Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The John P. Kirwan House - 118 West 88th Street


In 1886 developer William J. Taylor began construction of a row of eight narrow homes along the south of West 88th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Architect Samuel B. Reed  designed them in a delightful jumble of revival styles--Flemish, Romanesque, and Renaissance.  Completed the following year, while they shared enough elements to make the row pleasantly cohesive, each house was individual.  

Like its neighbors, 118 West 88th Street was a mere 15.6 feet wide.  Its basement and parlor levels were clad in rough-cut stone.  Chunky stone voussoirs rose to foliate-carved keystones over the parlor openings.  A shallow, square edged oriel distinguished the second floor, while the third floor windows were arranged in a Palladian-inspired configuration.  A brownstone eyebrow connected the lintels of the end windows, and a terra cotta portrait of a man filled the tympanum of the center opening.  Above it all rose a dramatic Flemish gable, decorated with a terra cotta roundel with a striking female profile.

The execution of the female terra cotta bas relief was far superior to its carved stone male counterpart below.

In October 1887 Taylor sold the house to "a Mrs. Walsh," according to the Record & Guide, for $19,000 (about $558,000 in 2023).  It was common for real estate buyers to initially hide their identities, and Mrs. Walsh was, in fact, Harriet E. Barney, the wife of theatrical agent and manager Ariel N. Barney.

Barney managed several well-known stage performers, but none was more famous than Julia Marlowe.  Their professional relationship was nearly ended by a horrible accident in January 1889.  That night Julia was standing in the wings, just offstage, under a heavy piece of scenery.  The Evening World reported that she "received a portion of its woodwork upon her head.  This produced a compound fracture, and it is doubtful, even if she recovers, that her reason will remain."  The article noted, "Mr. Barney [has] watched her day and night."

Only a month later Marlowe had recovered sufficiently that The Evening World reported, "Mr. Barney is delighted because next season his little star will devote twenty weeks to four big cities--New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston."  Harriet Barney and the West 88th Street house saw little of Ariel during that winter theater season, as he traveled with his troupe--notably Julia Marlowe--from city to city.

In July 1891 the Barneys sold 118 West 88th Street to another theatrical manager and producer, J. Wesley Rosenquest, and his wife Minnie Coote, for $18,000.  (It was a significant discount from what the Barneys had paid.)

Born in Brooklyn in 1859, Rosenquest entered the theatrical profession as a youth.  The manager of the Bijou Opera House and the Fourteenth Street Theatre, The Evening World called him "one of the best-known theatrical men in the country."

James Wesley Rosenquest, Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 (copyright expired)

Minnie was a member of the chorus of the Lydia Thompson Burlesque Company when the two met.  It seems that things were not always placid within the West 88th Street house.  Minnie would later testify that she lived "in fear of her bodily safety" and that her husband "stormed and raged and wound up by assaulting me and tearing my clothing and driving me out."

The Rosenquests' residency would be relatively short.  They lost the house in foreclosure in December 1896.  It was purchased at auction by real estate operator John P. and Julia M. Kirwan.  

The Finance and Commerce of New York and United States would call Kirwan in 1903, "One of the best known and oldest established real estate experts in the fashionable uptown district of New York City."  Kirwan's business focused on the Upper West Side "where palatial hotels, magnificent apartment houses, and residential palaces are springing up as if by magic on every side," said the writer.

John P. Kirwan, from The Finance and Commerce of New York and United States, 1903 (copyright expired)

John and Julia had three sons when they purchased the house.  John Stanislaus (he would later often use Stanley as his middle name) was five years old, Raymond was four, and baby Arthur was just eight months old.   Two years later, in October 1898, a fourth son, Robert L. was born, 

Also living in the house was Julia's sister and brother-in-law, Lucy A. and John J. Commins, and two Irish-born servants, Mary Fitzpatrick and Katie Hughes.

In 1905 a terrifying outbreak of typhoid fever swept New York City.  Robert fell ill and, according to the New York Herald, "Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan insisted upon caring for him themselves.  They said that his chances of improvement would be better if his mother and father were his nurses."  It was a decision they would most likely regret.

A second son came down with the fever and another suffered an accident.  The Kirwans' summer home was at Quogue, Long Island and John went there in July to ready the house "so that one son who was suffering from typhoid fever and another son whose arm had been broken might go there to recuperate."  While he was there alone, John contracted the dreaded disease.  The New York Herald reported, "It had become impossible for Mr. Kirwan to leave Quogue because of the gravity of his own illness."

On July 10, 1905, little Robert died in the 88th Street house.  By then John's condition was perilous.  Doctors told Julia that John could not be told, fearing "the shock of the disclosure would prove fatal to him."  The New York Herald said he was "intensely devoted" to his sons.

With intense bravery, following Robert's funeral Julia took the boys to Quogue so she could tend to her husband.  They were warned not to tell their father of their brother's death.  When he would ask about Robert, the New York Herald explained, "Each time he has been that the boy's condition is improving."  The article said, "So far Mrs. Kirwan has escaped illness, but last night she was almost worn out from anxiety.  Since her husband was stricken she has not been able to eat or sleep much and the physicians in attendance upon her husband fear that she may become ill."  Thankfully, all members of the Kirwan family recovered.

Colorful petals of stained glass form the fanlight above the entrance.

In 1910, 19-year-old John S. Kirwan met 17-year-old Jean Gazlay Donaldson, who was attending school at Dobbs Ferry.  A romance bloomed--one firmly objected to by Jean's mother.  To distance the two, Emma Donaldson laid plans to send her daughter to a European school.  Jean discovered the plot and the teens eloped to New Jersey.  It was a short-lived marriage, annulled in April 1913, after which John moved back into the West 88th Street house and joined his father's business.  (Jean, incidentally, would go on to have five more husbands and a life highlighted by wealth, charges of criminality, and celebrity.)

Raymond became engaged to Dorothy Lazarus in 1913.  The couple was motoring in Long Island that summer when Raymond was pulled over for speeding.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he was driving "at a rate of thirty-eight miles an hour over the Hempstead Turnpike."  His heavy foot cost him a $15 dollar fine--a significant $450 today.

Arthur graduated from Harvard in 1916.  The previous year his brother John had left their father's business to to go Europe to volunteer with the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.  Upon America's entry into the war, John joined Squadron A of the New York Cavalry.  While in training at Camp Holabird in Baltimore in 1918, he suffered a serious accident from which he would never recover.

John Stanislaus Kirwan died at the age of 29 in the West 88th Street house on July 5, 1921.  The Evening Telegram attributed his death to the injuries received at camp.  

Julia Kirwan had died around the time that John left for the war.  On November 15, 1925, The New York Times reported that her estate had sold 118 West 88th Street, noting, "This marks the first sale of the house in twenty-eight years.  It was purchased for occupancy."

The house was lost in foreclosure during the Depression years, but remained a single family house.  Otto von Strotha leased it for his family home in 1933.  But when it was rented again in 1939, it became a rooming house.  

In April 1940, 27-year-old Peter Paul Waskiewicz rented a room here.  Unknown to the landlord, Waskiewicz, who had a home in Ridgewood, Queens, was a Teamster boss who was out on $1,500 bail.  He was a defendant in the FBI's case against 36 union officials charged with racketeering.  Waskiewicz was scheduled to appear in court on April 30, but he did not appear.

Later that day, a patrol car was called to 118 West 88th Street to answer a call of an attempted suicide.  They found a man unconscious, suffering from gas poisoning.  Upon being revived "after considerable effort by an ambulance physician," he was taken to Bellevue Hospital.  A union card identified him as Waskiewicz.  An additional charge of being a fugitive from justice was added to his alleged crimes.

118, at right, creates part of a charming ensemble. 

The house was converted to apartments in 1955.  A subsequent renovation, completed in 1991, resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, two apartments on the second floor, and one on the third.

photographs by the author
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Monday, January 30, 2023

The Lost Charles W. Clinton House - 39 East 57th Street


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

In 1894 Charles William Clinton partnered with William Hamilton Russell to form the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell.  The 52-year-old Clinton had begun his career in the office of esteemed architect Richard Upjohn and had had been practicing on his own since 1858.  One of his most important commissions was the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.

Twelve years before the architects opened their office, David Frankenberg had purchased the four-story brownstone house at 39 East 57th Street on November 3, 1882.  He was the partner of Benjamin Altman in the B. Altman & Co. drygoods store.  The $55,000 he paid Joseph Morris for the property ($1.5 million in 2023 terms) reflected the upscale tenor of the neighborhood.  On October 21, 1899 the Record & Guide reported that Frankenberg had sold the high-stooped house to "Emily De S., wife of Chas. W. Clinton."  

Among affluent families, it was common for the title of real property to be placed in the wife's name.  Clinton had married Emily de Silver Gorsuch on August 25, 1886.  The couple had two children, Charles Kenneth and Margery Hamilton.  (Sadly, a third child, De Witt, had died in 1896 at the age of three.)

The highly recognized architect and his wife did not intend to move into an architecturally passé brownstone.   On March 16, 1900 Clinton & Russell filed plans for extensive renovations.  One can assume that Charles Clinton took the reins in the design.

With the stoop removed, the bowed facade of the lower three floors extended to the property line.  A stone balcony introduced the two-story mid-section, which was crowned by another stone balustrade.  The fifth floor took the form of a steep, slate-shingled mansard with two pedimented dormers.

When the family moved into the remodeled house, Margery was 14 years old and Charles Kenneth was 12.  The Clintons, like all wealthy New Yorkers, spent their summers away from the city.  On August 12, 1902, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifth-seventh street, and their family are at Black Rock, Conn."

That would change in 1909 when their new summer home, Century, in Tuxedo Park was completed.  As he had done in Manhattan, Clinton completely remodeled an existing structure.  He purchased a shingle style mansion designed by Bruce Price in 1886, and remodeled it as a romantic neo-Tudor fantasy.

Emily entertained regularly, but apparently not lavishly, at both homes.  Newspaper coverage was succinct, as on January 27, 1901 when the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will give a reception at No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street on Wednesday next," and on March 30, 1907 when The New York Times noted, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will entertain with bridge on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 10, at 39 East Fifty-seventh Street."  On February 21, 1904, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton...will not receive on Mondays during Lent."

On December 1, 1910, Charles William Clinton died in the 57th Street house at the age of 72.  In reporting on his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned, "His whole life was devoted to his chosen profession.  Among the best known examples of his work are the Mutual Life Insurance building, the 7th Regiment armory, the Bank of America, Mechanics Bank, and the Continental Insurance Company."

Still in mourning, Emily and her daughter left the 57th Street house for a period.  On June 1, 1911 The Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and Miss Emily [sic] Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street, will leave this city Saturday aboard the Baltic for Europe, where they intend staying until the autumn.  Upon their return in the autumn they will go to Tuxedo."  Charles, who was now 22-years-old and studying at Harvard, remained behind.

Following his graduation in 1912, Charles joined his mother and sister in traveling.  On September 27, 1912, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and her daughter, Miss Margery Clinton, and son, Charles Kenneth Clinton, are closing their house in Tuxedo, and will sail on Oct. 5 on the Carmania, to pass the Winter in Paris."  

Like his father, Charles became a member of exclusive men's social clubs, the Union, Tuxedo and Harvard clubs among them.  On August 10, 1915 the New York Sun reported his engagement to Margery Oakes Rand, the daughter of Mrs. Herbert Ten Broeck Jacquelin Rand.  

Following their marriage, the newlyweds moved into the East 57th Street house.  On March 13, 1917, The Sun wrote, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kenneth Clinton are receiving congratulations on the birth of a daughter recently at their home, 39 East Fifty-seventh street."

With America's entry into World War I, Charles joined the Army, rising to the rank of captain.  Margery did her part by focusing on relief work.  She traveled abroad "where she was a canteen and Red Cross worker," according to the New York Herald.  It was possibly in Europe that she met United States Navy Commander Lamar R. Leahy.

On August 5, 1919, the New York Herald reported that Emily Clinton had announced Margery's and Lamar's engagement.  The article noted that Margery was "well known in society in New York and Tuxedo Park, N. Y., since her debut a few years ago."  The wedding on September 17, 1919, was a military affair.  Charles, in uniform, gave his sister away.  The ushers, too, were all in military uniform.  The New-York Tribune noted, "After their wedding trip Commander Leahy and his bride will live at 449 Park Avenue."

At the time of the wedding, the neighborhood around 39 East 57th Street was no longer one of private mansions, as commercial buildings increasingly engulfed the district.  Even before the ceremony, Emily Clinton signed a lease for an apartment in the Mayfair, the same building where her daughter and new son-in-law would be living.

Five months earlier, Emily had leased the 57th Street mansion to H. A. Van Winsum and J. Weymer, British antiques dealers.  On April 23 The Sun reported, "The building will be altered by installing show windows on the lower floor."

House & Garden magazine, February 1920 (copyright expired)

The upper floors of the former Clinton mansion were leased as upscale apartments.  Lee Maidment Hurd and his wife lived here in November 1922, when they held a reception to introduce their daughter Leona to society.

The ground floor became home to the Albert Du Vannes art gallery in 1924.  The firm, which dealt in Old Masters and modern paintings, also provided authentication services, noting "We identify meritorious paintings and give correct attribution when possible.  Expert restoring, relining, and cleaning of pictures."  

Arts & Decoration magazine, December 1924 (copyright expired)

Although Emily Clinton would survive until 1942, she had transferred title to the 57th Street building to Margery by 1928.  That year Margery leased her childhood home to the 45 East Fifty-seventh Street Company "for a term of sixty-three years," according to the New York Evening Post on December 20.  The article noted that the firm had been purchasing the surrounding properties.

The Clinton mansion, along with the other structures, were demolished to make way for the masterful Art Deco Fuller Building, designed by Walker & Gillette, which took the address of 41 East 57th Street.

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Gunther Building - 469-475 Broome Street


In a succinct, one-sentence announcement on November 11, 1871, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that William H. Gunther had commissioned architect Griffith Thomas to design a six-story "iron store" at the southwest corner of Broome and Greene Streets.  (
Griffith Thomas would be kept busy on the block between Greene and Wooster Streets, designing four of the seven buildings there between 1867 and 1873.)

Gunther was a partner in the upscale furrier C. G. Gunther's Sons.  He was also the secretary of the Peru Iron & Steel Co. on Reade Street; and so, it is possible he partially influenced his architect's choice of cast iron for the building's facade.   The structure, completed in 1872, was a highly sophisticated version of the commercial Second Empire style.  The Aetna Iron Works had cast the iron sections.  Like a wedding cake, the building's upper tiers diminished in height, visually grounding the structure.  Each floor was defined by a cornice, while Corinthian columns and paneled pilasters, balconies (which originally held iron railings), and blind balustrades along the second floor gave the architecture a noble air.

Most striking, however, was Thomas's treatment of the corner.  The building gently rounded the edge, with the window panes of rolled glass following the curve.  Above the second floor window a scrolled pediment flanked by pedestals (that most likely once held decorative urns or finials) announced Gunther Building.

It does not appear that C. G. Gunther's Sons ever occupied the building.  It quickly filled with silk importers, including Fleitmann & Co.  The firm was operated by brothers Ewald and Hermann Fleitmann, with Ewald running the New York business and Hermann living and working in Germany.  Also here in 1880 were silk importers Feldman & Decker, and Napoleon Godone. 

Today Victorian cast iron structures like the Gunther Building are routinely painted white.  But in the 19th century they were handsomely polychromed.  On June 17, 1882 the Record & Guide reported that "Artmann & Fechteler, the well-known fresco painters and designers," had repainted the facade.  "The prevailing colors of the Gunther Building are a deep drab and a subdued olive, relieved by the gold on the caps, cornices, brackets and columns."

By the early 1890s Hoeninghaus & Curtiss, drygoods merchants and importers of silk and ribbons, operated from 469 Broome Street.  Headed by Fritz Hoeninghaus and Henry W. Curtiss, the firm (like all similar businesses) was a target for scam artists.

Early in 1894, Moses Levy purchased "a large amount of goods on from sixty to ninety day's credit," according to The Evening Post.  He represented himself as the manager of his wife Julia's millinery establishment at 594 Broadway.  The ribbons and other items were presumably intended as components in Julia Levy's millinery creations.  Instead, said the article, as soon as the goods arrived the Levys sold them "at any price they could obtain for cash."  When a representative from Hoeninghaus & Curtiss went to the Broadway shop to collect the bill on May 26, he found the Levys had cleaned it out and fled.

It did not take police long to track down the thieving couple.  On May 31, The Evening Post reported, "They were arrested in Troy, and brought here from that place."  The Levys had already opened two millinery shops there.

On the morning of March 28, 1899, 18-year-old Joseph Moore walked into Hoeninghaus & Curtiss with an order for $250 worth of silk from Iglick & Springer of 28 Waverley Place.  Although the order was not overly large, about $8,500 in 2023 terms, a call was made to Iglick & Spring to confirm it.  The decision to do so was a wise one.  The Morning Telegraph reported that the call, "resulted in the arrest of Moore on the spot.  It is believed that he is one of a gang which has operated successfully lately."

The Gunther Building continued to house silk firms into the  first years of the 20th century.  Among them were the Liberty Silk Works; Schefer, Schramm & Vogel; Ferris & White; and William Schroeder & Co.  The latter had been founded by German-born William Schroeder.  It was run in 1906 by his 26-year-old grandson, William Schroeder, Jr.

American Silk-Journal, September 1912 (copyright expired)

The post-World War I years saw drygoods and textile merchants joining the silk merchants in the Gunther Building.  Among them were Berteaux & Radon; and Muser Bros., which imported lace goods and embroideries.

No matter how handsome the building's facade, the conditions inside the shops were harsh, with employees working long hours in lofts that were often insufferably hot.  On July 18, 1922 the New York Herald reported, "The heat and humidity, working in partnership, caused considerable suffering in New York and vicinity yesterday, and as many as could went to the beaches for relief.  Five drownings and five heat prostrations were reported to police."  Among the latter was Jacob Balva, who "was overcome at work at 469 Broome street."

As mid-century neared, the garment district migrated northward past 34th Street.  The Gunther Building filled with a far different type of tenant.  Leasing space here in 1940 was the Strand Paper Box Company, founded in 1929 by Isidor Engelsberg.  His sons Sidney and Moe were partners in the firm.

On August 26, 1940 The Herald Statesman reported, "Jack Feinman, thirty...who is accused of stealing more than $1,000 worth of cloth from his employers, will appear in Manhattan Felony Court on Friday."  Feinman worked for the fabric firm Cohn-Hall-Marx Company.  When the company discovered a large amount of stock missing, undercover detectives were put on the case.  The Herald Statesman reported, "they saw Feinman place 1,000 yards of rayon and other material in a hand truck last Thursday and deliver the lot to Sidney Engelsberg" who was waiting at the service entrance.

The article continued, "At the Engelsberg box factory...detectives said they found more than 4,000 yards of rayon alleged to have been taken previously from the Cohn-Hall-Marx offices.  Police say the Engelsbergs had been using the cloth to line the boxes they manufactured."  Isidor Engelsberg and his sons were arrested and charged with receiving stolen property.

The 1970s saw a metamorphosis of the Soho district as factory lofts were transformed to artist studios and stores to galleries and restaurants.  In 1972 the Landmark Art Gallery opened in the building and would remain well into the 21st century.  

The upper floors of the Gunther Building were converted to joint living-working quarters for artists in 1976.  

The lofts where silk and textile workers toiled in sometimes oppressive conditions for a century, are now luxury residences.  image via streeteasy.com

In 1988, Soho 20 Gallery joined Landmark Art Gallery in the building.  And around 1998 Waterworks, founded in Connecticut in 1978, opened here.  It offered high-end bathroom and kitchen materials.  On May 16, 2002 David Colman wrote in The New York Times that Waterworks "has put glittering, nickel-plated bath fittings on a status with Vuitton luggage."  Today clothing boutiques occupy the ground floor.

A century after its completion, the 1872 Gunther Building was deemed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission "one of Griffith Thomas' finest designs."  His ingenious, rounded treatment of the corner continues to draw attention today.

photographs by the author
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Friday, January 27, 2023

The 1888 Holy Cross School - 332-336 West 43rd Street


The parish of the Church of the Holy Cross was established in 1852.  The original church structure on West 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues was destroyed by lightning in 1867.  It was replaced by a Romanesque Revival structure designed by Henry Engelbert which survives.  

Directly behind the church on West 43rd Street was the Chapel of the Shepherd's Flock.  In 1887 it was razed to make way for the Holy Cross School.  Architect L. J. O'Connor's plans, filed in August, called for a five-story brick school building to cost $60,000--about $1.13 million in 2023.

O'Connor saved the parish money with his sparse use of stone.  The decorations of his Romanesque Revival structure were executed mostly in terra cotta--like the pronounced eyebrows over the arched windows and foliate intermediate cornices--and in brick, as in the handsome corbel table below the cornice.  Rough cut granite made its appearance in the bandcourses above and below the second floor and the entablatures over the two entrances which labeled them "boys" and "girls."

Gender-specific entrances were obligatory in Catholic schools.  Note the elaborate Romanesque carvings on either side of the doorways.

The construction of the relatively costly building came only after substantial fund-raising.  The parish of the Church of the Holy Cross, which sat within the bleak Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, was a poor one.  Despite the crime and poverty around them (and perhaps partly due to the strict, no-nonsense methods of the nun teachers), the students' names rarely appeared in newspapers for serious misbehavior.

The assembly room of Holy Cross School often served the community as a meeting place.  Locals, many of them newly-arrived from Ireland, crowded in on September 20, 1914 to hear Member of Parliament Richard McGhee (known popularly as Dick McGhee) speak on the Home Rule Bill he had introduced.  In reporting on the speech, the New-York Tribune titled its article "Says Ireland Is Free."  It quoted him saying, "The Irish people have no quarrel now with the British democracy.  The fight is over and a thing of memory only."  (As it turned out, he was being optimistic.  And when home rule was finally legislated in 1921, it merely triggered the Irish Civil War.)

A Holy Cross School success story was William Meehan.  Born in 1886, he saw the stage as his route out of poverty.  After he graduated he went into acting, debuting at the Casino Theatre in The Runaways in 1903.  The Irish immigrant boy became a success, appearing with his wife Violet Pearl for eight years before his untimely death in 1920 at the age of 34.

At the time of Meehan's death, the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood had not improved.  Greek immigrant Louis Sidoris and his wife lived in the district that year.  He was brutally abusive to his wife, who finally left him in 1920.  The 25-year-old woman temporarily moved in with her friend Mrs. Peter Segalas, who lived directly across from the school.  The New York Herald explained the arrangement would enable her to earn enough month to "be able to go back to her folks in Greece and be independent of the husband whose brutalities, she said, had forced her to leave." 

She was peeling potatoes for lunch on March 17, 1921 when Louis Sidoris burst into the apartment.  He pleaded for her to return to him.  When she refused, he said, "There is only one thing to do then," and pulled out a revolver.  He fired all six rounds, three of them hitting his wife.  Too shocked to move, Mrs. Segalas watched him grab the knife his wife had been using.  The newspaper reported, "He rushed through the apartment to a mirror in the parlor, slashed his throat and jumped to the street, three flights below."

The children of Holy Cross School, out of class for lunchtime, witnessed the body crash to the sidewalk.  They notified a nun who sent word to Monsignor Francis P. Duffy, rector of the church, who arrived to give last rites.

O'Connor's intricate terra cotta detailing includes masks, each of them slight different, between the smaller arches of the fifth floor.

While almost all of Manhattan buildings were electrified by the Great Depression, that was not necessarily the case with Hell's Kitchen tenements.  On October 23, 1929 "several hundred pupils of Holy Cross Parochial School, let by the Rev. Francis P. Duffy," as reported by The New York Times, joined in the funeral procession for six of their classmates.  The article said, "The procession of seven hearses, one gray and six white, attracted much attention as it moved through the streets."  Walter Cavanagh, a widower, and six of his seven children had died of gas asphyxiation in their apartment at 544 West 56th Street.  The children ranged from eight to eleven years old.

The Holy Cross students, many of whom had meager Christmases and Thanksgivings in their tenement homes, were not forgotten by businessmen and socialites during the holidays.  On December 23, 1937, The New York Sun reported, "Milk replaced Manhattans and Martinis as the favored drink at the Game Cock Restaurant...yesterday afternoon.  Jack Stutz, proprietor of the Game Cock, was host at his third annual Christmas party for about 200 under-privileged children of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic School."  The children, aged five to twelve, were entertained by actor Bert Lytell and "the Yippe Boys, currently appearing in the Broadway production 'Red, Hot and Blue.'"  After a turkey dinner, the children received "candy, books, gift stockings and dolls."

A sudden announcement from the New York Roman Catholic Diocese in January 2011 enraged many of the parents of Holy Cross students.  The New York Times reported that the school was being merged with the Sacred Heart of Jesus School on West 52nd Street, and the 43rd Street building closed.  The diocese explained that the Sacred Heart building "has the larger capacity" and was in better condition.

Parents complained of being "blindsided."  A parent writing to The New York Times in response said in part, "I find the use of the word 'merger' insulting as it is not a merger at all, but a closing."  Another said with caustic sarcasm, "Will the new name for the combined schools be called, 'Cross Your Heart'?"

In 2013 the building became home to the the private De La Salle Academy.  Founded in the 19th century as a co-educational Roman Catholic school, today the 6th through 8th grade institution focuses on "academically talented, economically less advantaged children of diverse backgrounds," according to its website.

After 135 years, L. J. O'Connor's imposing educational fortress is little changed, a commanding reminder of a far different period in Hell's Kitchen.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Jacob C Bogert House - 66 Bank Street


The Bank of New York purchased eight plots of land in Greenwich Village for a northern branch when yellow fever broke out in New York City in 1798.  The lane took the name Bank Street.  A second deadly epidemic erupted in 1822, causing panicked throngs to flock to Greenwich Village.  The population explosion sparked a flurry of construction, making builders like Andrew Lockwood busy men.  Throughout the 1830's and '40s, he operated Lockwood & Company from 17 Tenth Street and erected rows of speculative houses in Greenwich Village.  

In 1841 Lockwood erected two dissimilar side-by-side houses at 52 and 54 Bank Street (renumbered 64 and 66 in 1866).  Three stories tall and faced in red brick, 54 Bank Street was an ample 26-feet wide.  Its entrance, flanked by narrow sidelights, sat atop a two-stepped porch.  A narrow horse walk, or passageway to the rear yard sat adjacent to the doorway.  A simple wooden cornice with block modillions completed the design.

Another well-known builder, Jacob C. Bogert, was living on Broome Street at the time, but by 1851 he had moved his family into the Bank Street house.  He and his wife, the former Almira Frost, had five children, John A., Harriet Louisa, Catharine A., William Patton, and Susan M.

While, like Lockwood, he constructed speculative residences in Greenwich Village, he also worked on commission.  In 1854, for instance, he billed the city for $721 (about $24,000 in 2023) for "sundry work and material for altering" the old brownstone Superior Court Building on Chambers Street.  (Four years later the city would plan construction on the lavish Tweed Courthouse on the site.)

In the decades before apartment houses, it was not uncommon for even affluent families to accept boarders.  For the entire time the Bogert family lived here they had a boarder, William H. Hall, who ran a boot and shoe business on Pearl Street.

The Bogerts' son, John A., enlisted in the 9th Regiment in 1861.  He would attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, serving in the 103rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops.  (Black Union soldiers were commanded by white officers only.)  On February 9, 1863 he wrote his father a letter from Camp Bliss in Virginia, requesting that he immediately send his commission and "all other papers" which he left at home so he could collect payment for his service.  He added, "please be very careful and mail it with as much care as you can so that you may be sure it will arrive safe and all right."

When the family received the letter, they were preparing to move.  In 1862 Jacob C. Bogert had begun construction of a handsome home on the plot next door, at 56 Bank Street.  He moved his family into the completed residence in 1863, and leased his former home to Dr. James Ross.  

The city took on the problem of infectious disease epidemics in April 1864 by organizing the Council of Hygiene and Public Health.  It inaugurated a "system of sanitary inquiry" by which inspectors were appointed throughout the city to investigate "fever-nests and insalubrious quarters."  Dr. James Ross was appointed the inspector of the 15th District on the Lower East Side.  His area of responsibility, filled squalid tenements, stretched from 14th Street at the north, to Rivington Street, and from Avenue B to Clinton Street.  Ross nevertheless found time to tend to his Greenwich Village patients.  He advertised office hours "until 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m."

Dr. Ross and his family remained at 66 Bank Street until 1870, when Charles W. Crosley took over the lease.  Crosley was a manufacturer of "silk and worsted trimmings" at 920 Broadway.  The Crosley family stayed for nine years.  

In 1879 William P. Bogert and his wife, the former Emma Sebring, who had been living next door with William's parents, moved into the house.  The couple were married in 1865 and had two children.  Like his father, William was highly interested in public education and had been appointed to the Board of Education in 1865.

After the family had owned 66 Bank Street for more than half a century, the estate of William Bogert sold it to Charles Duttweiller in 1904.  He and his family had owned and lived at 68 Bank Street since 1887.  Charles died on June 10, 1916.  His daughter, Anna, inherited 66 Bank Street, and sold it to John R. and Flora A. Sulzer in 1920.

image via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services

Sulzer was born in Switzerland and was a member of the accounting firm Riedell & Sulzer.  Earlier in his career he had been the C.P.A. for the Central Park Riding Academy.  He and Flora had one son.

Only two years after moving in, John R. Sulzer died in the Bank Street house on March 9, 1922.  His estate transferred title to the property to Flora two months later.

Living here by 1932 was Oscar Rosenthal, who formerly manufactured children's clothing.  It is unclear if the Depression drove him out of business, but according to The New York Sun, he had "suffered financial reverses."  His situation eventually overwhelmed him. 

On the evening of January 22, 1933, he visited his sister and her husband, Edward J. Solomon, who lived in the Chalfonte Hotel on West 70th Street.  Solomon was disabled and confined to a wheelchair.  When Rosenthal's sister left the room, the 66-year-old pulled a handgun from his coat and shot himself in the head.  The New York Sun said that Solomon, "who sat in a chair a few feet away, was powerless to prevent the act."

A renovation completed in 1954 resulted in a separate apartment on the third floor.  The outward appearance of the house, with its quirky, skinny side door, is virtually intact since the Bogerts updated the ironwork sometime after the Civil War.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Smith Newell Penfield House - 329 West 112th Street


In June 1886 Edward Roemer purchased five building plots on the east side of Manhattan Avenue, beginning at the northeast corner of West 112th Street.  A month later architect Charles T. Mott had submitted plans for a row of three-story and basement "brick and stone residences."  What had started out as a smooth process of erecting the homes would turn into a tumultuous journey.

By December Roemer was in financial trouble.  He first offered the unfinished structures for sale, then turned to architect and developer William J. Merritt for financial help.  Merritt and Roemer "met at the offices of The Title Guarantee and Trust Company," according to the Record & Guide, "where Roemer declared in writing that there was no judgment on record against him."  Merritt gave Roemer an $80,000 loan (about $2.35 million in 2023).

Shortly after the loan was made, Roemer lost the properties to creditors.  Merritt first paid off the judgment, making him now the owner of the five unfinished houses, and then on August 12, 1887 had Roemer arrested on a charge of grand larceny.  Merritt found a purchaser in William B. Pettit, the contractor, and his wife Mary.  They assumed the mortgages and completed the row, possibly bringing in architect to Joseph H. Taft at this time.

Mott's red brick, Queen Anne style homes were typical of his style, with bowed bays and dormers.  It was the corner house that grabbed attention from its architectural siblings.  Mott gave it a rounded corner tower with a "witches cap" roof.  A quilt-like brick frieze ran below the cornice.  The entrance was located above a doglegged stoop, the door balanced by a matching, abutting window.  An entablature above the entrance featured the bas relief portrait of a young girl, possible a silent memorial.

Fanciful faces peer out from the capitals of the pilasters, while a haunting portrait adorns the otherwise stark entablature.

In July 1890 the Pettits sold the completed row to Smith Newell Penfield and his wife, the former Sarah Elizabeth Hoyt.  The couple moved into 329 West 112th Street and rented the Manhattan Avenue houses for years.

Penfield was born in Oberlin, Ohio on April 4, 1837.  He and Sarah had met while students at Oberlin College and were married in March 1860.  The couple had one daughter, Georgia May.  Two other daughters, Clara Josephine and Mary, had died in infancy.

Penfield's interest in real estate was, perhaps, surprising.  The son of talented violinist Anson Penfield, he was a musical prodigy and first played the pipe organ in public at the age of seven.  As a boy he was the organist and choirmaster of an Oberlin, Ohio church with a choir of more than 100 voices.  Following his graduation from Oberlin College, he studied music in Leipzig and Paris, "under the great masters Moscheles, Papperitz, Reinecke, Richter, Hauptmann and Delioux," according to the 1904 book The World's Best Music.

Smith Newell Penfield, The World's Best Music, 1904 (copyright expired)

In New York he became the organist of the Broadway Tabernacle, and then the Second Presbyterian Church.  In 1885 he became president of the Music Teachers National Association.  Calling Penfield "a prominent figure in musical New York," The World's Best Music said, "His compositions consist of organ and piano music, songs, anthems, glee, a string quintette, an overture for the orchestra, a cantata with orchestral score, etc."  Penfield taught from the 112th Street house.  Identifying himself as having a "musical doctorate" in his advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune in November 1903, he offered training in "piano, organ, harmony."

Sarah descended from an old Southern family, her first American ancestor, Simon Hoyt, having arrived in Charlestown in 1628.  She, too, was involved in music.  The 1915 Woman's Who's Who of America noted that she was the composer of "'Columbia,' written for the words of 'My Country, 'tis of Thee.'"   

Sarah was, as well, highly involved in social and civic work.  She was a member of the New York City Indian Association, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, and the College Women's Club.

In February 1895, Sarah and Georgia May hosted a Valentine-themed tea.  The New York Times reported, "One of the delightful features of last week was the pink tea given by Mrs. S. N. Penfield of 329 West One Hundred and Twelfth Street."  She and Georgia May were assisted in receiving by six unmarried socialites.

One of the most interesting entertainments Sarah gave was the "Colonial tea" for the College Woman's Club in December 1902.  The New York Times reported, "The decorations are to be the Continental Army colors and the rooms are to be lighted by old-fashioned tallow dips.  The hostess and the women assisting her will be in Colonial dress, and the refreshments are to be those of the Colonial period."

In December 1917 Smith N. Penfield was involved in a horrific fall.  Almost two years later, in its July 1919 issue, The American Organist said he had "received severe injuries...which made him a cripple for the rest of his life."  Later that year, in December, Penfield fell seriously ill.  He died in the 112th Street house on January 7, 1920 at the age of 83.  The New-York Tribune called him, "one of the foremost church and concert organists" of the city and a "widely known composer."

Sarah Hoyt Penfield would live to be 95 years old.  In 1932 she laid plans to attend Oberlin College's centennial commencement.  The Mansfield [Ohio] News-Journal wrote, "She wanted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of her own graduating class," even though she was the only surviving member of that class.  On June 22, 1933 the newspaper reported, "And so she came from her New York City home by automobile...The long trip from New York took too much for Mrs. Penfield's frail body."

Sarah was unable to attend the ceremonies.  She remained in the home of two nieces and, instead, sent a letter.  Not long after it was read to the assemblage, Sarah Hoyt Penfield died.  The Mansfield News-Journal wrote, "Throngs of Oberlin college alumni departed for their homes last night and as they left, the school's oldest woman graduate died peacefully almost within earshot of their cheerful farewells."

The West 112th Street house was, by now, being operated as a rooming house, the tenants of which were not all law-abiding.  Among the residents in 1921, for instance, was 19-year-old Arthur Ricarder, who was arrested that year for car theft.

In October Elias Shuter drove his wife to the Astoria Theater in Queens.  When they came out, their automobile was gone.  Police found Ricarder driving it and he was arrested.  The Daily Star reported that Ricarder "said he had bought the car from a man named MacArthur, but had been unable to locate MacArthur."  He was formally charged with larceny on February 27, 1922.

George Milliadis, who worked as a "counter man" in a cafeteria on Ninth Avenue, lived in a room here in 1933.  On September 22 that year, 38-year-old Frank O'Boyle came into the cafeteria and "became disorderly," according to Milliadis later.  In attempting to remove the unruly customer, Milliadis brought out a wooden club and struck him on the arm.  O'Boyle fell backwards, striking his head.  He died in Bellevue Hospital later that night.

Milliadis was charged with homicide.  The 32-year-old was being held on the second floor of the West 47th Street police station early the next morning when he suddenly leapt from his chair and out the window.  Twenty feet below the window was a fence rimmed with sharp iron spikes.  The New York Evening Post reported, "Detectives, who had been booking him on a homicide charge, ran out and found him hanging, impaled on the fence."  Before he died at Bellevue Hospital, he told the police, "I want to die.  All my life I've had nothing but trouble."

In 1954 329 West 112th Street was converted to apartments and furnished rooms.  The once-proud residence suffered neglect over the next few decades.  When it was sold in 1998, it was described by a realtor as "a run-down brownstone."  Nevertheless, the changes in the neighborhood and resultant soaring Harlem property values were reflected in the sale price of $500,000 (closer to $830,000 in 2023).   

In 2006 a renovation brought the Penfield house back to a single family home, with an apartment in the basement level.

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