Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The William Hubert Burr House - 161 West 74th Street


Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich partnered to form the architectural firm Lamb & Rich in 1880.  Within only six years they had expanded into real estate development.  In 1886 they completed nine residences that wrapped the northwest corner of West 74th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

The easternmost house, 161 West 74th Street, anchored the row by rising a story above the others.  Essentially Queen Anne in style, Lamb & Rich gave the basement and parlor floors Romanesque Revival touches, most evident in the entrance.  Clustered colonettes with stylized capitals supported hefty blocks carved with designs reminiscent of Celtic knots.  Grotesque faces stared out from the swirling forms.

The grouped openings of the second floor were framed in terra cotta embossed with fleur-de-lis.  The architects made creative use of brick in the unusual basketweave panel below the single third-floor sill and in the decoration of the spandrel and frieze under the pressed metal cornice.

William Hubert Burr purchased 161 West 74th Street.  Born on July 14, 1851 in Watertown, Connecticut, he was married to Caroline Kent.  The couple had four children.  

William Hubert Burr (original source unknown)

Burr was a civil engineer and a professor of engineering at Columbia University.  Living with the family was George Shattuck Morison, a bachelor and colleague.  Both men sat on the city's Board of Consulting Engineers, and both were routinely approached by journalists regarding civic projects.

George S. Morison was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on December 19, 1842.  His ancestors had arrived from Scotland in 1710.  Formerly a member of the bridge construction firm of Morison, Fields & Co., The New York Times described him as the "engineer of five great bridges across the Mississippi, ten across the Missouri, the huge bridge over the Ohio at Cairo, Ill., and many others."  The newspaper said, "probably his most notable achievement was the building of the bridge across the Mississippi at Memphis, Tenn., which has a single truss span of 790 feet, than which [sicthere are only two larger in the world."

Caroline Kent Burr died in 1894.  The Burr family and Morison remained in the house until 1897.  (Morison was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to "a board for locating a deep water harbor in Southern California," according to the New-York Tribune.  That position may have necessitated his leaving New York.)

The family of Edwin A. Whitfield followed the Burrs in 161 West 74th Street.  Whitfield traced his American roots on his maternal side to Nicholas Pariset, who came from France in 1780.  Whitfield and his wife, the former Susie Bird, had three daughters, Rebecca Bird, Virginia, and Sue.

Rebecca's marriage to corporation attorney John Wahl Queen was held in the West 74th Street house on December 14, 1898.  The New York World mentioned that Rebecca "is a cousin of Andrew Carnegie, who was one of the few guests present."

Four years after Rebecca's wedding, Dr. Leonard S. Rau leased 161 West 74th Street.  He remained until about 1910, when the house was purchased by John Thomas Bermingham and his wife, Sarah. 

Born in 1862, Bermingham was a retired contractor.  He and Sarah had one daughter.  Their affluence was reflected in John's memberships in the New York Athletic Club and the Columbia Yacht Club.  

John Thomas Bermingham contracted pneumonia in January 1914, and died in the house at the age of 52 on January 14.  Sarah leased the residence in 1917 to Viola Root Cameron.

A widow, Viola was politically involved, a member of the Woman's Forum.  She was also a member of the Daughters of the America Revolution.  

In 1918 she advertised a room for rent.  That year it was occupied by John P. White, and in 1919 by W. K. White, a member of the Produce Exchange (whether the two Whites were related is unclear).  In 1920, another well-heeled widow, Flora Bella Aldrich, lived in the house with Viola.  They may have known one another through their mutual memberships in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

During the Depression years, furnished rooms were rented in 161 West 74th Street, their occupants not always upstanding.  Living here in 1938 was Gladys Stephens, alias Agnes Powers, alias Agnes Stevens, who was described by the North Shore Daily Journal as "a petite twenty-year-old blonde."  Gladys perpetrated what for decades had been known to police as the servant girl scheme.

On August 31, 1938, Gladys was hired by Mrs. Samuel Sultar who lived in the Briarwood section of Queens, New York.  The North Shore Daily Journal reported, "Three days later when Mrs. Sultar returned from a business trip, she discovered the girl gone and the house looted of the jewelry and clothing, including a diamond engagement ring valued at $525, a watch, a signet ring, bath towels, clothing and $5 in cash."  The theft would equal about $12,500 in 2024.

On September 7, police arrested Gladys Stephens in her room here and transported her to the Jamaica police headquarters.  In her room was found a woman's suit which belonged to Mrs. Sultar.  The North Shore Daily Journal reported, "after long questioning by Detective Thomas Sheedy of the Jamaica Squad, she admitted taking the clothing, but denied any knowledge of the missing jewelry and cash."

A renovation completed in 1999 resulted in two apartments per floor.  Although the masonry has been unnecessarily painted, 161 West 74th Street retains much of its 1886 appearance.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

No comments:

Post a Comment