Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The 1893 Emmet K. Little House - 126 West 82nd Street


Like its neighbor to the right, the fourth floor was originally a slate-shingled mansard.

Emanuel Gandolfo started his architectural practice around 1882, but it appears it was a short lived venture.  In 1885 he was commissioned by real estate operator Virgilio Del Genovese to design five four-story rowhouses on the south side of West 82nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Were it not for the survival of two of them, apparently nothing would exist of his work and there is no record of him after that project.  

Based on the pair of survivors, Gandolfo's obscurity cannot be blamed on his lack of talent.   The Queen Anne style houses, arranged in an A-B-A-B-A configuration, were splashed with touches of Jacobean Revival.  Completed in 1883, the 20-foot-wide homes were faced in red brick above the parlor level and trimmed in brownstone.

No. 126 West 82nd Street was one of the two B models.  Delicate foliate carving decorated the lower third of the Corinthian pilasters that flanked the double-doored entrance, and a grouping of three parlor windows with stained glass transoms afford extra natural light.  The second and third floor openings were framed in stone quoins, and the fourth floor took the form of a slate-shingled mansard punctured by two dormers with carved brownstone pediments.

Captured in 1941, the grouped parlor windows, the mansard roof, and the Jacobean style pediment carvings were intact.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Virgilio Del Genovese rented 126 West 82nd Street until October 25, 1888, when he sold it to Emmet K. Little and his wife Emily for $41,000 (about $1.3 million in 2023).  It appears that the Littles overstretched their finances in buying the expensive property.  Little was a salesman for the National Elevator and Machine Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and only two years after the purchase, Del Genovese foreclosed.  In reporting on the foreclosure auction held on February 14, 1890, the Record & Guide noted, "This dwelling contains all the modern improvements."

(Things did not improve for the Littles.  Emily had left Emmet and was living in Newburg, New York in 1902 when he declared bankruptcy.  Among his listed creditors were "Virgilio Del Genovese, $7,000 due on a mortgage on 126 West Eighty-second Street, which was wiped out under foreclosure."  The debt to Del Genovese alone was nearly a quarter of a million in 2023 dollars.)

No. 126 West 82nd Street was sold twice in relatively quick succession.  John J. and Mary C. Brown purchased it at the 1890 auction, then sold it on September 30, 1892.  After being resold in July 1898, it became a high-end boarding house.  Among those living here were Alfred W. Mack, an importer and 1885 graduate of the City University of New York; and Henry A. Bostwick, a cotton yarn merchant who graduated from Columbia University in 1885.

Henry Bostwick nearly lost his life in the house on December 8, 1901.  The New York Herald reported, "When fire was discovered under a staircase in the cellar, all the tenants escaped, but Mr. Bostwick went back for money and jewels."  Bostwick's rooms were on the second floor, and after grabbing cash and jewelry, he rushed back into the hall to find himself trapped.  The New York Herald explained, "but by that time the flames had spread through the building and escape was cut off."

Bostwick ran back into his rooms and threw open the window.  "The rooms were filled with smoke and he was almost suffocated," said the article.  He made his way onto the sill course that ran the width of the building, where he sat until firefighters rescued him.  Investigators surmised that a dropped match had started the blaze, which resulted in about $142,000 in damages by today's conversion.

Repairs were made and by 1905 126 West 82nd Street was again a private residence, home to the William Henry Lippincott, Jr. family.  Born in 1844, Lippincott was a member of the Produce Exchange.  He and his wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Yates, had three children, Florence, Lansing Yates, and Alice Catherine.

In 1905 Lansing was 22 years old and a student at the New York University College of Medicine.  The ambitious young man got a summer job as a gymnastics teacher in the City Vacation Schools that year.

It was not unusual for even well-to-do families to rent rooms.  The Lippincotts placed an advertisement for top floor rooms in May 1905 that expressly excluded immigrants: "Large and small rooms on the fourth floor; table board; Americans; references."  The term "table board" meant that if the tenants wanted meals, they would be charged extra.

Having a boarder did not preclude the Lippincott women from entertaining.  On February 18, 1906, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. William Henry Lippincott and Miss Alice Catherine Lippincott, of No. 126 West Eighty-second street, will give an at home on Tuesday next."

Lansing Yates Lippincott received his medical degree in 1908.  The following year on September 22 he married Louise Woodville Cragin.  Louise was one of four Cragin siblings who played tennis.  Only a few months before her wedding day, she participated in the 1909 U.S. Women's Nationals in Philadelphia.  The couple moved to Metuchen, New Jersey.

The entire Lippincott family had left 126 West 82nd Street in 1908, a year before Lansing's wedding.  It was once again a boarding house, now run by Samuel Hector Pelletier.  He had been in the boarding house business since 1891 and currently ran four houses on the block--120 through 126.

Among Pelletier's first boarders was Swiss-born Almeo Bouet, who turned out to be a cad.  Two years earlier, at a ball in Geneva, Switzerland, Bouet had met a 20-year-old woman named Ida Ruffy.  She later explained, "His parents are very well to do, his father being a rich architect and contractor there.  We fell in love at once.  I was a milliner, and his parents did not think I had money enough for him.  My mother, however, has some money, but she is married again, and I have to support myself."

To separate the couple, Bouet's parents sent him to America.  He promised to send for Ida as soon as he could, and wrote ardent letters that included passages like:

Write to me, I beg of you.  One single word from you will prove you have thought of me one moment, will dry one of my tears.  I see only you.  You cannot believe that enough.  My heart is torn, I cannot write any more.  I want you to be mine.  I adore you.  I would kill some one to bring you here.

Assuming that when she arrived in America she and her lover would be married, Ida sold her millinery business and boarded the steamship President Lincoln with $85 in her bag.  She landed on April 15, and six days later, The Evening World reported, "Having notified the ardent Mr. Bouet of her coming she naturally expected to step from the steamship into the manly arms so much written about.  Instead, she stepped into the detention pen at Ellis Island, where she has remained ever since, and young Bouet who lived till the day of her arrival at No. 126 West Eighty-second street...has faded apparently from the face of the earth."

To make matters worse for Ida, telegrams from Bouet's parents had arrived at the immigration office before she landed.  The Evening World reported, "Wires had been pulled by the influential papa of Amy Bouet and anonymous letters had been received making all manner of unbelievable charges against the young girl."  On the day of her arrival, the newspaper said, "The girl was handsomely gowned and had every appearance of refinement.  She also had many times the required amount of money.  Nevertheless, she was treated with the same consideration that is usually accorded a bandit."

Deemed "an undesirable alien," Ida Ruffy was scheduled to be deported back to Switzerland on the Kaiser Wilhelm.  But people who read her heart-wrenching story flooded Acting Commissioner of Immigration Joseph Murray's office with letters appealing her deportation.  Ida told a reporter a few days before the ship was scheduled to depart, "Amy has treated me very badly, yet I am sure he loves me.  But I will forget him and work."  Tragically, Almeo Bouet, who had left 126 West 82nd Street to go into hiding, never appeared on her behalf.  On April 24, the New-York Daily Tribune reported that officials had sent Ida back to Switzerland.

Among the other boarders were B. L. Amerman and his wife.  Mrs. Amerman was a vice-president in the New York City Indian Association.  Living here by 1910 was artist Olive Parker Black.  A landscape painter, Black was born in 1868 and had studied under H. Bolton Jones and William Merritt Chase.  

Early Spring is typical of Oliver Parker Black's landscapes.

No. 126 West 82nd Street was sold in August 1926 for $35,000.  The price, equal to about $584,000 today, reflected the changing tenor of the block.  Now a rooming house, it was home to Joseph Berber in 1927.  He was arrested in April that year, suspected of having stolen jewelry valued at $5,000 from an apartment in Long Island City.

Curtis Bennett rented a room here in 1933.  The 26-year-old got into a confrontation with two men at 82nd Street and Riverside Drive early in the morning of August 17 that year.  It did not end well for Bennett.  He was taken to Polyclinic Hospital with a stab wound in the abdomen.

Living here from 1944 through (at least) 1956 was Frank A. Wiseman.  The veteran sailor had served about the USS Leviathan during World War II.

126 and 128 West 82nd Street are the last remaining examples of Gandolfo's work in Manhattan.

Although the house was never officially converted to apartments according to the Department of Buildings, there are nonetheless ten units in the building.  In the third quarter of the 20th century the mansard was eliminated and the roofline squared off, providing additional headroom inside while disfiguring Emanuel Gandolfo's outward design.  The renovation resulted in the brownstone carvings in the dormer pediments being lost.  It was most likely at the same time that the parlor level was given uninspired replacement windows.

photographs by the author
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