Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Much-Abused Frederick C. Havemeyer House - 313 West 14th Street


Little hint of the former mansion's architectural beauty and opulence remains.

In the first years of the 1840's sumptuous brownstone mansions began appearing on West 14th Street, from Union Square west to Ninth Avenue.  The 25-foot-wide residence completed around 1843 at 193 West 14th Street (renumbered 313 in 1868)  left no question as to the vast wealth of its owner.

The Italianate style mansion rose four stories above an especially high English basement.  Its stone stoop rose to an arched entrance under a prominent cornice supported by foliate brackets.  The architrave windows sat on molded sills upon tiny brackets, and were crowned by gently arched lintels.  The handsome cornice included paired, scrolled brackets and a paneled fascia with central rosettes.

Although the stoop was removed in 1925, the mansion (left) otherwise retained its 1840 appearance.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Sugar refiner Frederick Christian Havemeyer Jr. moved his family into 193 West 14th Street.  His father and uncle, William, had opened a sugar refinery in 1807.  Upon their retirement in 1828, Frederick Jr. and his cousin William took over, renaming it W. F. & F. C. Havemeyer.  By the time Frederick's family moved into the West 14th Street residence, both were wealthy, and William was mayor of New York City.  (The cousins' close relationship may have prompted William to move into a house nearby at 113 West 14th Street around 1867.)

Frederick and his wife, the former Sarah Louise Osborne Henderson, were married in 1831 and now had nine children.  A tenth child, Warren H., was born in 1849.  

Frederick Christian Havemeyer and Sarah Louise Osborne Henderson Havemeyer.  original sources unknown

The following year Sarah became ill.  After what the New York Herald called a "lingering illness," she died on the morning of January 7, 1851 at the age of 39.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

There would be second funeral in the house that year.  Little Warren died on September 9.  His tiny casket sat in the parlor until his funeral on September 11, 1851.

Although there was, of course, at least one nurse on staff in the Havemeyer mansion, Frederick enlisted the help of his mother and mother-in-law, Catharine Billiger Havemeyer and Mary Osborne Henderson, to help rear the children.  Several of the older boys were sent off to exclusive private boys' schools.  In 1853 14-year-old Theodore went to Mr. Betts' School in Stamford, Connecticut, and the following year his two younger brothers, 7-year-old Henry and 9-year-old Thomas, were sent to the Bellport Academy on Long Island.  

In November 1859 Havemeyer listed the West 14th Street mansion for sale.  The advertisement boasted, "This House is new, and has just been finished in the very best manner."

It was purchased by Washington J. Smith, who had formerly lived with his parents nearby at 241 West 19th Street.  He was associated with his father, Washington Irving Smith, in Washington I. Smith & Co., a pottery factory.  Originally called Greenwich Pottery, the firm did not make decorative jardinières or terra cotta plaques, but a much more utilitarian product--sewer pipes. 

Trow's New York City Directory, 1865 (copyright expired)

Sadly, Smith would not enjoy his opulent new home for long.  He died on January 27, 1863 at the age of 54.  Once again a funeral was held in the parlor.  Smith's estate sold the mansion at auction on April 1 that same year.

It was purchased by wealthy tobacco merchant Albert S. Rosenbaum and his wife Elizabeth.  The couple had a son and four daughters.  Born in Germany, he had gone to California during the 1849 Gold Rush.  The New York Times said, "by dint of great business tact, shrewdness, and industry [he] rapidly accumulated money, which he invested advantageously in San Francisco real estate.”  Now back in New York, he founded his tobacco business and became a director in the street railroads like the Third Avenue Surface Railroad Company, the Morris Avenue Railroad Company and the Brook Avenue Railroad Company.  

Upscale neighborhoods like this were closely guarded by foot patrolmen.  Officer David Walsh was in charge of the beat on the night of April 22, 1869 when he interrupted a break-in.  The New York Herald reported that he caught Andrew Leaney and Jeremiah Shaunessy trying "to enter the dwelling house of Albert S. Rosenham [sic], No. 313 West Fourteenth street."  Despite being caught in the act, both men pleaded not guilty.

A daughter, Leonora, was born in August that year.  Tragically, she died just under eight months later.  As had been the case several times before, her funeral was held in the parlor on April 24, 1870.  

Within the decade, the once exclusive block saw the incursion of commerce.  Wealthy homeowners migrated north, and in December 1889 the Rosenbaums moved to the former Bonesteel house at 5 East 73rd Street.  The family retained possession of 313 West 14th Street, leasing it.

West 14th Street was rapidly becoming the center of Manhattan's wealthy Latin community.  No. 313 West 14th Street became what newspapers called a "Spanish boarding house."  Its residents were both influential and well-to-do.  On November 11, 1897, for instance, The Sun reported on the arrival in New York City of two Cubans, injured in the Spanish-American War.  One of them was F. B. Caballero, described by the newspaper as "an officer in the insurgent army."  The article said, "He is wounded and has come for surgical treatment.  He will stop temporarily at No. 313 West Fourteenth street."

On August 17, 1898 the Cuban Arteaga family arrived in New York and took rooms at 313 West 14th Street.  The New York Times reported, "the father has been a commission merchant [in Venezuela] for several years.  The visit to New York was in the interest of property which the elder Arteaga owned in Cuba."  Traveling with their parents was Ricardo, a correspondent in the Spanish department of Henry W. Peabody & Co., and Augusto, "a harmlessly demented lad seventeen years old," according to the newspaper.

On the day they settled into the boarding house, Augusto wandered away.  Challenged with what possibly would be diagnosed as autism today, he was hopelessly lost in the city.  The family extended their stay for four months before giving up hope, leaving only Ricardo behind to search.  A year later, on September 11, 1899, The New York Times wrote, "his brother believes that he may yet be found alive in some asylum in New York or vicinity, and has offered a reward for any information concerning his whereabouts."  It is unclear if Augusto was ever found.

The boarding house would operate for years, accommodating well-to-do Hispanic New Yorkers.  On January 14, 1903, for instance, the Musical Courier reported, "Mrs. Manuela Agramonte, wife of Emilio Agramonte, the well known teacher of music, died at her home, 313 West Fourteenth street, Monday.  She was fifty-seven years old and a native of Cuba."

Five months later, on May 1, The New York Times reported, "Bernardo Bueno, thirty-seven years old, a Cuba sugar and tobacco plantation owner, said to have been a millionaire...committed suicide yesterday afternoon by shooting himself at 313 West Fourteenth Street."  Bueno had been a captain in the Cuban army during the Spanish-American War, and had come to know Theodore Roosevelt.

A reporter visited 313 West 14th Street and spoke to Edward Agramonte, Manuela's son.  According to him, "Bueno had 400 men employed on his plantation around Santiago de Cuba, on which was machinery valued at $100,000."

An advertisement in the New York Herald on April 24, 1909  seems to have been reaching out to English-speaking boarders as well.  It read, "Spanish-American Board, Granada House, 313 West 14th; good opportunity to learn Spanish Free."

On July 15, 1914, the president of Mexico, Victoriano Huerta bowed to international pressure and resigned.  Before leaving, he sold or removed the valuable works of art in the presidential palace.  On October 29, 1914, the New-York Tribune reported that "in spite of revolutions and business depression the Mexican government has purchased several valuable paintings by old masters, which are now in this city.  The pictures were brought here from Europe by Dr. Juan Valez, a Spanish art expert, and member of the Royal Academy, who has just arrived from Europe and is staying at 313 West 14th st."  Valez was on his way to Mexico with more than 50 paintings "by Spanish, French, Dutch and English masters," said the article.  "Some of the canvases are 300 years old."

According to Peter Hulme in his The Dinner at Gonfarone's, Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío boarded here in the spring of 1915.  He would have been in the company of many Mexicans nationals who had fled the ongoing upheaval at home.

On March 20, 1916 an article in the New York Tribune titled, "Latin Refugees Still Fear [Pancho] Villa" began by saying, "Behind the curtains of the high-ceilinged old sitting room of La Granada, that boarding house of all the world, at 313 West Fourteenth Street, a little group of Mexican refugees daily refight the battles across the border."  Included in the group was Dr. Juan Velez--who had first stayed here on his way to Mexico with the paintings for the presidential palace.  He had just returned from there three days earlier and was animatedly relating the situation at home to his compatriots.  "His black eyes gleam with fervor, his thin, black-bearded face looks suddenly ferocious, and he is making furious lunges in the air with a knife,' said the article.

On January 19, 1924, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the estate of Albert S. Rosenbaum had sold 313 West 14th Street.  "It is the first sale of the parcel since 1863," said the article.  The new owner, Dr. James A. Clark, removed the stoop and installed his doctor's office in the basement level, and lived in the upper portion.  

In 1941 the Dr. James A. Clark residence was the last along the row to hint at the block's former appearance.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Dr. Clark would live and practice from the address through the 1950s.  Then in 1960 the building was renovated as apartments, two per floor.  The early Victorian architectural elements were shaved off in a effort to make the building appear more modern.  Today the sadly abused structure gives little hint of its former opulence.

photographs by the author
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