Friday, February 17, 2023

The 1891 Monterey Apartments - 351 West 114th Street


A portion of the cornice at left  was destroyed in a serious fire in 1974.

On April 19, 1890 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that H. Morton Moore had hired architect Thomas O. Spier to design "a seven-story brick and stone flat" on the south end of the trapezoidal block facing 114th Street, between Morningside and Manhattan Avenues.  Morton seems to have had confidence in the newly-developing area.  He lived nearby at 221 West 113th Street.

The developer also had confidence in an up-and-coming architect.  Thomas O. Spier had graduated from Princeton University just three years earlier.  The young man was up-to-date on the architectural trends of the day.  While he chose a  tried-and-true style style, Romanesque Revival, as the overall design for the building, he splashed it (or at least intended to) with brave new elements of the emerging Prairie style--crisp vertical and horizontal lines, and a deeply overhanging flat roof.

Spier's 1890 rendering reveal an interesting hybrid of the Romanesque style, with which New Yorkers were comfortable, and the revolutionary Prairie style, being touted by Midwest architects like Frank Lloyd Wright.  from the collection of the Linda Hall Library

In the end, the Monterey was slightly less daring.  Most noticeably, the roofline was scaled back to a more expected cornice and frieze.  But Spier managed to salvage much, retaining the clean lines and short seventh floor windows, keeping the stone voussoirs of the upper floor openings snug against the facade, and splitting the two upper sections with a wide stone band devoid of the slightest decoration--highly unusual in a Romanesque Revival structure.

Spier bowed to tradition on the striking ground floor level.  Clad in chunky, undressed brownstone blocks, it featured large arched openings.  Most impressive was the entrance, which projected slightly away from the façade.  Above the maw-like doorway and ornately carved spandrels, the entablature announced the building's name.

Within the intricate spandrel carvings are snarling, flying griffins. 

This would be one of the promising architect's last works.  In January 1892, the year after the Monterey was completed, The New York Times announced that he would be designing the new athletic clubhouse on the campus of Princeton, his alma mater.  Four months later, on May 6, the Vermont Phoenix reported, "while examining a revolver at his home in South Orange, Mass., he slipped on the smooth floor, and the weapon was discharged, the ball entering his forehead.  He never regained consciousness and died within an hour."

Potential Monterey tenants could choose apartments of seven or eight rooms.  An advertisement in 1892 touted upscale amenities, "Passenger elevator all night.  Hot Water.  Roof walk."

Among the initial residents were the Thynes, who lived on the third floor.  Early on the morning of July 28, 1896, Kate Thyne went to the market.  When she returned around 10:00, she may have noticed another tenant, Bertha Guba, in the rear yard hanging laundry.  (There was no building on the northern half of the block yet).  Bertha and her husband lived on the first floor.

As Kate approached her apartment door, she realized it had been forced open.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Entering, she saw a burly burglar ransacking a bureau, in which she had some valuable jewelry."  Kate screamed and the thief escaped out a rear window and down the fire escape.  Right behind him was Kate, who thrust her head out the window and screamed again.

The burglar would not get far.  Kate's screams had attracted the attention of Bertha Guba.  The New York Herald noted, "Mrs. Guba is slight, but is athletic and courageous."  As the man dropped from the fire escape ladder to the yard, "Mrs. Guba pluckily seized him by the collar with both hands, and held him firmly in her grasp, while the big, strong man vainly struggled to break away and escape," said the New-York Tribune.  Pedestrians and neighbors, hearing Bertha's and Kate's combined cries for help rushed to the rescue.  Several men held the crook until a policeman could respond.

At the station house, Michael Brown was found to have jewelry valued at $100 (about $3,300 in 2023) in his pockets.  Kate Thyne, upon returning home, discovered that all the rooms had been ransacked.  The New York Herald noted, "Mrs. Guba's neighbors now consider her a heroine."

Other early residents were the family of wealthy attorney Frederick Prentiss. Forster.  He and his wife had eight children, a fact that no doubt prompted them to build a private mansion at 270 West 84th Street in 1897.  

At the turn of the century, Mary Jordan Baker and her widowed father, George B. Baker lived in the Monterey.  Mary, who would never marry, was an accomplished singer.  On January 8, 1902, The Musical Courier wrote, "Miss Mary Jordan Baker, a charming young soprano, is in demand as a drawing room singer.  She has not only the voice but the presence required for that style of singing."  Two months later the Jacksonville, Florida newspaper the Times-Union said, "It is unusual to hear so cultivated a voice."

Mary seems to have abandoned her singing career by 1907, focusing instead on charitable works and social clubs.  That year she was a patroness of a benefit for the East Side Clinic for Children.  She was still living in the Monterey in 1922 when she was secretary and treasurer of the Rubinstein Club, a women's organization formed for "the study and rendition of musical compositions."

Among the Bakers' neighbors were John North Abbott, his wife, the former Violet Gardner, and their architect son, Gardner.  A married son, John Jay Abbott, was a banker who lived in Chicago.  John North Abbott had earlier been a railroad executive, and was now a director in the National Railway Publication Co.

Gardner Abbott was a partner in the architectural firm of Abbott & Tompkins.  An 1895 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was described by the New-York Tribune as "a young man of great promise and of charming personality."  He was in no apparent hurry to marry, and was 31 years old when his engagement to Grace Halstead Palmer was announced in 1903.  

Grace lived on Staten Island.  Gardner visited her there around April 1, 1904 and on his way back on the ferry "contracted a chill," according to the New-York Tribune.  It developed into pneumonia and on April 9, the "well-known young architect" died in the Monterey apartment just weeks before the scheduled wedding.

By 1915, educator and author Walter Lowrie Hervey lived here.  Born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio on September 28, 1862 he graduated from Princeton University in 1886.  He had been dean of the Chautauqua School of Pedagogy since 1894.  Among the educational books he wrote were Picture Works, Daily Lesson Plans, and Introductory Second Reader.

Walter and Antoinette Hervey's 1915 wedding portrait.  photo by Clarence Hudson White

In 1898 Hervey became a member of the Board of Examiners of the New York City Board of Education, a position he would hold until retiring in 1932.   His wife, Antoinette, was an early female photographer and a member of the Pictorial Photographers of America.

In 1936 Harlem was becoming the center of Manhattan's Black community.  That year the Monterey was renovated, with now five apartments per floor.  Among the first tenants after the remodeling were newlyweds Jay Williams Clifford and his bride Grace Gross.  On November 20, 1937, The New York Age reported, "The Cliffords have taken a sumptuous apartment, at 351 West 114th street, that brings to mind the beauty of the luxury of the homes of the late Madame A'Lelia Walker."

Born in Ohio, Clifford's father William H. Clifford had been a prominent Black Republican leader there.  The New York Age said "his mother [Carrie Williams Clifford] was a nationally known race woman, a playwright, and poetess of distinction."

Clifford had already made his own name in the advancement of Black Americans.  In 1917, a decade before marrying Grace, The Crisis reported, "The Bureau of War Risk Insurance at Washington D. C., has added a Negro to its staff, Lieutenant Jay Williams Clifford, formerly of the 367th 'Buffalo' Infantry, to look after the interests of the 400,000 Negro soldiers and sailors, who carry approximately $2,500,000,000 insurance."

On November 20, 1937, The New York Age wrote of Clifford, "Jay's years of Government employment certainly has been unique and inspirational--starting in the service of his country as first Lieutenant of Infantry in the World's War in 1917."  He had been Vault Custodian with the Register of the Treasurer, a United States Narcotic Agent, and a United States Inspector of Customs.  His educational background was equally impressive.  He attended the Case School of Applied Science, Michigan University, Columbia University, and Howard University.

A colorful resident at the time was Inez Dunker, who repeatedly appeared in print for her entertaining.  On July 13, 1940, for instance, The New York Age reported that she "is entertaining as her houseguests Mrs. Wilbur Marshall and her two children, also Miss Lillian Duffy, her sister, all from Toledo, Ohio."  

Inez's son from a previous marriage, Dudley A. Clarke, was stationed at Ogden, Utah during World War II.  Of course, when he came home on leave in 1942 she entertained.  The New York Age reported on November 28 that Sergeant Clarke "spent his ten days furlough in the city visiting his mother, Mrs. Inez Dunker...On Friday, Mrs. Dunker entertained at dinner in honor of her son."

A year later, on November 20, 1943, the newspaper announced, "Mrs. Inez Dunker...well-known Harlemite tendered a dinner party for members and friends of her club, Women's Progressive Circle, Sunday evening."

Inez would hold a very special gathering in her apartment on July 9, 1948.  The New York Age wrote that the "well-known civic and fraternal leader of charitable activities, tendered a lovely wedding reception in the honor of her son, Dudley Clarke and his bride, Vivian Marshall, Sunday evening."  The article noted the guests enjoyed "a delightful collation consisting of champagne, cordials, turkey, Virginia ham and hors d' oeuvres."

Another notable resident was Lucius Venable "Lucky" Millinder.  Born in Alabama in 1910, by the time he and his wife moved into the Monterey he was a well-known bandleader.  Amazingly, while he secured his band a regular spot at The Cotton Club, had established a residency in the Savoy Ballroom, and negotiated a contract with Decca Records, he could neither read nor write music and could not play an instrument.

"Lucky" Millinder died at the age of 56 on September 29, 1966.  image from Billboard magazine, 1944.

Una Mae Carlisle and her husband John Bradford also lived in the Monterey.  Born in 1915, Una's mother taught her to play piano, and she was performing at the age of three.  Fats Waller discovered her in 1932 while she was working as a radio and live performer in Cincinnati.  She recorded with Waller in the 1930s, and in the 1940s recorded for Bluebird Records with musicians like Lester Young, John Kirby and Benny Carter.

Carlisle because the first Black woman to have a song appear on the Billboard chart, Walkin' By The River, which she wrote in 1941.  She was also the first Black to host a national radio show, "The Una Mae Carlisle Radio Show."  She died of pneumonia in 1956 at the age of 41.

In 1974 a fire broke out in the Monterey, causing significant damage.  By then the building and the neighborhood in general were suffering decline.  The Monterey's owner was apparently unwilling to take on the costs of repairs and disappeared.  Without a landlord, the tenants who did not leave banded together, collecting rents and managing the building as best they could--this despite a $53,000 back tax bill, more than 200 housing code violations, and a fire damaged structure.

The group persevered and on October 16, 1977 The New York Times reported that the building was on the way "to being owned and operated" by the tenants.  Two decades later, the newspaper revisited the building, finding that the 36-unit Monterey had successfully undergone the transformation "after a city-financed rehabilitation."  Happily, despite the fire, the Monterey is as eye-catching as it was in 1891.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. I once visited a friend in that building—was beautiful inside as well.