Although essentially identical, the four abutting houses erected on Perry Street between West 4th and Bleecker Street in 1866 were designed by two different architects. Robert Mook, who a year later would design the magnificent marble mansion of Mary Mason Jones at 1 East 57th Street, was responsible for 50 and 54 Perry Street (renumbered 60 and 64 in 1879).
No. 54 was built for George F. Coddington, Jr., a "carpenter and builder," or what would be considered a contractor today. Described by The New York Times as "a substantial brown-stone mansion," like its neighbors it rose three stories above a tall English basement. The robust cast iron stoop newels and railings and the grand arched pediment over the entrance reflected Coddington's affluence and social station. Coddington and his family remained in the house until 1868, when they moved to a new home he had constructed down the block.
The residence briefly became home to merchant Edward P. Young, who was followed in 1872 by "mirror and frame" manufacturer William F. Blanck, his wife, the former Elizabeth Quinn, and four of their five children--Thomas, Lizzie, Sadie, Jennie and Mamie. Mamie, the youngest, was four years old.
Born in 1827, Blanck had gone West during the 1848 California Gold Rush. There, according to The Sun later, he "made a fortune in the gold diggings." He increased his wealth back in New York by establishing Blanck & Co. furniture dealers, and then his frame and mirror factory.
Like all affluent families, the Blancks summered at fashionable resorts. They were still at Saratoga on October 17, 1873 when Elizabeth died. Her body was brought back to New York City and her funeral was held in the parlor here.
Following Lizzie's marriage to Alfred W. Gedney, the couple moved in. Lizzie, according to The New York Times, became "mistress of her father's household, and [was] at all times disposed to exercise her authority as such and resent all encroachments on her prerogatives." She would soon have serious reasons for additional resentment to "encroachments on her prerogatives."
Beginning in 1879, William F. Blanck was secretly "keeping company" with Amanda Waring. The New York Times described her as "a quiet, well-preserved little brunette, widow of a master truckman." Amanda, who was 20 years younger than Blanck, lived with her 18-year-old son in Brooklyn. The New York Times said, "Her husband died leaving her comparatively poor." In contrast, the newspaper estimated Blanck's worth at "from $175,000 to $200,000"--about $5 million on the higher end in 2023 terms.
After a two-year courtship, in October 1881 Blanck introduced his sweetheart to his shocked children. One week later the couple was married. None of the children was present at the ceremony. Amanda now supplanted Lizzie Gedney as mistress of the house. It did not go well. The New York Times reported, "the bride found herself regarded as an interloper by Mr. and Mrs. Gedney, Thomas Blanck, and Miss Sadie Blanck. They soon rebelled openly, but their step-mother acted decisively and quelled the revolt against her so far as to be able to assume full control of the house."
Eight months later, Lizzie and her husband left, moving in with Gedney's father, The New York Times commented, "They and their step-mother were bitter enemies when they parted." Amanda did not have problems with the two youngest children. The New York Times wrote, "Misses Jennie and Mamie Blanck were dutiful, and their relations with their step-mother were affectionate and agreeable." On January 18, 1882 Sadie married Edward Ten Eyck, and on June 15 Thomas J. Blanck married and he, too, moved out. It would seem that now peace would reign within 64 Perry Street. But despite William Blanck's love for Amanda, which "apparently increased rather than wanted," the three eldest children continued to plot against her and poison their father's mind.
William, Amanda and Mamie spent the summer of 1882 at Sea Cliff, Long Island (Jennie was summering with they Gedneys). On August 18, William came to town on business. He secretly met his son, Thomas, and son-in-law Alfred Gedney, at his lawyer's office and executed a lease for 64 Perry Street to Gedney for one year and eight months. He then wrote out a bill of sale for its contents to his son.
Blanck returned to Sea Cliff, giving no hint of the subterfuge. Three days later, on Monday, he made an excuse to come to New York again. "He said he would return with his carriage and a horse, and was as affectionate as ever when he kissed his wife good-bye," said The New York Times. Amanda received a telegram the next day that he would be delayed until Wednesday. Suspicious, Amanda left Mamie at Sea Cliff and rushed to Manhattan.
She was unable to get into the Perry Street house. And when she returned to Sea Cliff she found Mamie gone. A letter left by Thomas Blanck said he had taken Mamie, and that if she would call at the attorney's office, "she would obtain full particulars." It was the beginning of a nightmare for Amanda Blanck.
Using keys she had made by a locksmith, Amanda entered the Perry Street house. Before long, Gedney, Thomas Blanck "and a foul-looking fellow, James Barry, alias Gany, alias Chambers--scaled the fence from a neighboring yard and entered through the rear basement window." Confronted by Amanda, Gedney told her he had a lease on the house. "You turned me and my wife out; now we'll turn you out and have no mercy on you," he said.
Refusing to leave, Amanda went into the back parlor. Gedney and Thomas Blanck pulled the pocket doors closed and locked her in. James Barry was left as a sort of prison guard. She had already ordered groceries, but when the delivery boy arrived, Gedney ordered him away. "Mrs. Blanck had to contend herself with tea and dry bread, as she had determined not to leave the house," said The New York Times. Around 4:00 a friend of Amanda, John G. Smithwick, arrived. Gedney tried to refuse him entrance, but he was pushed aside. He "saw the imprisoned lady, who begged him to inform her counsel."
After Smithwick rushed out, a second guard named Dillon was brought in. He and Barry drank freely from the Blanck cellars, making "a tap-room of the front basement," according to the article. When Amanda attempted to sleep and asked them through the door to be less noisy, "One of them shouted, 'Go to----.' and she, fearing violence, retreated."
The following day saw a standoff in the Perry Street house. Amanda's sister-in-law, her son, former Judge Thompson and his partner, William A. Crolius came to rescue her. Gedney brought James Dillon, a special Deputy Sheriff. James Barry was still drunk. Gedney produced his lease. Judge Thompson called his presence "an invasion" and told Amanda to order them to leave. "This Gedney declined to do, and instructed his hired menacers not to budge."
Thompson then went to Justice Ford and made a complaint on Amanda's behalf. Barry and Dillons were arrested for disorderly conduct. With her antagonists gone, Amanda had friends come "who held the post for her while she went to court," on August 24. The New York Times reported, "William F. Blanck did not appear, and it was understood that his children had obtained complete control over him and had spirited him away to Hackensack, N. J."
The justice ruled that Gedney and the others, despite the lease, were trespassers in the house. Amanda returned to the house, but hired an armed guard to stand sentry at the basement gate, while the front door "remained chained and barricaded," according to The New York Times.
As Amanda Blanck remained blockaded within her home, her lawyer arrived to say that her husband had offered her $35,000 to settle her claims. It was a substantial amount, equaling more than $950,000 today. It all came to a pitiable end four days later. On August 28 the New York Herald entitled an article, "Mrs. Blanck Capitulates," and said Amanda was "in a depressed state yesterday in her husband's house, No. 64 Perry street. She was melancholy and utterly disinclined to talk." The article said her lawyer had "advised Mrs. Blanck to give up the house and told her that she would be amply provided for by her husband. To this she acquiesced and agreed to leave to-day."
The house was purchased by wholesale grocery John Henry and Louise C. Mohlmann. The couple had three children, George A. Jessie T. and Albert John. John Henry Mohlmann was athletic, his name appearing routinely in newspapers for his swimming and rowing achievements. Tragically, his athleticism would end his life. On September 30, 1890, The Press reported, "John H. Mohlman [sic] of No. 64 Perry street was accidentally drowned at Brielle, N. J., on Sunday while rowing on the Manasquen Inlet."
Following his death, Louise's father, chemist Albert G. C. Hahn moved into the house and was made a legal guardian of the children. Hahn had graduated from Cornell University and the University of Freiburg, Germany. In 1885, the Nepera Chemical Company, makers of photographic papers, sought out him. At the time photography had come into its own as an important technology. Hahn was brought on as an officer of the company, co-heading the chemical department.
The family remained at 64 Perry Street until July 1900 when Henry E. Schwitters and his wife Margaretha purchased the house for $16,500 (about $550,000 in 2023). Like John Mohlmann, he was in the grocery business. He and his son, Edo, owned the fruit and produce commission firm of H. E. Schwitters & Son on Washington Street.
The family leased a room in their home. In 1910 80-year-old Jacques Lowe was renting here. The German-born photographer was still active, a member of the staff of Jubilee Magazine and freelance photographer for periodicals like Red Book, Fortune, Life, Coronet, Argosy and Sign magazines.
Henry E. Schwitters died on November 20, 1912, leaving an estate of about $1.65 million today. He left the entire estate to Margaretha.
Throughout the succeeding decades, the Schwitters family continued to lease a room. Policeman Emilio Antonelli of the 16th Precinct lived here in 1948 when he experienced an unusually embarrassing accident on the Fourth of July. That year the city banned fireworks of any kind. It was a move that many youngsters disapproved of and one boy thought an excellent expression of protest would be to toss a lit firecracker into the station house window. Patrolman Antonelli was working the switchboard there and momentarily got up from his seat. Just as he sat down again, the firecracker landed on his chair and exploded.
Antonelli was treated at Polyclinic Hospital and a spokesperson for the police told reporters that the injured cop “would spend the Fourth of July face down in bed and would be on the sick list for several days.” The tosser of the firecracker was not caught.
At some point around the Depression years, the Schwitters modernized the house by removing the Victorian detailing and replaced the cornice with a paneled parapet.
On December 17, 1955 Eleanora Schwitters sold the house to Alva L. Harrington, who resold the house to Harold Eliot Leeds and his partner Wheaton Galentine. Leeds was an architect and interior design instructor at Pratt Institute. Galentine was a documentary filmmaker and theirs was a particularly touching love story.
The men had already been together for nearly a decade. Greenwich Village had been a haven for artists, street philosophers, writers and others who varied from the mainstream since prior to World War I, and by now was the center of New York’s gay life.
The couple's hospitality and love of entertaining was famous among their friends. Across the street lived poet and short story writer Elizabeth Bishop. She wrote to poet Robert Lowell on January 22, 1962, in part mentioning the couple and the house:
I gave your plays—with a hurriedly written and illegible note—to Harold Leeds across the street at 64 Perry Street…Perhaps you have met by now. I’d like to have you, and E, see his house. It’s the prettiest one I know in New York. He is a very good architect—a bit chi-chi and difficult at first, but improves rapidly, and his friend Wheaton Galentine makes, also, very good movies—really. Ask to see his Singer Sewing Machine movie sometime! They are hard-working and quiet and ultra-ultra-refined. I like them both.
The interiors, in 2012, were pristinely intact. Note the stained glass panel in the arched doorway at the rear of the entrance hall. images via sothebyhomes.com
Taking a page from the Schwitters, Leeds and Wheaton rented an apartment to fashion executive Tim Gunn for 16 years.
In 1990 Woody Allen filmed scenes from Alice here, then in 1998 the house was used by HBO as the exterior of Carrie Bradshaw’s home in its series “Sex and the City.” Three years later the network quietly moved the shots to the house next door, at 66 Perry Street; but for years tourists and New Yorkers alike posed in front of both houses for photographs.
In 2002 Harold Leeds, who had designed structures like the Paris Theater, died in the Village Nursing Home. Wheaton Galentine, stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, lived on in the lower part of the house attended by an aide. A real estate agent told Diane Cardwell of The New York Times that after more than a half century of being together, the confused man would sometimes ask his aide, “Are we going to the nursing home to see Harold?”
The house as it appeared in 2012, prior to the restoration. image via sothebyhomes.com
In June 2011 Wheaton Galentine died. The remarkable house sold later that year for $9 million, with much of the proceeds earmarked for the Village Center for Care. It was resold in 2013 for $13.5 million, its new owners initiating a three-year restoration/renovation. The architects used surviving examples along the 1866 row to amazingly recreate the lost Italianate elements.
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Great restoration work, the exterior finally matches the amazing interiors.ReplyDelete