Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The 1885 Russell R. Cornell House - 67 West 83rd Street

67 West 83rd Street is the middle house in the trio.

In 1884, John and David Jardine designed a pair of sumptuous homes for Richard Deeves at 58 and 60 West 83rd Street. The brothers, who comprised the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine, were prolific in designing rows of houses, especially on the Upper West Side.  That same year, John Jardine purchased the 50-foot-wide lot directly across the street from the Deeves property for $14,500 and the Jardines set to work designing three rowhouses for the plot.

Completed in 1885, each of the houses cost the equivalent in 2023 of $377,000 to construct.  The 16-foot-wide, four-story-and-basement homes were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The most eye-catching elements of their Queen Anne design were the romantic, Flemish Renaissance Revival gables fronting slate-shingled mansards.  The stoop of the middle house, 67 West 83rd Street, featured solid undulating wing walls.  The large parlor window was crowned with stone voussoirs and a hefty keystone.  The upper portions of the second- and third-floor windows were outlined in small panes (typical of the Queen Anne style), and 
and a stone balcony fronted the multi-paned fourth floor windows.

Jardine sold 67 West 83rd Street to Russell Root Cornell and his wife, the former Charlotte Lydia Todd (who went by her middle name).  Married on October 9, 1878, the couple had a six-year-old son, Russell Todd.  A second child, Samuel Hoag, would arrive on January 24, 1890.

Russell Root Cornell was the senior partner in the wholesale paper firm Cornell, Ward & Co.  He was, as well, a director in the Metropolitan Plate Glass Insurance Co.  Rather than elite social clubs, he was a member of the New England Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

Russell Todd Cornell graduated from Columbia University with a degree in engineering in 1901.  The following year he became a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.

In the spring of 1902, the elder Cornell was elected foreman of the grand jury in the sensational case of Florence Burns, accused of murdering Walter S. Brooks at the Glen Island Hotel in Manhattan on February 14.  The two had had an intimate affair, one that prompted her father to "drive her from home because of her conduct," according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The newspaper reported on May 14 that Brooks "refused to make her his wife, throwing her aside for Ruth Dunn."  Witnesses placed Florence in Brooks's office on the afternoon of February 14, and testified that "he feared death from her hands and had declared he was going out with her that night for the last time."  Later, the couple was seen together at the hotel where Brooks died of a gunshot wound.  

Somewhat surprisingly (by a 21st century viewpoint), the jury exonerated Florence Burns.  Russell R. Cornell explained their reasoning, which could be considered both both racist and sexist today.  The Daily Union reported that he disclosed, "The jurors disregarded the evidence of George Washington, the colored bellboy of the hotel."  The article added, "The jurors also, said Mr. Cornell, did not believe that the Burns girl had been fairly treated at the Church street station house when arrested." 

Living with the family in 1908 was Lydia's brother, attorney Ambrose Giddings Todd.  An 1884 graduate of Princeton College, he was a partner in the legal firm of Reeves, Todd & Swain.

Samuel Hoag Cornell followed his brother's lead and in 1911 graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in marine engineering.  He initially worked in the Chief Engineer's Office of the New York Shipbuilding Company.  Then in 1918, with the outbreak of World War I, he was hired by the United States Navy as "Special Expert Engineer" with the Ship Protection General Committee.  He would spent the rest of his career with the Navy, and was a member of the American Society of Naval Engineers.

Charlotte Lydia Todd Cornell died "suddenly" at the age of 70 on April 26, 1924.  (The term often referred to a heart attack or stroke.)  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Samuel was still living with his father at 67 West 83rd Street when Russell Root Cornell died on September 25, 1927 at the age of 74.  By the early 1940s, following his marriage, Samuel Hoag Cornell moved to Hempstead, Long Island.

Somewhat difficult to see, the small panes of the upper story windows survived in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The West 83rd Street house was a rooming house in the mid-1940s.  It was home to Italian immigrant Luigi Pate in 1947.  A naturalized citizen, that year he testified on behalf of Maria Veltri Magnone, a resident of his native village Belmonte Calabro who wanted badly to come to America.  She had good reason.  In his testimony, Pate said, "She [is] very interested in things in America and advised me that she hoped to be in this country soon where her husband is and from whom she has been separated for over 14 years."

The 1960s were not kind to the former Cornell house.  In 1968 it was converted to furnished rooms throughout.  But change came again in 1976, when a renovation resulted in a triplex apartment in the cellar through parlor floors, two apartments each on the second and third floors, and one on the fourth.

photograph by the author
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