Monday, August 14, 2023

The Lost Fifth Avenue Apartments -- 1038 Fifth Avenue


A panel within the fascia below the cornice announced the building's name.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, May 3, 1890 (copyright expired)

On January 26, 1889, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced that Philip Braender was "considering sketches for the erection of a seven-story apartment house, with elevator, etc., on his two lots on the corner of 5th avenue and 85th street."  Coincidentally, directly under that was the report that architect Frank Wennemer was designing four brick flats for another developer on West 96th Street.  

It was Wennemer's design that won Braender's favor and five months later the journal reported that construction was well underway.  "It is up to the fourth tier of beams, and has a front of English brick and Dorchester stone," said the article.  "It is to have passenger and freight elevators, and will be ready by October."  Wennemer had estimated construction costs at $125,000, or just over $4 million in 2023.

Perhaps it was by jumping ahead of the upward movement of the mansion district, still several blocks to the south, that Braender was able to sneak an apartment building onto exclusive Fifth Avenue.  Millionaires fought furiously to keep commercial and multi-family buildings off the thoroughfare, fearing they would decrease property values.  Decades later, on April 29, 1920, the New-York Tribune would point out that The Fifth Avenue was the first apartment building to be built on the avenue.

There were two apartments per floor in the building.  An advertisement boasted, "Elegant apartments, 9 and 10 rooms and bath."  The original occupants of the house-sized suites were merchant class, like bookbinder William Waters, milliner William Halley, and produce merchant Edoardo Viola.

A disturbing incident occurred in the Viola apartment on April 18, 1903.  The New York Press reported that, according to Mrs. Viola, "her husband drew [a] pistol in her presence, and thinking he might kill her she ran into the hallway and rang the elevator bell.  She heard a shot and, running into the library, found her husband lying dead on the floor."

By the time of Viola's violent death, mansions were being erected in the immediate neighborhood of The Fifth Avenue.  As the tenor of the district was elevated, so was the social status of the building's tenants.  Of the 14 families living here in 1905, five were physicians.

By 1908, The Fifth Avenue was home to 32-year-old real estate operator, Leo Bing, a partner with his brother in Bing & Bing.  Bing and his family were still here in 1911.  Among their neighbors were Martha English Green, the wealthy widow of Norvin Green, who had been president of the Western Union Telegraph Company until his death in 1893, and her two daughters, Martha Nelson and Mabel. 

Martha Nelson Green was married to George Floyd Crego, "a figure of decided prominence in society," according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in St. Bartholomew's Church, on April 17, 1911.  The wedding reception was held in the Green apartment.

Typical of the Greens' neighbors that year was the Charles Trippe family.  Living in the 38-year-old banker's apartment were his wife and children (a son and daughter), and two servants including a Japanese butler.  (The Trippes' son, Juan, would go on to become head of Pan American Airways.)

Highly active in society was Mrs. Edward S. Mosley, whose name appeared regularly in print.  On April 14, 1914, for instance, she hosted a reception for Michigan's Daughters, a women's club.  The following year she was president of the Association of the Women of 1915.  She apparently recruited another tenant of The Fifth Avenue into that club.  When tickets became available for the group's ball to be held at the Biltmore Hotel on January 24, 1915, the New-York Tribune said they could be obtained "at many of the leading hotels and at the home of the treasurer, Mrs. C. B. Averill, 1038 Fifth Avenue."

In 1908 Virginia Marshall came to New York City from Virginia and landed a part in the chorus of Miss Innocence.  The following year she joined the Ziegfeld Follies and was deemed "one of the most beautiful girls" in the Follies troupe, according to the New-York Tribune.  While working as a Ziegfeld Follies girl, Virginia caught the eye of Schuyler Van Cortlandt Hamilton, the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.  They were married on October 20, 1909.

The New-York Tribune later reported, "Mrs. Hamilton before her marriage was believed to be wealthy in her own right.  Later Mr. Hamilton made his wife presents of several pieces of valuable real estate, some of it being located on West Forty-second Street, in the heart of the theatrical district."

With America's entry into World War I, Schuyler Hamilton joined the army.  While he was off fighting, on July 14, 1918, Virginia died in their apartment at the age of 27.  On July 17, the New-York Tribune reported that her funeral had been held in the apartment the previous day.  The article noted, "Mr. Hamilton is now a sergeant in the United States army."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Bertha Archibald was highly visible in New York society and the art world.  The former Bertha K. McFadden, she was described by The Evening World as a "wealthy English widow."  The newspaper explained, "her husband, Edmund Archibald, was killed while on a coaching trip in New Zealand soon after their marriage."  She relocated to New York in 1911.

On August 10, 1921, the New York Herald noted that Bertha "has attained rank as a sculptress, having studied abroad as well as in New York with Roland Hinton Perry...She is also known in Newport."  The article noted that her apartment in The Fifth Avenue held several of her own sculptures, "as well as other works of art."

On December 29, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported, "Prince Louis Alfonso de Bourbon, reputed half-brother of Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, was run down and possibly fatally injured yesterday in Broadway, near Forty-fifth Street."  The prince's condition at Bellevue Hospital was deemed critical.  The article said, "According to police information the prince was in New York preparatory to his intended early marriage, the name of a well known New York woman being mentioned.  The injured man's address was given as 1038 Fifth Avenue."  The "well known New York woman" was Bertha Archibald. 

Reporters rushed to the Archibald apartment where Bertha quickly attempted to erase any suspicion of impropriety.  "Mrs. Archibald explained that while her home address had been given as that of the prince, it was due merely to the fact that he was away from New York much of the time and had been having his mail sent there for forwarding."

James M. Murphy, "who described himself as secretary to the prince," supported her story.  He explained that the prince, who was known as Don Louis de Bourbon, had been living at the Hotel Grenoble.  Bertha refused to discuss "the conjecture that it is she who is to marry the royal Spaniard," reported the New-York Tribune, saying "she considered that matter entirely private."

An unfortunate coincidence of timing upset Don Louis's marital plans.  The King of Spain's personal chaplain, Monsignor Antonio Rey Soto happened to be in New York City arranging an upcoming visit of the monarch.  He visited Don Louis in the hospital, and on December 29, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported, "The priest later said he did not understand the claim of Don Louis to being a member of the Spanish royal family.  He said the man injured might be one of the Caserta Bourbons, a onetime ruling family of Italy."  The deception seems to have been the impetus for Bertha's calling off the engagement.  

The Mosleys were still living in The Fifth Avenue in 1923.  On July 16 that year, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Edward D. Mosley of 1038 Fifth avenue, has returned to New York after a month at Jamestown, R.I."  But the Mosleys and the other residents would soon have to move out.

On June 14, 1924, the Record & Guide reported that developer Frederick Brown had purchased the five-story mansion at 1034 Fifth Avenue.  It ended his gradual acquisition of several properties, including The Fifth Avenue.  The last property, said the article, "completes a large site for an apartment house."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The replacement building, designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, survives. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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