Saturday, April 27, 2024

The 1940 Lindley House - 123 East 37th Street


image via

On December 21, 1937, The New York Sun reported that the newly-formed 37th Street & Lexington Avenue Corporation had purchased "the three four-story houses at 296 to 300 Lexington avenue, northwest corner of Thirty-seventh Street, and the five-story house adjoining at 123 East Thirty-seventh Street."  The firm would add to these initial holdings before hiring H. I. Feldman to design a modern apartment building on the site.

Born in Chelzetz, Austria (now part of Poland) in 1896, Hyman Isaac Feldman, who went professionally by his first two initials, established his architectural practice in 1921.  During the next two decades, he focused much of his work on designing Art Deco style apartment houses in Brooklyn and along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  He would eventually design 2,500 apartment houses in the New York metropolitan area.

The jazzy Art Deco style that gave Feldman his start was no longer current.  His design for the Lindley House is more accurately termed Art Moderne, yet it strongly anticipates the mid-century modern style.  Faced in red brick, it rose stoically to a series of setbacks where the central section was beveled at a 45-degree angle, a trademark of Feldman's designs.  The architect gave the ground floor a neo-Federal touch by creating incised lines that suggested pilasters, and placing a cast concrete fan over the window above the entrance.

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The Lindley House cost $500,000 to erect, or around $10.5 million in 2024.  There were seven apartments per floor through the 11th floor, five each on floors 12 through 14, and three on the penthouse level.  An advertisement in September 1940 read, "Just completed.  Drop living rooms, dining galleries, powder rooms.  Free gas.  Muzak.  Maid-valet service available."  Rents for two- or three-room apartments ranged from $67.50 to $135 (about $2,820 per month for the more expensive by today's standards).

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Lindley House filled with a wide variety of residents.  Among the first was Herbert R. Ekins, cable editor for the United Press Association.  Several early renters were in the military or recently retired.  Among them were Lieutenant William R. Ross of the U.S. Navy, Commander Jacques E. Ledure, and Captain James F. Gorman.

Captain John W. Renchard was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 15, 1941 when he was married to Mary Lisa.  Renchard had graduated from Princeton University in 1928 and received a law degree from St. Lawrence University in 1937.  In reporting their marriage, the Daily Argus mentioned, "The couple will reside at 123 East 37th Street, New York City."

Two weeks earlier, a tragedy affected one family here.  Arthur Knox, Jr., who was in the insurance business, married Jane Elizabeth Hubbard in 1939.  He had graduated from the esteemed Phillips-Exeter Academy, and from Princeton University in 1931.  Jane was a graduate of St. Margaret's School in Waterbury, Connecticut.

In February 1941, Jane and her mother, Mrs. Giles Monro Hubbard, left on a road trip to Florida.  Near Jacksonville, North Carolina, they were involved in an accident and Jane Knox, who was 35 years old, was killed.  Mrs. Hubbard "suffered minor injuries," according to the Daily Argus.

Occupying one of the three-room penthouse apartments in 1949 was Jacqueline Coover Butcher.  Born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1916, the Waterloo Daily Courier said her "beautiful silver-blonde hair" had "started her on the road to fame and fortune."  Butcher went to Los Angeles to launch a motion picture career.  She married an advertising executive there and her future looked bright.  The Waterloo Daily Courier said, "The screen and the stage both wanted her then for her beauty and her dancing ability."

Then, in 1938, Butcher went back to Sioux City to visit her parents.  "There was an auto accident that scarred her nose and kept her in bed for a year," said the article.  "Plastic surgeons fixed it, but never good enough for the movies."  To make matters worse, her husband divorced her soon afterward.

Jacqueline came to New York, rented the apartment in the Lindley House, and, according to the Waterloo Daily Courier, "did her own [hair] styling and her own modelling and made money.  She had a wide circle of friends as any lovely, 33-year-old divorcee, can have in New York."  Butcher was said by her friends to be "an alternately moody and life-of-the-party girl."  

On April 13, 1949, she decided to dye her silver-blonde hair red.  According to friends, the results severely disappointed her.  That night she had a dinner date with Norman J. Edelmann, the New York publicist she had been seeing for about a year and a half.  She left early, saying she did not feel well.  

For the next two days, Edelmann phoned and knocked on Jacqueline's door, getting no answer.  Finally, on the night of April 15, he tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked.  "He found Jacqueline dead in a clothes closet, half sitting, half hanging from a rope noosed around her neck," reported the Waterloo Daily Courier.

The sunken living room of an apartment in 1940.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

 Another actress-model, Bonnie Louise Jones, moved in following her marriage to John A. Lucchese in December 1957.  Bonnie Jones worked for the Emily Brooks Agency, and The Courier of Clinton, New York said "She has appeared on television several times and has been seen on the Jackie Gleason Show, Dave Garroway's program and the Arthur Murray Show."  Lucchese was an attorney, having earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School.

Living here at the same time was actress Charlotte Manson and her husband, singer Dick Brown.  Although Charlotte had appeared on Broadway, her success was on radio.  She had repeated roles in radio shows like Guiding Light and Nick Carter, Master Detective, and was active in commercials.  Like Bonnie Louise Jones, she also appeared on television.  According to the Long Island Star-Journal, "Miss Manson has been seen on TV in the Jackie Gleason Show and as a replacement for Bess Myerson and Betty Furness."

Charlotte Manson as Patsy with Leon Clark as Nick Carter in the 1946 radio program Nick Carter, Master Detective.  image via Mutual Broadcasting System.

On September 7, 1957, the Long Island Star-Journal reported, "Charlotte Manson, 33, radio and TV actress, remained in critical condition today in Bellevue Hospital after taking what police described as an apparent overdose of sleeping pills.  The pretty brunette was found in a coma yesterday by her mother at the actress' four room Manhattan apartment at 123 East 37th street."  After surviving what was apparently an accidental overdose, Manson suffered another serious accident almost exactly one year later.

On September 14, 1958, the actress fell down a flight of steps, fracturing her neck and paralyzing her.  Doctors told her she would never walk again.   

But five months later, on February 27, 1959, The Miami News titled an article "Radio Actress On Road Back / 'I Won't Be An Invalid,' Says Charlotte Manson."  The article explained, "Charlotte is a determined, confident fighter.  She is also an athlete.  She was a member of the Junior Olympics when she was a child and she is a competent horsewoman."  Doctors in Manhattan called her recovery "a medical miracle."  Manson and her mother had arrived in Miami so she could do "therapeutic" swimming."  The article ended saying, "After recuperative works in Miami she will return to New York, television and the stage.  Charlotte Manson doesn't know the meaning of the word quit."

The Lindley House continued to be home to professionals like Paul Barry Owen, a graduate of Phillips Andover Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  After having been vice president in charge of real estate at the Dry Dock Savings Institution, he became head of the mortgage department of real estate firm Cross & Brown Co.  Owen died in his apartment at the age of 79 on March 22, 1971.

As Valentine's Day approached in 2010, readers wrote to The New York Times with their romantic memories.  Susan Dominus recalled that her apartment here while in her 20s was that of a "late-20th-century struggling bachelorette."  But the lobby, she said, was much different.

But the Murray Hill building that housed that apartment, grandly called Lindley House, was a prewar beauty, with a lobby of dark burnished wood and gleaming floors.  I liked first dates to meet me in that perfectly polished space, where they would make conversation with the doormen, who seemed to function at such moments as surrogate fathers.

Inside that lobby, all was hopeful possibility; pure, even glamorous in the ways of old New York.  Outside it, the unpredictable roller coaster of modern dating began.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
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  1. This building's transitional qualities are interesting to me. Moderne and Colonial Revival were very popular in 1940, and this design incorporates both. Yet it has a quite a bit of austerity and setback induced visual interest that sets the tone for 1950s modernism.

  2. Early wall to wall carpeting.