Monday, July 31, 2023

The Lost Wheaton Bradish House - 78 West 11th Street


The brick fireback on the side, looking much like a bricked-up opening, prevented the heat of the fireplace from setting fire to the clapboards.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Wheaton Bradish arrived in America from Ireland in 1809.  He and his family lived at 483 Bowery until 1838, after which they moved to 78 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village.  Their two-and-a-half-story clapboard house was recently erected, West 11th Street having been opened in 1830.  It sat next to the walled remnants of the 1805 Cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel, at least half of which had been relocated when West 11th Street was created.  To the west of the Bradish house was a frame, 18th century roadhouse, by now known as the Grapevine Tavern.

The builder of 78 West 11th Street was no doubt responsible for its vernacular design.  Diminutive attic windows faced 11th Street, and a large brick chimney testified to the size of the fireplaces inside.  Bradish and his wife Harriet had four daughters, Harriet, Emily, Catherine Trenor, and Eliza.

Although the wooden residence appears humble by a 21st century viewpoint, it was a substantial home to a successful merchant.  Proud of his heritage, Bradish was first vice-president of the St. Patrick's Society, and had been a vice-president in the American-Irish Historical Society since around 1831.

In 1840, the family traveled to England.  It was there, in Upper Heigham, that Harriet died at the age of 38 on October 29.

Bradish married Emily Proctor, a widow, a few years later.  (It appears that she was the mother-in-law of Wheaton's daughter, Emily, who was married to John Proctor.  If so, she was now both the younger Emily's step-mother and mother-in-law.)

Of the Bradish daughters, only Harriet would not wed.  Eliza was married to Charles Stewart Smith, and Catherine Trenor married Henry Rudolph Kunhardt in 1857.  (The Kunhardt's son, Wheaton Bradish Kunhardt, would become a noted engineer and author.)

Following the death of her husband, Emily Bradish Proctor moved back into the West 11th Street house.  She died on October 4, 1851 and, somewhat surprisingly, her funeral was not held in the parlor, but at St. Mark's Church on East 10th Street. 

The Bradish family left West 11th Street by 1856, when it was home to Charles T. Wetmore, another affluent businessman, and his wife.  

The former Bradish house displays a tailor's sign in the late 1890's.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In an interesting sidenote, on June 29, 1862, The New York Times reported that Wheaton Bradish had died "suddenly" two days earlier at the age of 76.  The term often referred to a heart attack, but not in this case.  The Annual Reports of the Railroad and Canal Companies of the State of New Jersey explained that for some unknown reason, Bradish was walking on the railroad tracks near Orange, New Jersey that day when he "was struck by the engine of a passenger train and killed."

The Wetmore's puppy went missing in 1857.  Offering a $5 reward (about $175 in 2023), Wetmore gave a detailed description: 

Strayed from 78 West Eleventh street, on the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 1, a young Skye terrier, color blueish gray, short tail and very short cut ears, hair long and wavy, seven or eight inches high.  Answers to the name of Nelly.

Apparently the incident did not greatly increase the Wetmores' vigilance.  Nelly was missing again in January 1859, and once again, a $5 reward was offered.

John C. Tillotson boarded with the Wetmore family from 1856 until 1862.  Although he did not list a profession in city directories, it appears he dealt in real estate.  In reporting on a fire that destroyed the boarding house at 136 Grand Street on November 16, 1860, The World noted, "The house was the property of J. C. Tillotson, residing at 78 West Eleventh street." 

With Tillotson's rooms vacant, in May 1862 the Wetmores advertised, "Desirable Rooms for gentlemen," noting, "Breakfast and Tea in room, if desired."  A later ad pointed out that the rooms were "in a private family, where there are no children."

In 1866 the Wetmores were absent for a year, possibly traveling in Europe.  The fashionable tenor of the house and the block was evidenced in their ad on October 7, 1866:  "To Rent--A nicely furnished house, 78 West Eleventh street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues.  Rent $350 per month."  The monthly cost would translate to about $6,650 today.

After occupying 78 West 11th Street for 16 years, the Wetmores left in April 1872.  It was purchased by Henry Post Mitchell and his wife, the former Rebecca Simmons.  Born in 1841 to a colonial Philadelphia family, Mitchell was a graduate of Yale University.  His "oils" business had two locations, on First Avenue and on Pearl Street.  The couple had five children.

Five years after moving in, the Mitchells left 78 West 11th Street and it became home to a colorful couple, Count Emile Leon de Brémont and his wife, Anna Elizabeth, Comtesse de Brémont.  A former officer in the French Army and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, De Brémont was a physician.  Like many immigrants of noble birth, he dropped his title upon coming to America.  The New York Herald noted that he was "well known and highly regarded among the French 'colony.'"  Dr. De Brémont ran his medical practice from the house, and it was most likely he who added a second door, to be used by his patients.

The countess was born Anna Elizabeth Dunphy in New York around 1849, and grew up in Cincinnati.  An accomplished vocalist, she returned to New York and was a contralto soloist in Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.  The couple were married in 1877.

On May 21, 1882, the New York Herald reported, "The Count Emile de Brémont, better known in this city as Dr. Leon le Brémont, died on Friday evening at his residence, No. 78 West Eleventh street of congestion of the lungs."  The article noted, "his funeral on Tuesday will be attended by the Garde Lafayette."

Following her husband's death, Anna turned to the stage.  The following year, The New York Mirror wrote, ""Mme. La Comtesse de Brémont, nee Dunphy, who has, after pluming her flight under a stage name with success last season, determined to try her fortune in the coming year.  Mme. de Brémont is a tall, graceful young lady, with a very decided talent for acting, and a rich and mellow contralto voice, which she manages with skill."

Anna de Brémont's venture was a success.  She moved to Europe, and in 1888 was initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn.  Along with her brilliant stage career, she was a successful author, writing among other works a memoir about Oscar Wilde and his mother.

In the 1890's, the former doctor's office at 78 West 11th Street was home to a tailoring business, and by the turn of the century John L. Dunlap lived and ran his business, the Local Credit Company, in the house.  He also had an office downtown on Park Row.

On August 3, 1900, police officers entered the 11th Street office and arrested Dunlap for usury.  The managers of a silk company, Scheffer, Schram & Vogel, had discovered that "a number of employees of the firm borrowed money from Dunlap some time ago," explained The New York Times, "and finally told their employers."  Dunlap had loaned the factory workers, most of them immigrants who did not understand what they were signing, small amounts, which by the terms of the agreement they were never able to pay off.  One borrower was Charles Witner, who borrowed $30 in June 1898.  The complaint said in part:

He was charged $3 for notary services, $1 for investigating expenses, and $3 for the first month's expenses.  As he was only paid every two weeks by his firm he paid Dunlap at the same time, giving him $15 each two weeks.  He said that by the method of paying he renewed the loan once a month, and up to this time, according to receipts which he has, has paid Dunlap for $124 for the $30.

John L. Dunlap, The Evening World, August 6, 1900 (copyright expired)

As the date of Dunlap's trial approached, a reporter from The Evening World interviewed locals.  In his article on August 6, 1900, he quoted a Sixth Avenue businessman who said, "That fellow Dunlap has hundreds of poor employees in this neighborhood tied up.  Once in his clutches it is hard to get out of them."

Dunlap was found guilty of usury, but apparently was fined rather than jailed.  He continued running his business from 78 West 11th Street for years.

Then, in 1915, the quaint wooden house, a relic of a much different Greenwich Village, was demolished along with its venerable neighbor on the corner to make way for a modern apartment house.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post.
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Saturday, July 29, 2023

The John C. Fremont House - 56 West 9th Street


Real estate developer and builder Reuben R. Wood focused his work primarily in the Greenwich Village district where he lived.  In 1853 he completed a row of three narrow houses on the south side of Ninth Street, just east of Sixth Avenue.  The identical Anglo-Italianate homes were faced in brownstone, each two bays wide and four stories tall.  Their arched entrances sat above a three-step stoop.  The Italianate cast iron fencing and stoop railings were matched by the ironwork of the second floor balconies.  Eye-catching were the paired, arched windows set within segmental arches on the upper floors.

Apparently pleased with his finished products, Wood moved his family into the westernmost house, 58 Ninth Street.  He sold 56 Ninth Street (the "West" in the address would come later) to tobacco merchant Christian H. Lilienthal, who never seems to have lived in the house.  Instead, until 1856 it was home to John S. Hicks, a furniture dealer.

That year John Charles Fremont and his wife Jessie Benton (daughter of powerful Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri) rented 56 Ninth Street, moving in with their five children.  Fremont's life--already one of adventure and political and military successes (and failures regarding the latter)--was taking a major turn at the time.

John Charles Fremont from the collection of the Library of Congress

Born in Savannah, Georgia on January 21, 1813, Fremont had married Jessie against her father's wishes (the young man was not considered equal to Jessie's social class).  Benton and Fremont later reconciled and the senator became his great promoter.  Fremont began his Western explorations in 1842, carefully mapping the unexplored territories and writing detailed reports--co-written by Jessie.  Read widely in the East, their works encouraged Americans to travel West, and his maps of the entire Oregon Trail were used by American emigrants for years.

The expeditions were interrupted by the 1846 Mexican-American War.  Fremont joined the American forces, and was appointed the military governor of California in January 1847.  But seven months later he was arrested and charged with several offenses including mutiny for disobeying an order which he claims he never received.  He was convicted on January 31, 1848, but President James K. Polk almost immediately commuted Fremont's sentence.

In 1850 Fremont was elected a California senator and following his term resumed his explorations.  Then, in 1856, he relocated to New York City and into 56 West 9th Street as his campaign for United States President commenced.  Fremont, at the age of 43, was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party.  (He had also been asked to run as the Democratic candidate, but he disagreed with the Fugitive Slave Law.)

Jessie Fremont ran her husband's campaign.  Having lived her life in Washington and accustomed to politics, she was well equipped for the job.  Fremont was promoted as a war hero and intrepid explorer, called The Pathfinder.

This 1856 election poster depicted Fremont as a brave explorer.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Anti-Fremont political propaganda spread the rumor that he was a Roman Catholic (the idea of a Catholic President was as unthinkable as a Jewish President at the time), and that he had been a slave owner.  On June 30, 1856 Jessie replied to a letter from Dr. John Robertson, negating the claims, saying in part:

I can only find time now to say this much and to assure your enquiring friend that Mr. Fremont was born and educated in the Protestant Episcopal Church--for more exactness, at St. Phillips church in Charleston, that he is now in the same church--that I am too an Episcopalian and our children were all baptized in that church.  Neither has either of us ever owned any slaves, which is the other bugbear.

The West 9th Street house was besieged with admirers and detractors throughout the campaign.   While visiting, a good friend, Elizabeth Blair Lee, wrote on June 27, "This house has people pouring in from all quarters from 6 o'clock in the morning until late at night."  On September 19, 1856, the New-York Daily Tribune reported on a large group who had come to offer congratulations "to the next President of the United States."

A large number of the booksellers and book publishers, who are at present in the city, attending the Trade Sales, yesterday made a formal call upon Col. Fremont at his residence, No. 56 Ninth street...The visitors began to arrive as early as 11-1/2 o'clock.  They were ushered into the parlor and introduced to Mr. Fremont, who received them with the most courteous and modest urbanity.  But it was not until 12-1/2 o'clock that the principal delegation, consisting of more than two hundred gentlemen, reached the house.

Unfortunately for Fremont, he lost the election to James Buchanan.  On June 28, 1857 the New-York Dispatch reported that "Colonel John C. Fremont, who having grown tired of the political atmosphere of this country, has determined to recruit himself in Europe, where his family are at present staying."  (In fact, Fremont returned to the West, where he owned Rancho Las Mariposas, a gold-rich property valued at around $10 million in 1857 dollars.)

On June 26 an auction was held of the Fremont household goods at 56 Ninth Street.  The New-York Dispatch reported that "the furniture, which was of the most tasty and elegant description, brought the sum of $4,000."  (That amount would be equal to about $128,000 today.)  But the New-York Daily Tribune exposed a sham perpetrated by the auctioneers.

The following day the newspaper reported, "It is possible that the carpets and some of the old tables and benches in the basement were once Col. Fremont's, but of the tables, curtains, pictures, chairs, sofas, &c., in the parlor or dining room, we could not discover a familiar thing."  The auctioneers had brought in furniture knowing the public would be interested in owning something of the Fremonts'.  To encourage potential buyers even more, an imposter purported to be John Fremont was on hand.   The article scoffed, "It is needless to say that those who went to see how they lived, and went away satisfied that they had seen, and also seen 'the Colonel,' were not of that class who voted for him last Fall for President of the United States."

Famed architect James Renwick, Jr., rented the house briefly and was here in 1858 and 1859.  Following his lease, he moved directly across the street to 55 Ninth Street.

The residence next became home to former New York State Lieutenant Governor and founder of The New York Times, Henry Jarvis Raymond and his wife, the former Juliette Weaver.  The couple had eight children.  Born in 1820 on a farm near Lima, New York, Raymond traced his American roots to Captain Richard Raymond, who arrived in Salem Massachusetts about 1629.  

He had founded The New York Times in September 1851 and was the author of several historical books, including A Life of Daniel Webster, published in 1853; Political Lessons of the Revolution, released the following year; and two volumes on Lincoln, A History of the Administration of President Lincoln and The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, published in 1864 and 1865 respectively.

Famed photographer Mathew Brady took this portrait of Henry J. Raymond.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Raymond (who served in the New York State Assembly in 1850 and '51), played an important part in the formation of the Republican Party.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a staunch supporter of the Union cause.  President Abraham Lincoln defended Raymond's newspaper, saying, "The Times, I believe, is always true to the Union, and therefore should be treated at least as well as any."

Juliette supported the war effort in her own way.  On April 22, 1861, The New York Times reported, "There are thousands of women in the City eager to do something in aid of the great cause which fills all hearts and enlists all thought.  Something should be done at once to enable them to organize their efforts."  The article went on to say that Juliette was holding a meeting that day at noon "for ladies living in that part of the town," to "form small organizations among themselves for the purpose of preparing bandages, line and other articles of indispensable necessity for the wounded."

Henry J. Raymond died of a heart attack on June 18, 1869 at the age of 49.  The high esteem he had earned was reflected in the opening lines of an article in a rival newspaper, the New York Dispatch:  "Seldom have we felt such a painful shock--shared though it was with an entire community--as we did on Friday last, on learning of the sudden death of Henry J. Raymond."  The article continued, "It would be well if, in the walks of both journalism and politics, there were more men of Mr. Raymond's stamp, who would rather be misunderstood with the consciousness of good motives and objects, than to enjoy a popularity based upon the ignoring of self-respect in obedience to popular excitement."

It is unclear how long Juliette, who would live until 1914, remained in the Ninth Street house.  By 1873 it was home to a family named Smith, and from 1876 through at least 1880 Charles R. Henderson, secretary of the Matteawan Mfg. Co. lived here.

Wilmot Townsend Cox next purchased the house.  Born on December 27, 1856 he was a lawyer and real estate "guarantee," or mortgage loaner.  He had married his wife, the former Maria Duane Bleecker Miller in the former Wood house next door at 58 West 9th Street on the day after Christmas, 1896.  The couple had no children.

Around the turn of the century, the Coxes began leasing the house.  Their tenants in 1904 were insurance executive John Appleton Haven Hopkins and his wife, Alison Low Turnbull.  They were well-known in society and on June 26 that year The New York Times reported, "Mr. and Mrs. John A. H. Hopkins and their two children are spending the Summer at Morristown, N. J., having closed their city residence at 56 West Ninth Street.  As usual, they will be the guests during August of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Francis Stone at the latter's country place, Camp Comfort, near Bennington, Vt."  Alison, however, would become much better known for her later advocacy for woman's suffrage, including demonstrating at the White House in 1917.

The Coxes continued to lease the house to affluent families for years.  From around 1911 through 1915 it was home to William Armstrong Greer, the son of New York Episcopal Bishop David H. Greer.  He had married Louise Noel on November 7, 1906.  The New York Herald said, "The marriage was an event in the social season that winter."

The marriage was threatened in 1911.  On November 19 the New York Herald ran the headline, "Bishop Greer's Son Named in Werner Marital Suit," and reported that Greer had been identified as one of the two "other men" in his divorce suit against his wife, Anna Leah Werner.  The tempest appears to have blown over, however, and Louise Greer appeared in the society columns repeatedly until 1915 as she entertained at 56 West 9th Street.

Cornelia S. B. Miller moved into the house following the end of World War I.  Following her death in 1924, a two-day auction (the catalog of which required two hardback volumes) was held.  On March 16, The New York Times began an article saying, "A Shiraz double saddlebag and some rare rugs contained in the assemblage of heirlooms and collection of Cornelia S. B. Miller, of 56 West Ninth Street, are to be on exhibition beginning this afternoon at the Anderson Galleries."  The museum-ready collection included Early American furniture and Colonial glassware, 17th and 18th century textiles, and 500 pieces of porcelain.

Soon afterward, unofficial apartments were being leased within the house.  It continued to be operated as such until a renovation, completed in 2013, returned the house with its remarkable history to a single family home.

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Friday, July 28, 2023

The 1895 Henry Hesse House - 164 East 71st Street

The Hesse house (right) is a mirror-image of 166 East 71st Street

In March 1884 The Manufacturer and Builder reported that developer Moritz Bauer "intends to erect a first-class four-story and basement brown stone private dwelling" at 164 East 71st Street.  Bauer had already hired Hugo Kafka to design the upscale residence.

But something upset Bauer's plans.  A decade later two wooden dwellings still occupied the narrow plots at 164 and 166 East 71st Street.  That would change in 1894 when Thomas and Jennie Graham purchased the properties.  The couple were active in real estate within the neighborhood and made a successful team.  Jennie filled the position of developer and owner, while Thomas designed the structures.

They replaced the frame houses with two mirror-image, brick and stone rowhouses.  A handsome blend of Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles, their basement and parlor levels were faced in rough-cut stone.  Stone voussoirs took the place of decorative lintels at the parlor level.  A shared stone cornice with delicate dentils that capped the first floor terminated in foliate bosses.

Graham gave the second and third floor windows a common lintel--possibly to fool the eye and disguise the homes' narrow 12-foot-widths.  Complex pressed metal double cornices with elaborate friezes, dentils and foliate brackets completed the design.

In July 1895 Jennie Graham sold 164 East 71st Street to Henry Hesse, Jr.  A physician, he was 33 years old at the time, and his wife, the former Clara Lauterjung, was 22.  The population of the house was increased on September 21, 1896, when son Henry Rudolph was born, and again in 1898 with the birth of Margot Pauline.

Although he never served in a war--he was born the year the Civil War broke out--Henry was nonetheless highly patriotic and joined the volunteer 23rd Regiment as a teen.  When the Hesses moved from Brooklyn to the East 71st Street house he held the rank of second lieutenant and was Assistant Surgeon of Company B of that regiment.

Henry Rudolf was a bit slower to offer his services.  It is unclear how he managed to avoid his obligations during World War I, but it was not until 1919 (following the declaration of peace) that he registered for military service at the age of 23.

The Hesse family lived quietly in their narrow house, their names appearing in society pages only when the children married.  The East 71st Street house was the setting for Margot Pauline's wedding to Dr. Alfred G. Langmann on June 4, 1925.  In reporting on the ceremony, The New York Times mentioned, "The bride was graduated from Vassar in 1921."

Henry Rudolph would take his time in finding a wife.  When he married Hilda Poel on April 18, 1927, he was 31 years old.  Now empty-nesters, his parents sold their home of more than three decades to Dr. S. H. Shindell in August 1928.  The New York Evening Post remarked, "The purchaser will occupy the house as a residence and office."

Dr. Shindell's practice was quite different from that of his predecessor--he was a veterinarian.  He was called to assist in a birth at 62 Washington Square South in 1935 when H. E. Van Herwarth's cat went into labor.  Normally, cats give birth unattended, but Sakura Jane was a "world-famous prize seal-point Siamese," according to The New York Post on October 22.  Shindell was stunned when the kittens kept coming--finally numbering ten in all.  He told reporters it was "the largest litter of kittens of which he has ever heard."

Nature had not intended for Sakura Jane to give birth to ten offspring.  The New York Post explained, "With so many babies to feed, Sakura Jane has not enough milk to go around."  Shindell told Van Herwarth he would had to find a wet nurse cat--a daunting challenge.  The surrogate mother did not have to be a Siamese, but "she must have given birth within the last forty-eight hours."  (It is unclear if Van Herwarth ever found a feline wet nurse.)

By 1940 the Thomas Bandes family lived at 164 East 71st Street.  He and his wife Mary had two sons, Gerald and Selwyn, who were 18 and 11 years old respectively at the time.  Living with them was a 28-year-old servant, Mercelina Gordeurn.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, 164 East 71st Street was home to the resourceful Carole Eppley.  She ran a "kitchen-bakeshop," as described by The New York Times on March 19, 1978, from the house.  The article said in part, "There may be nothing new about the Easter rabbits in general, but there is news in their delectably sweet and sprightly reincarnations as original and charming cookies."  The rabbit cookies were just part of Carole Eppley's Easter confections.  The article said she was "baking fluffy, coconut-furred lamb cakes ($10 each), egg-shaped petits fours decorated in pastels ($2 each), a dozen different barnyard animals $9 a dozen) and bird's nest cookies, which are really brown sugar cookies filled with green grass frosting and a rainbow assortment of jelly beans."

A charming built-in bench on a staircase hall landing survives, as do the intricately inlaid flooring.  image via

The former Hesse house was remodeled in 2013.  While much of the 1896 detailing was removed, some--like the main staircase and some mantels--survive.  The exterior is well preserved.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, July 27, 2023

The 1934 Prometheus Sculpture - Rockefeller Center


photo by David Shankbone

In 1918 Paul Howard Manship completed a bronze bust of  John D. Rockefeller, Sr.  The sculptor had been recommended to the millionaire by portrait artist John Singer Sargent.  Unfortunately, Rockefeller hated the finished piece and refused to have it displayed.  John D. Rockefeller, Jr. later explained, "Father feels so strongly that the bust gives an impression of weakness."  The younger Rockefeller, however, disagreed, saying, "If I were contemplating having a bust made myself, I should be inclined to select Mr. Manship."

Paul Manship, from the collection of the Library of Congress

As Rockefeller formulated plans for his 22-acre Rockefeller Center, the sculptor came to mind.  According to Daniel Okrent, in his 2002 book Great Fortune, The Epic of Rockefeller Center:

Given Junior's regard for's little wonder that Manship was granted the most prominent outdoor spot for his piece, a fountain to be placed at the western end of a sunken plaza, down the long axis of the Channel Gardens where the eye stops before racing up the facade of the RCA Building.  His subject was Prometheus, the god who gave fire to mankind.

With little fanfare, on January 19, 1934 The New York Times reported, "The giant central figure of Prometheus was set in place yesterday in the fountain group which constitutes the chief decorative feature of the sunken plaza of Rockefeller Center."  Manship's 18-foot tall, eight-ton Prometheus could be seen from Fifth Avenue.  The god is captured plummeting to earth through a ring 
inscribed with the signs of the zodiac that depicts the heavens.  Below him are mountain peaks and the fountain pool, representing the sea.  Held in his upraised hand is the gift of flame.

Prometheus was originally not alone.  The New York Times added, "Two smaller bronze figures, completing the fountain group, recently were set in ledges on each side of the upper basin."  Along the granite wall behind the grouping, a quotation from Aeschylus reads: "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends."

Manship's two gilded figures, Youth and Maiden, representing mankind receiving the fire, originally flanked Prometheus.  photo by Carl Van Vechten, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

About a year after the grouping was set in place, Manship had misgivings.  In 1935 he told Rockefeller Center Weekly that he felt he had been "hurried" by the one-year schedule he was given, and said, "I'd naturally welcome the opportunity of doing the whole fountain group over again."  Around the same time, Youth and Maiden were removed.  The New York Times reported later, "Manship had second thoughts about their placement and felt that they detracted from Prometheus."  Their gilt finishes were covered with a bronze patina and they were placed in the Palazzo d'Italia garden above the International Building.

Manship was not the only person who questioned Prometheus.  Although some critics, like Edward Alden Jewel of The New York Times, praised it (he called it "a genuine masterpiece, beautiful in its rhythm"), others like Frank Craven deemed the sculpture "a boudoir knickknack."  It was generally the subject of derision.  

Daniel Okrent wrote, "From the day of its unveiling [Prometheus] was considered more of an amusement than a work of art."  He explained, "A critic said Prometheus 'look[s] like he [has] just sprung from a bowl of hot soup,'" and said the sculpture "quickly acquired a variety of nicknames and variety of bemused characterizations: he was 'Leapin' Louie,' who looked like the Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," or maybe a "young man escaping from his marriage ties."  In his August 14, 1942 syndicated column, Walter Winchell mentioned the statue "which a wag once labeled 'Sliding into Second.'"

On April 17, 1940, workmen prepared to turn the fountain on again after being shut down for the winter.  They were surprised to discover that two pair of birds had beaten them to the site.  The workers found two nests with eggs nestled in crannies of the Prometheus statue.  New Yorkers and tourists would have to wait weeks to enjoy the running waters.  The Times Record of Troy, New York reported, "Nelson Rockefeller, president of the center, ordered that they were not to be disturbed until the eggs hatched, which will be some time in May."

An interesting and short-lived scheme was introduced in the summer of 1941.  The Little Falls Herald reported, "The baby sea lions that have been placed in the Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center for the amusement of diners at the adjoining Promenade Outdoor Cafe has [sic] impressed."

The Prometheus fountain was the victim of a college-type prank in 1956.  On July 9, The Times Record reported, "Prometheus, the god of fire, took a bubble bath yesterday, when someone poured a liquid cleanser in the fountain at the base of his gilded statue in Rockefeller Center."

In 1958, The New York Times explained that the statue "receives an annual cleaning before Good Friday."  Its tissue-thin coating of 24-karat gold required frequent maintenance.  The laborious process of regilding was first done in 1947, then again in 1958, 1974, and 1983.

On April 8, 1984, The New York Times reported that Youth and Maiden "are being cleansed of a half-century of weather-encrusted grit and will be restored to their places beside the 18-foot figure of Prometheus this week."  The move coincided with a major renovation of the plaza to accommodate three new restaurants.  The six-foot sculptures did not stay, however.  In 2001 they were moved to the top of the staircase to the plaza, at the western end of the Channel Gardens.

Maiden originally gilded, sat at the right of Prometheus in 1934.  photograph by Elisa.rolle

Once derided as a joke, Paul Manship's Prometheus is today beloved.  According to Daniel Okrent, "Prometheus became arguably the fourth most famous piece of sculpture in America, trailing only...the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and Daniel Chester French's seated Lincoln in Washington."

photo by Rob Young

Nevertheless, one critic who never warmed up to the artwork was its creator.  When asked what he thought of it in 1959, Paul Manship said, "I don't like it too well, no.  I don't think too well of it." has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Socialites, Terrorism and Movie Stars -- the 1906 43 Fifth Avenue


photo by Beyond My Ken

General Lloyd S. Bryce was a former U.S. Representative and the owner of The North American Review.  His mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 11th Street sat within one of Manhattan's most exclusive residential neighborhoods in 1894.  On April 13 that year, The New York Times published his letter to the editor, in which he railed against a proposal of a street car on Fifth Avenue.

Like many of his affluent neighbors, however, he soon abandoned the neighborhood, moving far north into a lavish mansion at 1025 Fifth Avenue near 83rd Street.  Developer W. E. Finn demolished the Bryce residence in 1903 and hired architect Henry Andersen to design a high-end, 11-story apartment building on the site.  His plans, filed in April that year, projected the construction cost at $375,000--almost $13 million in 2023 terms.

No. 43 Fifth Avenue was completed two years later.  Andersen's ebullient Beaux Arts design reflected the Parisian architecture that would have been so familiar to the building's well-to-do residents.  Two double-height Scamozzi columns with carved swags gave drama to the rusticated base and entrance.  The six-story mid-section was clad in red brick and trimmed in limestone.  Frothy carvings and bowed metal bays with swirling iron railings added to the French motif.  The top level took the form of a steep, three-story mansard, its roofline serrated by chimney tops and dormers.  

photo by Beyond My Ken

Each of the sprawling ten-room apartments included maids rooms, a parlor, library, drawing room, and three baths.  An advertisement said they were "of the highest order" and that the "location is one of the most desirable in town."  In 1909 annual rents ranged from $3,000 to $4,500, or about $12,000 per month for the more expensive in today's money.  

Most residents appeared in Dau's New York Blue Book of society, like Mrs. Ottavian Fabbricotti, her daughter the widowed Annina Kingsley, and the Bernard M. Ewing family, all here in 1907.  The New York Times said of Annina Kingsley, "She has a home in Italy, where she spends much of her time."  Her husband, H. S. Kingsley, had died in 1907 "leaving her wealthy."  The Ewing's country home Maple Tree Farm was in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

Gustavus Town Kirby and his wife, the former Wilhelmine Stewart Claflin were among the original residents.  The couple were married in the Church of the Ascension, almost directly across Fifth Avenue, on June 21, 1906.  The mansion of Wilhelmine's parents was nearby at 15 Washington Square North. 

Gustavus Town Kirby, Report of the American Olympic Committee, 1920 (copyright expired) 

Born in Philadelphia in 1874, Kirby held a law degree from Columbus University.  While a student there, he had organized a committee to send athletes to the 1896 Summer Olympics.  That passion never left dimmed.  He would be a member of every United States Olympic Committee from 1896 to 1956, chairman of the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletics of America from 1896 to 1928, and in 1911 he was appointed president of the Amateur Athletic Union.

Wilhelmine, in the meantime, was more socially inclined.  On September 9, 1911, for instance, The New York Times reported she "gave a theatre party last night for her debutante sister, Miss Agnes Claflin, followed by a supper at her home, 43 Fifth Avenue."

photograph by Beyond My Ken

Socialite sisters Irene and Alice Lewisohn were residents by 1912.  They women involved themselves in worthy causes, and that year were members of the Japan Society, organized to "promote friendly relations between the United States and Japan."  Since 1905 they had been highly involved with the Henry Street Settlement.  In 1912 they organized the Dramatic Club, which presented cutting edge plays, and the following year funded the $60,000 construction costs of the Neighborhood Playhouse at 466 Grand Street.

The wealth of the building's residents was evidenced on March  7, 1912 when Annina Kingsley reported the theft of jewelry from a bureau drawer.  The New York Times reported, "She was sure that some one had gone to the jewel bag and taken a number of pieces of great value."  And, indeed, they were valuable.  She listed a pin "set with fifty-eight diamonds, one of them a very large stone which she valued at $5,000," two large "diamond drops" valued at $10,000, a gold and diamond necklace worth $6,000, and several other pieces.  The total amount stolen would translate to more than $1.25 million today.

The head of detectives of the Mercer Street Station, Lieutenant Farley, questioned the servants and a search was made of the apartment.  

"Are you sure they are not in the safe?" he asked Mrs. Kingsley.

The socialite was offended at the question.  "She said she was sure the missing gems were not in the safe, and asked whether her word was doubted," reported The New York Times.  

Two days later, with no leads, Farley headed back to the Kingsley apartment, feeling there was still the outside chance that the jewelry was in the safe.  In the meantime, Annina Kingsley had the same idea.  She most likely felt a bit sheepish when she opened the safe.  The New York Times reported on March 10, "She had just found [the jewels] when the detective arrived."

Among the notable residents in 1914 was Chevalier Giacomo Fari Forni, the Italian Consul General to New York.  Forni was especially unpopular with The Black Hand, the terrorist organization that had assassinated Franz Ferdinand of Austria earlier that year.  In 1913, a bomb had exploded in Forni's office and on September 18, 1914 he was clubbed over the head while leaving the subway at Spring Street.

On October 18 Forni was out of town, a detail apparently unknown to the Black Hand.  At 6:00 that morning a bomb exploded in the boiler of 43 Fifth Avenue.  Evidently intended to intimidate Forni, the explosion crushed the skull of a building employee and seriously damaged the apartments of the first floor.  Police Inspector Eagan reported that "A bomb made of dynamite or some other powerful explosive was set off inside of the boiler."  The New York Times reported that 
Mrs. Berkley Mostyn "had been thrown from her bed to the floor, and other tenants told of similar experiences."  

By 1926 the family of Grover Aloysius Whalen lived at 43 Fifth Avenue.  He and his wife, the former Anna Delores Kelly, had three children, Mary, Esther and Grover, Jr.  Whalen was the Commissioner of Plans and Structures, but was more familiarly known as Mr. New York, because Mayor John F. Hyland put him in charge with welcoming visiting dignitaries.

On May 17, 1926, the Times-Union of Albany, New York reported that the Whalens had celebrated the engagement of Emily Smith, daughter of Governor and Mrs. Alfred E. Smith with "a large tea and reception" in their apartment.  The article said the Governor and his wife assisted the Whalens in receiving "in the drawing room, which was decorated with dogwood, apple blossoms, spring flowers and palms."

Anna Delores Whalen and her children, Mary, Esther and Grover in their apartment.  Times-Union, December 20, 1928.

New Yorkers got another glimpse into the Whalen apartment two years later, when Grover Whalen was appointed Police Commissioner.  A reporter from the Albany Times-Union interviewed Anna "in her charming apartment at 43 Fifth avenue."  The article, which was published on December 20, mentioned:
On the walls of the home and on the tables were autographed pictures of Queen Marie of Rumania, the King and Queen of Belgium, John J. Pershing, and many other notable people reminders of Mr. Whalen's popularity as New York City's official host.

In 1935 Whalen was appointed president of the World's Fair Corporation, responsible for the smooth organization of the 1939 World's Fair. 

Grover A. Whalen's caricature graced the cover of Time magazine's May 1, 1939 cover. 

A much different type of tenant came by 1946 when actor Marlon Brando was living here with a roommate named Igor.  According to Charles Higham, in his 1987 Brando: The Unauthorized Biography, Igor was a Russian violinist.  Higham relates that when Brando decided he wanted the apartment to himself, he convinced his roommate to leave by filling his violin with horse manure.  The ploy worked.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In 1978 the building was converted to coops.  Other celebrities who have called 43 Fifth Avenue home include Julia Roberts, Holly Hunter, and Jennifer Jason Leigh and her husband writer/director Noah Baumbach, and fashion designer Roland Leal.  Novelist and satirist Dawn Powell lived here from 1963 through 1966.  

No. 43 Fifth Avenue gained motion picture celebrity itself when Hugh Grant's character lived here in Woody Allen's 2000 film Small Time Crooks.  It also appeared in the 1996 film Everyone Say I Love You and the 1997 film Deconstructing Henry.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The William Mills Ivins House - 123 West 86th Street


A stone stoop, at far left, originally rose to a parlor floor entrance.

The land around the corner of Columbus Avenue and 86th Street was once the country estate of the wealthy Livingston family.   By the mid-1880s when streets and avenues crisscrossed the property, it was owned by T. E. D. Powers who partnered with developer and architect John G. Prague to develop the plots.  The pair would build more than 230 residences in rapid-fire succession.  The Real Estate Record and Guide said in 1890, “They have created a neighborhood.” 

Prague developed some of the plots on his own.  Such was the case in 1887 when he designed and built six rowhouses on West 86th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Their designs were trademark John G. Prague--Northern Renaissance Revival splashed with touches of Queen Anne.  Four stories tall above English basements and 20-feet-wide, the residences were intended for well-to-do families.

Among them was 123 West 86th Street.  Prague placed a full-width oriel at the second floor.  The fourth floor took the shape of a steep, fish-scale shingled mansard fronted by a Northern Renaissance inspired dormer.  It was decorated with a centered portrait rondel flanked by two carved faces that gazed east and west.

A carved panel of a potted plant decorates the third floor, while three masks stare in different directions from the dormer.

Prague sold the newly-completed house to Thorton N. Motley, who immediately leased it to attorney William Mills Ivins.  Born in 1851, he and his wife, the former Emma Laura Yard, had five children: Margaret, Eleanor Laura, William Jr., James Sterling Yard, and Katherine.

Shortly after the family moved in, on June 22, 1890 the New York Herald printed a sketch of the house and wrote:

Mr. Ivins house is a four story and basement brown stone, the upper portion being finished in brick.  A fanciful gable, with a sculptured head in the middle, juts into the high roof.  The entire second story front swings outward into one large bay window.

Wealth and good taste are apparent in all the interior furnishings and decorations.  The prevailing tone in the parlors is a dark red or purple.  By drawing back the wide doors or portieres all the rooms on the parlor floor can be thrown into one.

Ivins (who was known to friends as Will) was a member of the law firm Ivins, Kidder & Melcher, and was one of Manhattan's most visible reformers.  The New York Herald said his "greatest pleasure in life apparently is to twist the tail of the Tammany tiger or take the scalp of the Tammany brave."  He fought tirelessly against election fraud and became president of the Executive Committee of the Electoral Laws Improvement Association.  He was, as well, a member of the Ballot Reform Committee of Citizens Union, the Honest Ballot Association, and the City Reform Club.  The year he and his family moved into 123 West 86th Street, he published Machine Politics and Money in Elections in New York City.

William Mills Ivins, Sr. The World's Work, 1907 (copyright expired)

On June 16, 1897, The Sun ran the shocking headline, "Wm. M. Ivins Arrested."  The evening before, at around 8:45, he had headed home.  At 40th Street and Broadway he let several street cars pass because they were overcrowded.  Finally, said the article, "Seeing that there was no hope of getting a seat, Mr. Ivins at last jumped on the front platform of a closed car...There were other persons on the platform, and the car was crowded with men and women, the back platform being so jammed that the people had difficulty getting off."

At 50th Street, "a crowd of men and women with transfers" made the packed conditions worse.  Then, recounted The Sun, "At the Fifty-ninth street transfer station a number of people left the car, and the inside became less like the interior of a sardine box."  The gripman (the worker who operated the "grip" that started and stopped the car) ordered Ivins to move inside the car.  A legal debate ensued.

Ivins refused to enter the packed car and the gripman refused to move it.  Ivins "told the gripman that the car was crowded when he got on; that it was crowded then, and that, as his fare had been accepted when he was standing on the platform, he intended to stay there, holding that the company had entered into a contract to take him uptown on that part of the car where his fare was collected."

The gripman summoned the conductor, named Riede, who explained that riding on the platform was a violation of company rules.  Ivins refused to budge.  Riede directed "that he must go inside the car or get off unless he wished to be arrested," said the article. 

"I shall be arrested then," said Ivins.

In the meantime, the incident had brought six other streetcars to a halt behind it.  Policeman Dobbins came to see what the problem was, and was told by Riede about Ivins's obstinacy.  Ivins was arrested.

It was now Riede who was in an uncomfortable position.  He was expected to follow Dobbins and his prisoner to the 86th Street station house to make a complaint.  But he had to run the streetcar.  He chose the latter.  The Sun reported, "Mr. Ivins was detained for a few minutes and, as Riede failed to appear, he was allowed to continue on his way home."

Emma Yard Ivins was an amateur photographer.  Her sympathies were with the suffragist movement, but peer pressure kept her from being an activist, at least for now.  That changed in January 1900.  In a letter to Susan B. Anthony, she explained in part:

For a long time I have had a great desire to enroll myself on the side of the suffragists.  My sympathies have always been with you, but the "drip," as the college boys calls it, of my dearest friends, who, alas, are among the anti-suffragists, has more and more convinced me that silent sympathy is neither sufficient nor decent.

Emma Ivins would become a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, and a delegate to the International Congress of Women.

William Mills Ivins Jr. would go on to become the curator of the department of prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from its inception in 1916 until 1946.

The Ivins family left 123 West 86th Street in 1900, prompting the Real Estate Record & Guide to report its sale on March 10.  Thorton N. Motley fired off a heated letter that said in part, "There has been no sale of this property since it was purchased originally in 1888.  The house has never been for sale."

The Motley family had, indeed, not sold the property, but had moved into 123 West 86th Street.  Motley was the head of Thorton N. Motley & Co., sellers of "railway, steamship, machinists' and contractors' tools and supplies," and a director in the Manhattan Oil Co.  He and his wife, the former Kathryn Kennard, had three children.

Kathryn Motley was looking to replace a servant later that year.  An advertisement in The New York Times on November 11, 1900 read, "Wanted--Competent waitress and chambermaid; must be willing and obliging, and have best reference from last employer."

The family's residency would be short lived.  Motley sold the house in December 1904 to Samuel D. Styles, who resold it by 1908 to Henry Edward Oppenheimer and his wife, the former Mella Flesher.  The couple had four children, Julie Adelaide, Matilda, Henry Jr., and Edward Davidson.

Henry Edward Oppenheimer (original source unknown)

On January 26, 1913, The New York Times announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Oppenheimer of 123 West Eighty-sixth Street will celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on Saturday."  Sadly, it would be one of their last.  Mella died on January 10, 1916. 

By the time Henry Edward Oppenheimer, Jr. graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology with an engineering degree in 1919, his father had married Lena Davidson.   

Lena Davidson Oppenheimer (original source unknown)

It appears that Lena's bachelor brother, Herman, moved into the house, as well.  The 54 year old died on March 1, 1921, and his funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Shortly afterward, Oppenheimer sold 123 West 86th Street to Dr. Harry Finkelstein.  He hired architect M. Joseph Harrison to convert the basement level to his doctor's office.  Harrison removed the stoop and lowered the doorway to just below grade.  Harrison filled the tympana of the arched openings at this level with attractive carved fans.  The parlor windows and former entrance were replaced with a handsome grouping of small-paned windows.

Dr. Harry Finkelstein image via the Bulletin of the Hospital for Joint Diseases.

Born in New York City in 1883, Finkelstein was a specialist in orthopedic surgery.  One of 16 children of Jewish immigrants from Belarus, he had graduated from Columbia University's Medical School in 1904.   He was connected with the orthopedic departments of Mount Sinai and Beth Israel Hospitals.  In 1924 he became a chief of Orthopedic Services of the Hospital for Joint Diseases.

Dr. Harry Finkelstein died in 1939, the year after his daughter Rita was married to Dr. H. L. Jacobius.  It appears that Jacobius may have utilized his father-in-law's medical office for a while, for it was not until 1945 that an advertisement appeared in New York Medicine offering, "Beautifully furnished, complete laboratory, radiography and physiotherapy,  24-hour telephone.  Secretarial and nurse's service.  Any hours day or night to any specialist."

Rudolph Muller purchased 123 West 86th Street that year.  By now the other houses in the neighborhood had been converted to business and rooming houses, or demolished for commercial and apartment buildings.  And it did not take Muller long to join the trend.  A renovation completed in 1946 resulted in doctor's offices in the basement level, as had been the case since 1921, and two apartments each on the upper floors.

The configuration lasted until a slight remodeling in 1998 converted the second floor to a single apartment.  The former Ivins house is one of four of the John G. Prague's original six to survive.  Although they are all altered, they give us a glimpse into what West 86th Street looked like in its more genteel days of the 1880s.

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