Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The William Randolph Hearst Garage - 325 West 85th Street


By 1890 both Riverside Drive and West End Avenue were lined with upscale residences.  The well-to-do homeowners who did not have private carriage houses relied on livery stables to board their vehicles and horses.  

On May 23, 1890, the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine filed plans for a "two-story brick and stone stable" to be built on the north side of West 85th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  Its construction would cost developer Richard F. Carman $8,000, or about $265,000 in 2023.

Among those utilizing the stable was Samuel McMillan.  The wealthy businessman was vice-president of the Ryan-Parker Construction Company, vice-president of the Bronx Borough Bank and the Washington Savings Bank, and a director in the West Side Bank and the Mutual Bank of New York City.  It may have been McMillan's pending move to Mahopac, New York that prompted him to sell his horses in April 1898.  An advertisement in the New York Herald read:

MUST be sold--Three teams, the property of Mr. Samuel McMillan, from his stock farm in Virginia; young, sound, well mannered, city broken; team bay Geldings, 16 hands, black points; team chestnut Geldings, 15-3/4 hands; team black Geldings 15-1/2 hands; all fully warranted.  325 West 85th st.

The livery stable was being operated by Clarence L. Collins when millionaire publisher William Randolph Hearst purchased it from Richard F. Carman in May 1911.  Hearst had already transitioned from horses to automobiles, and The New York Times reported that he intended to use the building "as a private garage."  The location was perfect for Hearst, just a block away from his massive apartment in the Clarendon at 137 Riverside Drive.  

William Randolph Hearst's passion for collecting art and antiques bordered on obsession.  In 1913 he hired architect Charles E. Birge to enlarge his apartment to accommodate his massive and growing collection.  His residence now engulfed the eighth through eleventh floors of the Clarendon.

William Randolph Hearst, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Six years later still more space was necessary.  In 1919 Charles E. Birge was brought back to remodel the West 85th Street garage.  Two stories were added and the building given a Colonial Revival facade.   It featured Flemish bond brick and carved limestone trim.   The former hayloft on the second-floor was converted to a Palladian-style window crowned with a fan-carved arch, and the third floor openings were given intricately carved lintels.   Fluted friezes ran above the third and fourth floors, and a solid parapet took the place of a terminal cornice.

The ground floor had space for "four pleasure cars of resident owner," according to the Department of Buildings, while the upper floors were used for the "storage of household goods."  A chauffeur's apartment shared part of the fourth floor.  The items Hearst stored here were not the average "household goods."

In his 2013 book The Chief, The Life of William Randolph Hearst, David Nassaw writes:

Hearst's art collecting operation had, by the early 1920s, become so extensive that he formed his own company...to purchase his art for him and, when necessary clear customs.  Though the bulk of Hearst's collection was stored in the Bronx...[he] had items squirreled away in facilities all across the city, including a huge garage he owned around the corner from the Clarenden, at 325 West 85th Street.

The ground floor held luxurious automobiles.  For instance, in 1921 an advertisement in The New York Times read:

Paige Limousine, 1917
7 passenger, for sale; in good mechanical condition; no reasonable offer refused. 
See Mr. Becker, 325 West 85th St.

This 7-passenger Paige limo would have been similar to Hearst's.  

And in October 1923, an advertisement offered, "Mercer sport, 1921, good condition, reasonably priced.  To be seen at private garage, 325 West 85th."

William Randolph Hearst's boundless collecting caught up with him in the mid-1930s.  Informed by his financial advisors that he was millions of dollars in debt, in 1938 he sold off real estate and auctioned artworks.  On September 16 that year The New York Times reported that the Hearst Realty Corporation had sold 325 West 85th Street to the Greek Orthodox Church.  The buyer "also bought...the adjoining dwelling at 323 West Eighty-fifth Street," said the article.

The Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church, or the Church of the Annunciation, had earlier occupied the former Amity Baptist Church at 310 West 54th Street.   The ground floor of the garage was renovated for worship space, the second became the choir loft and an office, while a caretaker's apartment was on the fourth (the third floor was used for storage).  

In 1941, crosses adorn the entrance within the former garage bay.  The wooden house at 323 West 85th Street can be partially seen at right.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Since its inception in 1824 as a branch of the First Associate Presbyterian Church, the congregation had relocated several times.  And it did so again in 1954 when it moved northward to 80 Convent Avenue.

In 1968 the city leased the building and made renovations that included a community room, office and kitchen in the basement, an auditorium and office in the former church space.  The upper floors held offices, a lounge, and dormitories "for former narcotic addicts," according to Department of Buildings documents.  A branch of Phoenix House, part of the city's Addiction Service Agency, moved into the building.  Although Phoenix House was technically an independent facility, a 165-page document issued in October 1970 contended that it  was "so closely identified with the city agency as to be inseparable."

Phoenix House operated from the address at least through 1972, supplanted by The Bridge, Inc..  Founded in 1954, it offers substance abuse treatment, housing, vocational training and other services to former residents of psychiatric hospitals.

The Bridge occupied 325 West 85th Street until 1996, when the Metropolitan Montessori School took over the property and initiated another renovation that included classrooms, a gymnasium and offices.  The little wooden house next door was demolished and replaced by an annex to the school designed by architect Jason Gold.

The dignified building that once housed luxury automobiles and art treasures retains much of its 1919 appearance, when a publishing titan transformed it from a two-story livery stable.

photographs by the author
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