Friday, April 19, 2024

The John F. Vanrpier House - 35 Charlton Street


Following his duel with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr was forced to leave New York City and his estate just south of Greenwich Village, Richmond Hill.  In 1817,  John Jacob Astor I, who was 34 years old at the time, purchased the mansion from Burr and took over the land lease of the grounds from Trinity Church.  (The long-term lease would make Astor 103 years old when it expired.)

The mansion was moved, the hill on which it stood was leveled, and streets were laid out--one of them named for Dr. John Charlton, the president of the New York Medical Society.  Within a few years, Astor began erecting rows of smart brick homes.

It appears Astor had an antagonist.  On October 13, 1828, the New York Spectator reported, "Yesterday morning about 6 o'clock, a fire was discovered in a new house No. 35 Charlton street, which was destroyed, and the adjoining house No. 33 was materially damaged.  As the buildings were in an unfinished state, it was no doubt the work of an incendiary."  The Daily Advertiser reminded readers, "A few months ago, several houses were destroyed by fire at the same place, which was the work of an incendiary."

The arsonist merely slowed Astor's progress.  In 1829, the row--including 35 Charlton Street--was completed.  Like its neighbors, it was 25-feet-wide and two-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  Faced in red Flemish bond brick, its dormered attic sat beneath a peaked roof.  

No. 35 Charlton Street became home to William H. Bell, a seemingly entrepreneurial man.  He made additional income in 1830 by lending his name to a product.  An advertisement in the New York Spectator that August included his testimonial, "Having used the Saponaceous Compound for the last eighteen months, I have the satisfaction of saying that I entirely concur in the above certificate."

Two years later he advertised in the New York Daily Advertiser for a business partner and investor:

 A PARTNER IS WANTED—Who can command the above sum [$15,000], or near that amount, in a manufacturing establishment now in successful operation, producing now 100 per cent, on the cost of the article manufactured.  The advertiser feels warranted in saying that with the additional sum above stated with what is already invested, an independent fortune can be realized in a very few years, and proofs will be given of the most satisfactory character to persons calling on him at 35 Charlton street, in the evening after 8 o'clock.  No persons need call unless they can command at least $10,000.

The investment in the arcane business Bell was asking for would translate to a half a million in 2024 dollars.

On February 10, 1834, the "brick house and 31 years lease of lot No. 35 Charlton st." was sold at auction.  It was purchased by John J. Earle, a Customs House officer.  He and his wife had a young adult son, John S.

The family took in two boarders, Samuel U. D. Arrowsmith and his young wife Catharine in 1838 or early 1839.  Tragically, Catharine G. Arrowsmith died at the age of 18 on August 11, 1839.  Her funeral was held in the parlor the following afternoon.

John J. Earle was summoned for jury duty in January 1842.  And this was no routine case.  John Caldwell Colt, the brother of gun maker Samuel Colt, was charged with the hatchet murder of printer Samuel Adams.  He had then packed the body in salt and shipped it to a non-existent address in New Orleans.  Earle managed to evade service, telling the judge he had already "formed an opinion."

John J. Earle retired in 1845.  Two years later John S. Earle was appointed an Inspector of the Common Schools.  

John F. Vanriper (sometimes spelled Van Riper) purchased the house and took over the land lease in 1851.  He was a drygoods merchant and owned his building at 594 Greenwich Street.  He and his wife had an eight-year-old daughter, Clara, and a son, Dennis.

Like the Earles, the Vanripers took in a boarder.  Living with the family in 1853 was 21-year-old Abram Moor Bogert.  Unfortunately, the parlor was the scene of his funeral on August 14 that year.

In 1861, the Vanripers' boarder was drawing teacher Francis Melville, who worked at Public School No. 42 on Allen Street.  That year there would be another funeral in the house.  Clara  Vanriper died at the age of 18 on December 16, 1861.

Each of the Charlton Street houses had a small stable or house in the rear yard.  In July 1866, John F. Vanriper hired contractors Sinclair & Williams to alter his wooden stable building.  Unfortunately, three years later, on January 8, 1869, the New York Herald reported at that 4:00 the previous afternoon, fire had broken out in the stable.  "It spread with remarkable rapidity, communicating to the adjoining stables--five in number--and before a sufficiency of water could be thrown upon the burning pile these buildings, with their contents, were almost totally destroyed."  Happily, all the horses were saved.

Around the same time that Vanriper rebuilt his stable, he raised the attic of the house to a full third floor with a modern Italianate cornice.  The change from Flemish bond to running bond brick as well as the color still testify to the alteration.

Around 1872, the Vanripers moved to West 21st Street and leased 35 Charlton Street to Theodore E. Allen, a tobacco merchant.   The Allens were new parents, and on January 22, 1872 they placed an advertisement in the New York Herald seeking, "A young girl to take care of a baby."  Later that year, in August, they advertised, "Wanted--A Protestant girl to do general housework."

In February 1881, the Vanripers sold 35 Charlton Street to Charles F. and Hannah W. Thompson for $9,500 (about $281,000 today).  Thompson, who owned a house painting business and paint store, was born in Newburgh, New York and came to Manhattan at the age of 11, apprenticing in the paint shop of Bootman & Smith.  The firm later became Hathaway & Thompson, and in 1875 Charles Thompson bought out his partner.

He and Hannah had previously leased a house a block away at 29 Vandam Street.  Moving into 35 Charlton Street with them was David M. Edsall, a clerk and notary public, who had boarded in the Vandam Street house.  Thompson and Edsall would be fast friends for years.

On the afternoon of October 17, 1897, the two men were far uptown in a buggy on Seventh Avenue and 135th Street when tragedy struck.  Edsall was driving the vehicle when he heard the panicked whistle of Mounted Policeman McGee.  A horse pulling a light rig had been spooked and was galloping up the avenue.  The New York Times said, "Between this vehicle and the curb was a bicycle ridden by a woman.  The shrieks of the pedestrians warned the men in the buggy to halt."

Edsall attempted to drive onto 135th Street, but it was too late.  The runaway horse slammed into the rear of the buggy.  The newspaper said Thompson "was hurled headlong over the dashboard" and Edsall was "thrown to the sidewalk."  The female bicyclist "was caught in the debris of the two wrecked wagons and also thrown violently to the sidewalk."

David Edsall suffered three broken ribs.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. Thompson was apparently dead when picked up."  But at a hospital later, the 73-year-old "gave signs of life."  His condition was dire.  The New York Times reported, "Thompson was suffering from concussion of the brain and several terrible lacerations of the face.  He was semi-conscious for some time."

Charles F. Thompson would never fully recover.  On January 22, 1900, the New-York Tribune wrote, "For over two years he had been partially rational, recognizing the members of his family and continually begging them to take him home."  Doctors diagnosed him with meningitis.  

Thompson's 76th birthday was on January 9, 1900.  The following day he lapsed into unconsciousness.  In the decades before intravenous feeding, he went without nourishment for ten days, finally dying on January 20.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned that he "had lived continuously in the Eighth Ward, probably longer than most persons now living."  His funeral was held in the parlor on January 23.

David M. Edsall remained in the Charlton Street house with Hannah.  She sold it to Dr. Thomas John Hillis and his wife Bertha in April 1904.  The couple may have known Hannah from years before, since they had been boarding at 51 Charlton Street.  Interestingly, they inherited David Edsall as a boarder.  He would remain in the house at least through 1918.

Born in 1852, Hillis graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1882.  He was a prolific author of medical articles on issues ranging from the manifestations of syphilis to the "general use of alcohol as a beverage and its value as food."

Dr. Thomas John Hillis died on February 21, 1926.  The house was converted to unofficial apartments within a year.  Among the tenants in 1928 was McLane Tilton, III, who had graduated from the University of Virginia the previous year.  He was now a partner in a law firm with T. Walter D. Duke.

Harry A. Wilson and his brother Dr. Charles H. Wilson lived at 35 Charlton Street when World War II broke out.  In 1941, Dr. Wilson joined the U. S. Army.  On July 1, 1943, the Mount Vernon, New York Daily Argus reported, "Major Charles Henry being held a prisoner of war by the Japanese, the War Department announced yesterday."  He had been captured at Corregidor.  

35 Charlton Street in 1941, the year Dr. Wilson went to war.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

A year later, the Japanese loaded Wilson and other captives onto a prison ship for transfer.  It was in Takao Harbor near the Philippines on December 15, 1944 when American planes sank the ship, killing Wilson.

Harry A. Wilson remained in the Charlton Street house at least through 1947 when his brother's estate was settled.

A renovation completed in 1957 resulted in apartments of various sizes, including a duplex.  An advertisement for one of them in The Villager on July 2, 1959, offered a "1-room apartment with kitchenette and bath."  A subsequent remodeling in 1989 resulted in a triplex and a duplex apartment (they share the second floor).  In 2012, the house was purchased by comedian, filmmaker and actor Louis C.K. for $6.5 million.

Born Louis SzĂ©kely, he earned six Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album.  He also won three Peabody awards, three Writers Guild of America awards, and a Screen Actor Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.  He sold 35 Charlton Street in April 2023.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, April 18, 2024

The 1918 Harvey D. Gibson House - 52 East 69th Street


In 1881 developer William a. Hawkinson completed a row of five high-stooped houses at 50 to 58 East 69th Street.  Each 18-feet wide, they were designed by Lamb & Wheeler.  The first resident of 52 East 69th Street was Anne White Schermerhorn Suydam, whose husband Charles Suydam died on December 31, 1882.

In the first years of the 20th century, the outdated brownstones in the neighborhood were being replaced by sumptuous, modern mansions.  Banker Henry P. Davison purchased the southwest corner of Park Avenue and 69th Street in 1916 as the site of his new home.  Included in the parcel were 50 and 52 East 69th Street--50 as part of his site and 52 to guarantee that no apartment building was erected next to his mansion.

Davison was well acquainted with another banker, Harvey Dow Gibson.  As his own residence was under construction, on December 27, 1916, The American Architect reported that Davison had sold "to Harvey Gibson, vice-president of the Liberty National Bank, the lot at 52 East Sixty-ninth Street.  Mr. Gibson will erect a dwelling for his own occupancy."

The close relationship between the two financiers was reflected in Gibson's choosing the same architectural firm that had designed the Davison mansion--Walker & Gillette.  Completed the following year, the architects' neo-Georgian design complimented the Davison house.  Both sat on a limestone base and were faced in the same Flemish bond red brick.  

The fluted columns that flanked the entrance of 52 East 69th Street supported an entablature decorated with rosettes and bellflowers.  Full-relief rams' heads upheld its cornice.  The paneled lintels of the second floor openings were carved with neo-classical urns and swags.  The fifth floor, behind a brick parapet, took the form of a steep, slate shingled mansard with two pronounced dormers.

Born in 1882 in New Hampshire, Harvey Dow Gibson graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1902.  He started with American Express before moving to the Liberty National Bank where he quickly rose to vice-president.  He married Carrie Hastings Curtis on June 10, 1903.  

The couple's 32-acre summer estate, Land's End, was in Locust Valley, Long Island (where the Davisons' country home, Peacock Point, was also located).  The mansion there, built in the 1850s, was given a Georgian remodeling by Walker & Gillette.  The Gibsons also owned a home at 5 Rue Mesnil in Paris.

Henry Dow Gibson in 1917, the year he moved into 52 East 69th Street.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

America entered World War I in April 1917, just as the Gibsons were preparing to move into their town home.  Henry Davison was appointed chairman of the War Council of the American Red Cross and The New York Times reported that Davison "called upon" Gibson to become the Red Cross Commissioner in France.  Both he and Davison traveled to the war front throughout the remainder of the war.

The year 1917 was additionally eventful for Gibson when, in addition to his new house and Red Cross position, he was promoted to president of the Liberty National Bank, as reported in The American Elite and Sociologist Blue Book.  (Upon Liberty National Bank's merger with the New York Trust Company, Gibson became president of the latter organization.)

Gibson was, according to The New York Times, "a close friend of Helen Keller."  He would eventually be treasurer of the Helen Keller Foundation and a trustee of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Untypical of millionaires, Gibson was driving himself on the night of June 20, 1921.  As he entered the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, former tennis champion Beals Wright, who was drunk, smashed into Gibson's automobile.  According to the policeman who witnessed the collision, "As soon as he became disentangled from the Gibson car...Wright continued up the avenue."  The New-York Tribune reported "at Fifty-sixth Street, it is alleged, [Wright] struck and upset a horse-drawn carriage, driven by Denis Ryan."  The tennis star was arrested for intoxication and reckless driving.  Gibson was apparently unharmed.

Domestic clouds were forming over the East 69th Street house before long.  On July 1, 1925, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Harvey Dow Gibson of New York, wife of the President of the New York Trust Company, has filed a petition for divorce in the Paris courts." 

The following year, on March 13, 1926, The New York Times reported that Gibson had married Helen Whitney Bourne in Berne, Switzerland.  The article said the marriage "is of wide interest in New York.  Mrs. Bourne obtained a divorce from George Galt Bourne in Reno in October, 1924, and Mr. Gibson and his first wife, the former Miss Carrie H. Curtis, were divorced in Paris last Summer."

On May 15, 1933, The New York Times reported that the 51-year-old banker "broke his collar-bone yesterday when he was thrown from his horse while hurdling a fence near his estate, Land's End, Locust Valley."  The millionaire spent the night in the North Country Community Hospital.

About two months later, the Land's End house was burglarized.  Then, on August 13, Gibson reported $200 in cash was missing from the residence.  The Gibsons may have had a light-fingered servant in their employ.  The New York Times recalled, "The theft follows another and larger loss in the same manner several weeks ago."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Interestingly, although Harvey and Helen Whitney Gibson continued to live in the East 69th Street house, Carrie Gibson had received it in the 1925 divorce.  It was not until February 2, 1935 that The Sun reported that Gibson "acquired the town house he occupies at 52 East Sixty-ninth street, at an indicated consideration of $90,000" from Carrie (who was now married to Griffith E. Thomas of the U.S. Navy).  The price would equal about $1.9 million in 2024.

Harvey Dow Gibson died "of a heart ailment," according to The New York Times on September 12, 1950.  In reporting his death, the newspaper called him a "banker of world-wide fame," and noted that he had served as a "Red Cross leader in both World Wars."

Helen Whitney Bourne Gibson's daughter, actress Whitney Bourne, who married Roy Atwood in 1956, inherited the East 69th Street house.  On December 24, 1964, The New York Times headlined an article, "Actress Buys East Side House" and reported that Whitney Bourne Atwood had sold 52 East 69th Street to Jayne Mansfield.  The article noted, "Miss Mansfield plans alterations to the residence."

Jayne Mansfield and husband Matt Cimber with their newborn son and her four other children.  Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1965.

Mansfield had married her third husband, Italian-born director Matt Cimber exactly three months earlier, on September 24, 1964.  The couple separated on July 11, 1965.

Two months before that, on May 10, 1965, the Long Island City newspaper Star Journal reported, "Actress Jayne Mansfield's East Side town house at 52 East 69th street, Manhattan, was burglarized yesterday of $51,000 in jewelry."  The amount of the heist would translate to about $473,000 today.

Mansfield was in Biloxi, Mississippi appearing at the Gus Stevens Supper Club in the early summer of 1967.  After midnight on June 28, a driver for the club chauffeured the actress and three of her children, her attorney, and her romantic partner Sam Brody on a trip to New Orleans where Mansfield was to appear on an afternoon television show.  The automobile slammed into the rear of a tractor-trailer, killing Mansfield and the two other front seat passengers.

The former Gibson house later became home to Peter M. Robbins.  It was sold in 2022 to historian, author, and collector of Old Master paintings Davide Stefanacci for $9.1 million.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The 1853 John P. Faure House - 238 West 11th Street


Linus Scudder was a well-known builder in Greenwich Village in the decades prior to the Civil War.  In 1852, he broke ground for two identical 20-foot-wide, brick-faced homes at 38 and 40 Hammond Street (renumbered 238 and 240 West 11th Street in 1864).  Three stories tall above brownstone English basements, they were completed in 1853.  Trimmed in brownstone, they were capped by wooden bracketed cornices, each of the closely-spaced corbels dripping an onion-shaped finial.

No. 38 Hammond Street was first home to Charles Griffith, a merchant at 61 Cedar Street.  He and his family lived here until about 1858, when broker Henry Pray was listed at the address.  He and his wife Abby had a teenaged daughter, Sophia.  

Sophia A. Pray died on May 1, 1862 two months before her 20th birthday.  Her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

It was common for even affluent homeowners to take in a boarder.  L. Blanchard lived here on August 20, 1863 when The New York Times reported on the draft lottery held the previous morning at 10:00 to bolster the Union Army's troops.  At the headquarters at 185 Sixth Avenue, crowds had gathered to witness the pulling of the names from "the wheel of destiny," the article saying they "tremble while they hear."  Among the names drawn that day was L. Blanchard's.

The Faure family purchased 238 West 11th Street around 1869.  Born in 1814, John R. Faure was a partner in the dry goods commission business of Faure & McCash and a director in the Excelsior Fire Insurance Co.  Sharing the house with him and his wife Catherine were their adult son John P. Faure and his wife, the former Lucie J. Halpin.  John P. was a wool merchant, specializing in hosiery.  (Interestingly, Lucie Halpin was an author during the Civil War years, writing under the pseudonym of Miles O'Reilly.)

Like their predecessors in the house, the Faures took in a boarder.  In 1870, for instance, it was Elie Bonin, an attorney, and in 1879 William V. Smith, a surveyor, lived with the family.

John R. Faure died on April 6, 1874 at the age of 60.  He was buried at St. Peter's Stone Church Cemetery in Dutchess County.

By the 1890s, Catherine's widowed cousin, William L. Elseffer lived with the family.  His wife, Amanda Shaw, had been "a writer of considerable abilities," according to the 1895 History of Dutchess County.  Elseffer had "attained considerable celebrity as a civil engineer," said The New York Times.  He worked on the development of Central Park, engineered the drainage of the salt meadows between Jersey City and Newark, and in 1887 issued a report to the United States Senate on the Pacific railways.  Elseffer died at the age of 71 on January 2, 1898.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.

The following year, on October 20, 1899, Catherine A. Faure died at the age of 85.  She was buried next to her husband at St. Peter's Stone Church Cemetery in Dutchess County.

By the time of his mother's death, John P. Faure had turned his professional attention from hosiery to civic matters.  He had been appointed a Trustee of the Common Schools of the Ninth Ward on December 19, 1888, and in 1894 was appointed secretary of the influential Committee of Seventy.

The committee was organized in September that year as a response to public dissatisfaction with political corruption, notably in Tammany Hall.  Among its stated principles were that "municipal government should be entirely divorced from party politics and from selfish personal ambition or gain," and "the economical, honest, and businesslike management of municipal affairs has nothing to do with questions of national or State politics."

When reform Mayor William Lafayette Strong took office in 1895, he appointed Faure Commissioner of Charities.  By 1897, Faure was secretary of the St. John's Guild, which provided medical treatment to the children of New York's poor.  The group maintained a Floating Hospital and Faure was chairman of its governing committee.  And when the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898, he became highly involved in Red Cross work.

On July 7, 1898, The New York Times reported, "The Floating Hospital of St. John's Guild yesterday made its first excursion of the season down the North River and bay to the Seaside Hospital of the Guild, with 440 mothers and sick babies and children aboard."  The article said, "Nearly a hundred women, carrying sickly infants in their arms, had already been waiting over half an hour on the pier, so as not to miss the chance of giving their dear ones an opportunity to have a day's outing on the water."  Also on board that day were John P. Faure, who "appeared in a delightfully cool-looking yachting suit, and was accompanied by Mrs. Faure."

The esteem in which the public held John P. Faure was reflected in a letter to the editor of The New York Times on September 1, 1901.  Signed "Conservative Republican," it read:

Allow me to call your attention, for Mayor of Greater New York, to Mr. John P. Faure, former Commissioner of Charities and member of the School Board, a philanthropist, by whose extraordinary efforts 40,000 poor women and children, through St. John's Guild, have been permitted to get fresh air and be restored to health.  Doubtless hundreds of lives have been saved by his humane, but unselfish, devotions to their welfare.

Like all well-heeled New Yorkers, the Faures summered outside of the city.  They spent the summer of 1902 at the fashionable Peninsula Hotel at Seabright, New Jersey.  On August 16, the hotel hosted a "progressive euchre" in the dining hall.  "The spacious hall was cleared and decorated for the occasion, and presented a scene of beauty.  Mirth and jollity reigned supreme," said the New-York Tribune.  Although Lucie Faure did not win the first prize of a cut glass and silver cracker jar, she was awarded a parasol.

In 1904, the Faures acquired a summer home in Ossining, New York.  They were there in 1912 when John headed to Manhattan for business on the morning of June 19.  The next day, The Sun began an article saying, "John P. Faure, Commissioner of Charities under Mayor Strong, dropped dead of heart failure on the station platform at Ossining yesterday.  The unexpected passing of an express train had startled him.  He was 67 years old."

It does not appear that Lucie returned to West 11th Street.  In 1914 the house was occupied by Harry X. Stinson and his wife.  Like John P. Faure, Mrs. Stinson was interested in reform issues and was corresponding secretary of the International Pure Milk League, which lobbied to have inspections of dairy farms and cattle every six months.

Lucie Halpin Faure sold 238 West 11th Street to Charles W. Knight in March 1920.  The Real Estate Record & Guide reported he "will alter [it] into high class studio apartments."  Knight apparently changed his mind, and on July 20, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported he had sold it, saying, "the house will be renovated by the new owner."

Those renovations did not come for another six years.  A fourth floor with a vast, sloping skylight was added, the third floor windows were extended, and a charming multi-paned window was installed at the parlor level.  Among the tenants living here by 1936 was Hila C. Meadow, whom Congress's Special Committee of Un-American Activities tracked through 1940 as voting for the Communist Party ticket.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In 1987 the house was renovated again, resulting in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor floors, one apartment on the second, and a duplex on the third and fourth.  Among the residents was Brazilian-born handbag and accessories designer Carlos Falchi.  Born on September 26, 1944, he began his business in Greenwich Village.  Having once worked as a busboy at a Park Avenue South restaurant and nightclub, his high end bags would eventually sell for as much as $5,000.

Falchi sold his unit in 2013.  The purchasers bought the other two apartments in 2021 and 2023, and are currently returning 238 West 11th Street to a single-family home.

many thanks to reader Scott McDowell for requesting this post
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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The 1907 Chepstow - 215-217 West 101st Street


photo by Anthony Bellov

In February 1906, the Central Realty Co. announced plans to erect “a 10-story elevator apartment house” on the northeast corner of Broadway and 101st Street.  The firm promised, “The building will have the very latest improvements, and apartments will be arranged in suites for housekeeping purposes.”  (The term “housekeeping” meant the apartments would have kitchens, unlike those in the popular residential hotels.)
The Chepstow, as it was called, was completed in 1907.  The architectural firm of Mulliken & Moeller had produced a handsome brick and stone structure in the Renaissance Revival style.  A two-story base of white limestone supported eight floors of red brick.  The architects placed the regal, Renaissance-inspired residential entrance on the side street.  Its wide, arched doorway sat deeply recessed behind polished granite columns that upheld an ornate balcony with Corinthian columns and a carved heraldic panel. A faux balcony directly above carried on the motif, with intricate Renaissance Revival carvings and a large panel of a crown surrounded by foliate decorations.
image via the NYC Municipal Archive
On the Broadway side were a large store on the corner, occupied by the upscale grocery firm of Park & Tilford, and a smaller shop at 2668 which was leased by florist Charles Haberman.  On September 7, 1907, The American Florist noted that Haberman “is now in a fine store in the new building 2668 Broadway.”
The sprawling apartments contained eight or nine rooms with three baths.  They filled with well-to-do white-collar residents.  Among the original occupants was John James Stevenson, a professor of Geology at New York University and a member of the Geological Society of American and the exclusive Century Club.  Professor Stevenson would remain in the Chepstow into the 1920’s.
Mitchell Harrison, his wife, and their six-year-old son were also early tenants.  Harrison was a former newspaper advertising agent and, according to The New York Times, “a man of independent means.”   The couple lived in St. Louis until 1908 when, said the newspaper, Harrison “gave up his advertising business… because of ill health.”  His medical condition seems to have been more psychological than physical.  In January 1909, Harrison took to his bed and never got out.  He was diagnosed with “nervous prostration.”
On March 21, Harrison’s brother-in-law, Louis M. Lifter stopped by.  The New York Times reported that Mrs. Harrison “joined them, and the three read and talked together.  Harrison seemed to be very cheerful, yet he had at the time a note in his bed addressed to his wife asking her forgiveness for his suicide.”  After a while, he said he wanted to sleep and the two left the bedroom.
They had barely sat down in the living room when a loud report was heard.  Mrs. Harrison ran to the bedroom and “saw a little cloud of smoke floating upward from the bed.”  She threw open a window and screamed to the street for help.  “Get a doctor!”  Harrison was still alive when the doctor arrived but died before the ambulance got to the building.  The coroner’s physician found Harrison’s letter to his wife in the bed, which read:
I did what seemed to be best under the circumstances.  Please forgive me and bear up under your trouble for baby’s sake.  It breaks my heart to leave you—I so dearly love you and our darling boy. 
        God bless you both.  Your Loving Husband
Artist Mabel R. Ward lived in the Chepstow in 1912, as did Robert Adamson and his wife, the former Ethel McClintock.  Adamson had been a newspaper editor and political writer until January 1, 1910 when he became secretary to Mayor William Jay Gaynor.
The mayor and his son set sail for Europe on the RMS Baltic on September 4, 1913.  Seven days later a telegram from Rufus Gaynor arrived at the Chepstow for Robert Adamson.  It read, “Father died Wednesday at 1 o’clock.  Death due to heart failure.  Notify mother.”  Gaynor’s successor, Mayor Ardolph L. Klein, kept Adamson on as his secretary.  Then, after managing his campaign in 1913, on January 1, 1914, Mayor John Purroy Mitchel appointed Adamson Fire Commissioner.
A heart-warming incident played out in the Adamson apartment on Thanksgiving Day 1916.  Firefighter Jack Walsh had earlier “scaled a seven story building and rescued a young lady at the risk of his life,” according to The Advocate.  The 32-year-old was on duty that day, when his captain informed him that he was to report to the Commissioner’s apartment.  He later told a reporter, “As I entered the Commissioner’s house I was greeted by Mrs. Adamson, and still I wondered what the urgent call was all about.  A minute later the ‘Big Boss’ appeared and said, ‘Fireman, glad to see you.  Did you have your turkey yet?”  The young hero not only shared Thanksgiving dinner with the Fire Commissioner and his wife, but was handed $100 in appreciation for his bravery, donated by a citizen.
Augustus C. Corby, the vice-president of the Metropolitan Bank lived here in 1921.  He had just returned home on the night of June 15 when he had to rush back to the bank.  Frederick J. Schweer, Jr., a young clerk had taken a pile of bank books and records into a large vault when the heavy door slammed shut.  Schweer was now trapped inside an airtight vault and the bank’s employees had all gone home.
Around an hour later, at 7:00 the night watchman, John Connolly, was making his rounds and heard a steady tapping on the door of the vault.  He first thought someone was trying to break in, then realized an employee was trapped inside.  Connolly rushed to the telephone and called Corby, who had the combination.  Before leaving his apartment, Corby notified police.  The Massachusetts newspaper, the Greenfield Daily Recorder reported, “His automobile was outside and he broke all traffic regulations getting to the bank.”  Once there, and with policemen standing by, he opened the vault.  The article said, “The boy was unconscious when lifted out.  An ambulance surgeon from Bellevue hospital, who had been waiting more than an hour with a pulmotor, began work on him.”  Schweer had been rescued with only moments to spare.
At the time of the nerve-wracking rescue, tenants paid the equivalent today of $3,900 per month for an eight-room apartment, and $4,400 for nine rooms.  The Broadway stores had been divided into three shops that year.  Morris Burnstein’s cigar store was in the corner space, the Buckingham Haberdashers moved into the middle store, and the northernmost space was a lingerie shop.
Expectedly, families living in the Chepstow employed servants, at least a maid and a cook.  The Jordan Lamberts’ maid was Viola Smith.  Although the building, of course, had electricity, the 25-year-old was using an alcohol lamp on the night of November 15, 1925.  Her choice nearly ended her life.  The Daily News reported, that while carrying the lamp, she tripped and fell.
“Her clothes and the pantry caught fire.  Mrs. Lambert rushed to the screaming maid and beat out the flames with her hands, suffering slight burns as she did so.”  Viola Smith was taken to Knickerbocker Hospital, where her condition was deemed serious.
The days of expansive suites and affluent residents came to an end in the World War II years.  In 1945, the Chepstow was converted to a warren of single occupancy units.  Living in a room here in 1955 was Frank “Frisco” McBride, a 31-year-old portrait artist in the Times Amusement Corp. Arcade on Broadway near 52nd Street.
Around 3:00 on the morning of September 16 that year, an inebriated McBride was on Broadway, just north of Times Square.  A man, possibly accidentally, knocked him to the sidewalk.  The Herald Statesman reported, “McBride got up, clutching a beer can opener, and ‘proceeded to terrorize about 150 people in the vicinity,’ police said.”  When Detectives Ury and Massello attempted to apprehend him, McBride lunged at Massello with the opener.  In the affray that followed, Detective Ury’s right index finger was broken.  At the station house McBride explained his actions saying, “I must have been crazy drunk.”
A renovation completed in 1965 resulted in nine apartments per floor.  Whether Edward McBride was a relative of Frisco McBride is unclear, but he was living here in 1973 when he was arrested on May 10 with two other men.  They were charged with robbing a man named Larry Grant of his 1971 Chrysler and cash, as well as with gun possession.  As the police van was transporting them to the 24th Precinct Station on West 100th Street the following morning, the rear doors swung open.  All five prisoners, including McBride, jumped out—two of them handcuffed together—and fled without the policemen in the front of the van realizing what had happened.
But eluding police while in handcuffs proved both difficult and awkward.  McBride walked into the Criminal Court Building on Centre Street a day later to give himself up.  He told officials that “he had spent most of Friday riding subways around town and had gone to see ‘Fists of Fury’ that evening at the National Theater in Times Square, sitting through it four times.”
photo by Anthony Bellov
As the 20th century drew to a close, Oscar and Toni’s bar occupied the corner store.  The 1994 New York: The Rough Guide called it “a neighborhood bar that’s popular with locals, especially students from nearby Columbia University.”  It made way for the Broadway Dive in 1999.  Fodor’s Travel Guide said, “It may be called a dive, but this dimly lit, wood-clad bar, covered with various animal busts, is more like a craft beer emporium.”  

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Lost John Innes Kane Mansion - 1 West 49th Street


image from "Charles Follen McKim, A Study of his Life and Work, 1913 (copyright expired)

Born on July 29, 1850, John Innes Kane was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor I.  His maternal grandmother was Dorothea Astor.  Kane married Annie Cottenet Schermerhorn on December 12, 1878, her wedding gown designed personally by Parisian couturier Charles Frederick Worth.  Kane was among the social class known as "gentlemen," meaning he lived on inherited wealth.  Rather than work, he was interested, according to The New York Times, "in scientific matters, especially those dealing with discovery and exploration."

In the spring of 1904, Kane purchased "the old Matthiessen residence," as described by The Sun, at the northwest corner of 49th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Weeks later, on April 9, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported he had purchased the abutting four-story houses at 612 and 614 Fifth Avenue.  The article said, "It is understood that Mr. Kane...will erect for his own occupancy a large modern dwelling on the site."

Four months later, on August 6, the journal reported, "McKim, Mead & White...have completed plans for a residence for John Innes Kane."  Saying the four-story mansion would be clad in limestone, the article noted, "It is estimated to cost $200,000."  The figure would translate to about $7 million in 2024.

According to his biographer, Charles McKim, who was a personal friend of Kane, took the reins in designing the residence.  In his 1913 Charles Follen McKim, A Study of His Life and Work, Alfred Hoyt Granger mentioned, "He builded for his friends many beautiful houses, of which the most beautiful in my judgment is the Kane house on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-ninth Street."  The Sun, however, attributed the design to Stanford White, saying "Mr. White saw that the Italian renaissance was the style best suited to her [i.e. Annie Kane's] ideas."

At a time when many Manhattan millionaires were erecting frothy Beaux Arts confections, the Kane mansion's Italian Renaissance design was subtle.  On June 2, 1907, The Sun explained, "When Mr. and Mrs. Kane gave the order for the house they made but one condition with the architects.  They wanted the house to be the plainest in New York."  The journalist presumed, "This desire was probably inspired by the house they had lived in for many years previously."  (That was Annie's parents' mansion at 49 West 23rd Street.)  

The entrance of the mansion opened onto West 49th Street.  The Architectural Review, 1907

The Sun said, "It is considered a rarely pure specimen of Italian renaissance, even to the hatchment that hangs over the entrance."  While the exterior was Italian, the Kanes "decided that [the interiors] should be English."  Mrs. Frank Millet was commissioned to scour Europe for the appropriate furnishings.  "The furniture selected by Mrs. Millet was exclusively English of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," said the article.

Two views of the entrance hall.  The Architectural Review, January 1919 (copyright expired)

The ground floor held the "dining rooms and the library," while two large drawing rooms were on the second.  The bedrooms were located on the third floor.

In 1904, the same year ground was broken for their townhouse, the Kanes' cottage, Breakwater, in Bar Harbor, Maine was completed.  It was designed by Fred L. Savage in the Tudor Revival style.  The couple also maintained a residence in Lenox, Massachusetts that Annie inherited from her father.

The Kane cottage in Bar Harbor.  image via

Because Kane had no business responsibilities, he and Annie had unlimited leisure time and the ability to travel extensively.  On October 15, 1911, The New York Times reported, "Mr. and Mrs. John Innes Kane will be leaving shortly for Europe, and will later proceed to Egypt, where they will be joined by a party of eleven of their friends, who will be their guests on a long trip up the historic river."  Seven months later, on June 9, 1912, The Sun announced, "Mr. and Mrs. John Innes Kane, who passed part of the winter in Egypt, returned from Europe recently.  They will go to Bar Harbor for the summer."

A sitting room (above) and a breakfast room had seemingly identical ceilings.  from the collection of the Columbia University Libraries.

John Kane did not enjoy his limestone palazzo for especially long.  Early in the summer of 1912, he fell ill while at Bar Harbor.  His condition worsened over the months.  Finally, on February 2, 1913, The New York Times wrote, "John Innes Kane, a member of one of New York's oldest families and a great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, died yesterday at his residence, 1 West Forty-ninth Street, from pneumonia."  Kane was 62 years old.  In reporting his death, the newspaper added, "His forty-ninth Street residence attracted immediate attention, when completed in 1909 [sic], because of its attractive simplicity."

from the collection of the Columbia University Libraries.

Following her period of mourning, Annie Kane resumed her seasonal routine.  On October 10, 1915, for instance, The Sun reported, "Mrs. John Innes Kane has arrived at Lenox from Bar Harbor, where she has been passing the summer.  She will return to 1 West Forty-ninth street about the middle of next month."

Annie's significant fortune was increased upon the death of her sister, Fannie Schermerhorn Bridgham in 1919.  On November 10, 1920, The New York Times reported that Annie had inherited $590,538--just over $9 million in today's money.

Disaster struck while Annie was at Bar Harbor in August 1921.  A crew of workmen were in the 49th Street townhouse, one of whom was on the second floor on August 23 when he heard something fall in the library.  He opened the door to discover, as worded by The New York Times, "the library was a furnace."  His opening of the door caused a backdraft, which "spurted out so quickly that the workman was hardly able to close the door without catching fire himself."

Crowds crammed Fifth Avenue as flames burst through the windows of the mansion.  Although the fire spread to the dining room, McKim, Mead & White was credited for saving the residence.  "The rooms were fireproofed so perfectly that the firemen were able to confine the flames, and, although everything in the library was burned, some of the furniture in the dining room was saved," said The New York Times.  The solid construction was also reflected in the fact that there was relatively little water damage.  "Another remarkable feature of the fire was that the thousands of gallons of water pumped into the burning rooms did not seep through to the ceilings of the floors below, but cascaded down a marble stairway," said the article.

Tragically, "priceless portraits and heirlooms of the Schermerhorn and Kane families" were destroyed.  The Evening World reported, "The fire was extinguished in a quarter of an hour, but in that time the two rooms had been gutted, the great carved ceilings reduced almost to charcoal, family portraits, marbles, tapestries and bric-a-brac burned to a cinder or blackened beyond repair."

The twin beds in this bedroom cleverly shared a single canopy.  from the collection of the Columbia University Libraries.

Annie Cottenet Kane died at the age of 69 "after a long illness," according to The New York Times, on July 24, 1926.  Her will divided her extensive estate among "worthy charities and other organizations."  The New York Orthopaedic Dispensary and Hospital received $1 million to found the Annie C. Kane Fellowships to provide fellowships to young surgeons, for instance, and Columbia University received two $500,000 bequests, one in memory of Annie's father William C. Schermerhorn.

The Kane mansion would not survive much longer.  Two years after Annie's death, John D. Rockefeller Jr. set in motion the ambitious 22-acre Rockefeller Center project.  In 1933, Raymond Hood's La Maison Francaise was completed on the site of the mansion.

photograph by Epicogenius

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