Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Charles J. C. Schrader House - 214 West 137th Street


In 1897 Charles E. Picken began construction of a row of seven upscale homes on West 137th Street, between Seventh  and Eighth Avenues (today's Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, respectively).  Simultaneously, his brother James started work on three additional homes.  Both men contracted architect John Hauser to design the residences, resulting in a contiguous, harmonious row.  Each of the 18-foot-wide residences would cost the developers the equivalent of about $554,000 in 2023.

Hauser designed the row in the Renaissance Revival style.  Like its neighbors, 214 West 137th Street rose three stories above an English basement.  Completed in 1898, its imperious design belied its relatively narrow proportions.  Intricate Renaissance-inspired carvings decorated the spandrel panels, entrance framing, and two-story oriel--its base elaborately carved with vines and grapes.

Advertisements for the homes noted a "restricted neighborhood," meaning that none of the properties could be used for commercial reasons.  Charles Picken sold 214 West 137th Street to Emma Taylor on April 12, 1899.  She and her husband lived here only until April 1904, when she resold it to Charles J. C. Schrader and his wife Jennie H.

As had been the case with Emma Taylor the title was held in Jennie's name.  She and Charles had three children, Harry, Millie and Pauline.

Charles was a partner in Hartwig, Schrader & Co., dealers in "European delicacies and fancy groceries."  The large firm had two locations--on Washington Street and on Franklin Street--and shipped throughout the country.  The company had been founded in 1844 by W. E. Hartwig and was reorganized with its current partners in 1879.  

Although Hartwig, Schrader & Co. handled "the finest table luxuries," according to the New York Stock Exchange Historical Review in 1886, it was best known for "Holland Herrings."  They were in such demand that a shipment arrived in New York every week, and in 1885 the firm had imported 200,000 kegs of herrings--about 50 percent of all herrings imported to the United States.

It was common for even well-to-do families to rent a room in their homes, and in 1912 Mary Wollit lived with the Schraders.  On February 18 that year, Mary accompanied her aunt, Rose Nelson, who lived nearby on West 136th Street, to visit a friend in the Bronx.  Afterward they headed to Rose's home.  As they reached the Manhattan side of the Harlem Bridge, four men jumped from the shadows and ordered them to remain quiet.

The New York Press reported, "Two of the miscreants, Mrs. Nelson said, pointed revolvers at their heads and the other two searched their clothing."  The women had little money on them, and the frustrated robbers "then used their fists until Mrs. Nelson and her niece fell to the ground in a half-conscious state."  The thugs then fled.

A few minutes later a passerby later found the women and helped them to the East 136th Street police station.  Descriptions were sent out and a few hours later Charles Russo, John Trinato, Tony Marino and Tony Golorumo were found lurking near the Harlem Bridge entrance.  They were captured after a foot chase and shots fired by the officers into the air.  The following day Rose and Mary appeared in court to testify against their assaulters-- the eldest of whom was 23.  When the prisoners were brought in, The New York Press reported that the women "shrank from them as if in great fear."

Charles J. C. Schrader died on April 26, 1915 at the age of 63.  His funeral was held in the parlor of 214 West 137th Street on the evening of April 28.  It is unclear how long Jennie remained in the house, but by the 1920s it was being operated as a rooming house.  The demographics of the Harlem neighborhood had changed, as Manhattan's Black population migrated northward.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Renting a room here in 1924 was William Wiggins, who was down on his luck.  On December 18, the frustrated man hurled a brick through a shop window on Seventh Avenue.  The New York Age reported, "When Sergeant Fisher questioned Wiggins, the later informed the office: 'I just can't get work nor food.'"  The article added, "As a result of his misconduct, Wiggins was given free accommodation for thirty days on Blackwell's Island."

Mary Lou Hall lived here in the mid-1930s.  The unmarried woman had been a girl scout and she now served as leader of the 24-member Girl Scout Troop 91--the same troop she had been a member of as a girl.  In June 1935 two of her scouts were highly honored.  The New York Age reported, "the first colored girl scouts in Harlem to be awarded the Golden Eagle badge, highest ranking in the organization, is the distinction now held by Vera Holder and Marjorie Dodd."

Not everyone who rented a room in the house was a long-term tenant.  On May 30, 1936, The New York Age reported, "Miss Alma Boulware of Greensville, S.C. has been passing several days visiting New York...While here Miss Boulware is residing at 214 West 137th street.  She comes from one of the well known families of South Carolina."

After being operated as a rooming house for decades, 214 West 137th Street underwent a renovation, completed in 2011.  While there is now an apartment in the basement level, the upper floors have been returned to a single family home.

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

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