Monday, April 22, 2024

The Lost Rev. Isaac Van Winkle House - 270 West 93rd Street


from the collection of the New York Public Library

The eight high-end residences designed by Little & O'Connor in 1892 of "irregular sizes" wrapped the southeast corner of West End Avenue and 93rd Street.  Their 19th century take on Flemish Renaissance architecture reflected affluence and luxury.  The sumptuous, double-wide home at 270 West 93rd Street just east of the avenue was faced in light-colored brick above a limestone base.  Its entrance above a short stoop was crowned with elaborately carved cresting.  The imposing dormer that fronted the slate-shingled mansard featured engaged columns, a carved shield, and an ornate Flemish style pediment that rose to a finial.

On July 20, 1895, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the Mercantile Building Co. had sold the 32-foot-wide mansion to Rev. Isaac Van Winkle.  According to The New York Times, he paid "about $25,000" for the house--or around $936,000 by 2024 conversion.

Born on January 11, 1846, the minister traced his American roots to the Van Winkles who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1636.  Having graduated from Columbia in 1865, he earned his theological degree from the General Theological Seminary in 1869.  Van Winkle and his wife, the former Margaret Kembel Lente, had four children.  The eldest, Edward Kingsland, was 19 years old and the youngest, Gertrude Bayard, was six when the family moved into 270 West 93rd Street.

In the meantime, in 1892 Rev. Dr. John B. Morgan, brother-in-law of J. P. Morgan, had acquired land for the newly formed St. Luke's Chapel in Paris.  The corrugated iron building that rose on the site became known fondly as the "Little Tin Church."   In 1897, just two years after purchasing the West 93rd Street house, Rev. Van Winkle was transferred to Paris as minister to St. Luke's.  

An auction was held on March 11, 1897 of "the entire contents of the colonial mansion of No. 270 West 93d St., belonging to Rev. I. Van Winkle who goes abroad for a prolonged residence," according to the announcement in the New York Herald.  Along with a Weber piano, the inventory included antique furniture, "Turkish and Persian rugs, carpets, marble statuary, bronzes, porcelains, water colors, engravings, bric-a-brac, etc."

The Van Winkle family may have thought they would soon return.  They initially leased the mansion to Joseph Byrne.  He was appointed an examiner in the city's Auditor's Bureau on April 2, 1897.  The Byrne children were no doubt heartbroken when their dog ran away later that year.  A notice in the New York Journal and Advertiser on October 1, read: 

$10 reward--No questions asked for return of female fox terrier, strayed from 270 West 93d st., on Wednesday evening; she answers to name Sweetheart; wore license of 1896 No. 12,983 attached to collar; $5 reward for information leading to her recovery.

As it turned out, Van Winkle's pastorship in France would last nearly two decades.  The house was first offered for sale in March 1899 for $24,000.  It was finally sold to Max Tower Rosen in June the following year.

Rosen was president of the Havana and Key West Cigar Company, and secretary and director of the United States Rubber Reclaiming Works.  Born in Ukraine in 1844, he and his wife, the former Flora Thalmann, had three sons, Walter Tower, Ernest Tower, Felix Tower, and a daughter Jeanne.
Max, Flora, and Jeanne (who was 15 years old at the time) spent the summer of 1901 in Europe.  They boarded the steamship Deutschland headed home.  But on October 20, four days before reaching New York, Rosen suffered a fatal heart attack.  The New York Times reported, "His body was brought to this city.  Mr. Rosen was fifty-seven years old."

The Rosen family sold 270 West 93rd Street to Agnes Livingston in 1906, initiating a string of rapid turn-overs.  On January 5, 1907, the Record & Guide reported it had been sold to "an investor."  And on January 25, 1908 the New-York Tribune reported that Charles F. Lambke had sold the mansion.

It became home to Katharine Husbands Dodge, the widow of Loudon Underhill Dodge, who died in 1887.  A Civil War veteran, he had founded the Dodge Art Publishing Company.  Katherine was born on December 26, 1839, the daughter of Joseph Dotten Husbands and Frances Buckingham.  She and Loudon had one son, Joseph Hampton, who was born in 1864.

Katharine Dodge died on May 31, 1911 at the age of 71.  The mansion, described as having "12 rooms and 2 baths," was offered for lease.  The advertisement in The New York Times noted, "Liberal concession to immediate tenant."  It was leased to James G. McGowan for a year, and sold to artist Laura Opper in October 1912.

Laura Opper came from an artistic family.  Although her father, Victor M. Opper, was a businessman and partner in Opper & Levinson, Inc., he was a member of the Salmagundi Club, New York's oldest art club.  Laura, who was mainly a portrait artist, regularly exhibited her work at The Society of Independent Artists.  She studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League and trained at the National Academy.

Laura Opper's Portrait of a Young Girl with Roses.  

Living in the mansion with Laura was an elderly relative, Adolph Opper.  Born in Bohemia, he was a retired lace importer and manufacturer.  He had served on the jury that convicted Tammany boss William M. Tweed in 1877.  Adolph Opper died in the 93rd Street mansion on June 24, 1917 at the age of 87.

Laura also rented rooms in the house.  Charles King Morrison lived here in 1916.  He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1894, and in 1915 partnered with lawyer Eliot Norton.  While living here, he was married to Mildred H. Hoag on June 5, 1916.  

Vocal instructor Cosby Dansby Morris may have taken over Morrison's rooms.  On November 18, 1916, Musical America reported she "has opened her studio at 270 West Ninety-third Street with an unusually talented class."

Mrs. Bernice Vaughn rented rooms from Laura Opper in 1919.  On January 31 that year, she visited a friend, Mrs. Della Cambeir, who lived on the fourth floor of a Lexington Avenue apartment building.  As the two women chatted, they realized the building was on fire.  The New York Times reported they, "started down the stairs, which were burning.  Mrs. Cambier succeeded in reaching the street with her hair and clothing on fire."

Bernice, however, was trapped by a backdraft.  "A burst of flames drove Mrs. Vaughn back into the room.  She was about to leap from the window when Martin J. Murphy, a fireman, shouted for her not to jump."  Murphy and a passerby, Daniel Coughlin (who was a soldier just returned from the war), rushed to the fourth floor of the adjoining structure.  In what must have been a terrifying circumstance for Bernice, the article said, "Murphy straddled the window ledges and passed Mrs. Vaughn to the soldier."  Bernice Vaughn had much to be thankful for.  The article added, "After the fire was under control the firemen found the body of [Samuel] Chonton in a rear room of the upper floor."

Laura Opper died in 1924.  On April 14 the following year, The Sun reported that Ennis & Sinnoti had purchased "for plotage" the ten houses at the southeast corner of 93rd Street and West End Avenue, including 270 West 93rd.  They were demolished to be replaced by the 15-story-and-penthouse apartment building designed by George and Edward Blum which survives.

image via

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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