Thursday, May 11, 2023

Horace Ginsbern's 1939 124 East 24th Street


Architect Horace Ginsbern was the principal in the architectural firm Horace Ginsbern & Associates and president of the Horace Realty Company, Inc.  Unintimidated by the Great Depression, he designed and built several Art Deco apartment buildings beginning in 1931 at the age of just 29 years old.

In 1939, having just completed 155-165 West 20th Street, he  started plans for another project at 116-124 East 24th Street.  This one, however, was for another development firm, Kleban & Leader.  On July 5, The New York Sun noted, "Suites range from one to three rooms.  Horace Ginsbern, who has done a good deal of work recently along this line, is the architect."

Completed before the end of the year, the six-story structure was Art Deco in style, while showing the influence of the rising Art Moderne style in the stacked, lancet-like windows, their verticality emphasized by five-story frames of bull-nosed brick.  Typically Ginsbern, the fire escapes were tucked into recesses thereby avoiding visual obtrusion.  He wrapped the corner windows, a modern innovation that provided extra natural light into the apartments.

While the apartments were small, they offered up-to-date amenities.  A brochure touted "the finest equipment available and the latest improvements for comfort and convenience."  Included were sunken living rooms, Venetian blinds, "radio outlets," and sound-proofing.  At a time when many New Yorkers still relied on ice boxes, the "fully equipped kitchens" here included "mechanical refrigerators."

There were 10 apartments per floor, ranging from studios to three rooms.  Apartments in the Modern Manner, 1939 brochure

Among the first to move in were Allan and Fannie Nadner Markoff.  Allan Markoff partnered with J. Finger in 1938 to establish the Inreklama Service.  The company solicited American advertising in Soviet Union technical publications.  Markoff was also a member of the International Workers Order, suspected of being closely affiliated with the Communist Party, and an investor in the People's Radio Foundation.  It all drew the attention of the United States Government.

The Markoffs were called to Washington D.C. in 1951 to testify before the Congressional Committee on Communist Propaganda Activities in the United States.  One issue about which Allan was grilled was a meeting in the apartment in January 1941 which was suspected to have been for the American Peace Mobilization, a Communist-funded group deemed subversive.  Markoff coolly dismissed the accusation.

It was a time when peace was desirable for everybody, and I thought it would be a nice idea to have some friends and neighbors in the house, to come together and discuss it, exchange opinion, so I sent out a letter inviting them to a social evening.

Another early resident was Marie Lewis Bowman.  She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and met her husband there.  Charles Lee Bowman was affiliated with the Union Library Association, a mail-order book firm.  When the organization relocated to New York City, so did the Bowmans.  Charles bought a controlling interest in the firm and became president.

Upon her husband's death in 1918, the indomitable Marie took his place as president of the Union Library Association.  Her decision to move into 124 East 24th Street was no doubt influenced by the company's location directly across the street at 121 East 24th Street.  Working with her there were her two sons, Lewis and Herbert, general manager and treasurer of the firm respectively.  Marie was also an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The 1939 real estate brochure featured Horace Ginsbern's Art Deco entrance on the cover.  

Resident Ruth Tillinghast lived here by mid-century.  Born on August 4, 1919 in New Canaan, Connecticut, she had a privileged education, graduating from Barnard College in 1941.  With the outbreak of World War II, she joined the United States War Department, connected with the New York Ordnance District.  She held the position through 1946.  

The following year, in March, she was hired by Nelson  A. Rockefeller as his personal secretary.  He had just been fired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt from his position as the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and returned to New York City.  Never married, Tillinghast remained his trusted administrator as his career in government took on many forms.  In 1958 he was elected Governor of New York State.  

In July 1964 Ruth Tillinghast accompanied the governor to the Republican National Convention at San Francisco.  Shortly after returning home she became ill.  She never recovered.  The 45-year-old died on September 11, having worked with Nelson Rockefeller for 17 years.

In 1966 the Rolling Stones posed in drag as WWII British army nurses in front of 124 East 24th Street for the cover of "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?"  photograph by Jerry Schatzberg

Living here in the third quarter of the 2oth century was French-born Eugene Voit.  He had taken a job as office manager in the then-new New Yorker Hotel in 1930.  He rose to general manager in 1951 and would eventually hold that position in the Plaza, the Savoy and New York Hilton hotels.  One can imagine the trove of stories he could have shared with his neighbors about the famous celebrities and millionaires he met over the decades.

Although the casement windows, important to Ginsbern's design, have been replaced with unsympathetic but more energy-efficient models, 124 East 24th Street remains a handsome example of the architect's work.  It is easily overlooked tucked away from general foot traffic.

photos by the author
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  1. Thank you for this amazing post -- I think you have the Stones photo mis-credited. The drag photo is by Jerry Schatzberg, whose studio was located at 333 Park Avenue, around the corner from this location.

    1. Thank you for noticing that. It has been corrected.

  2. Was its parapet removed at some point or did the original look like that?