Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The James D. Simons House - 175 West 88th Street


In 1891 a row of six brown-faced rowhouses was completed for developer William S. Mercer on the north side of West 88th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Architect Frederick G. Butcher had designed the row as three pairs of matching designs.  The western-most pair, 175 and 177 West 88th Street, were a mixture of Romanesque Revival (seen in the rough faced basement and parlor levels and the aggressive stone voussoirs above the parlor openings) and Renaissance Revival.  The latter, more formal style resulted in dressed stone at the second and third floors, and molded framing that embraced the grouped openings at these levels.  At 175, a carved Renaissance style spandrel panel between the second and third floors depicted viny dragons snarling at a placid bowl of fruit and flowers.

The family of James D. Simons briefly occupied 175 West 88th Street.  The erudite attorney was a warden of Trinity Church and a long-time member of the Grolier Club.  For some reason the family seemed in a hurry to leave when they posted an advertisement in the New York Herald on March 18, 1894:

For Sale--175 West 88th st., three story brown stone private house; great bargain; immediate possession.

The new owner leased the house rather than live here.  The rent in 1896 was $1,350 a year, or about about $3,750 per month in 2023 terms.

The widow of Jacob Greenwood leased the house in 1897.   That year was a socially important one for her and her two daughters.  On April 14, 1897 the parlor was the scene of Celia Greenwood's marriage to Henry J. Abrahams.  The Sun reported, "The bride was attended by her sister, Miss Juliette Greenwood, as maid of honor."

Five months later, on September 5, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Jacob Greenwood, of 175 West 88th, announced the engagement of her daughter, Juliette to Mr. William Aarons, of Philadelphia, Pa."

The house next became home to Dr. Antonio Terry and his wife.  A native of Venezuela, he had graduated from the Homoeopathic College in Philadelphia in 1888, and immediately set up practice in New York.  The couple's residency would be tragically short-lived.  On August 20, 1898 The Sun reported, "Dr. Antonio Terry died at his home, 175 West Eighty-eighth street, last night of blood poisoning."  The physician was 56 years old.

Following the culmination of Mrs. Terry's lease, the house was offered for lease again in April 1898.  "An attractive three story Dwelling; modern appointments; open plumbing; pantry extension; desirable private block, being newly decorated."  The term "private block" meant that restrictions were in place barring any of the homes to be used for business.

Another physician, 27-year-old Dr. Augustine C. McGuire moved in within the month.  Born in 1871, he had attended Columbia and Dartmouth Universities, obtaining his medical degree from Dartmouth in 1894.  He would live and practice from the house only through his one-year lease period.

The wealthy widow of Warren Gardner rented 175 West 88th Street next.  Living with her was her unmarried daughter, Mabel.

Like all well-to-d0 New Yorker women, the Gardners spent the summer months away from the city.  In 1902 they summered at Saranac Lake, New York.  Unlike most socialites, while there Mrs. Gardner did not limit her activities to garden parties and teas.  On November 7, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported, "There has been considerable fishing lately, and Mrs. Warren Gardner, of New-York, distinguished herself by bringing in a fourteen-pounder the other day."

As was common, the Gardners leased a room in their home.  In 1902 their tenant was psychiatrist Dr. H. R. Humphreys.  He was described by The New York Press as "an expert in insanity."  In 1901 he had treated Caroline Kopper, the daughter of Colonel Frederick Kopper.  According to Humphreys, at the time she "was suffering from severe mental trouble."  But then the Koppers refused to pay his bill, despite whatever methods Dr. Humphreys tried.

Humphreys noticed a newspaper article in June 1902 that mentioned the "influx of gifts" that were arriving at the Kopper home in advance of Caroline's marriage to Stewart Woodford Capen.  The New York Press said they ranged from "china to elaborate groups of silver pieces, and their value was almost as large as their variety."  And so, Dr. Humphreys acted.

On June 11, the day of the wedding, deputy sheriff Max Altman arrived at Colonel Kopper's house on West 81st Street.  The New York Press reported, "Altman looked over the glittering mass set out for inspection, and said he was sorry, but he'd have to levy on some of the pieces.  He did."  Altman hauled out wedding gifts, the value of which approximated the outstanding doctor bill.  The New York Press said, "Despite the natural anger of the Kopper family, Dr. Humphrey's action was not permitted to interfere with the wedding," and at the reception, "of course, there were no comments as to the heavy hand that had fallen upon the bridal gifts."

A two-day auction was held at 174 West 88th Street on February 23 and 24 1909.  The announcement titled "Mrs. Warren Gardner" said it would liquidate the "entire contents of her luxuriously furnished private residence."  The New-York Tribune reported that the first day's sale, which covered "furniture, crystal, sterling silver, bronzes and other art objects belonging to Mrs. Warren Gardner, attracted a large throng of bidders and buyers."  That day's auction realized $4,500 in sales--or just under $140,000 today.

Thomas Thatcher, who next leased the house, rented rooms.  Two of his tenants in 1910, Laura Owens and M. W. Van Zandt, were feisty unmarried women.  The pair headed to a matinee on January 12 with another friend, Beatrice Miller.  At the corner of Broadway and 37th Street, they saw Sabotto Grossio standing in his truck and savagely beating his horses.  The Sun reported that "one of his horses was down and the other trembling."

Laura Owens was the first to act, yelling "Stop that!" and running into the street.  According to the young women, Grossio responded "in curses and redoubled his blows."  Laura jumped on the hub of the wheel "and wrenched the whip from Grossio's hand with enough force to topple him over.  He landed in the street on his back."  The article noted parenthetically, "His clothes suffered."

While her companions ran to find a policeman, Laura Owens "stood guard over the driver."  He was arrested, and The Sun reported on January 13, "Laura Owens of 175 West Eighty-eighth street, then went to the Jefferson Market court and saw that the driver...was held in $100 bail for trial."  Presumably the women missed their matinee.

No. 175 West 88th Street was returned to a single family home when it was rented in August 1912 by Julian Heath and his indomitable wife, the former Jennie Dewey.  The couple had a son, Julian Dewey Heath, who entered the University of Virginia the year his parents rented the 88th Street house.  

Julian Heath was a chemist, but it was his wife who garnered the attention in the family.  Born in Stonington, Connecticut in 1863, she was an ardent reformist.  She had begun working with the underprivileged at the age of 15.  Woman's Who's Who of America called her a "pioneer in settlement, kindergarten, playground and fresh air work" and one of three founders of the Jacob Riss Settlement."  She also established tenement cooking classes and schools of housekeeping for tenement women.

Although the entrance transom has been lost and the parlor window replaced with an architecturally unsympathetic example, its brilliant stained glass transom survives.

The year before she and Julian leased 175 West 88th Street, she founded the Housewives' League after the price of butter soared to 60 cents a pound.  On November 28, 1912 Mary Dudderidge, writing in The Independent, explained that when housewives pondered, "What shall we do?" over the skyrocketing price of butter, Jennie Heath responded, "Don't eat any."  The article said, "One hundred and sixty-five thousand housewives responded with enthusiasm, and an appeal to the public to join with them in boycotting butter fell on willing ears."

By the time of the article, Jennie's Housewive's League had branches in every state.  The fear of having their products boycotted nationwide resulted in reform.  The Independent article explained that already, "an army of inspectors has been turned loose on the industries that serve the home, and each one is backed up by a power of enforcement which official inspectors might envy."

The West 88th Street house served as the headquarters of the Housewives' League.  A report in The New York Times on a meeting here on December 5, 1913 reflected the power the organization had achieved.  "A letter had been prepared to send to President Wilson and Attorney General McReynolds, but this was withheld because the President of the New York State Cold Storage Association, Floyd Shoemaker, wrote...that the association was prepared to co-operate with the league."

The resolute Jennie Heath is at right in this photo from 1910.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Jennie Heath's tireless efforts expanded to widows and mothers of fallen World War I soldiers.  After hearing the story of Mary Blake, an impoverished widowed mother of a slain soldier who was unable to receive any allotment or insurance money from the government, Jennie took on the case.  The New-York Tribune reported she "wrote to Washington last night and expects to trace the matter further...Mrs. Heath is planning to form an organization of mothers of soldiers, who will assist in obtaining allotments or insurance money for those who have been unable to get it."

Jennie Heath was still relentlessly working at her causes when 175 West 88th Street was sold in August 1919.  She would appear regularly on radio in the 1920s discussing home economics.

The house was, once again, operated as a rooming house by Mrs. Mary Hampton.  Her tenants in 1920 were unremarkable, like Frances L. Kilmartin, the widow of a policeman.  But that changed in the spring of 1921 when the 25-year-old Countess Claude de Montesse, and her brother Prince Lippe Lipski took rooms.  

The Evening World noted that the countess "came of a well known French family."  In 1921 a friend, Roy J. Pomeroy, told the newspaper, "the Countess and her husband, who was Captain in the French Army, went to Russia from Paris three years ago.  Shortly after they had arrived at Petrograd her husband was taken from a sick bed by the Reds and shot."  According to Pomeroy, the countess had escaped to Constantinople before she ended up in New York City.

On June 7, 1921, The Evening World reported, "Countess Claude de Montesse, twenty-six...died at her home, No. 175 West 88th Street Sunday morning."   An autopsy revealed she had died from peritonitis.  The prince, according to Mrs. Hampton, stayed on in the house for two more months.

Then two years later, on December 22, 1923 scandal erupted.  The New York Times reported that Princess Nicholas de Lippe Lipski had applied for an exhumation and autopsy of the countess's body.  She charged that her husband, Prince Lippe Liski had been living illicitly with Countess Claude de Montesse, posing as brother and sister, and that her death was the result of an abortion.

In July 1925, Dr. Alcinous Burton Jamison purchased the house from Hamilton Hampton.  Born in Wooster, Ohio, he had come to New York City in 1885.  A proctologist, he was the author of several books and articles on intestinal disorders and the founder of the American College of Proctology.  As Dr. Augustine C. McGuire had done decades earlier, he both lived and practiced at the address.

Jamison was still actively practicing medicine at the age of 87 in October 1938 when he became ill.  Seven weeks later he died in St. Luke's Hospital.

The second half of the century was unkind to the block.  In 1962 the West Side Urban Renewal Plan was established that encompassed the area from 87th to 97th Streets, between Amsterdam Avenue and Central Park West.  Properties were seized by the city for nonpayment of back taxes, including 175 West 88th Street.  In 1995 a potential buyer made an offer on the house to the city, triggering a grueling back-and-forth of red tape.

Frederick G. Butcher's quaint 1891 dwelling with its astounding history--now a two-family house--retains most of its 1891 appearance.

 photographs by the author
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