Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The 1886 Horace Clark House - 128 West 82nd Street


In 1885 real estate developer Virgilio Del Genovese hired Emanuel Gandolfo to design five four-story rowhouses on the south side of West 82nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Completed the following year, the architect's Queen Anne style houses exhibited elements of the Jacobean Revival style, as well.  The western-most of the row, 128 West 82nd Street, was faced in red brick above its brownstone-clad basement and parlor levels.  The transoms of its grouped parlor windows most likely originally held stained glass.  Brownstone quoins fully framed the upper floor openings, and the fourth floor took the form of a charming slate-shingled mansard with gable.

The picturesque gable includes multi-paned windows and a carving of a seemingly disapproving female face.

The 20-foot-wide residence became home to Horace Clark and his wife.  A graduate of Harvard University, he was steward of the new Murray Hill Hotel.  He brought a solid resume to the position, having served as steward in the Hoffman House, French's Hotel, and "a number of country hostelries," as mentioned by the New-York Tribune.

In 1894 Louis de Gumones purchased 128 West 82nd Street as an investment.  He initially leased it to Dr. Charles D. Wilhelmy.  

The physician's patients were no doubt shocked when they read their newspapers on August 10, 1895 and discovered Dr. Wilhelmy was behind bars.  The Evening Telegram reported, "Two respectable looking prisoners under the names of Dr. Arthur Van Ness of No. 146 West Seventy-first street, and Dr. Charles D. Wilhelmy, of No. 128 West Eighty-second street" had been arraigned on charges of swindling book publishers Bryan, Taylor & Co.  Detectives explained that the physicians were part of "an organized band of swindlers, who got books on installment from the publishers and afterward sold them at auction."  The arraignment was only the beginning of Dr. Wilhelmy's legal problems.  The Evening Telegram said there were four other victimized publishers.

Another physician, James Hawley Burtenshaw, next leased the house.  He was a member of the faculty of the New York Polyclinic and was managing editor of its monthly magazine of the same name.  He also served as chairman on the New York County Medical Society's committee on the Abuse of Medical Charity.

In its May 15, 1896 edition, The New York Polyclinic announced, "The Editorial Office of the Polyclinic has been removed to 128 West 82d Street, New York City, to which address all communications intended for the Editor of the Journal should be sent in future."

Dr. Burtenshaw leased 128 West 82nd Street until 1901 when Louis de Gumones sold it to Florence A. Foster.  She resold it in 1902 to Anna K. Daniel, who operated it as a high-end boarding house.

Among the initial boarders was the Reynolds family.  Their  two sons were attending Yale and Princeton.  Living with her parents was 18-year-old Jessie, described by The New York Press as a "girl of refinement."  She became involved in a bizarre incident in the fall of 1903.  

Jessie was close friends with Maude Wise, the daughter of Dr. Peter N. Wise, whose summer home was in New Rochelle.  In October, Jessie was invited to spend a week there, and The New York Press recounted, "Miss Reynolds was introduced into the best circles in New Rochelle."  The article continued, "During the week she was the guest of Dr. Wise she was one of the most popular girls in the town.  She was pretty and accomplished and soon became a great favorite."

About a week after Jennie returned to Manhattan, Dr. Wise received a bill from a Sixth Avenue department store for $217.88 (nearly $7,000 in 2023 money).  The store said the purchases had been made by his daughter, but Maude claimed she had not bought any goods.  When questioned, the sales clerks described a young women matching Jessie Reynold's description.

A detective took one of the saleswomen to 128 West 82nd Street, but she was unable to positively identify Jessie as the purchaser.  Undaunted, Special Officer John F. Larkin waited outside 128 West 82nd Street on November 12, 1903, and when Jessie emerged, he arrested her.  Larkin said "she admitted having received [the goods] and then became hysterical."

Jessie was taken to the Jefferson Market Court where, according to The New York Press, "Magistrate Ommen was struck by the girl's refinement.  He noticed also she acted peculiarly, and when questioned she said the only thing which worried her was that she was afraid she would not be able to see the Yale-Princeton football game."

Because Jessie refused to reveal who her parents were or where they could be contacted, she was detained.  The New York Times said, "It was very late in the day when her family learned of the girl's arrest...Owing to the lateness of the hour, the lawyer failed to find a bondsman."  And so, Jessie spent the night in the Women's Ward of the Jefferson Market Police Court.

A reporter went to the West 82nd Street house and spoke to "the woman who opened the door" (most likely Anna Daniel).  She said:

I will not tell anything about her, but I can assure you everything will be all right in the end.  Miss Reynolds does not need to obtain things under false pretense, and I cannot believe that she did so.

On November 24, 1903 Jessie appeared in court with her mother.  The World described the unlikely defendant as being "dressed in a stylish gray gown and did not appear in the least disconcerted."  It seems that the Reynolds family (who owned "large interests in Princeton, New Jersey," according to The New York Times) had settled up financially with the Wise family.  The World reported that because no one appeared in court to press charges, Jessie was released.

A year later a clever thief was plaguing boarding houses.  On January 2, 1905 the New York Herald reported, "For six months detectives have gone every Monday morning to high class furnished room houses that advertised on Sunday for patrons and told the proprietors to watch for a man...who would call, say he was just up from Lakewood for a few days and, engaging a room, would pay board a week or two in advance to obviate demand for references."

He was James G. Walker, alias Lawrence Macy.  The 42-year-old was described by the New York Herald as "educated, polished, of refined and prosperous appearance and asserting that he held a degree from Oxford University."  He could afford to pay the up-front rent, because the valuables he removed from other boarders' rooms more than made up for the expense.

On New Year's Day 1905, E. B. Cushman caught Walker leaving his room with clothing.  A maid ran for police, who caught Walker climbing out the parlor window.  In exchange for not having to face the "scores of persons he admits having robbed" of "thousands of dollars" in jewelry and clothing, Walker confessed.  He admitted to detectives he was "the most noted room thief in America."  

Mrs. Viva A. Brewer, another of Anna Daniels's boarders, was also burglarized.  She lost $1,000 worth of jewelry (nearly $31,500 in 2023).

The boarders continued to be well-to-do and professional.  Lawyer Frank K. Johnston lived here in 1905, and two years later Columbia University educated attorney Andrew Jack Dewey boarded with Anna Daniels.

Voice teacher Betty Askenasy lived and taught from her rooms in 1912.  On February 18 that year, The New York Times announced she "will give a musicale and reception this afternoon in her studio, 128 West Eighty-second Street."

One boarder was the victim of a horrific accident in the summer of 1915.  Paula Schwerter was secretary of the Transatlantic Import Company.  A German native, she had worked in the firm's Berlin office until being transferred to New York in 1913.

The 38-year-old was close friends of Peter Voss and his wife.  On the evening of Saturday, July 31, 1915, Betty and Peter took a train to visit friends in Glen Rock, New Jersey.  The Patterson Morning Call reported, "They were not familiar with that locality, and they alighted from the car at the wrong place."  They had to walk along the train tracks to the station, which required them to cross a trestle.  Voss later explained, "It was so dark that we really did not know we were on the trestle until Miss Schwerter's umbrella went down between the ties."

The two were midway across the span when the lights of a train could be seen coming around the bend ahead.  Not knowing how high they were, Voss climbed over the edge of the trestle, thinking he could drop to the ground and then help Paula.  Instead, he found himself clinging to the edge as the train drew nearer.

"I yelled to Miss Schwerter to climb down to the side of the trestle, but all I remember is that she screamed as the car passed over me."  Paula either jumped or was knocked off the trestle by the train.  The train stopped and crew members "helped carry Miss Schwerter to the car and she was taken to Paterson," reported The New York Times.  She died at the hospital there.  Her injuries suggested she had been struck by the train before falling 25 feet to the ground.

The house became a private residence again in 1916, home to Dr. Charles Rochester Eastman and his wife, the former Caroline Amelia Clark.  Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1868, Eastman was a renowned scientist, a paleontologist and geologist with a special interest in fish.  He had graduated from Harvard in 1890, and earned his Ph. D. at the Munich University a year later.  The couple's purchase of 128 East 82nd Street was most likely influenced by its proximity to the American Museum of Natural History, where Eastman had been a staff member since 1914.

Dr. Charles R. Eastman (original source unknown)

When the United States entered World War I, Eastman was recruited for the War Trade Board at Washington D.C.  He temporarily left his position at the museum to undertake that assignment.  The Sun reported, "His work was of an arduous nature and he was not physically strong."  Things got worse for Eastman when the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918 hit Washington.  The scientist was infected in September.

The Sun reported on September 30, 1918, "An attack of Spanish influenza which came a few days ago led to the advice that he go to the seashore."  Charles and Caroline went to Long Beach for his recuperation.  After dinner on Friday night September 27 Charles went for a walk.  But he never returned.

The next morning a body, fully dressed, was found in the water.  The Sun reported, "none of those who saw it seemed to recognize the well dressed stranger as the man whose scientific writings had gained wide fame all over the world."  It would be another 24 hours before the body was identified.  Suicide was not only shameful for family members, but was criminal.  And so, if Eastman had purposely drowned himself, the facts were covered up.

The Sun reported on September 30, "It was said last night that Dr. Eastman probably went for a walk Friday night after dinner, and that when he reached the end of the sea walk he was attacked by dizziness."  The newspaper called him, "one of the best known scientists in the country."

The West 82nd Street house was sold to Edward C. Parker in 1920.  He hired architect Charles F. Winkelman in March to alter it into apartments.  The Record & Guide placed the cost of the renovations at $10,000. 

A subsequent alteration, completed in 1940, marked a downturn in the building's history.  There was now a warren of small apartments and furnished rooms throughout the house.

Living here in 1969 was 25-year-old Harvey Fleetwood 3d.  He was the son of banker Harvey Fleetwood Jr. and Dr. Maria Fleetwood, a New York psychiatrist and Cornell University professor.  Harvey landed a job that year as a community affairs reporter for The Manhattan Tribune, an Upper West Side weekly newspaper.  He wrote a human interest piece for the January 25, 1970 issue based on his interview with a 16-year-old narcotics addict.  It turned out to be an ironic choice of subjects.

Journalism was merely an advocation of the entrepreneurial young man.  He recruited young people to travel to India and Syria, paying their airfares, then return to the United States as "mules," carrying large amounts of drugs.  The scheme fell apart when 25-year-old Constance Ziambardi got off a plane at her stop-over in San Juan carrying a scuba tank and a three-foot long stuffed animal.  The New York Times reported on January 27, "A customs inspector became suspicious when she asked that he watch the gear while she made ticket arrangements to continue to New York."  Inside the toy horse and scuba tank were 63 pounds of hashish, valued at nearly 1.5 million in 2023 dollars.

After her arrest, Harvey Fleetwood telephoned the San Juan jail on her behalf, identifying himself as a United States marshal.  The connection led to an unraveling of a vast ring headed by Fleetwood.  Within days six other drug transporters hired by Fleetwood were in jail in San Juan, all of whom told the same story.  Harvey was the last to be captured, and it came on the very day his article on the drug addict appeared.  On January 27 The New York Times reported, "Mr. Fleetwood was arrested on Sunday after a high-speed automobile chase down Fifth Avenue, according to the Federal authorities."

More recently, 128 West 82nd Street was converted to a total of five apartments.  One of only two of the 1886 row to survive, it still exudes the charm that attracted Horace Clark and his wife nearly 140 years ago.

photograph by the author
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