Friday, April 12, 2024

Harry Hurwit's 1927 Re-Do of 1080 Park Avenue


In 1887, bricklayer John P. Thorton erected eight brick-faced flats, or apartment houses, on the west side of Fourth Avenue (renamed Park Avenue a year later) between 88th and 89th Streets.  Designed by Frederick T. Camp, they were intended for middle-class residents, predating the thoroughfare's exclusivity by about a decade. 
Although it took the address of 1080 Park Avenue, the entrance to the corner building was on 88th Street, allowing Herman Goossen to open his saloon in the Park Avenue end in 1889.  When Prohibition arrived, the saloon made way for the Paramount Market.

A significant change had come to Park Avenue by then.  Mansions equal to those along Fifth Avenue lined the blocks and vintage buildings like 1080 Park Avenue were quickly disappearing.  On November 13, 1925, the New York Sun reported that that a syndicate had been formed "to improve the northwest corner of Park avenue and Eighty-eighth street with a fifteen story duplex apartment house."  The operators had leased the building in July "for sixty-three years, with an option to purchase it."

The developers quickly hit a snag, however.  The building's owner, Simon Ginsberg, had purchased 1080 Park Avenue in 1922 and had owned 1082 Park Avenue since 1905, operating his upholstery business there.  He had already refused to sell his properties to another set of developers who erected the large L-shaped apartment building around them in 1925.  And he was unwilling to have another apartment on the corner.

In 1925, Ginsberg gave 1082 a remarkable make-over designed by Augustus N. Allen.  Two years later he turned his attentions to the corner building.  

Architect Harry Hurwit remodeled 1080 Park Avenue with a Mediterranean inspired, stuccoed facade.  The entrance was given a segmentally arched entrance, flanked by paired, engaged columns with graceful cinched waists.  Directly above the entrance was a pseudo balcony fronting two windows framed by paneled pilasters and capped by swans head pediments.

The romantic motif continued at the fourth floor, where windows with balconettes were framed by engaged columns (similar to those of the entrance) under round arches.  An arcade of shop windows graced the Park Avenue ground level, while a roof of Spanish tiles crowned the design.

Ginsberg had successfully transformed his two 1887 buildings into modern fantasies.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The Park Avenue commercial space was leased to David Bogen for his Boghen Pharmacy (the difference in spelling had to do with a licensing technicality), while the apartments became home to respectable, well-heeled tenants.  

Among the earliest was Marie Estill, who got unwanted and embarrassing publicity in 1929 when Betty Marvin sued her husband, Lewis B. Marvin, Jr., for divorce.  The Marvins maintained a country home in Port Washington, Long Island where, according to the Newburgh News, Lewis was a "prominent yachtsman."  In court on January 22, Betty said her husband "owns a sloop and a sporty roadster."

The divorce stemmed from a raid Betty had led on the summer home five months earlier, on August 1, 1928.  She took a friend, Florence Lawson, and a private investigator, Chester B. Evans along.  The Long Island Daily Press explained, "none was prepared for the sight that met their eyes.  As they stepped into the hall Mrs. Marie Estill of 1080 Park avenue, Manhattan, walked across the landing at the head of the broad staircase.  She was completely unclad."

Evans testified that Marie "screamed and dashed into another room."  The raiding party rushed up the stairs and into the bedroom where, "they found Marvin, considerably embarrassed as he reached frantically for articles of clothing."

In the meantime, residents paid $2,300 per year for four-room apartments (about $3,400 a month in 2024 terms).  Unlike Marie Estill, their names most often appeared in newspapers for social reasons.

On October 12, 1933, for instance, The New York Sun reported, "Mrs. Helen Virginia Meyer gave a tea yesterday on the roof-garden of her penthouse apartment at 1080 Park avenue in honor of Mrs. John P. O'Brien, wife of Mayor O'Brien."  Helping to host was Mrs. Howard Chandler Christy.

Helen was a "onetime show girl and silent-movie bit player," according to The Saturday Evening Post later, but was best known for her extensive collection of period gowns and costumes.  She was described in the 1937 book Fabrics as the "well known costume historian, and designer of the 'Famous Brides' and 'Famous Queens' series."  

In reporting on the upcoming Society Circus Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 2, 1934, The New York Sun commented that Helen Virginia Meyers was on the costume committee.  "Miss Meyers, who is at 1080 Park avenue, as well as the Brooks Costume Company, have all manner of original and colorful costumes available for the ball, and will donate part of the proceeds on the rental and sale of the costumes to the charity for which the ball is being held."

Resident Fredericka Ludlum had experienced an unsettling incident earlier that year.  She had a house guest in January, Julia Wright.  The 80-year-old was, according to the North Shore Daily Journal, "a member of one of the oldest families of Long Island."  The article said, "The Wright family from which she was descended, settled the village [of Oyster Bay] 250 years ago, having bought their land from the Indians."  

On the evening of January 17, 1934, Julia Wright said good night.  The next morning, Fredericka Ludlum attempted to wake her houseguest, whom she discovered had died in her sleep.

In 1936, William F. Cutler was among the founders of "the newly formed professional football team, to be known as the New York Yankees," as reported by the New York Post on September 22.  The newspaper said, "The first match is scheduled for Sunday at the new stadium on Randall's Island...Following Sunday's game the team and their backers will drive to Manhattan, where Mr. William F. Cutler, one of the directors, and his pretty wife will play hosts to them at a cocktail party at their apartment at 1080 Park avenue."

A renovation completed in 1959 resulted in two apartments per floor.  The ground floor pharmacy was still operating as late as 2002, replaced by an Ottomanelli grocery store by 2011.  Today a deli occupies the space.

Harry Hurwit's graceful storefront has been brutally remodeled and the roof tiles replaced with shingles.  Nevertheless, his romantic remake survives, overall, intact.

photographs by the author
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