Friday, July 14, 2023

Albert Huttira's 1892 131 East 19th Street


As early as 1852 a 25-foot-wide, three-story brick house stood at 131 East 19th Street, a block south of fashionable Gramercy Square.  Real estate operator Max Korn purchased and demolished it in 1890, but if he intended to build on the plot, he quickly changed his mind.  He sold the parcel to the Cavinato family--Natale, Luigi, Guiseppe, Agostino, Maria and Steffano.  

The new owners formed Cavinato Bros. and hired architect Albert Huttira to design an upscale apartment house on the site.  It would cost $20,000 to erect, or about $665,000 in 2023.  Completed early in 1892, the brick-and-stone clad structure rose five stories above a high basement.  Huttira had successfully married Beaux Arts with Romanesque Revival--the latter style evident in the intricate carvings and occasional rough-cut blocks.  Painted white today, the carved limestone and brownstone details would originally have stood out against the natural color of the brick.  The centered four-story, three-sided oriel would have caught breezes in warmer months.  Handsome carved fans at the third floor and another at the fifth--the latter adorned with a string of pennants--added interest.

No. 131 East 19th Street filled with well-to-do professionals, like Dr. William Harvey Allen and his wife the former Isabel Dangaix.  Born in 1874, Allen was a prolific author on urban and political issues.  Among his many books were Liberty: The Giant Killer, Stories of Americans in the World War, Why Tammanies Revive, and Woman's Part in Government: Whether She Votes or Not.  He would found the Institute for Public Service.

The significant affluence of the residents afforded them luxurious lifestyles.  In 1903, for instance, Mr. and Mrs. R. W. Welch closed their apartment and sailed to Europe.  On November 8, 1908, The New York Times mentioned that the couple, "have opened their home at 131 East Nineteenth Street after five years abroad."

Henry E. Meagher was a prominent Tammany Hall member.  While residents like William Harvey Allen may have disapproved of his political connections, the source of Meagher's wealth may have rankled others.  The Evening World described him as "a wealthy retired saloon-keeper."  Meagher sold his saloon at 67 Second Avenue and retired at the age of 39 in 1904.  Two years later, The Evening World said, "Since then he has amused himself in various ways, but has had no regular occupation."

On May 24, 1905, Meagher left his apartment, telling his wife  he was going to visit friends.  He never returned home.  Oddly enough, although he was missing for days, his wife did not notify police, explaining later "he frequently went away for days at a time."  Then, a week later on May 31, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Meagher's body was discovered in the East River at 29th Street by a scow worker.  The Evening World said, "When his wife learned of his death to-day she collapsed and was unable to give the slightest explanation of how her husband came to his death."

The Evening World reported, "None of Meagher's friends believe that he committed suicide, and he certainly didn't meet foul play."  Indeed, according to the Daily Standard, "there was a quantity of valuable jewelry on the body.  This included a gold watch, chain and locket, valued by the policies at $300; a diamond and ruby ring, worth $450; a diamond stud worth $350; diamond cuff buttons worth $100; gold knife, and $58 in cash."  The value of the jewelry and cash would translate to nearly $43,000 today.

The literary couple Rossiter and Helen Kendrick Johnson lived here by 1910.  Married in 1869, Rossiter was an author and editor; and Helen was a writer and poet, the author of children's literature and travel articles.  

Rossiter Johnson, The Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1918 (copyright expired).

Rossiter Johnson edited encyclopedias, reference books and dictionaries, and wrote historical non-fiction, novels and poetry.  Several of his works were aimed at youthful readers, like Pheaton Rogers, a Novel of Boy Life.  Some of his histories were also slanted to a young audience.  Among his works were A Short History of the War of Secession, The Hero of Manila, The Clash of Nations and Episodes of the Civil War.

His colorful wife was better known for her activism than for her literature and poetry.  She was editor of the American Woman's Journal and an ardent anti-suffragist.  She wrote Why Women Do Not Want the Ballot, and in 1897 published Woman and the Republic.  In 1910, she founded the  anti-suffragette Guidon Club.

Helen Kendrick Johnson (original source unknown)

On January 20, 1910, the Guidon Club met in the Johnson apartment.  Helen Kendrick Johnson read her latest paper, "The Historical Relation of Socialism to Suffrage," the conclusion of which, according to the New-York Tribune, was "that woman suffrage and socialism are one and inseparable and that they are standing together in the path of progress."  She summed up her address that day saying:

Socialism, communism and anarchy are words that can be used interchangeably.  They are all different methods of arriving at the same thing.  They all stand in the direct path of progress, and so does woman suffrage, which is inextricably bound up with them.

The marriage of Schuyler Adams Orvis to Ina H. Leland in Saratoga Springs on October 6, 1915, was a society affair.  The Troy Times called it "the most fashionable wedding which had taken place at Saratoga this season."  The 23-year-old groom was a broker in his father's banking and brokerage business, and Ina, who was 22, was a wealthy heiress and recent debutante.  The reception was held in Ina's summer home "at which 100 guests were present," according to The Saratogian.  The newspaper noted, "Photographers from Underwood and Underwood were present today at the ceremony and took pictures of the event for publication in various society magazines."

The New York Times reported that after their wedding trip, "the young couple will live at 131 East Nineteenth Street, New York, an apartment house owned by the bride."

The Orvis apartment would become the scene of social events immediately upon the couple's moving in.  On February 5, 1916, for instance, The New York Press reported, "Mrs. Schuyler Adams Orvis will give a dansant this afternoon at her home in No. 131 East Nineteenth."  (Because dansants took place in the afternoon, they were sometimes called tea dances.)

Six months later on March 30, 1916, Schuyler Orvis took the couple's dog Jerry for a walk.  They had only gone half a block when trouble ensued.  The Evening World reported, "When Teddy, an English bulldog met Jerry, a Boston terrier, at Third Avenue and Nineteenth Street last night formal declarations of war were overlooked in the rush to get at each other."  Teddy was being walked by actress Allay Rahe, who screamed at Orvis to call off his dog.  "But Jerry had a leg hold, and it was some time before it could be broken," said the article.

Allay Rahe was infuriated and had Orvis arrested.  In night court, he pleaded guilty to "having his dog unmuzzled" and was fined $1.  Now the actress was even more irate.  "It's an outrage," she told a reporter.  "I'm an actress, and Teddy plays in a sketch with me.  He's dressed up as Uncle Sam and fires a machine gun.  Just think of a Boston terrier biting Uncle Sam on the leg and getting away with a dollar fine!"

The Orvises' names appeared in newsprint seven months later for happier reasons.  The New-York Tribune reported on October 24, 1916 that the couple "are receiving congratulations on the birth of a son on Saturday."  The boy was named Schuyler, Jr.

In 1928, Ina and Schuyler Orvis divorced.  Soon afterward, on December 27, The Hempstead Sentinel reported that Mrs. Virginia S. Ruggles "will be married to Schuyler A. Orvis on January 9."

Not surprisingly, since she owned the building, it was Ina who remained at 131 East 19th Street.  With the Great Depression ravaging the country, she and another resident, Mrs. Maurie Carver, became active in the Women's Emergency Unemployment Relief Committee.  

The hard times did not extend into the Orvis household.  On September 17, 1931 the New York Evening Post noted, "Mrs. Leland Orvis and her son, Schuyler Adams Orvis Jr., have returned from Rhinebeck, N.Y., and are at 131 East Nineteenth Street."  And on February 15, 1932, the newspaper reported that Ina "is entertaining at dinner tomorrow evening at her home...and later will take her guests to the recital of Miss Dorothy Janice in Steinway Hall."

On July 31, 1932, Ina's apartment was the scene of her wedding to Thomas Andrew Smith.  They soon relocated to Rheinbeck, New York.

Living in 131 East 19th Street in the 1930's was Irish-born critic and writer Ernest Augustus Boyd.  He wrote reviews and articles for the New York Evening Post, the Saturday Review of Literature and the American Mercury.  His more than 20 books included biographies of H. L. Mencken and Guy de Maupassant, and the 1916 Ireland's Literary Renaissance.

The building continued to be home to well-heeled residents whose names appeared regularly in society columns.  It was  possibly during a renovation in 1971 that the regrettable coat of paint was applied, which obscures the architectural details.  The refurbishing did not change the configuration of one apartment per floor.

No. 131 East 19th Street appeared on screen twice.  It was the apartment of actress Ari Graynor's character Katie Steel in the 2012 film For a Good Time, Call..., and was the townhouse of character Guinevere Beck in season one of the Lifetime series You in 2018.

 photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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