Saturday, September 30, 2023

The 1885 Nos. 928 and 930 Second Avenue


photograph by Ted Leather

In May 1867 New York City passed the nation's first housing reform code, the New York Tenement House Act.  In response to the often deplorable conditions suffered by impoverished tenants, the city now regulated sanitation, ventilation and room size.  And so, when plans were filed for two flat buildings at 928 and 930 Second Avenue in April 1884, The Board on Plans for Light and Ventilation of New Tenement-Houses carefully reviewed them.  On May 7 the "plumbing and drainage for the new buildings" passed muster.

Completed in 1885, each of the identical structures was 25-feet-wide and five stories tall.  Above the ground floor commercial spaces, they were clad in red brick and trimmed in sandstone.  Stone bandcourses above the second and fourth floors visually divided the upper floors into three sections.  The handsome neo-Grec design included incised carvings in the lintels of the second and fourth floors, and gracefully scalloped lintels at the third.  Most impressive, however, were the ambitious pressed metal cornices, their mid-sections adorned with swags and large fans, and topped by decorative hoods.

John Kuhlenan opened a saloon in 928 Second Avenue.  It was taken over by 1893 by the Blau & Co. wine saloon, run by Julius G. and Moritz Blau.  At the time, the apartments were rented to a variety of middle-class occupants, including Dederick Goebelsmann and Edward Muller, both of whom were bakers; Henry Silverman, a harness maker; and engineer Thomas F. Hennessey.

The tenants of 930 Second Avenue in 1893 held similar positions.  Levi Singerman and Lawrence McCann were clerks; Edward Sann worked as a guard; John Edelstein was a barber; William T. Keyes was a clerk; and John J. McEvoy was a mason.  The store was home to Gertrude Schlosser's millinery shop.

Leo Reiss, who drove a wagon for George Ringler's brewery, lived at 928 Second Avenue when he was arrested on October 1, 1895.  He drove his wagon along the tracks of the Third Avenue Cable Car directly in front of a cable car.  The Sun reported he "continued on the track, walking his team slowly, despite the remonstrances of the conductor and gripman."  In addition to inconveniencing the passengers, the cable car was pulling a mail car.  

The 30-year-old was arrested for "having blockaded the United States mail service."  The prosecutor wanted to have him held for a Federal grand jury, but the magistrate was sympathetic.  According to The Evening Post, he "denied the motion, on the ground that Reiss was drunk, and also that he was ignorant that a mail-car was attached to the passenger car."  He got off with a $5 fine.

The saloon at 928 Second Avenue was taken over by Nadel & Feit in 1901.  The excise, or liquor, license was in Joseph  Feit's name.  In the meantime, Gertrude Schlosser's hat shop next door had become John D. Ahlf's "butter, cheese and eggs store" by 1898.

A tragic story played out in 930 Second Avenue in 1899.  Fannie Mickelbank caught a cold that developed into pneumonia, and on November 28 she was transported to Roosevelt Hospital.  The Evening Post reported that her condition "made her so delirious and violent that she had to be strapped to her cot."  A nurse was "in constant attendance" by her bed.

But around midnight on November 30 the nurse "had occasion to leave the room for a few moments," according to The Morning Telegraph.  Fannie somehow broke free of the leather straps.  The nurse returned just in time to see her patient rushing to the window.  "It took her but a moment to open it and leap out," said the article.  Fannie plummeted four floors to the ground and died two hours later.

Another tragic story was that of Benjamin Langfritz, who lived at 928 Second Avenue in 1912.  Langfritz worked at the Independent Ice Company and, according to the New York Herald, "was in the habit of spending his Sundays fishing in [Jamaica] bay."  At 10:00 on the morning of March 24, he rented a boat at Hoob's Hotel and went fishing.  But around 2:30 a violent storm swept over Jamaica Bay.  When Langfritz failed to return, Christian Hoob and two employees searched for him.  The New York Herald reported, "They found his overturned boat in Hasset Creek, but after returning to the spot with grappling hooks and dragging the channel, they were unable to find the body."

More than three weeks later, on April 15, oysterman Henry Reinhardt was "tonging" the bay for shellfish.  The Daily Long Island Farmer reported that Benjamin Langfritz's body "was brought up by the tongs."

Charles Mundy, who lived at 928 Second Avenue in 1913, worked on a "diving scow."  He was in the cabin on the morning of December 14 when two men came on deck, identifying themselves as detectives.  They demanded to know where certain stolen goods were that had been taken from the pier the night before.

Mundy said he knew nothing about the stolen cargo, and invited them inside to investigate.  The Evening Telegram reported, "As soon as the men were well inside the cabin, one of them struck Mundy on the jaw, sending him with a crash against the wall."  Before he could recover, the second man hit him with the butt of his revolver, knocking him out.  When Mundy regained consciousness, he was bound to a chair, gagged and blindfolded.  The thieves went through his pockets, removing $150 in cash, a gold watch and chain, two gold penknives, and his key ring.  The newspaper added, "They did not overlook even his gold sleeve links."

After the crooks left, it took Mundy nearly an hour to chew through his handkerchief gag.  His cries alerted Roger Collins, who was working in another part of the barge.  At the Fourth Avenue station house, he gave a detailed description of the fake detectives.

In the first years of the 20th century New York City businessmen were terrorized by the Black Hand, an Italian-American extortion group also known as La Mano Nera.  By 1915 Frank Razza operated a barber shop in 930 Second Avenue.  On the morning of March 7 that year, Joe Pitia and Paul Sanszoni arrived at the shop to open up.  The New-York Tribune reported, "they found a bomb leaning against the door.  The fuse had been lighted, but the machine failed to explode."

The bomb was about ten inches long encased in a sheet iron box bound with wire.  When Razza arrived, he carefully placed the device in water and took it to the Second Branch Detective Bureau.  Razza and, indeed, the upstairs residents had narrowly escaped disaster.  Owen Eagen, the Inspector of Combustibles, announced that the bomb "was more powerful than either of the bombs found in St. Patrick's Cathedral."

Following the enactment of Prohibition, saloon owners like Nadel & Feit were tasked with legally disposing of its stock.  On July 22, 1920, Joe Mancuso arrived at the saloon and presented a permit to remove five barrels of alcohol.  Coincidentally, just as he finished loading them onto his truck, two Prohibition agents arrived on the scene.  They examined the permit and declared it a forgery.  Mancuso bolted across the street, got in a waiting automobile and escaped.

Prohibition, of course, ended the long tradition of a tavern at 928 Second Avenue.  At mid-century it was home to a restaurant, Annette Le Petit Veau.

The two buildings were sold and resold over the decades, but always remained under a single owner.  The second half of the 20th century saw the What Not Bargain Shop in 930, described by New York on $5 & $10 A Day in 1969 as one of the "rock-bottom-priced places which both buy, sell and exchange used furniture."  By the early 1970s, Samuel Narefsky Antiques occupied the space.  The store specialized in vintage hardware like "handles, hinges, pulls, knobs, key-plates, sconces" and such, according to New York Magazine on September 25, 1972.

By then, the ground floor of 928 was home to Knickers restaurant and bar.  One of the bartenders there in 1972 was somewhat unusual.  Dale R. Lind was an ordained Lutheran clergyman.  The New York Times reported on August 16 that year, "Acting with approval of local authorities of the Lutheran Church in America, Mr. Lind has forsaken traditional parish duties for what he likes to call a 'ministry of presence.'  From his post behind the bar he helps people through their lover's quarrels and vocational problems, shares their joys and lets some lonely New Yorkers know that someone cares about them."

The buildings as they appeared in 2014.  image via Google Streetview

Knickers was replaced by Sip Sak, a Thai restaurant in the early 2000s.  When it opened, the two vintage apartment buildings showed their age.  A 20th century coat of white paint was dirty and peeling, and one of the striking cornice hoods was tagged with graffiti.  A renovation of the buildings in 2017 repaired the facade, and removed the old paint from the stonework.

many thanks to reader Ted Leather for requesting this post. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Friday, September 29, 2023

The 1904 Lyric Apartments - 352-356 West 46th Street


image via

At the turn of the last century, three four-story flats had stood at 352 through 356 West 46th Street for years.  In 1903, they were purchased and demolished by Gotlieb W. Karpas, who hired architect George F. Pelham to design a modern replacement.

Completed in 1904, the Lyric's rusticated limestone base upheld four stories clad in gray Roman brick.  The sixth floor was faced in stone.  Pelham's Renaissance Revival design featured scrolled keystones, splayed lintels, and Renaissance style pediments.  The courtly entrance portico, however, stole the show.  Four Scamozzi columns upheld the intricately carved entablature and balustraded balcony.

Despite its proximity to the dangerous Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, the Lyric was intended for financially comfortable residents.  There were five apartments per floor, ranging from four to seven rooms.  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis noted:

Hardwood trim throughout.  Dining rooms are paneled seven feet high, capped with Dutch shelving.  All floors are double, noiseless, with hardwood border and parquet finish.  Baths are tiled and wainscoted with porcelain tile four feet six inches high, opal glass and tile lined refrigerators, porcelain plumbing fixtures, private telephone in each apartment.

Residents paid between $540 and $900 per year, or around $2,500 a month by today's terms.

Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, 1908 (copyright expired)

The Lyric had a wide variety of tenants, and its location near the theater district attracted several in that industry.  Among the first were Charles Zimmerman, a partner in the theatrical management firm of Nixon & Zimmerman, and his wife.  On the evening of May 19, 1905 the couple was walking their fox terrier on Eighth Avenue.  The World reported, "When they reached Fifty-third street a large bulldog which was with a negro sprang at the fox terrier, and the animals started to fight."

Zimmerman tried to separate the animals, but was bitten twice in the left hand.  The newspaper reported, "The bulldog sprang at Mrs. Zimmerman.  She turned her back on the animal, and several men beat the brute off.  Mrs. Zimmerman then pulled off her automobile coat and threw it over the fighting dogs."  The distraction ended the fight and Mrs. Zimmerman retrieved her bleeding dog.  "Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman then called a cab and were driven to Dr. Van Loen, who cauterized the bites," said The World.

The Zimmermans were by far not the only dog lovers in the Lyric.  Oscar A. Hirsch, who lived here in 1910 owned a pedigree Boston terrier; W. Beardsley Judson, here at the same time, was treasurer of the Bulldog Breeders' Association of America; and Rita Stamwood owned a cocker spaniel.

Another of the initial residents was actress Minnie Seligman.  Twice divorced, her family was closely related to the massively wealthy Seligman banking family.  Both her first husband and her family had forbidden her to go on stage.  She did anyway.

Minnie Seligman, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While Minnie was away on the night of August 31, 1905, four teenage boys were discovered in her apartment.  Arrested for burglary, they provided a questionable explanation.  The teens said they had, indeed, entered the building, but "they were frightened away by a man in the house and went into Miss Seligman's apartments to escape to the street."

Louis R. Rothchild's marriage to Carrie Adams in Jersey City on June 27, 1905 was initially kept secret.  The groom's brother was David Rothchild, president of the Federal Bank, who had been arrested the previous year for "stealing $200,000 of the funds of the Federal Bank," according to The New York Times.  The newlyweds moved into Carrie's apartment in the Lyric.  A reporter from The Press arrived at the apartment on July 16, the day after the marriage was finally made public.  Carrie explained, "The reason we did not announce it before was partly because I knew it would mean a lot of notoriety.  Recently we decided it might as well come out now as at any other time."

In 1908 the building's name was changed to the Lansdown.  Typical of the tenants at the time were Russell Seipt Wolfe, a 1909 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a law clerk with Strong & Cadwalader.

Drawing unwanted publicity to the Lansdown in 1912 was actress Beatrice Walsh.  On the afternoon of October 28, she was seen by a Herald Square department store detective taking money from the purse of another shopper.  When he approached, Beatrice initiated what would develop into an astounding foot chase.  The Evening Telegram reported she, "startled a throng of women shoppers in the aisles of the store by leaping from a balcony to the first floor, narrowly missing several women who were beneath the balcony."

Scrambling to her feet, Beatrice darted out of the store onto West 34th Street, now closely pursued by several store detectives.  "Dashing madly across Thirty-fourth street, the fleeing woman ran into the pathway of a crosstown car, and was only saved from being knocked down and crushed by the frantic efforts of the motorman to halt the car."  Beatrice's flight was about to come to and end.  She "ran almost into the arms of Policeman Zorn" on the opposite side of the street.  The actress was arrested and charged with stealing $5 from the purse of Elizabeth Krowehl.

Stockbroker Harry Lattimer Bloodgood left his wife, the former Helen Hamler, in January 1912.  He moved into his mother's apartment on West 56th Street, and filed for divorce.  The rift greatly affected Helen's mind.  The Sun reported on March 10 that since the couple separated, "Mrs. Bloodgood ahs been in Broadway restaurants nearly every night and until early in the morning," and that she "had spent $3,000 in entertaining her friends in three weeks."  The article noted, "It was also learned that a piano player was kept on duty for twenty-four hours."

A concerned friend notified authorities who went to Helen's apartment in the Lansdown.  According to The Sun, the "physicians who were finally called in to treat Mrs. Bloodgood found the apartment wrecked."  On March 10, The Sun reported that she "was taken to the Bellevue psychopathic ward on Wednesday night, and was later committed to the Rivercrest Sanitarium."

In 1921, little had changed within the Lansdown.  An "elegant apartment of five large rooms" rented that year for $1,500 per year, or about $2,000 a month today.

Interestingly, the building continued to attracted dog lovers.  In 1919, Mrs. G. D. Crawford's pedigree Boston terrier Dandy Tim was registered at the address, and on July 31, 1922 The American Kennel Gazette and Stud Book listed Frederic H. Schader and his two German shepherds Westy Q and Asta here.

And theatrical types, too, continued to live in the Lansdown.  Among them in 1925 were Albert E. Johnston, of the vaudevillian act the Musical Johnstons, and his wife, Dorothy Drew.

Dr. Eugene C. Mowry was a well-known resident.  On April 19, 1935 the New York Post remarked that he had "befriended hundreds of residents in the West Forties during two score years as a physician."  The widower lived with his adult daughter Maude Blanche.  Mowry died in the apartment on April 27, 1935, and his funeral was held there two days later.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Included in Maude Mowry's inheritance was a vacant property at the southwest corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 72nd Street in Jackson Heights.  Her father had purchased it in 1920.  In 1938, she attempted to erect a gasoline station on the plot, but was rebuffed by the Board of Standards and Appeals.  Members of the Elmhurst Heights Taxpayers' Association "contended there was no need for the station in the locality as there are three such stations within five blocks there," reported the Long Island Daily Star.  Undaunted, Maude went to court.  State Supreme Court Justice George H. Furman overturned the Board's decision, calling it "arbitrary and unreasonable."

Living here in 1977 was 20-year-old tow truck helper Alexander Esau.  His long-time girlfriend was Valentina Suriani, an 18-year-old student at Lehman College.  On April 17, 1977 Alexander borrowed his brother's car to take Valentina to a movie.  Afterward, he drove to a service road on the Hutchinson River Parkway, about a block from Valentina's home.

The spring of 1977 was not a good time for lovers to park in secluded areas.  A serial killer had begun stalking the area nine months earlier.  John Keenan, Chief of Detectives of the New York City Police Department was unable to provide a motive, saying only, "It seems to be the work of a psychologically disturbed person."

At around 3:00 in the morning, David Berkowitz, who would later be known as the Son of Sam, walked up to the driver's side window of Esau's car and opened fire.  Valentina, shot twice in the head, died almost instantly.  Alexander, also shot in the head, lingered for two hours before dying at Jacobi Hospital.

Once again called the Lyric, George F. Pelham's handsome building still has five apartments per floor.  While the interiors have been stripped of 1904 details, the exterior is little changed.

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Thursday, September 28, 2023

The 1957 House of Advent Hope - 111 East 87th Street


photograph by the author

Until 1955, two identical brownstone-fronted apartment buildings stood at 109 and 111 East 87th Street.  In 1933 musicians Charles Louis Seeger, Jr. and his wife, Constance de Clyver Seeger moved into an apartment in 111 East 87th Street with their 14-year-old son, Peter.  Pete Seeger would go on to be one of America’s best known folk singers and social activists.
The Seegers had moved into the then-predominantly German neighborhood of Yorkville.  It had seen an influx of German and Irish immigrants in the 1850s, many of them hired to build the Croton Aqueduct.  Following the horrendous General Slocum disaster in 1904 that killed more than 1,000 German-speaking residents of the Lower East Side, residents migrated north.  Yorkville became Manhattan’s center of the German immigrant community.
A German language Seventh-Day Adventist congregation was established in Yorkville in the second half of the 19th century.  Its building burned in 1949 and a fund-raising drive was begun to purchase a new property and erect a church.  Alfred B. Heiser, a Seventh Day Adventist who may also have been a congregant, was chosen to design the structure.  A 1910 graduate of New York University, Heiser was educated as an engineer, not an architect.  At the time of the commission he was the chief draftsman of the American Can Company.
For the site of their new Church of the Advent Hope, the trustees chose the old flat buildings at 109 and 111 East 87th Street.  The property plus construction costs were projected at $320,000—nearly $4 million in 2023.  Less than one-third was guaranteed by the Seventh-Day Adventist Conference.  Fund-raising for the remainder took time and it was not until 1955 that Heiser filed plans. 
The dedication took place in May 1957 with German Consul General Franz Josef Hoffman addressing the congregation.  Heiser had produced a charming, country church in an urban setting.  Faced in randomly laid, rough-cut granite blocks, it was a rustic version of Tuscan Gothic.  Flat-faced limestone piers separated the fa├žade into three vertical sections.  The two Gothic-arched entrance doors sat within a larger, slightly recessed arch that announced, “Haus der Advent Hoffmung / Siebenten Tags Adventisten Kirche.  (House of Advent Hope / Seventh Day Adventist Church)
photograph by Eigenes Werk

A virulent anti-German sentiment pervaded the country following World War I.  In its February 17, 1947 issue, Life magazine published an article entitled "Peoples of New York."  Its description of the German community of Yorkville reflected the still-fresh anti-German sentiment, saying in part, “Dressed in their regional costumes and speaking German, they engage in violent Bavarian folk dances and drink huge quantities of beer…Germans in the city's Yorkville district are fond of uniforms and costumes, and a pro-Nazi Bund flourished before the war.”  The pervasive mindset no doubt had much to do with the dilution of the district’s German language, customs, and identity. 
By the last quarter of the 20th century, the ethnic personality of Yorkville had changed as younger generations of Germans moved away.  The House of Advent Hope eventually discontinued its German language services.
Like the side walls, the wall behind the altar was originally unplastered.  photograph by Eigenes Werk

Music was an important part of the church’s function within the Yorkville community.  On December 5, 1986, for instance, The New York Times reported, “The New England Youth Ensemble and the Atlantic Union College Choir will present the American composer Randall Thompson’s rarely heard ‘Nativity According to St. Luke’—the Christmas story in music, pageant and biblical costume—at the Church of the Advent Hope.”  In October 1990 a concert by the New England Youth Ensemble/Collegiate Choir presented “works by Haydn, Handel, Bach, and English composers,” according to New York Magazine.
Another rarely performed work presented here in the summer of 1994 was C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  On July 10, The New York Times explained, “Screwtape, a senior devil, instructs his nephew Wormwood, a junior demon, in the art of winning over a young man’s soul—not by luring him into a sudden fall into mortal sin but by means of the routine temptations of daily life.”  The readings of C. S. Lewis were accompanied by the music of Benjamin Britten, John Ireland and Frank Bridge.  Music director David I Spelman said the work had been chosen “because we wanted to stick with programming that had a spiritual quality but also goes against the mainstream.”
Sitting between modern apartment buildings, Alfred B. Heiser’s quaint country church is a calming presence.  Its German inscription above the entrance is a reminder of an era when Yorkville was the epicenter of Manhattan’s German culture. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Chrystie Street Settlement House - 75-77 Horatio Street


Builder William R. Halsey purchased land from Francis B. Cutting on the north side of Horatio Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets in 1835.  The following year five Greek Revival style homes were completed on the plots.  Two of them, 89 and 91 Horatio Street (renumbered 75 and 77 in 1854), were built for politician Henry J. Wyckoff as investment properties.

Faced in brick above a brownstone basement level, the identical homes were two-and-a-half stories tall and 24-feet-wide.  Handsome iron fencing protected the areaways, and stepped and paneled stone wingwalls flanked the stoop where only the topmost level held iron railings.  The elegant single-doored entrances were recessed behind stone pilasters that supported a heavy entablature.  They were flanked by narrow sidelights and capped by multi-paned transoms.

Wyckoff leased 89 and 91 Horatio Street.  No. 89 became home to the William Knowles family, while next door lived William Henry Tinson and his family.  Tinson ran a printing concern at 43 Centre Street.  In 1847 his family was searching for a live-in servant through a highly detailed ad:

Wanted--A neat and industrious girl, English, Scotch or German, to do the general house work of a family of three persons.  She must be a good plain cook, washer and ironer; to one answering the above qualifications (and none other need apply) a comfortable home and good wages will be given.

William Knowles was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1806.  Living with him and his wife Elizabeth (known as Eliza) were their grown sons, William F. and Frederick C., and William's wife Margaret.

Knowles died at the age of 47 on March 23, 1853.  As was customary, his funeral was held in the parlor of 89 Horatio Street.  A second funeral was held there on September 26, 1859 for Norman White Knowles, the seven-month-old son of William F. and Margaret.

The Tinsons moved to 40 West Washington Square in 1863, after which 77 Horatio Street was leased to two families at a time--one each in the "upper" and "lower" portions.  Eliza Knowles remained in 69 Horatio Street through the mid-1870s.

For years 77 Horatio Street was shared by the families of Stephen Curtis and Robert Thompson.  Curtis was in the Brittania business (a metal alloy similar to pewter).  His son Stephen Jr. was involved in the firm with him, and his daughter, Emily taught at Grammar School No. 10 at 180 Wooster Street.

Two young men living at 77 Horatio Street, Daniel M. Hogan and John H. Allen, were accepted into the New York City Police Department one year apart--Hogan in 1891 and Allen in 1892.  Hogan astonished physicians during his physical examination on February 21, 1891 simply because they could find nothing to fault.  Of the 300 applicants, the Board of Examiners said he was "the most perfectly developed man of the lot."  The 30-year-old was currently employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as foreman of Pier 16 on the Hudson River.  

The Sun reported that he lifted 660 pounds "on the lifting machine," and 1,188 pounds with his legs.  The doctors measured his biceps at 15.5 inches.  "With the right arm he put up a dumb bell weighing seventy-five pounds, and with the left one of sixty pounds," said the article.

By the turn of the century, the titles to 75 and 77 Horatio Street had passed to a daughter of Henry J. Wyckoff with the married name of Bright.  On February 8, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported on their sale to Maria S. Simpson.  The reporter got the history only slightly wrong when he commented, "The property had been owned by the Bright estate for more than one hundred years."

Simpson resold the houses in November 1905.  In 1909, the homes became the northern annex to the Chrystie Street House, a settlement house that had focused on helping homeless boys and young men for years.  Wallace Gillpatrick, who had been associated with the Chrystie Street House downtown, moved into the Horatio Street facility.  

In 1908 he explained, "The Chrystie Street House is ready to help any homeless boy or young man who wants to improve his life.  But I suppose easily 75 per cent of the young men who come to the Chrystie Street House have been through the workhouse, where they have been committed on a technical charge of vagrancy."  The 1913 Documents of the Senate of the State of New York was more direct, saying the Horatio Street facility, "aids young men who have been in prison."

In May 1912, the downtown Chrystie Street House was discontinued and the entire operation moved to Horatio Street.  In anticipation, 75 and 77 Horatio Street were renovated and combined internally.  On January 27, 1912, The New York Press reported that they "are to be remodeled for use as a home for friendless boys.  It will replace the present house in Chrystie street...The new home will be prepared at a cost of $8,000."  Included in the plans were "a gymnasium, reading and dining rooms, and accommodations for twenty boys."  

Expectedly, not all the residents were upstanding citizens.  On September 14, 1913, The New York Times reported, "After being sheltered and fed at the Settlement Workers' House, 77 Horatio Street, for several days, Joseph Toy and Leroy Matlock, 23 and 24 years of age respectively, repaid the breaking into [superintendent M. Heilbroner's] room on Friday and taking two suit-cases filled with clothing and small articles of jewelry.  The thieves were arrested later in a Chatham Square lodging house."

In 1917, Wallace Gillpatrick read a paper to the American Prison Association in which he described the work of the Horatio Street facility.  He said in part:

Young men on leaving prison seek companions and recreation.  Unless some special form of effort is made in their behalf, they frequently find both companions and recreation under unfavorable conditions...The effective way to help them is by means of recreation centers, with club features, as a library, music, billiards, games, etc., under the supervision of a board of directors and with a competent secretary always in charge.

The Chrystie Street House remained in 75-77 Horatio until the late 1920s.  In 1927, the combined property was renovated for the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc.  It now held a day nursery and kindergarten on the first and second floors, and a caretaker's apartment on the third.  It was inaugurated on May 4.  The New York Sun reported, "Members of the board of managers of the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc., formerly the Bloomingdale Day Nursery, at 75 Horatio street, will give a tea on Wednesday afternoon from 4 to 6."

The success of the facility was such that in 1930 73 Horatio Street was purchased.  While that house was operated as an adjunct to the main property, they were not joined internally.

Repeated benefits were held for the Winfield Day Nursery over the years.  In reporting on an upcoming lecture at the Plaza Hotel ballroom for the facility on November 7, 1938, The New York Sun described its operation:

The nursery, at which babies as young as two weeks old have received care, maintains a kindergarten and provides warm mid-day dinners for the children after they have gone on to public schools.  Facilities for supervised play in the nursery yard are also available for the children who have reached school age.

There were meeting spaces, as well, for Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations.

The Winfield Day Nursery operated from the houses until 1957, when 75-77 Horatio Street became the Masters Children's Center.  It opened in September that year and, according to The New York Times, "provides a therapeutic program for disturbed children in a nursery school setting."  Like its two predecessors, the Masters Children's Center remained for decades.  Then, in 1986, a renovation resulted in two and three apartments per floor within the combined homes.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The 1892 Clarence Fagan True House - 322 West 85th Street


Clarence Fagan True worked in the architectural office of Richard Mitchell Upjohn (son of eminent architect Richard Upjohn) from 1881 through 1887.  In 1892, three years after opening his own office, the 32-year-old True was commissioned by developer Charles G. Judson to design a row of six homes along the southern side of West 85th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  Years later, True would insist that he initiated the American basement plan, 
which did away with high stone stoops in favor of low porches or none at all.  These would be his first American basement designs.  (In fact, True was not the first to break the decades-old English basement trend, but he was definitely an early and strong promoter.)

Patently True, who worked in often playful variants of historic styles, the completed three-story dwelling were picturesque.  A blend of Italian Renaissance Revival and Romanesque, their rusticated red sandstone parlor floors were accessed by three-step porches flanked by heavy stone wing walls with muscular, nubby-topped newels.  A carved Romanesque stone course supported by beefy brackets introduced upper floors, faced in orange Roman brick. 

Each house in the A-B-A-A-B-A row had a projecting bay at the second floor, and arched openings on the third.  Most eye-catching, perhaps, were the hoods True placed over the second floor bays of the "A" houses, like 322 West 85th Street.  Their S-shaped tiles, or pantiles, evoked a Mediterranean feel and echoed the deeply overhanging roofs.

The architect was apparently pleased with his work.  The houses were completed in 1892 and True leased 322 West 85th Street from Judson.  After the developer sold three of the houses--316, 322 and 326--to real estate operator Francis S. Smith in 1893, Clarence F. True continued to rent No. 322 until the fall of 1895.  In November that year, Smith sold the house to John Rutherford Buchan and his wife, the former Nellie Woodward.  

Living in the house with John and Nellie were John's widowed mother, Rachel, and his unmarried sister, Sarah.  Born in 1862, Buchan, who was in the insurance business, had two great passions--sailing and French Bulldogs.  When he purchased 322 West 85th Street, he owned a schooner yacht the Christine, which boasted a stateroom, water closet, and six berths.  

Buchan's expertise in sailing was equaled by his knowledge of bulldogs.  The secretary of the French Bulldog Club of America, on February 21, 1897, he sent an exhaustive letter to the editors of Turf, Field, and Farm, which explained in excruciating detail the difference between the ears of the English and the French Bulldog.

Three years after the family moved in, John was called away.  With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, he was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy.  Six months later he was promoted to executive officer of the United States Ship KanawhaThe Seventh Regiment Gazette recalled in 1917, "Owing to his professional attainments he was entrusted with watch duties not often accorded to so young an officer."

He had barely returned home when the 85th Street house was the scene of sorrow.  Rachel Buchan died at the age of 82 on November 6, 1899.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Buchan's maritime knowledge quickly drew him away again.  He was appointed "expert in charge of marine exhibitions" of the United States Commission to the 1900 Paris Exhibition.

Sarah Buchan died on November 10, 1915.  There would be another Buchan funeral in the house two years later, following John's death at the age of 54 on April 7, 1917.  The Seventh Regiment Gazette reported, "Mr. Buchan's funeral was attended by many prominent officers and citizens."

Now alone, Nellie sold 322 West 85th Street to widow Rosalia A. Becker in April 1919.  Sharing the house were her unmarried daughters Elsa G., Grace Heidt, and Loretta F. Becker.  

Grace Heidt Becker graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1922.  Her sister Elsa had graduated from the same school in 1914 and quickly became known as a pioneer in the school counseling movement.  On November 21, 1924, for instance The Eagle reported that the previous day Elsa had visited the Santa Barbara State Teachers College "to interview Dean Pyle."  The article noted, "Miss Becker stopped in the city yesterday on her way North, where she goes to gives lectures in Education at various northern colleges and universities."

The house in 1941 when the Becker sisters were living here.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1936 Elsa published an article, "Guidance in Progress in a Large City High School," in The Journal of Educational Sociology.  She was by now the chairman of the Guidance Department of the Samuel J. Tilden High School in Manhattan.  The same year she published Guidance at Work.

The Becker women remained at 322 West 85th Street for decades.  Elsa died on December 27, 1967.  It is unclear how long Loretta or Grace remained; however, the house remained a single-family dwelling until 1988.  That year a renovation turned the basement into a separate apartment.

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Monday, September 25, 2023

The Lost 1908 540 Park Avenue


Architecture magazine, 1908 (copyright expired)

In the 19th century, multi-family residential buildings were, for the most part, viewed as being middle-class at best.  But by 1906 the concept of fashionable apartment houses had taken hold.  Their sprawling suites included all the amenities of a private home.  In August that year the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the newly formed Five Hundred and Forty Park Avenue Co. intended to erect a 12-story "fireproof apartment house" on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 61st Street, designed by Boring & Tilton.  Construction costs were placed at $350,000--or about $11.7 million in 2023.

What the article did not say was that William A. Boring, a partner in the architectural firm, was one of the owners.  The journal would explain two years later that the syndicate was composed of "a group of men, prominent in financial and professional circles who wish to have homes in New York."  Each would have a full-floor apartment, with the other four suites to be leased for additional income.

On April 4, 1908, the Record & Guide described the newly-completed building as "one of the most ornate and best equipped of its kind in the metropolis, and certainly none is arranged with more regard for the comfort of those who are to dwell within it.  The architects had produced what the journal called "a rather classic expression of the Renaissance."  The entrance within the three-story marble base sat above a short flight of steps.  Its iron and glass marquee bisected a double-height arch.  The seven-story mid-section was defined by stone balconies that girded the structure, while a substantial stone cornice crowned the design.

The Record & Guide pointed out that the main rooms--the library, drawing and dining rooms--faced 61st Street, "while four bedrooms are arranged along the Park av. side."  It added, "the rooms for the servants face the outer court to the west."  Each apartment had two "iron safes" built into the walls--one for silverware and the other for valuables like jewelry and cash.  An advertisement in 1908 touted, "In character and appointments this building has no equal."

The Douglas Elliman Locator, 1923 (copyright expired)

The full-floor apartments rented for $6,000 a year--or about $16,400 per month in 2023 terms.  The lobby necessarily made the first floor apartment smaller.  It was given a private entrance and marketed as "suitable for a physician."  The nine-room, two bath suite was offered for lease at $3,750 per year.  The advertisement noted, "The service includes vacuum cleaning and refrigeration."

Among the building's initial residents were John W. Castles, his wife the former Elizabeth Eshleman, and their two children, Frances and John Jr.  The family's country home was at Morristown, New Jersey.   

Born in Texas in 1858, Castles was president of the Guaranty Trust Company when the family moved into their apartment.  He resigned on January 1, 1909 to accept the presidency of the Union Trust Company.  It was apparently a stressful change and soon afterward, according to the New-York Tribune, the banker suffered "an acute nervous breakdown."  He was sent to an upstate sanitorium to recover.

On September 8, 1909, Castles returned to 540 Park Avenue.  Elizabeth and the children were spending the summer at the Adirondacks League Club.  The New-York Tribune reported, "his altered appearance, which showed him to be failing in health, shocked his brother and John Fletcher, Mr. Castles's private secretary."  Burton S. Castles employed a private nurse and began arrangements to send his brother to Hot Springs, Arkansas to regain his strength.

Banker John W. Castles's life ended tragically.  New-York Tribune, September 14, 1909 (copyright expired) 

Despite his family's absence, Castles was not alone in the apartment.  In addition to his live-in servants and the nurse, his private secretary was there every day.  On the morning of September 13, he told his nurse and secretary that he felt well enough to go to the office.  At 10:00 the nurse walked with him to the 42nd Street subway station and saw him off. 

The New-York Tribune reported, "When Mr. Castles failed to return to his home by 4 p. m. the brother telephoned to the office of the trust company and immediately became uneasy when he failed to get in touch with the president."  A search of hotels and clubs resulted in a grisly discovery.  Castles had checked into the Grand Union Hotel under his own name, carefully removed his suit so as not to ruin it, laid on the bed and sliced his throat with a razor.  His body was found with his hands folded across his chest.

Other residents well-known to society at the time were Stephen S. and Emma D. Cummins; Helen Garrison Villard, the widow of publisher Henry Villard; Henry Dexter, head of the American News Company, and his wife the former Nellie M. Lawrence; Helen Kelly Gould (who had just divorced millionaire Frank Jay Gould); and bachelor Winthrop Williams Aldrich, the son of politician Nelson W. Aldrich.

The Gould apartment was the scene of Helen's wedding to Ralph Hill Thomas on July 12, 1910.  The next day the newlyweds boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm der Gross for their European honeymoon.  In articles that smacked of disapproval, newspapers made clear note that Helen's two daughters, seven-year-old Helen and five-year-old Dorothy, were not along.  The headline in the New-York Tribune read, "Sail Without Children / To Be Away Two Months."  The article noted that the girls "were not among the many persons at the pier to bid the couple godspeed.  Instead, they were safely ensconced in the home of their aunt, Miss Helen Gould, at Irvington-on-the-Hudson."

It was the beginning of a tug-of-war over the girls.  Their father (who was also remarried by now) and their aunt, Helen Gould, were both poised to litigate permanent custody.  (As it turned out, Helen Kelly Gould Thomas's marriage did not survive.  She would have a total of five husbands before her death in 1952.)

Winthrop W. Aldrich was 29 years old when he finally married on December 7, 1916.  His bride, Harriet Alexander, was the daughter of Charles B. Alexander and came from one of the most prominent families of New York society.  The couple was married in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.  The New York Times noted, "The guests included representatives of the Astor, Fish, Harriman, Rockefeller, Crocker, Webb, Rhinelander, Cutting, Vanderbilt, Bacon and other well-known families."

Architecture magazine, 1908 (copyright expired)

Bertrand Leroy Taylor, Jr. and his sister, Dorothy Cadwell Taylor, had apartments here.  Dorothy would be, perhaps, the most colorful of the building's residents throughout its existence.  She was the former wife of British aviation pioneer Claude Grahame-White.  The couple had divorced in London on December 17, 1916, shortly after Dorothy inherited about $12 million (closer to $330 million in 2023).  

A lost bracelet in 1921 exposed her heretofore clandestine romance.  Dorothy owned an unique neckless "that once adorned a grand duchess of Russia," according to the New-York Tribune.  The piece was composed of 16 sapphires, each set in diamonds, and had been fashioned by the jeweler to the Russian royal family, Saberger.  The necklace, appraised at more than $600,000 in today's money, was made so that it could be converted to pendant earrings and two bracelets.

On May 4, The Evening World reported that Dorothy and Count Carlo Dentice de Frasso had visited Mrs. Herbert Shipman at 439 Madison Avenue.  Dorothy was wearing the two bracelets, the larger one of which was "continually slipping down on her hand."  When she arrived back at her apartment, she realized the bracelet was missing.  Amazingly, the cab driver went back to the Madison Avenue address and found the bracelet at the curb.

Dorothy Cadwell Taylor  (original source unknown).

The incident sparked a rumor that "a wedding may soon climax the six weeks' romance which Mrs. Dorothy Cadwell Taylor...and Count di Frasso have enjoyed," according to The Evening World.  The newspaper said, "The Count and Mrs. Taylor both refused to affirm or deny that they would soon be married.  The Count recently received an annulment decree in Rome from the former Georgine Wilde, daughter of Mrs. Henry Siegel."

The rumors proved true.  On July 5, 1921 the New York Herald reported that Dorothy, her brother and his wife, and Count Dentice di Frasso had sailed on the Aquitania.  "Mrs. Caldwell Taylor will stop at the Ritz in London with her brother and sister-in-law, while the Count goes to Rome to await the annulment."

Dorothy's life only became more colorful.  As the Countess Dentice di Frasso she restored the 16th century Villa Madama outside Rome.  Later actor Gary Cooper was filming a movie in Rome and became ill.  Dorothy took him into the villa during his recuperation, and the two began a torrid affair behind the count's back.  She moved to Beverly Hills, where she eventually began another affair with gangster Bugsy Siegel.  She died of a heart attack aboard a train to Los Angeles with actor George Fact in 1954.

Other noted residents in the 1920s and 1930s were Sarah Fotterall Harriman, the widow of James Arden Harriman; and socialite and social worker Margaret Crane Hurlbut.  Never married, Margaret was the daughter of William H. and Margaret Havens Crane Hurlbut.  Her sterling pedigree was reflected in her memberships in the Colony Club, the Huguenot Society, the Daughters of Holland Dames, the New York Society of Colonial Dames, and the Mayflower Descendants.

Bertrand L. Taylor, Jr. was still living here in October 1934 when he had to fight for his and Dorothy's shares in their father's $5 million estate.  Described by The Spokesman-Review as a "member of the Board of Governors of the New York Stock Exchange, who also is popular in gay cinema circles," he had to face off in court with Geraldine Louise Ott.

Geraldine L. Ott testified that she was known in Europe as "Mrs. Taylor."  Star Tribune, July 31, 1934

Bertrand Leroy Taylor, Sr. had died at the age of 72 in April 1934, leaving the bulk of his $5 million estate to Bertrand Jr. and Dorothy.  Also listed in the will was "my friend, Geraldine L. Ott," who received $10,000.  The bequest was not enough for Geraldine Louise Ott.  The beautiful young woman, who was in her 20s, sought to overturn the will as Taylor's "surviving spouse."  The case extended into the following spring when finally, on April 23, 1935, Judge James A. Delehanty ruled that Geraldine "had failed to establish that she had been the common law wife of Bertrand L. Taylor," as reported by The New York Times.

The building continued to be home to wealthy and socially prominent residents for the next three decades, including Neville G. Hart and his wife, the former Augusta Lyon; Mrs. Peyton Van Renssalaer; and the Ronald Hugh MacDonalds.  

Realtor Jules Pallister, his wife, the former Ethel Nerring, and their five year old son Jeffrey lived here in the early 1950s.  The 47-year-old's death on April 5, 1952 macabrely echoed that of John W. Castles nearly half a century earlier.  Late in 1951, Pallister, who ran his own realty firm, was diagnosed with a nervous disorder.  Still under treatment, he went to the Long Island home of his sister on April 2.  Two days later she found his body in the basement.  He had tied his bathrobe belt to a steampipe and hanged himself.

At the time of the tragedy, the end of the line for the luxurious apartment building was on the near horizon.  In 1961 a demolition permit was granted and two years later the Loew's Regency Hotel opened on the site.

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