Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Charles F. Bauerdorf House - 625 West End Avenue


photograph by the author

Developers Terence Farley's Sons completed a row of seven high-end homes that wrapped the northeast corner of West End Avenue and 90th Street in 1899.   The firm was known for erecting upscale residences, and these would not disappoint.

Prolific architect Clarence True had designed them in a modern take on Elizabethan architecture, and the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide deemed them as "the best design that has ever left his board," adding, "They are as much distinguished by their architecture as by their detail of decoration and finish."

True gave each its own personality, while harmonizing them with Flemish gables and dormers, openings framed in Gibbs-style surrounds, and continuous bandcourses.  No. 625 West End Avenue was given a full-height bowed facade.  The main, arched entrance was centered, while a more discreet service entrance sat to the side.  French windows opened onto a faux balcony at the second floor, and two ornate dormers projected from the steep mansard.

625 West End Avenue is the third house from the corner (behind the white sign).  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, October 7, 1899 (copyright expired)

The Record & Guide listed homes' amenities that met the "requirements of a first-class dwelling," such as separate servants' entrances, kitchens, laundries, parlors, drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, butlers' pantries, connected and separate bedrooms, dressing salons, bathrooms, secluded servants' quarters with bathrooms, rear stairs."

In October 1899 Terence Farley's Sons sold 625 West End Avenue to Charles Frederick Bauerdorf for $42,000 (about $1.42 million in 2023).   The wealthy attorney was born on West 14th Street on June 8, 1853, and in 1864 became a clerk in the law office of eminent lawyer David Dudley Field.  He was now a partner in the firm of Deyo & Bauerdorf.

Bauerdorf had married Annie Rohe in 1879.  When they moved into 625 West End Avenue, the couple had three teen-aged sons, Charles Rohe, George Frederick, and Walter Julius.

Empire State Notables, 1914 (copyright expired)

Charles F. Bauerdorf handled the legal affairs of many well-known and moneyed New Yorkers, but none, perhaps, was more colorful than "Al" Adams, known as the "Policy King."  The New York Herald called him "the millionaire policy shark, the released convict [and] more recently backer of bucket shops."  In 1906 Adams, "convinced himself that the future which he had dedicated to his family would be best conserved if he dropped out of it," according to the New York Herald.  He moved his family into a home near the Bauerdorfs at 471 West End Avenue, took a suite for himself at the Ansonia Hotel, and two weeks later shot himself there.  Bauerdorf was tasked with handling his complicated estate.

Early in January 1915, Charles Bauerdorf fell ill.  The 62-year-old never recovered and died a few weeks later on January 19.  His funeral was held in the drawing room of the West End Avenue house two days later.  

Charles Rohe Bauerdorf, the eldest son, followed in his father's professional footsteps, graduating from the Columbia University Law School and becoming a partner in the law firm of Bauerdorf & Taylor.  George became a "Wall St. financier and independent oil operator," according to the Daily News; and the youngest brother, Walter, went on to be a vice-president of the Central Trust Company.  

The cause of Walter's death on June 9, 1925 at just 37 years of age was bizarre.  The New York Times said it was "the result of a skin infection thought to have been contracted while in swimming at a beach resort."  That same year Annie Bauerdorf leased the West End Avenue residence that had been her home for a quarter of a century.  It became a rooming house.

A tragic sidenote to the Bauerdorf family occurred on October 12, 1944.  George's 20 year old daughter, Georgette, was living on her own in Hollywood in what the Daily News called a "luxurious apartment."  

She left work at the Hollywood Canteen at around 11:15 p.m. on October 11.  The next morning Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Atwood arrived at the apartment to clean it, as they did every day, and found the door half open.  Georgette's body, clad only in her pajama top, was in the bedroom.  The Daily News reported, "The bedclothes were pulled back.  The girl's clothing was scattered over the bed and chairs, and the contents of her purse were strewn over the floor."  A washcloth had been stuffed into Georgette's mouth and "bloodstains were found on the girl's bed and on the floor of the apartment."  Police "pointed to the possibility the girl had been slain."

Daily News, October 13, 1944

Oddly enough, George Bauerdorf was not so sure.  "She may have died accidentally," he said.  "We do know that she suffered from cramps and heart pains, and refused to see a doctor, and we think perhaps they might have caused it."  A medical examination disproved that.  On November 12, the Daily News reported, "the authorities announced that the young woman had been, as they described it, 'raped,' and the accident theory necessarily had to be abandoned."  Her murderer was never found.

In the meantime, Helen Connelley ran 625 West End Avenue as a boarding house during the Depression years.  She lived steps away at 621 West End Avenue.  In 1937 she was cited for violations of the Multiple Dwellings Law because the house had no fire escapes.  

Living in the building at the time was a young German couple, Herman Hahn and his 17-year-old wife, Aimee.  They arrived in New York in the summer of 1936.  Other tenants were 30-year-old Samuel Goldberg; a man known only as Kenny; Joseph Freeman and his wife Mildren; Doran and Angelina Shaw, who were 24 and 20 years old respectively; and Dorothy Connell and Jennie Franklin.

Helen Connelley's failure to install fire escapes proved deadly on August 13, 1937.  Early that morning fire broke out in the rear second floor apartment of the man known as Kenny.  It was discovered around 6 a.m. by the Freemans, who lived on the same floor.  The New York Times reported, "Aroused by smoke, they sought in vain to open the door of Kenny's room, burning themselves in the effort, and then they fled."

The inferno would destroy True's charismatic upper floors.  Daily News, August 14, 1937

The Hahns smelled the smoke and fled downstairs, leaving a valuable cello in their room.  "They reached the ground floor as Freeman broke open the front door," said The New York Times.  "This created a draft which sent the fire roaring up the stairwell."  The roomers on the upper floors were now trapped, and hung out the windows screaming for help.  Living on the top floor was Samuel Goldberg.  The article said, "He apparently was not awakened by either the smoke or noise."  Both Goldberg and Kenny perished in the inferno.  Additionally, eleven people including two fire fighters were injured.

The top two floors were destroyed by the fire.  Charles and George Bauerdorf sold the property to the Hanover Construction Corporation (their mother had died in 1930).  On May 22, 1939, The New York Times reported that the new owners planned "extensive alterations" to the structure.  "When altered the house will have ten apartments of two and one-half rooms each," said the article.  Where Clarence True's mansard and dormers had been, the architect placed an rather uninspired brick wall, the bowed facade of which matched the lower floors.

The house as it appeared two years after the renovations.  Note that the entrance has been moved to the former service door.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The apartments, two per floor, became home to financially comfortable tenants.  In the 1950s, for instance, Joseph F. Keller and his family lived here.  He was the president of Equi-Flow, Inc., a manufacturer of gear pumps and gas compressors.

Living here in 1960 was Phillis Hoffman and her four-year-old daughter, Andrea.  Her husband, Herbert, was the former curator of Greek and Roman art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Phillis Hoffman went to court in May that year to get permanent custody of Andrea.  She told the judge that her husband "has no present interest" in her or her daughter.  The Daily News explained, "As proof, Mrs. Phyllis Hoffman noted that since January, when her husband, Herbert, went to work for a museum in Hamburg, Germany, he has not written or communicated with either of them."

There are still just two apartments per floor in the converted mansion.

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