Friday, March 22, 2024

The Frederick E. Westbrook House - 58 East 56th Street


By the first years of the 1890s, the family of Frederick E. Westbrook lived in the high-stooped brownstone house at 58 East 56th Street, erected about 15 years earlier.  Four stories tall above a high English basement, the 22-foot-wide Italianate residence reflected the affluence of the neighborhood.  Its stoop rose to an arched entranceway flanked by engaged columns upholding an entablature.  The parlor windows shared a single molded sill, and a three-sided bay, carved with anthemions dominated the second floor.  Rosettes filled the voids between the brackets of the pressed metal cornice.

Westbrook grew up in Fishkill, New York.  Described by The New York Times as coming from "a Colonial family," he was member of the General Society of the War of 1812.  Both his grandfather, Frederick Westbrook, and his father, Rev. Dr. Cornelius Dupuy Westbrook, had served in the New York Militia during that conflict.  

Frederick E. Westbrook moved to New York City in 1832, where he found a position as a clerk to Federal Judge Samuel Betts before becoming an attorney.  He married Catherine Eliza Jackson in 1838.  The couple's daughter, Anna M., was married to Charles Judson Gould.

Westbrook was exceptionally proud of his and Catherine's summer home, Senate House, in Kingston, New York.  Erected by Colonel Wessel Ten Broeck around 1676, it served as the meeting place of the New York State Senate upon the adoption of the state's first constitution in 1777.  The senate continued meeting there until the sacking of Kingston by the British on October 16, 1777.

The Senate House still stands in Kingston, New York, now operated as a museum.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Frederick's brother, Charles Ruggles Westbrook, had inherited the property from his cousin, Sarah Van Gaasbeck, in 1850.  He and his wife conveyed the deed to Frederick and Catherine in April 1869.

In May 1890, Frederick E. Westbrook was "knocked down by a Broadway cable-car at Warren-st." as reported by the New-York Tribune.  He was taken to the Hudson Street Hospital, where he died at the age of 91 on May 26.

It is unclear how long Catherine remained at 58 East 56th Street.  Boarding here in 1898 was artist Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, a member of the National Academy of Design.  Born in Britain in 1819, he arrived in America in 1850.  By now he was well-known for his paintings of wildlife.  Tait was a consistent participant in the exhibitions of the National Academy of Design, which showed more than 200 of his paintings before the turn of the century.

Tait may have been living at 58 East 56th Street in 1897 when he painted Rabbits on a Logfrom the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The East 56th Street house next became home to the family of stockbroker Philip W. Harding.  He had become a member of the Stock Exchange in 1874.  He and his wife, Emma, had two children, J. Hammond and Emma.

The two Emmas participated in the social protocol of "at homes."  The practice informed socialites of whose drawing rooms were open for receiving.  On January 24, 1904, for instance, the New York Herald noted, "Mrs. Philip Harding, with her daughter, Miss Emma Harding, of No. 58 East Fifty-sixth street, are at home on the first and third Mondays."

The family could not have known that this would be the last winter season that Emma B. Harding would entertain.  The family was at Monmouth Beach, New Jersey that summer, when she died on August 4.

Philip survived his wife by five years, dying in the East 56th Street house on January 24, 1909 at the age of 63.  In reporting his death, The New York Times called him, "an old and prominent member of the New York Stock Exchange."  

Emma and J. Hammond Harding wasted little time in liquidating the estate.  The house was sold in December that year to Charles Augustus Coe, Jr.  Born on October 24, 1855, he traced his American roots to the early 18th century.  Having inherited a significant fortune upon his father's death in 1883, Coe's elevated social status was reflected in his memberships in the Union Club, the New York Athletic Club, the Sons of the Revolution, and the St. Nicholas Society.

Although by 1912, fashionable society had mostly moved northward past 59th Street, life continued as it had for decades at 58 East 56th Street.  In 1912, a mutual agreement with Coe's butler resulted in an advertisement in The New York Times on April 1.  "Butler, &c.--Young man wishes position as butler or valet; personal city reference.  58 East 56th st.  ring basement bell."

The wealthy bachelor died here on September 16, 1920.  There was no public funeral.  

The house was advertised for sale eight months later.  It became home to Theodore Friend Humphrey and his wife, the former Martha Feltus Townsend.  The couple was married in Bar Harbour, Maine in 1906 and had a daughter, Martha Rosalie.  Living with the family was Theodore's sister, Julia.  They were the youngest and eldest children, respectively, of merchant James Hoyt Humphrey and Annie Maria Olmsted.

Never married, Julia Humphrey died on January 15, 1930 at the age of 72.  Her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

The Humphrey house was an anachronistic bubble of residential refinement within a commercial environment.  On December 22, 1933, for instance, The New York Sun reported, 

 Miss Martha Rosalie Humphrey, the daughter of Mrs. Theodore F. Humphrey of 58 East Fifty-sixth street, was the guest of honor at a small supper-dance last evening at the Hotel Gotham, arranged by members of the young married set under the chaperonage of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Stout.

Miss Humphrey, who made her debut in New York a few years ago, returned last Monday from a six months stay in Europe, where she visited Paris and London and the Island of Majorca, Spain.

In 1941 a smart automobile waits outside the Humphrey house.  The stoop has been turned sideways to accommodate the widening of East 56th Street.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Nevertheless, the march of progress would overtake 58 East 56th Street just over a decade later.  A renovation completed in 1945 resulted in a restaurant in the basement (or sidewalk level), and two apartments per floor above.  Subsequent remodeling eradicated the two lower levels, and yet the three upper floors (which still contain apartments), look much as they did when the Westbrook family lived here.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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