Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The 1907 Hohenzollern Apartments - 495 West End Avenue

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1907, as the domestic tastes on the Upper West Side turned from sumptuous private homes to sprawling apartments, contractor Lorenz Weiher commissioned architect George F. Pelham to design a 10-story apartment building at the southwest corner of West End Avenue and 84th Street.  Completed within the year, its Beaux Arts design showed more architectural self-control than that of many of the frothily festooned structures in the style currently going up around the city.

Costing Weiher $400,000 to construct (nearly $12 million in 2023), the Hohenzollern was completed within the year.  Its white limestone base visually grounded the brick upper portions.  The ornate carvings and other decorations--while undeniably French with portrait carvings, palm fronds, and vining flowers--exuded a geometric formality associated with German architecture.  The entrance, above a four-step stoop, was nestled under a substantial stone hood supported by polished granite columns.  

photo by Anthony Bellov

An advertisement boasted, "This apartment house is situated in a refined residential section but a step from the Hudson [River] and Riverside Drive...There are but three apartments on a floor, containing ten, eleven and twelve rooms, foyer, butler's pantry and three bathrooms."  The ad noted that the parlors were decorated in the Louis XV style, the dining rooms were Flemish with "paneled in oak and beamed ceilings," and it stressed that "the domestic quarters are entirely separate from the masters' suites."

The World's New York Apartment House Album, January 1910 (copyright expired)

The Hohenzollern filled quickly with well-to-do tenants.  An advertisement on September 19, 1909 warned potential residents that there was just one apartment available, an 11-room suite renting for $2,800 per year (about $7,000 a month in today's money).

Among the initial residents were businessman Noble McConnell and his fascinating wife, Adelaide.  Adelaide had divorced her husband Henry Wallerstein in 1910 and married Noble the following year.  Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, she had earned her medical degree at the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in 1905.  That same year she founded the East Side Clinic for Children, a free clinic of which she was president.

Dr. Adelaide Wallerstein McConnell, 1908 (copyright expired)

Adelaide was equally known for her passions for music, for social reform and justice, and for temperance.  She was the president of the Woman's Legal Aid Society, had founded and was president of the Adelaide Wallerstein Auxiliary of the National Army Relief Association for Porto Rico during the Spanish-American War, and founded the New York Mozart Society.

On February 2, 1913 The New York Press reported, "Mrs. Noble McConnell, president of the New York Mozart Society, and her husband entertained the bachelor girls, their escorts, and the ushers of the society in the McConnell home, No. 495 West End avenue, on Friday evening."  The article mentioned that the McConnells would soon be giving a dance for the group at the Hotel Majestic.

Noble McConnell was as impassioned about music as was his wife.  In addition to his involvement with the Mozart Society, he was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Club, along with millionaires like Henry Clay Frick, Otto Kahn, Clarence H. Mackay, William K. and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J. Pierpont Morgan.

The socially prominent Stuart McNamaras were also early residents of the Hohenzollern.  Living with them was Mrs. McNamara's widowed mother, Mrs. Theodore F. Wood.  As was the case with all moneyed New Yorkers, society reporters trailed their movements.  On September 13, 1914, for instance, The New York Press announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Stuart McNamara and Mrs. Theodore F. Wood of No. 495 West End avenue have returned from Europe, and are spending the autumn at Briarcliffe Lodge, Briarcliffe, N.Y."

Eleanor Bonney Brown moved into the building shortly after the death of her husband, Edward Flint Brown in 1909.  The couple had married in 1869 and had five sons and four daughters.  Moving into the Hohenzollern apartment with Eleanor was her unmarried daughter, Edna Florence.

The Brown apartment was the scene of Edna's marriage to John Frederic Wherry on June 9, 1915.  The bride was 30-years-old, notably past the expected marrying age of socialites.  The New York Times reported, "there ceremony took place in the drawing room, before a temporary altar, and the bridal party passed to it through an aisle outlined by flower-topped white stanchions."

The Hohenzollern drawing rooms were not only expansive enough to accommodate a wedding like Edna's, but large receptions and even dances.  On January 31, 1915, for instance, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Charles Griswold Bourne gave a dansant yesterday at her home, 495 West End avenue, for Miss Mary Fitz Gibbon, the debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Fitz Gibbon."  There were 32 guests at the tea and dance.  (Ethel Bourne's husband, Charles, was president of the Knickerbocker Audit Company.)

Tragedy occurred here on November 16, 1916.  Sidney Alsberg shared an apartment with his sister and brother.  The 34-year-old was a partner in the tailors' trimmings firm of William Alsberg & Co.  The young executive, however, was described by The Sun as "long in ill health from a nervous affliction."  It ended that day when Sidney fired a bullet into his right temple in the apartment.

A much happier occurrence had taken place in the apartment of Albert S. Levi LeVino, a silent film screenwriter for the Arrow Film Corporation, four months earlier.  On July 8, 1916, The New York Dramatic Mirror reported that he "has completed his own romantic scenario, with the traditional happy ending.  In other words, it becomes necessary to record his marriage to Miss Margaret Prussing, of Chicago."  William Edgar Shallenberger, president of Arrow Film Corporation, was the best man.

The newlyweds remained in LeVino's Hohenzollern apartment.  LeVino would go on to write screenplays for the Famous Players-Lasky Corp., like the 1921 Cappy Ricks, and for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s.

Living here at the time of LeVino's wedding were influential figures like Thomas F. Keating, president of the J. M. Mossman Company, and a long-time political leader and Tammany foe; and Robert Parker, vice-president and chairman of the Irving Trust Company.  

Three years after World War I broke out, on April 4, 1917 America declared war on Germany.  The bitter anti-German sentiment that spread across the nation prompted banks, businesses and buildings with Germanic-sounding names to change them.  The Hohenzollern was now known only by its address of 495 West End Avenue.

William Bertram Imlach moved into the building in 1921.  Born in 1876, he had attended Columbia University and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1899 with a degree in chemistry.  But art was Imlach's passion and by now his works were in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art.  In 1941 he would establish the William Bertram Imlach Scholarship Fund at Smith College "to provide scholarship in drawing and painting."

A harbor scene by William Bertram Imlach, private collection.

Another well-heeled family living here in the post-World War I years was that of Alwyn Ball.  Born in Haverstraw, New York in 1859, he was president of Frederick Southack & Alwyn Ball, Jr., and a director of the Alliance Realty Company, the Central Finance Company, the Standard Safe Deposit Company of New York, and the Board Exchange Company.  He and his wife, the former Rebecca O'Brien, had three sons and two daughters.

On March 22, 1924 the Tobacco Journal reported that Norberto J. Cueva and his wife Vera Jo had announced the engagement of their daughter Hortense to Eli B. Springs, 2d., of Charleston, South Carolina.  Cueva was the head of the Cuban tobacco importing firm of F. Miranda & Co.  The 24-year-old bride-to-be had been educated at Miss Mason's School in Tarrytown, New York.

The couple was married on May 17, but wedded bliss eluded them.  They sailed to Europe for their honeymoon, which was romantically wanting.  Springs told a judge five months later that he had married "a marble bride."  He explained in court that he "did everything to humor his wife in the hope that her coldness toward him gradually would melt, but that all his efforts were fruitless."  The Sun reported on October 8, 1924, "He said that every whim of hers was gratified on the honeymoon."  One such "whim" was her desire to cross the English Channel in an airplane, which Springs arranged.  Another was to see the Monte Carlo casinos, where she lost 500 francs gambling.

When the couple returned to the United States in August, Hortense returned alone to her parents' apartment at 495 West End Avenue.   She told the judge that "her husband drank too freely on their honeymoon and while under the exhilarating influence of the ship's wine room after leaving the twelve mile limit he humiliated her greatly by going up to pretty women on deck and trying to kiss them."  Understandably, the divorce was granted.  The following year Hortense, once again using her maiden name, was listed in theatrical directories as an "ingenue" actress.

Hortense's mention that her husband drank wine on the ship "after leaving the twelve mile limit" referred to the restrictions of Prohibition.  Another resident affected by the law was wine importer Ernest S. Blum.  Unlike most merchants of his type, however, he was fortunate enough to procure a Government license to import wine "for medicinal uses."  It is not surprising, therefore, that in February 1927 he was excused from serving on the jury in a case of liquor smuggling.

photo by Anthony Bellov

If a "nervous affliction" had pushed Sidney Alsberg to desperation in 1916, it was likely the financial stress of the Great Depression that tormented silk broker Theodor Michel 19 years later.  At noon on March 26, 1935 he walked onto the George Washington Bridge and flung himself off, his body landing in Fort Washington Park 270 feet below.  In his pocket was a business card on which were written instructions to notify his wife Helen.

It may also have been the effects of the Great Depression that brought major change to 495 West End Avenue in 1941.  That year the building was converted to a Single Room Occupancy hotel.  Each of the floors that had just three sumptuous apartments now held 29 transient rooms.

Then, a renovation completed in 1971 resulted in 15 apartments per floor.  Expectedly, nothing of their lavish interiors enjoyed by millionaires and socialites in 1907 survive.  But George F. Pelham's exterior looks very much as it did when they first moved in.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post
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  1. "Born in Worchester, Massachusetts, she had earned her medical degree" spelling should be Worcester. I am from Worcester, MA

  2. OmG, Edward Flint Brown & Eleanor Bonney Brown are my 2nd Great grandparents making Miss Edna my great aunt. Please if you have any more detailed information about them please let me know. Information about the women is hard to come by.

  3. As a young child I lived at 495 from around 1964-1969/70. At the time this building was called The Noble Hotel. It had a manual elevator (which was fun for a young child). There were interesting people who also lived there. My father was the superintendent.