Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Jacob George Fischer House - 114 West 88th Street


In 1886 developer William Taylor purchased a vacant 125-foot-wide parcel on the south side of West 88th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  His architect, Samuel B. Reed, was given a formidable assignment--to squeeze eight houses into a plot that would normally accommodate no more than six.  When construction was completed the following year, Reed had created a streetscape of charming, 15-foot-wide homes, no two of which were identical, but all of which combined into a pleasing composition.  His overall Romanesque Revival row borrowed liberally from other styles.  Each residence had cost the equivalent of $267,000 in 2023 to erect.

No. 114 West 88th Street exemplified Reed's free-handed mixing of historic styles.  The parlor level, faced in rough-cut brownstone, was decorated with Romanesque carvings, including the skinny keystones and foliate bandcourse that gave the impression of capitals.  The arched openings of the second floor were joined by a single stone eyebrow, their tympana filled with elaborate carvings.  Typical of the Queen Anne style, the large windows at this level were framed in small panes, and the small opening between them was filled with stained glass squares.  A romantic stone and iron balcony fronted one of the windows.

The grouped openings of the third floor were joined by a single lintel and capped by an arch and keystone.  Above it, a handsome terra cotta portrait disc sat below a Flemish Renaissance style stepped gable.

The house appears to have been operated as a high-end boarding house in the 1890s.  Among the residents were J. E. Luddin, who was appointed a commissioner of deeds in 1893; and real estate developer James B. Gillie, who was erecting seven three-story houses a block away at 89th Street east of Columbus Avenue in 1895.  A less upstanding boarder was Samuel Johnson.  In the summer of 1898 he was arrested with 18 other men for running a "bucket shop" (an illegal gambling operation that took bets on the rise and fall of stocks).  Out on bail, he was arrested again on September 30 for the same offense.  He and his cohorts had simply moved the operation to a new location.

Shortly after that incident, the house was purchased by Edward G. Buchanan.  Although he was educated as a lawyer and had been admitted to the bar in 1876, he was the general agent of the Carbon Steel Co. and the secretary of the Kewanee Mfg. Co.

The parlor was the scene of Anita C. Buchanan's wedding to Horace J. Knapp on the evening of April 3, 1901.  The unusually subdued ceremony hinted at possible scandal.  The New York Herald said "Only the relatives and a few intimate friends were present," and "There were no bridesmaids, ushers or best man."  The article noted that Anita forewent "the customary bridal veil."

Around 1910, 114 West 88th Street became home to the Jacob  George Fischer family.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, had two daughters, Charlotta and Edna.

The couple would find themselves empty-nesters within a few years of moving in.  On Valentine's Day 1914 they announced Charlotta's engagement to Dr. Bissell B. Palmer, Jr.  The New York Times noted, "The wedding will take place early in the Summer."

Edga Olga would also wed a physician.  A year later, on December 4, 1915, her marriage to Dr. Edward A. Heinser took place in the St. Regis Hotel.  Charlotta was her sister's matron of honor.

Jacob George Fischer died in the 88th Street house on May 4, 1921, a month before his 63rd birthday.  Elizabeth remained here with at least one servant until her death in 1939.  The following year her estate leased the house to an investor.

Just months after Elizabeth Fischer's estate leased the house, it was boarded up, presumably because alterations were taking place inside.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

A renovation was initiated that resulted in one apartment each in the basement and parlor levels, and furnished rooms on the upper floors.  The configuration lasted until a makeover completed in 1997 resulted in two duplex apartments.   

114 West 88th Street is second from left.

The skinny house survives as an important component of Samuel B. Reed's fanciful and picturesque 1887 row.

photographs by the author
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  1. Another great article. I believe the plural of tympanum is tympana instead of tympani.

    1. Thank you for pointing out the error. Corrected!