Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Neville & Bagge's 1897 600 West 114th Street


Contractor William Drought hired the architectural firm of Neville & Bagge to design a "stores and tenement" building on the southwest corner of Broadway and 114th Street in 1897.  The challenging plot was 95-feet-wide but only 25-feet-deep.  The structure would cost Drought the equivalent of just over one million in 2023 dollars.

Faced in beige Roman brick and trimmed in limestone, the Renaissance Revival style building was divided into horizonal sections by three intermediate cornices.  Splayed lintels with scrolled keystones and Renaissance style pediments decorated the openings, while the limestone facing of the building's rounded corner drew the eye.  A single store occupied the Broadway side, and a pressed metal cornice and decorative frieze capped the structure.

The striking entrance portico sat atop a low stoop.  Four polished granite Scamozzi columns upheld a stone entablature carved with two unusual portrait rondels.  The work of a skilled craftsmen, they seem to portray actual persons--one a rather morose looking woman, the other a gentleman in an 18th century wig.  Two portraits carved into the window pediments directly above suggest contemporary persons, especially the male face with a turn-of-the-century hairstyle and moustache.

Interestingly, Neville & Bagge's inclusion of windows on the western side of the building attests that the architects were confident that the gore lot next door, where a craggy outcropping of Manhattan shist loomed, would not be developed.  

Unlike most apartment buildings on the Upper West Side, Drought did not give this one a name; instead, it was identified only by its address.  The apartments contained seven rooms and a bath.  Residents, who paid between $600 and $720 a year (an affordable $1,850 per month today), enjoyed amenities like "hall service."  The term referred to uniformed employees who helped with packages, ran errands, and such.

The apartments filled with professional tenants.  Among the earliest were educator Mary Lydia Bower, a graduate of Hampton Institute in Virginia; Andrew Grant, described by the New-York Tribune as "a wealthy builder;" and Isaac D. Marshall, the secretary, treasurer and a director in the New York National Land Association.

The cornice survived in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1901 the family of educator Francis Elbert Brooks moved in.  Francis had married Marie Pernessin, a widow, in March 1899.  Living with the couple was Marie's daughter Noémi.  Francis Brooks took a job at the Horace Mann School on 120th Street, the same school that Noémi attended.

It was possibly there, as co-editor of the school's yearbook, that Noémi's artistic talents first came to light.  She would go on to marry Antonin Raymond, and work together with him on designing more than 500 structures in Asia, Europe and the United States--including working with Frank Lloyd Wright on the 1921 Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  Noémi's broad range of talents included interior design, sculpture, graphic design, painting, illustration, and furniture, rug and textile design.

Upper West Side apartments often served double-duty as vocal studios, and 600 West 114th Street was not an exception.  In 1913 soprano Caryl Bensel lived here.  The New York World wrote that year, "Her singing has created no little sensation in Fifth Avenue salons."  And by 1916 baritone Vernon d'Arnalle had his studio in the building.

Living here at the time were Gustave Fitzhugh Touchard, his wife, the former Margetta McPherson (who went by Margaret), and their daughter Alberta Louise.  In 1914, Gustave Touchard Jr. and his newborn child moved in following the death of his 21-year-old wife Emeline.  She had died from complications with the birth.

The younger Gustave Touchard was well known to tennis fans.  He had won the 1911 U. S. Nationals doubles tournament, and won the U. S. National Indoor Tennis Championship title three consecutive years--from 1913 through 1915.  (Emiline Touchard, incidentally, had also participated in lawn tennis tournaments before their marriage.)

Gustave Fitzhugh Touchard Jr.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

The young man worked at Abercrombie & Fitch where he was in charge of the golf supply department.  Sports fans were no doubt shocked when they read the New-York Tribune article on July 28, 1915 that reported he "admitted stealing $140 worth of golf balls."  The article said, "Many of his old-time friends have written to the court in his behalf."

Touchard's attorney pleaded for lenience, saying "the young man had yielded to temptation only when misfortunes forced him."  The New-York Tribune reported, "His wife died, said his counsel, leaving him with an infant and many bills."  The judge allowed him to return to the West 114th Street apartment to await his sentencing.

The Touchard family's misfortunes continued with the death of Gustave Sr., just months before Alberta Louise's wedding.  On December 20, 1916, her marriage to John Naglee Burk, a journalist with the Boston Transcript, took place in the apartment.  Because the family was in mourning, The Sun explained, "only relatives and a few intimate friends were invited," adding, "the bride was unattended."

Although Gustave Touchard Jr. had escaped jail time for the golf ball theft, the tragedy of his life persisted.  With the outbreak of World War I he joined the U. S. Army Aviation Corps.  He was detailed as an instructor at Camp Borden in Canada where, in August 1918, he underwent a throat operation.  On September 7, The Washington Herald reported, "He was preparing to leave when it was found necessary to perform a second operation for an abscess on the brain."  The 30-year-old Touchard did not survive that surgery.

A resident with a progressive and unusual career in the post-World War I years was Marie Cahill, "woman detective," as described by the New-York Tribune.  In 1921 she was hired by the defense team in the case of Marie Frye, who was suing Walter B. Gage for $50,000 (more than $750,000 today) for hitting her with his automobile and permanently crippling her.

The trial, which extended several days, began in December 1921.  On December 24, the New-York Tribune reported, "Since the trial opened Miss Frye has been carried into court because of her ostensibly crippled condition.  Several times the trial has been interrupted by the plaintiff's fainting spells."  Then, on December 23, Marie Cahill took the stand.

She testified that she first saw Frye "walk from her home to a picture house.  The young woman walked normally, Miss Cahill insisted," said the New-York Tribune.  Marie struck up a conversation and "formed Miss Frye's acquaintance."  After that, the two met several times.  The article said Marie Cahill "accompanied her on walks and rides with young men, during which the witness declared, Miss Frye drank from a pocket flask offered by her escort and smoked cigarettes."  It was damning testimony.

Living here at the time were Francis E. Brooks, a French instructor at Columbia University, his wife, who taught French at Horace Mann School, and their daughter.  In 1924 Francis Brooks began obsessing "that he would lose his job," according to The New York Times.  His condition worsened to what was diagnosed as nervous depression, and he was admitted to William J. Gould's sanitarium in Monterey, Massachusetts on June 20.  His wife initially traveled to Massachusetts to be near him, but then sailed to France with their daughter.

The sanitarium was a working farm.  On August 27, 1924, The New York Times reported, "For the past five weeks Mr. Brooks had been working in the hayfields and seemed to have improved."  He was, instead, deftly hiding his deep depression from the staff.

On the afternoon of August 26, Brooks eluded the attendants and sneaked into a barn where, according to The New York Times, he "built a platform from which he could reach a rafter, tied a half-inch rope around his neck and jumped."  It was several hours before his body was discovered.

In the second half of the 20th century, Columbia University acquired 600 West 114th Street as student, faculty, and staff housing.  At some point the cornice and frieze were removed, most likely because of dangerous deterioration, but overall the building is little changed after nearly a century and a quarter.  Columbia also owns the gore lot next door, with the amazingly surviving schist outcropping which locals have named Rat Rock.  The institution has said it does not intend to remove the craggy boulder.

photographs by the author
many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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