Saturday, October 14, 2023

The George B. Cheever House - 127 East 60th Street


photograph by Ted Leather

Reverend George B. Cheever lived at 127 East 60th Street in the post-Civil War years.  The pastor of the Church of the Pilgrims on Union Square, he had been vocal in the fight against slavery before the war and was equally passionate about the futures of former slaves afterward.  In a sermon on May 7, 1865, one month after the war ended, he said, "A government is not worthy the name if it denies one class of citizens the rights and guarantees of protection which it guarantees to another."

Cheever's brownstone-fronted house was one of a row of recently built upper middle class homes.  Four stories tall above a high English basement, its double-doored entrance sat below an exuberant arched pediment supported on scrolled brackets.  The full-height parlor windows were fronted by blind balustrades, while the upper floor openings wore architrave frames and molded cornices.  The fourth floor took the form of a stylish, slate shingled mansard.

By 1941 the stoop had been turned to the side, probably because of street widening.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In February 1872, the house was placed on the market, the advertisement in the New York Herald reading:

For sale at a bargain--The first class modern House, 127 East Sixtieth street, near Lexington avenue; the House is four story, high stoop brown stone...price $29,000; terms easy; if not sold soon it will be rented for one or more years.

The asking price would translate to about $717,000 in 2023.

It appears a sale did not occur and, true to the advertisement, the house was rented for several years to a variety of tenants.  Then, in 1879, Dr. Robert H. Saunders moved into 127 East 60th Street.  Born in 1845, Saunders lived and practiced from the East 60th Street house.  On April 17, 1883 he married Mary Louise Thorne and two years later the residence was sold again.

By the first years of the 1890s, 127 East 60th Street was being operated by "Mrs. Oakes" as a boarding house.  An advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune on October 25, 1898 touted, "Nicely furnished hall rooms, with board, $7; square rooms $10."  Hall rooms in rowhouses were less desirable because they had no windows.  The $7 was apparently a month's rent, equal to about $255 in 2023.

In February 1902, the house was sold, followed by two more sales before the year was out.  In December it was purchased by Dr. Matthias Nicoll, Jr. and his wife, the former Alice Maud Wing.  The couple were married in 1899 and had three daughters, Alice Mary, Lillian and Nancy Fay.

Born in 1868, Nicoll came from an old and prestigious family.  The New-York Tribune noted that he was "a direct descendant of Matthias Nicoll, who, representing the Duke of York, was appointed first Colonial Governor of New York in 1664."  A graduate of the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, he had been Resident Physician of the New York Foundling Hospital until 1897.  Like Dr. Saunders, he ran his private practice from the house, specializing in pediatrics and infectious diseases.

Matthias Nicoll's rise within the New York medical community eventually necessitated his and Alice's leaving 127 East 60th Street.  In 1915 he was appointed director of the state's division of public health education, the following year he was made departments secretary, and in 1917 its deputy.  In 1923 Governor Al Smith appointed Dr. Nicoll to the position of State Commissioner of Health.

Change was taking place in the neighborhood by then, as former private homes were being converted to rooming houses, many of them with commercial spaces in the basement.  By the outbreak of World War II, the stoop of 127 East 60th Street had been turned to the side, and tenants came and went with regularity.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Peter J. Victorwitch was one of those tenants until he left to fight in the Army.  On February 12, 1944, The Times Record of Troy, New York reported that the War Department was searching for his mother, Mary Victorwich, "reported to be a former resident of this city."  The article explained, "According to the department the soldier has been listed as a casualty and efforts to locate his mother have been unsuccessful."

A renovation completed in 1949 resulted in the stoop's being removed, and a store installed in the basement level and offices on the parlor floor.  There were now two apartments per floor on the upper stories.

The cornice was gone by the late 20th century.  image via

In the fall of 1992, Food Attitude opened in the ground floor, offering pastries like those The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant called on November 25, "jewel-like fruit tarts and tartlets."  The second floor space was occupied by Things Japanese, an Asian gallery until around 2002.

A recent renovation valiantly attempted to restore the upper floors with a reconstructed cornice and refreshed mansard.  The commendable efforts brought the former house--from the waist up--back to its Victorian appearance.

many thanks to reader Ted Leather for suggesting his post
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