Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Boak & Paris's 1937 5 West 86th Street


On October 1, 1937, two years before the official end of the Great Depression, the West 86th Street Corp. opened the doors to its 20-story apartment house at 5 West 86th Street.  Replacing five high-stooped rowhouses (including the former home of James Buchanan Brady--"Diamond Jim" Brady--at 11 West 86th Street), it was designed by the architectural firm of Boak & Paris.

A 1930s take on Imperial Roman architecture, the entrance featured engaged, fasces-like reeded columns that sprouted hefty anthemia.  Crossed Roman spears decorated the door.  Panels of burly reeding separated the openings of the second floor.  The upper floors were clad in variegated beige brick, divided into three vertical sections by full-height piers that flanked and separated the two central bays.

Horizontal relief was achieved with terra cotta wave crest bandcourses above the seventh floor that flowed in opposite directions, and incised bandcourses above the fifteenth.  Casement windows, so important in the style, provided the apartments with natural light and wrapped the corners above the seventh floor.

An advertisement listed "gracious urban apartments at Central Park" ranging from three to five rooms, and noted "some with terraces."  Rents ran from $1,250 to $1,900 per year (equal to about $2,150 to $2,600 per month in 2024).  The listing for the terraced penthouse with nine rooms and four baths touted "superb layout" and "unexcelled view, four exposures."  No rent was revealed for that unit.

The building filled quickly with professional like Mrs. John Iraci, "officer of the International Broadcasting Company," as described by The Sun when she signed the lease.  Her husband, radio executive John Iraci, had died the previous November.  Two other of the initial residents were Rev. Judah Kahn, associate rabbi of the Free Synagogue; and illustrator Frederic Varady.  When Varady signed his lease in December 1938, The New York Sun mentioned that renting in the building was now "complete."

The 30-year-old Frederic Varady did illustrations for books,  magazines and advertisements.  His style showed influences of J. C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell.

Varady's July 1953 cover of Collier's magazine showed Rockwell-esque humor.  

On October 4, 1939, The New York Times reported Lawrence Germain and "Dr. Joseph Fried, eye specialist who recently arrived in this country from Budapest, Hungary," had taken apartments.  

Germain was a partner in Germain-Hegeman Company, Inc., co-founded in 1910 by his father Max Germain.  The development firm erected housing in New Jersey.  On July 21, 1951, The Record of Hackensack, New Jersey recalled that Max Germain and his partner Norbert T. Hegeman were pioneers in Bergen County residential development.  The newspaper said they erected "several hundred homes in the North Hackensack-River Edge area."

Dr. Fried quickly became active in matters outside his profession and would become a vice-president of the The United Hungarian Jews of America, Inc. by 1945.  Three years after moving into 5 West 86th Street, the family suffered tragedy.

Paul Fried was 14 years old when the family moved to America in 1939.  He was enrolled in Stuyvesant High School for academically advanced boys.  Its location on East 15th Street necessitated his taking the subway to school.  Fried was "subject to fainting spells," according to school officials.  It was a condition that ended in calamity.

Paul, now 17 years old, stood on the 91st Street platform of the I.R.T. subway on the morning of November 22, 1942.  Just as the train pulled into the station, the teen fainted and fell onto the tracks.  Although, according to The New York Sun, the train operator "tried vainly to stop the train before it struck the boy," Fried was killed instantly.

Another couple suffered a tragic loss four years later.  Lt. Melvin Cohen had been in the Army for several years, according to The Larchmont Times.  In November 1945, he and his wife had a baby boy.

On July 11, 1946, the newspaper said, "The Cohens, who make their home at 5 West 86th street, New York, arrived in Larchmont about a week ago to spend the Summer."  At around 9:00 on the morning of July 7, Mrs. Cohen placed the baby in his carriage for a nap outdoors.  Twenty minutes later she checked on him and found him "at the foot of the carriage under the covers."

She rushed the infant across the street to Dr. S. W. Pearlman, who called the inhalator squad of the fire department.  "In spite of the vigorous attempts of the town firemen to revive the child," said the article, "he was pronounced dead about 20 minutes after the squad's arrival."  

Dr. Joseph Fried was still living at 5 West 86th Street as late as 1960.  Among his neighbors were William Mason Lichtenstein and his wife Annette.  A consultant and former vice president of Wullscyhleger & Co., Inc. textile manufacturers, Lichtenstein was best known for his bridge playing expertise.  

He had won the Reisinger Knockout Team Championship, the top ranking New York bridge event, in 1945.  Three years later he won the Vanderbilt Knockout Team Championship, "one of the two most important national titles," according to The New York Times, and came in second in that event in 1956.

The Frieds and the Lichtensteins were well-acquainted with Alfred De Silva, not as a neighbor, but as their beloved doorman.  A native of Trinidad, "Freddy" was hired at 5 West 86th Street in 1940.  His service to the residents went beyond professional to personal.  One resident, Sabrina Weinberger said in May 1975, "If someone was sick, he would call them every day.  He would watch out for children, seeing that they got safely on their school buses or keep an eye on them while they played in front of the building."

After 35 years of service, the 72-year-old retired on May 18, 1975 with plans of a trip to Trinidad before moving with his wife to Philadelphia.  The next day, The Daily Press reported, "Alfred De Silva has whistled up his last cab and gotten his last tip--a hefty one of $1,000."  The residents of 5 West 86th Street gave him the going-away thank-you that would equal about $5,500 today.

Boak & Paris's Depression era building--including its all-important casement windows--survives virtually intact.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

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