Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Holdouts - 242 and 244 West 103rd Street


Real estate developer Robert Wallace began construction of a row of six upscale homes on the south side of West 103rd Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, in 1899.  Architect George Fred Pelham designed the residences in the Renaissance Revival style--embellishing them with elaborately carved panels and keystones, wreaths and heraldic-style shields.

The basement and parlor levels were faced in dressed limestone, while the upper floors were faced in tan Roman brick.  A continuous pressed metal cornice united the row. As construction neared completion in April 1900, Wallace sold the entire row to William W. Brower.

Brower briefly leased the houses, selling 244 in 1904 and 242 the following year.  The latter became home to Manuel J. and Lilien P. Suarez.  The well-heeled Suarez was a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club and the exclusive Metropolitan Club.

On October 30, 1910, the New York Herald reported, "In the drawing room of her parents' home, Miss Josephine Madeleine Suarez, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel J. Suarez of No. 242 West 103d street, was married to Mr. Alfred Pach by the Rev. Father Barry on Wednesday."  The 25-year-old groom was well known in New York City.  He was a partner in the photographic firm of Pach Bros..  In its studio in the Mortimer Building on Broadway socialites and celebrities sat for their portraits.

The title to 242 West 103rd Street was still in the name of Lilien Suarez in 1915, when the property was appraised for tax purposes at $32,000--around $890,000 in 2023.  At the time the Barton family had been leasing the house for about a year.

Daughter Nellie Barton received a new 30-horsepower automobile towards the end of May 1914.  The family's chauffeur, George MacAdam, gave her four days of driving lessons, and on June 1 Nellie felt she was adept enough to take the wheel.  MacAdam sat in the front passenger seat and Nellie's friend, Jeannette Prindega was in the back.  The outing did not end well.

Nellie successfully drove to Westchester County, then headed home.  At around 5:30 she initiated a turn south from St. Nicholas Avenue onto 181st Street.  At first she attempted to beat a streetcar, "but when she saw the car approaching rapidly she changed her mind and turned the steering wheel sharply," said The New York Times.  Nellie became "bewildered" and lost control.  The automobile hit the curb and drove onto the  crowded sidewalk, at which point Nellie fainted.

MacAdam grabbed the steering wheel, but could not stop the vehicle before it had plowed into several pedestrians.  One victim, Joseph Cassidy, suffered a fractured skull, which proved fatal.  Other injuries included broken ribs, a concussion, and several cuts.  The New York Times reported, "After Miss Barton had recovered consciousness she was driven to her home in her auto by MacAdam.  No arrests were made."

Living next door at 244 West 103rd Street at the time was Samuel Camerson.  In an unbelievable case of déjà vu, his 22-year-old daughter, Juanita took the family car out on September 11, 1915.  She lost control and hit an elderly woman, breaking her hip.  At the station house, Lieutenant W. P. Meehan took the call from the beat cop, and telephoned the hospital.  "Woman struck by automobile.  Send Ambulance to Webster avenue and 188th Street."  The New York Herald commented, "He did not know that his mother was the victim until the policeman made his report."

In 1916 four houses of the row--246 through 252--were demolished to be replaced by Alexandria House, a Rouse & Goldstone-designed residential hotel.  Their razing upset George Fred Pelham's architectural balance, with the rounded corner of the upper floors of 242--formerly balanced by a mirror-image design at 252--now looking somewhat odd.

In 1917 real estate operator Herbert Du Puy purchased 242 and 244 West 103rd Street.  Both were leased to moneyed families, who regularly appeared in society columns.  On November 27, 1919. for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Spencer B. Driggs will be at home next Sunday afternoon from three to six, at No. 242 West 103d street."  Following the Driggses, James Hardie Proctor and his wife rented the house.  

Mrs. Proctor was active in several clubs, including the Daughters of Ohio, the National Craftsmen, and the City Federation.  She hosted a card party in April 1921 for members of the Daughters of Ohio to benefit the Blind Fund.  The Proctors were still at 242 West 103rd Street in 1923 when Mrs. Proctor lost her "blue fox neckpiece" on June 19 and offered a reward for its return.

In 1918 Cornelia Bedell Phelps, widow of Abel Mix Phelps, and her daughter Eleanor Mix Phelps moved into 244 West 103rd Street.  Eleanor was educated at Barnard College and Columbia University.  She would later write scholarly books, including Trends in Infant and Childhood Mortality, Mortality of White and Nonwhite Infants in Major U.S. Cities, and Recent Demographic Trends and Their Effects on Maternal and Child Health Needs and Services.

On October 22, 1922 The New York Times reported, "Henry T. Hunt, predecessor of Chairman Hooper on the Railroad Labor Board, has entered the practice of law in New York City.  Mr. Hunt is a graduate of Yale and a former Mayor of Cincinnati."  Known as the "Boy Mayor," Henry Thomas Hunt had served in the Ohio State House of Representatives.  He was Cincinnati's mayor in 1912 and 1913.

On September 22, 1925 Hunt and Eleanor Mix Phelps were married in a civil ceremony in the chambers of Supreme Court Justice Charles L. Guy.  The newlyweds moved to 22 East 89th Street, and most likely brought Cornelia Bedell Phelps with them.

Seven months earlier, Herbert Du Puy had sold 242 and 244 West 103rd Street to real estate operator Samuel Brener.  A renovation to both houses, completed in 1927, turned them into boarding houses.  Nevermore would residents be mentioned in society columns for weddings, summer homes and receptions.

In 1936 David and Jean Ehl Phillips lived in 244 West 103rd.  The couple were married in September 1935.  On March 21, 1936, the New York Post reported, "Their wedded life suffered a setback early this month when Mrs. Gladys Phillips walked into the picture."  David had married Gladys in June 1929.  "This so upset Jean that she decided to bring her husband into court."

The two wives, whom the article said "are pretty blondes," went to court together.  "The girls are on friendly terms," wrote the journalist.  While the judge held the 26-year-old bigamist on bail, his sexist remarks would have caused him trouble today.  "He's all right," Magistrate Aurello said of Phillips.  "He's consistent.  He sticks to blondes."

Domestic problems were not restricted to 244.  On April 10, 1940 Mary V. K. Lorey, who lived next door, sued her husband William Boynton Lorey for divorce, claiming he had "been intimate with 'Ruth Beardsley'" several times and in several locations.

Both buildings were converted to apartments, two per floor, in 1961-62.  Sandwiched between apartment buildings, the two holdouts look much as they did in 1899 when the block was peopled by wealthy residents.

photographs by the author
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