Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Thomas L. Camerden House - 69 West 83rd Street


John Jardine was a partner with his brother David in the architectural firm D. & J. Jardine.  The firm was prolific in designing rows of speculative homes in the late 19th century, especially on the Upper West Side.  On March 31, 1884 John opted to sidestep the real estate developers who normally commissioned the firm, and purchased the 50-foot-wide vacant lot at 65 through 69 West 83rd Street from Charles H. Holt for $14,500--more than $410,000 in 2023 terms.

Jardine divided the parcel into three 16-foot-wide building plots rather than the perhaps more expected two.  In June, D. & J. Jardine filed plans the three "four-story brown stone dwellings," each to cost $12,000.  John Jardine's investment now topped 1.4 million in 2023 dollars.

The Jardines tweaked their plans before ground was broken and the houses were faced in red brick rather than the more expensive stone.  Completed in 1885, the westernmost dwelling, 69 West 83rd Street, stood out with its three-story angled bay that added square footage, light and ventilation to the interior.  Like its fraternal siblings, its openings were framed in brownstone, and the fourth floor took the form of a Flemish Renaissance Revival gable fronting a slate-shingled mansard.

John Jardine sold 69 West 83rd Street to George Valliant in 1885.  A real estate operator, it does not appear he ever lived in the home, but leased it.  By 1898 the Thomas Camerden family occupied the house.

Camerden was associated with the express firm Van Oppen & Co.  He and his wife, Alice, had two children, Beatrice and Henry B.  Henry was studying medicine when the family moved in.  

The Camerdens' country estate, Treason Hill, was a historic property.  The house on the property was built around 1770 by Thomas Smith.  His son, Joshua Hett Smith, was an acquaintance of General Benedict Arnold and in September 1780 the Smith estate was the scene of a meeting between Arnold and Major John André, which later earned the estate its name.  The following year, from August 20 to 25, 1781, George Washington used it as his headquarters.

Treason Hill, The Picturesque Hudson 1915 (copyright expired)

Beatrice was married to Gustav A. Recknagel in the West End Collegiate Church on October 3, 1900.  The Daily Standard Union called it "one of the large weddings of the early fall," and noted that the Camerdens had issued "over 700 invitations" to the reception.  Following their honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into the West 83rd Street house.

On April 15, 1900, Camerden advertised Treason Hill for sale "at great sacrifice."  Noting the six-acre estate included a "lodge, carriage house, bowling alley, [and] hennery," the ad suggested it was an "ideal place for private school or sanitarium."  The decision to sell was possibly a hint of financial problems within the family.

The family seems to have rented summer accommodations after that.  On July 5, 1902, the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Camderden, of No. 69 West Eighty-third street, and their son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Gustave A. Recknagel, will spend the summer at Greenport, L.I."

Henry did not come along, possibly because he had graduated dental school that year.  He opened his office in his parents' house, presumably in the basement level.  

At the end of the summer social season, Alice and Beatrice busied themselves with social activities.  On December 16, 1902, for instance, Beatrice assisted her mother in receiving at a "large progressive euchre party," as described by the New York Herald.  The article said it "proved a delightful affair."

Camerden's financial problems came to a climax when he lost his job in 1904.  Saying that he "was formerly in the express business," on November 20, The New York Times reported that he had declared bankruptcy.

The West 83rd Street house was purchased by real estate operators N. & L. Ottinger.  The family who rented it from the Ottingers took in a boarder in 1906.  Charles B. Poor was an agent for the Alcom Publishing Company.  He was separated from his wife and child, a situation that apparently weighed heavily on him.

At dusk on January 6, 1907 Poor went to the pier on the Harlem Canal at 221st Street.  The New York Times reported that three men on a stone scow "were smoking their after-dinner pipes when Poor came to the canal out of the gathering darkness and jumped into the water."  The three workmen jumped in after him, but "as soon as they reached him he put up a fight." He pleaded with them to simply "Let me go!"

They were able to pull him out of the water, but he died on the shore.  In his pockets were a gold watch and chain, two diamond rings and a bundle of letters.  The New York Times said, "Coroner Schwanneke said the contents of the letters made it clear that the man had premeditated suicide."

The Ottingers sold the house in August 1907 to Edward and Flora E. Wessel for $40,000 (nearly $1.2 million today).  They, too, took in a boarder, offering "Two rooms, dressing room and bath" in April 1908.

Edward Wessel was president of the Mansel Realty Co.  Flora was secretary and director of the firm.  Edward was an amateur artist, as well, and a long-standing member of the Arts-in-Trades Club.  

The Wessels remained at 69 West 83rd Street until 1926, when they sold it to John Marchian.  It was possibly Marchian who began operating it as a rooming house.  Living here in 1928 was Alfred de la Lank.  The 23-year-old lost his job as a butler in the Flanagan home upstate that year, and he seems to have become desperate.  On June 7 The Niagara Falls Gazette reported that he "was in the lineup at police headquarters today on a charge of forging the name of Mrs. A. Flanagan of Purchase, N.Y., to a check for $183 which he had attempted to cash at a Fifth avenue bank."

A "Mrs. Boudreau" and her husband purchased the house in 1944 for $14,000, but the bank foreclosed that same year.  It was purchased by Alfred Nelson, who continued to operate it as a rooming house.  Among his tenants in 1950 was Patricia Shay, who got a happy surprise on November 6 that year.

Patricia Shay seems surprised to be pulled from the entrance of the racetrack by an usher.  The Herald Statesman, November 7, 1950.

The unmarried woman, whom The Herald Statesman described as "an attractive red-head," was fond of horse racing.  A self-described "regular" at Yonkers Raceway, she was pulled from the line of attendees on the night of November 6 as she walked through the turnstile.  As it turned out, she was the racetrack's one-millionth patron.  She received various gifts donated by local merchants and a 1951 season pass.

Things declined for the once-proud house.  In 1968 it was converted to furnished rooms--a total of 15.  The New York Times journalist Blake Fleetwood described the situation in the ensuing years on December 26, 1976, saying in part, "No. 69 was one of the worst-run houses on the block.  Superintendents would come and go.  Roomers wouldn't pay the rent.  The turnover in the building was tremendous."

As the Upper West Side neighborhood experienced an upturn, in 1974 Francis Fleetwood purchased 69 West 83rd Street.  He converted the building to seven apartments.  But real change came in 2005 when Dr. Richard Kaul paid $3.6 million for the property and began a two-year renovation to return it to a private home.  

The British-born Kaul had been given the unflattering moniker "Dental Death Doctor" by the BBC after he administered anesthesia to a patient in 1999 who died.  Banned from practicing medicine in the U.K., he moved to the United States.   

In 2009 Kaul put the house on the market for $14 million.  He moved to Pompton Lakes, New Jersey where he opened a one-room office called the New Jersey Spine & Rehabilitation Center.  On May 9, 2012 CBS News reported "State officials said an anesthesiologist who was convicted of manslaughter in a patient's death in England is performing major back surgery in northern New jersey without proper training."  Kaul's attorney told reporters he had "agreed to stop doing certain procedures pending a full hearing of the State Medical Board."

Back in New York, the four-bedroom house at 69 West 83rd Street was sold in February 2013 for $8.9 million.  While little of the 1885 interiors survive, the exterior looks much as it did when the Camerden family moved in.

photographs by the author
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