Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Randolph and Pond Day School - 253 West 93rd Street


In 1897 architect George F. Pelham designed a row of four four-story townhouses in the dignified Renaissance Revival style for developer Alexander Walker at 253 through 259 West 93rd Street.  The eastern-most, No. 253, was faced in beige Roman brick above a rusticated limestone first floor.  Its doorway was outlined in delicate carved details, and the entablature above displayed intricate fruit festoons.  Pelham treated the openings of the succeeding floors differently, each becoming slightly less ornate.  Brick quoins ran up the sides of the upper section.

On November 1, 1897, Walker sold all four properties to Helen J. Erickson.  A real estate operator, she and her husband William T. Erickson would retain ownership of 253 West 93rd Street for years.  

The house was initially leased to Mable Fitz Randolph, an 1885 graduate of Normal College.   She lived here while operating The Randolph and Pond Day School on the lower floors.  The elite private school advertised "College Preparation, Small Classes."  In fact, the college preparation courses were for girls only.  Boys were accepted only in the elementary classes.  In court in 1916, one of the teachers, Caroline F. Lester, described the individualized attention the youngest students received.  "I knew of children in the Randolph and Pond school who had a nursery governess who helped the children with their lessons, intelligently."

In 1904, the Randolph and Pond Day School moved to West 79th Street, and 253 West 93rd Street became home to the Institut Tisné School for Girls, run by Gaston and Henriette Tisné.  The school had previously been on West End Avenue and the announcement of its move on September 26, 1904 noted, "College Preparatory, French Kindergarten." 

Fluency in French was obligatory for young women of polite society in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The students of the Institut Tisné were expected to leave English on the stoop when they entered.  An announcement of the beginning of the school's 16th season on September 10, 1908, therefore, did not identify Henriette Tisné as its principal, but as the Officier d'Academie.

The exclusive girls' school remained through 1911.  Still owned by William and Helen J. Erickson, 253 West 93rd Street was operated as a boarding house the following year.  An advertisement in 1912 offered, "Pleasant rooms, en suite or single; table guests."  (Table guests were invited guests of boarders, not residents.  The privilege offered to boarders to have friends in to dinner testified to the high-end status of the house.)

Typical of the residents was 47-year-old engineer Eugene W. Stern, who would live here from 1912 through 1914.  He was secretary of the American Institute of Consulting Engineers.  On January 6, 1915, shortly after moving to West End Avenue, Stern was appointed Chief Engineer of the Bureau of Highways, earning $5,000 per year (about $150,000 in 2023).

In 1915, 253 West 93rd Street was sold along with the neighborhood house at 255.  It was leased to Louise Fitzpatrick who continued to rent rooms.  An advertisement in July 1919 offered, "Handsomely furnished rooms, large and small, running water."

By installing platform fire escapes that straddled both buildings, the owners avoided the zig-zagging structures that would have disfigured the buildings' appearance.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The following year both 253 and 255 West 93rd Street were converted to apartments.  An advertisement described, "Magnificent apartments, 2 and 3 rooms, bath and kitchenette; entire floor; maid service."  The rent for the full-floor apartments would translate to about $3,000 per month today.

The New York Times, September 5, 1920 (copyright expired)

Among the initial tenants were Walter Chandler, Jr. and his wife, the former Lucy Victorine Terres.  The couple's affluence was reflected in the exclusive schools their son, Walter Kirby Chandler, had attended--the Berkley and Irving Schools in New York, and the Chattel School in New Jersey.

Living here in 1924 were Agnes Pollock Cooper, a graduate of Barnard College; and Edward L. Larkin, a builder.

A renovation completed in 2002 resulted in two apartments per floor on the first through third floors, and a duplex in the fourth floor and new penthouse level, unseen from the street.

non-credited photographs by the author
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