Saturday, March 25, 2023

Fitting In - 9 East 64th Street


In 1884 Ulysses Simpson Grant and his wife, Fannie Josephine Chaffee, purchased the double-wide brownstone at 7 and 9 East 64th Street from Alvin J. Johnson, paying the extravagant amount of $150,000.(more than $4.25 million in 2023).  The son of the former President, he was a successful attorney with the firm of Davies, Work & McNamee.

Property values had risen by the turn of the century, when vintage brownstones were being razed or transformed into modern American basement mansions.  In 1906 railroad mogul James J. Hill purchased the sumptuous mansion at 8 East 65th Street, directly behind the former Grant house.   Two years later The New York Press announced he had paid $500,000 for "Nos. 7 and 9 East Sixty-fourth street, a four-story high-stoop brownstone house."  The National Real Estate Journal explained that Hill purchased the house simply "to  secure light and privacy" for his 65th Street residence, and he promptly demolished it.

Hill died in 1916 and his estate sold the vacant lot the following year.  It was purchased by John Sergeant Cram and his wife, the former Edith Claire Bryce in 1928.  The couple hired the architectural firm of Strass & Barnes to design a house at 9 East 64th Street, leaving the plot at 7 undeveloped, apparently as a garden.  The resulting two-story, vaguely Art Moderne structure was rather peculiar.  A cantilevered slab-like marquee hovered above the entrance and a single, large window punctured the unadorned second floor.  The New York Sun called the house "handsome," and made a note of its "40-foot living and dining rooms."

The Cram house, with its large second-story window, sits just in front of the parked delivery vehicle.  The one-story house to the left was built by Edith Cram on the site of the garden in 1939.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Born in 1851, Cram graduated from Harvard College in 1872 and Harvard Law School in 1875.  Closely affiliated with Tammany Hall, he was an intimate friend of Charles Francis Murphy, known as "Silent Charlie" and "Boss Murphy."

Edith was, perhaps, even more interesting.  She was well-known nationally for her anti-war speeches and peace initiatives.  She was the founder of Peace House and during World War I tirelessly expressed pacifist ideals in newspapers.  She was, as well, a staunch proponent of women's rights, advocating for birth control and sitting on the Advisory Council for women's educational fields at Cooper Union.

J. Sergeant Cram died on January 18, 1936. Three years later, on January 17, 1939, The New York Sun reported she had sold 9 East 64th Street to Adolph Levitt, chairman of the Doughnut Corporation of America.   The article noted that she had already hired architect Louis Kurtz to design a single-story house on the garden plot next door, saying "A one-story residence in this aristocratic section of Manhattan will be unique."

In 1958 9 East 64th Street became home to newlyweds Anthony Brady Farrell and Kathryne Barbara Mylroie.  Farrell was a Broadway producer and owner of the Mark Hellinger Theater.  Kathryne was an actress, known to audiences as Kate Manx.  Their residency (and marriage) was relatively short-lived.  They divorced on July 30, 1964 and Kate died of an overdose of sleeping pills on November 15 that year.

The former Cram house became home to the Samuel Rubin Foundation, Inc., which remained well into the 1970s.  Then, on June 19, 1994 The New York Times reported that record magnate David Geffen had bought the "two nondescript one-story [sic] houses" at 7 and 9 East 64th Street, noting he "has hired the architect Richard Meier to design a town house for the double lot."

Two years later the newspaper reported that Geffen "changed his mind and put the building back on the market."  Calling them "the pair of dilapidated two-story brick buildings," the article said they had been purchased by Theodore W. Kheel as the site of a "headquarters for three foundations, with rental apartments above."  Kheel's group, the TASK Foundation, had paid $4 million for the properties.

On April 28, 1996 The New York Times explained that architect Henry George Greene's design would meld into the mansion block.  "The proposed $6 million seven-story Renaissance-style limestone building...will echo its grand neighbors on the outside.  While the foundations take the bottom floors, the top five stories would be devoted to three full-floor two-bedroom apartments and one penthouse duplex."  Kheel predicted "Rents on the apartments will be expensive."

Demolition began in January 1997.  To assuage the neighbors like Ivanna Trump, Gianni Versace and Edgar Bronfman Jr., Kheel hosted "the quintessential block party," as described by Nadine Brozan of The New York Times on January 22, 1997.  He explained that the erection of what would be called Foundation House would "be discommoding people there for about 14 months, so this is a kind of apology for the unavoidable inconvenience."

But Kheel changed his mind mid-stream.  As the building rose, on August 13, 1999 The New York Times reported that it would now be a "high-end town house condominium."  Kheel had hired the Greenwich-based architectural firm of ERG Architect to tweak Henry George Greene's plans.  Journalist Rachelle Garbarine explained the five-story structure, "designed to blend with its neighbors, will have three condominium apartments, ranging in size from 3,300 to 6,800 square feet, and in price from $3.9 million to $7.5 million."  ERG Architect principal E. Ronald Gushue said, "I reorganized the facade to include more classically inspired details and proportions.  I made it more harmonious with neighboring residences done at the turn of the century."

The building was especially remarkable in one respect.  Theodore W. Kheel was what Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times called "an environmental showman."  Kheel explained the building "is also meant to illustrate how energy-saving technology and environmentally sensitive construction methods can pay for themselves."

To that end, the two deepest holds in New York City--"each deeper than the World Trade Center is tall"--were drilled into the bedrock.  The 1,500-feet-deep holes would "tap stored energy in the rock."  Kheel added, "We're not going to change the world with one little building.  But we can set an example.  Geothermal will be our best expression of what can be accomplished."

In September 1999, before construction was completed, all three of the condominiums had been sold.  The largest, a quadruplex with a 1,045-square-foot garden on the below-grade level cost $11.1 million.  Today's casual passersby might easily mistake the new kid on the block with its remarkable backstory for a century-old townhouse.

photographs by the author
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  1. Doug Floor Plan

    Tom, to your knowledge -- are the 1,500-feet-deep holes drilled into the bedrock under this building successfully tapping the energy stored in the rock? Is that energy converted to electricity or something else useful? Is energy being stolen from the rock under the neighboring buildings?

    1. How successful it is, I don't know. But it was intended to be a "geothermal heat pump" that would generate hot water as well as provide cooling. A comprehensive explanation is found in the NYT article referenced above 04/20/1997.

    2. No, That's how far we had to drill to reach the water table.

  2. Tom, when I harvest photos from the Municipal Archives (as for instance the second photo here), I do a little image correction on them, improving the contrast so they're not as gray as the originals. You can also download larger versions, to provide more pixels to work with.

    1. I always try to clean them up. But I'm apparently not as adept as some!

  3. According to the Find a Grave entry for Kate Manx, she married Farrell 9 December 1951 in Fishkill, NY, and divorced him in 1958 before she married Leslie Stevens on 11 May 1958, whom she divorced 30 July 1964. She was an usherette at the Hellinger Theater.