Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The 1896 August Goldsmith House - 36 West 69th Street


Gilbert A Schellenger designed almost every house on the south side of the West 69th Street block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue in the 1890s.  Interestingly, however, they were not the project of a single developer, but three unrelated operators.  Two of the Schellenger designs stood in stark contrast to his other high-stooped brownstones.

Nos. 34 and 36 were faced in gray brick above limestone bases.   Shallow porches led to the entrances nestled behind fluted Ionic columns that upheld striking, two-story bowed bays.  Designed for George C. Edgar's Sons in 1895, the dignified, 22-foot-wide residences rose five stories.

The entrance to 36 West 69th Street (right) was originally centered, like its neighbor next door.

As construction neared completion on December 21, 1895, the New York Herald reported that George C. Edgar's Sons had sold No. 36 to William Moore for $55,000.  The newspaper had gotten the name more than a little wrong--the buyer was J. F. William Mohr.  The price he paid would translate to just under $2 million in 2023.

Born in Germany in 1848, Mohr was a partner in the cotton firm of Mohr, Hanneman & Co.  He and his wife Clothilde had a daughter, Helene Sophie.  (Another daughter, Clothilde Marie, had died in 1888 at the age of 4.)

The proximity of Central Park to 36 West 69th Street made a ride either on horse or by carriage convenient for the Mohrs.  On Sunday afternoon, April 25, 1897, William took a buggy into the park, but the airing did not end well.  The New York Herald reported that around 5:00 "he was run into by a hansom cab driven by Martin Garrity.  The hind wheel of Mr. Mohr's vehicle was broken off, but he escaped any injury."

Helen Sophie Mohr Zinsser in a theatrical costume later in life.  (original source unknown)

The following year, on October 22, 1898, Helen Sophie was married in All Angels' Church to August Zinsser, Jr.  Following the ceremony, a reception was held in the 69th Street house.

In July 1904, Mohr sold 36 West 69th Street to August Goldsmith.  A wealthy jeweler, he was the principal of Goldsmith, Stern & Co. on Gold Street.  Born in Germany in 1860 as Adolph Goldschmidt, he had anglicized his name upon arriving in America.  He and his wife Devorah had three sons, Arthur J., Richard, and Lawrence Lyon.

The Goldsmiths experienced a terrifying incident the year after they moved in.  On September 28, 1905, the family was at dinner, "when Mr. Goldsmith sent one of the maids, Katherine Gordon, to a bedroom on the second floor to get a letter," according to The Morning Telegraph.  She entered the bedroom, clicked on the light and "was confronted by a man, 6 feet in height, wearing black clothes and a derby hat," reported The New York Times.

The intruder pointed a revolver at Katherine and growled, "Keep still, and I won't hurt you.  Move or scream, and I'll kill you."

The clever chambermaid did not lose her wits, but carefully felt the wall behind her, searching for the light switch.  When her fingers found it, she plunged the room into darkness and bolted out and down the stairs.  She alerted the house that there was a burglar upstairs.  As August Goldsmith headed up the stairs, she warned, "Look out, he has a revolver and may kill you."

While her husband went upstairs, Devorah rushed into the street to find a policeman.  In the meantime, according to The Morning Telegraph, the household was "thrown into an uproar" and the servants "fled in terror."  Four policeman searched the house, and found no one.  They did discover a scuttle to the roof had been pried loose.  The well-dressed thief had gotten away with $55 in cash, a set of gold cuff links and a gold ring.

The Goldsmiths were highly active in charitable and social causes.  By 1909 August was a director of the Educational Alliance, which educated immigrants "to render them desirable citizens," according to The Sun.  On March 8, 1915, the newspaper said, "Some idea of the activities of the Alliance may be gained from the fact that over 3,000,000 persons go through the building every year."  Goldsmith was also involved with the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies.

Devorah worked with the Federation Settlement, along with other socialites with impressive surnames like Lowenstein, Dreyfoos, and Rothschild.

In 1917, the Goldsmiths had a houseguest for the winter season.  Devorah's niece, Mildred Sommerfield, lived in Chicago.   Devorah, who had only boys, suddenly found herself planning a wedding for a young woman.  On May 11, 1917, The American Jewish Chronical reported that Mildred had been married to Robert Goldman at the fashionable Sherry's restaurant on May 1.  The article explained, "They were to have a large wedding some time in June, but the fact that Mr. Goldman has been called to Plattsburg [a military training camp] hastened their plans."

Arthur was the first of the Goldsmith boys to become engaged.  His plans to marry Stella Ruth Metzger were announced in April 1918.

With war raging, August became chairman of the Jewelry Committee of the Liberty Loan Committee in 1918, which pushed for the sale of Liberty Bonds.  He was still working hard for the cause in 1919, when his focus was necessarily redirected to labor problems.

In September, his 200 jewelers, polishers, toolmakers and other staff walked off the job.  Goldsmith was not sympathetic.  "These union men are mad with Bolshevism," he told The Sun.  And so, he felt, if his workers favored the communist way of doing things, he would appease them.  He offered to sell the strikers his entire operation for $300,000.  They could then divide it equally among themselves and run it as they wished.  

The workers had another proposal.  They demanded that Goldsmith turn over the company to them cost-free and that he and his partners "clear out immediately."  Not surprisingly, neither party accepted the other's proposal.

Lawrence Lyon Goldsmith was married to Gertrude T. Winter in January 1926.  The American Hebrew reported on January 8 that the couple "have sailed for France, where they will spend their wedding trip.  They will travel in Spain, Portugal and Germany during January and return to the States later to make their home in New York."  The article mentioned that Lawrence "graduated from Princeton in 1920 and studied at the University of Paris."

Still unmarried, Richard remained in the house with his parents.  Following Devorah's death, August Goldsmith sold 36 West 69th Street to B'nai B'rith in 1930.  On November 10, The New York Evening Post reported, "The club...will move to the Sixty-ninth Street address in a couple of weeks."  (August Goldsmith moved to the Hotel Dorset on West 54th Street, where he died at the age of 73 on May 24, 1933.)

B'nai B'rith operated from the former Goldsmith residence for just over a decade.  In 1937, the Menorah School of Adult Education shared the building.  Then, in 1945, a renovation resulted in two apartments per floor.  The entrance, which was moved to the side, was replaced by a large window. 

Living here in 1950 was actress Joyce Henry.  A 1948 graduate of the University of Michigan, she had spent her summer in Ivoryton, Connecticut playing in a summer stock production of Yes, My Darling Daughter starring Ann Harding, and in Blithe Spirit starring Arthur Treacher.  Back in New York, she studied drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

Although the entrance has been relocated, the exterior of the Goldsmith house is otherwise little changed since 1896.  There are still two apartments per floor.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment