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
LaptrinhX.com has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

1 comment: