rather than the Art Deco ornamentation of his earlier building.  With its rounded corners and unbroken band of openings at the second floor, the East Side Airline Terminal was as much sculpture as architecture.

Refrigerating Engineering, March 1955

As the building neared completion on November 8, 1953, The New York Times promised, "passengers will find the last word in conveniences while the city will be relieved of bus traffic congestion."  The article said the new building would "accommodate about 7,000 passengers a day."

The building was leased to the Airlines' Terminal Corporation, a consortium of ten domestic airlines that held space inside.  It was dedicated at 6:00 on November 30, 1953.  The speakers were Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri; Mayor-elect Robert F. Wagner Jr.; the chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Robert Moses; and president of the Airlines' Terminal Corporation, Paul H. Brattain.

from the collection of the University of Wisconsin

As with the former terminal, here customers could buy their tickets, check their luggage, and board one of the 100 buses which made a total of 550 trips to the airport each day.  The bus garage was below ground, while on the roof was parking for 300 automobiles.  Inside, according to The New York Times, "The main portion of the building is the second-floor rotunda, a vast and pleasantly colored hall (bluish green and tomato red) filled with hard wooden waiting-room benches and lined by the check-in and ticket counters of the ten United States lines."

John B. Peterkin's interiors were as sleek and clean as his facade.  The columns were colored a deep "tomato red."  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The newspaper mentioned that the new location would shave minutes off passengers' trips.  The ride to LaGuardia was 25 minutes, down from half-an-hour; and the trip to Idlewild (today's JFK.) was 37 minutes, a savings of five minutes.

The estimate that the East Side Airline Terminal would serve 7,000 passengers daily fell far short.  Eight months after its opening, on July 18, 1954, The New York Times reported, "Nearly 10,000 travelers a day are processed by the airline offices in the First Avenue air depot."  The article said that the results of the first half year of operation "are gratifying to nearly everyone concerned."  It explained in part:

Instead of wandering the sidewalks around the old terminal building in search of the right bus for the right flight, passengers now are led by unerring loudspeakers to a specified slot on a sheltered ramp to board their buses.  The new building is spacious, air-conditioned, well-equipped with food and drink and a 300-car parking lot on the roof.  All this pleases the airline passengers.
The article concluded saying, "Over on Tenth Avenue at Forty-first Street, excavation has been completed for the West Side Airlines Terminal, which is scheduled to handle all departures and arrivals for Newark by September of 1955."  That terminal would substantially reduce the number of passengers utilizing the East Side Airlines Terminal.

Exactly two decades after the terminal opened, on May 8, 1973 The New York Times reported, "The consortium of 10 domestic airlines managing and operating the East Side Airlines Terminal has refused to renew its lease, raising the possibility that the facility will close when the contract expires next Oct. 31."  A spokesperson for the group said there had been "an annual operating deficit of $750,000 to $1-million for the last eight years."

The concept of urban airlines terminals was already outdated.  The West Side Airlines Terminal had closed a year before the article.  On October 17, 1973, the chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority announced that a three-month truce had been arranged with the tenants to keep the terminal open "while working on plans to continue its operation 'indefinitely.'"

A postcard ca 1955 depicted the new building with its rooftop parking lot relatively full.  

The terminal limped along.  The severe reduction in its use was evidenced in December 1977 when the parking lot on the roof was converted to tennis courts within pressurized air bubbles.  On January 16, 1978, The New York Times reported, "On the roof of the old East Side Airlines Terminal, near cabs and buses, this new facility is unquestionably the standard by which all other indoor tennis clubs in New York will now be judged."

Early in 1985, the inevitable finally came to pass.  The building was sold for $90.6 million on February 13 to developers "who plan to build a luxury apartment house on the site," reported the New York Times.  The price, equal to about $246 million in 2023, was believed to be the highest ever paid at auction for parcel of Manhattan real estate.  Peter L. Malkin, speaking for the joint venture buyer, said the terminal "would be torn down as early as next year and an apartment house of about 50 stories would be built."

Close inspection reveals portions of the terminal building in the base of the new apartment building.  photo by Rhododendrites.

In fact, architects Der Scutt and John Schimenti, incorporated much of the old structure into the 57-floor The Corinthian. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog