Richard Deeves was a major contractor and builder, responsible for constructing some of Manhattan's most recognizable structures, like the Navarre Flats on the Upper West Side, the Manhattan Life Insurance Building and the New York Athletic Club. But for one project he acted as own real estate developer as well. In 1884 he purchased the lots at 58 and 60 West 83rd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue as the site of his family's home and an equally opulent speculative dwelling.
Deeves hired the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine to design the structures. (Interestingly, they were simultaneously working on a flat building almost directly across the street at 71 West 83rd Street.) Completed the following year, the Queen Anne style residences left no question that they were intended for moneyed families. Almost identical to the Deeves house, 60 West 83rd Street was four stories tall above the high English basement. The Jardines added splashes of French Renaissance in ornately carved panels.
The basement and parlor levels were clad in light stone. The stone stoop rose to the double-doored entrance where a stately portico supported by free-standing Scamozzi columns provided a stone-railed balcony to the second floor. The second floor was dominated by a brick and stone oriel, crowned with a delicate iron railing. Two stately dormers fronted the slate-shingled mansard.
The house initially was home to the Pratt family, whose residency would be short. Not long after the death of 28-year-old Charles Wesley Pratt on July 4, 1889, the Haff family moved in.
Born in 1832, Edward Payson Haff and his wife, the former Frances Maria Wright, had five children, Florence, Marion, Mary Frances, and twins Whitman Catlin and Wright Boylston. Two others had died in childhood.
The house was the scene of Marion's marriage to John N. Ryan on the night of April 28, 1896. The New York Times commented, "The house was beautifully decorated in pink and white." The affluence of the young couple was evidenced in their honeymoon plans. "Mr. and Mrs. Ryan will sail for Europe on the steamship St. Paul to-day, and will spend the Summer abroad," said the article.
It would be the last entertainment in the house for the Haff family. Within months it was leased to flour broker Wells Finch. Born in October 1835, Finch married Carolyn Bryan on October 23, 1867. He had been a partner in Wells, Finch & Co. until its dissolution in 1894 and now conducted business on his own.
A year before the couple purchased the 83rd Street house, Carolyn had bought 700 acres of North Dakota land, near Grand Forks. She had kept the deeds locked in her desk, but just before moving into 60 West 83rd Street, Finch took the documents to his fifth-floor office in the Produce Exchange for safe keeping.
On April 15, 1897, Finch conducted business on the floor of the Exchange, and then at 3:00 went upstairs to his office. An hour and a half later a janitor, John Fincken, entered to clean and was "surprised to see Mr. Finch at his desk, his head resting on his breast, apparently asleep," wrote the New York Herald. But Finch was not asleep. He was dead. "A closer view showed a revolver in his left hand and a wound in his left eye."
The broker's death was not suspicious, nor was suicide suspected. A cigar was still clenched in his mouth and a half-written letter to his niece was on his desk. He had apparently been cleaning his revolver. In his right had was a screwdriver, and an open bottle of oil and box of polishing powder were on the desk. The two-page, unfinished letter was addressed to "My dear niece," and mentioned the Finches' new house at 60 West 83rd Street noting, "we want you and Aunt Carrie to come."
Finch's body was transported to the West 83rd Street house where his funeral was held on April 19.
Two years later, Carolyn Finch was in a near panic. She had no idea where Wells had secured the deeds to her North Dakota property, as well as other valuable papers. She was also missing $4,000 in promissory notes of which she was aware, and her husband's gold watch. (The notes alone would be worth about $135,000 in 2023.)
On April 30, 1899, the New York Herald reported on her fruitless search. "She has made diligent inquiry at the Produce Exchange, and has had boxes of old records searched without avail...Mrs. Finch is afraid unless she negotiates [the notes] soon they will become valueless. She has had good offers to sell her Dakota property, and is desirous of disposing of it."
Whether the missing papers were ever found is unclear.
By 1906 Edward A. Schwartz operated 60 West 83rd Street as a high-end boarding house. Among his boarders that year was Mrs. O. D. M. Baker, the corresponding secretary of The College Woman's Club; and Annie L. Kipp, a self-reliant entrepreneur.
Annie Kipp was a trained nurse who had been employed at the German Hospital. Born in Germany in 1877, her life took a dramatic turn when she invented and patented a self-reclining steamer chair. She quit her job at the hospital in 1906 and, using a model constructed by her brother Leonard Kipp, set out to market it. It was well received by several prominent people and R. Dupont Ammen of the Scientific American connected her with attorney William B. Brice. The two formed the Seaman Chair Company.
As far as Edward Schwartz and his other boarders knew, the venture "had been very successful," according to the Waterbury Evening Democrat. But things were not going all that well.
On the morning of February 12, 1907, Annie Kipp entered the 66th Street subway station. Adam Edelsohn, the "ticket chopper," later said he watched her "pacing up and down the platform for half an hour. She appeared in deep distress, but he thought she was probably waiting for a friend and paid little attention to her, as she let train after train go by." But then, as a southbound local rumbled into the station, Annie threw herself into the tracks.
Too late, the motorman applied the emergency brakes, hurling the passengers from their seats. The Sun reported, "Before her body reached the tracks, she was struck by the bumper of the first car and hurled fifteen feet away, passing between the iron pillars and falling on the express tracks." Annie Kipp was taken unconscious to Roosevelt Hospital where she died. A notebook in her pocket that contained the name and address of Edward A. Schwartz, "who conducts a fashionable boarding house at 60 West Eighty-third street," said The Sun. He identified her body.
Lionel Adolph Steeg and his wife, Alvina, purchased 60 West 83rd Street around 1913. The couple had a daughter, Mollie. A conductor, Steeg operated his musical agency business from their home.
Boarding with the Steegs in 1920 were real estate agent Harry Goodstein, and Robert Haight, who led a neighborhood assault on noisy burglar alarms that year. On November 13, 1920, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Haight appeared in the West Side Court with a complaint signed by 20 residents "against 'unruly' burglar alarms in the neighborhood which, they allege, have cost them unnecessary loss of sleep."
When Mollie Steeg offered the house for sale in 1928, tenants Mollie and Nathan Friedman purchased it. Twelve years later, the elderly couple (Nathan was 73-years-old and Mollie was 70), were still taking in roomers. Three of their five "lodgers," as described in the 1940 census, were in their 60's, the other two in their 40's. The term lodger suggested that the Friedmans did not offer board, but merely rooms.
When Dr. Garrick Leonard and his wife, Leslie Feder, purchased the house in 1998 for $1.7 million (almost twice that much in 2023 dollars), it had been divided into 16 residential units. Little by little they "paid off and cajoled tenants," according to The New York Times journalist Julie Satow, to leave. They eventually converted the house to four apartments--a triplex for their family and three other units. They put the property on the market for just under $17 million in 2013, reducing it to $13 million a year later.
While the buyers undertook a renovation, they kept the existing configuration of a triplex in the basement through second floors, two apartments on the third, and one on the fourth.
photographs by the author
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