Friday, May 31, 2024

The Joseph Hillenbrand's 508 East 87th Street


Joseph Hillenbrand was highly active in developing the Yorkville neighborhood in the 1870s.  In 1874 he purchased a large parcel on East 87th Street between East End and York Avenues from Bernard Havanagh for $36,000--a significant $995,000 in 2024.

Hillenbrand erected a long row of identical, brownstone-faced rowhouses on the plots.  Three stories tall above English basements, their pedimented, arched entrances sat above high brownstone stoops.  The windows wore molded cornices, and their handsome individual terminal cornices featured scrolled, foliate brackets and decorated panels.

No. 508 East 87th Street seems to have been operated as a boarding house from the beginning.  Listed here in 1876 were Samuel K. Brown and John D. Terry, both clerks.  Leopold Affelder, a toy merchant, lived here in 1879.  An advertisement in 1880 read, "To let cheap--Nicely furnished front and back parlor; also third floor, unfurnished.  508 East 87th st."

The Jacob Wick family rented rooms here in 1884.  Like Joseph Hillenbrand, Wick and his son were active in Yorkville real estate development.  In February that year, Jacob Wick Sr. hired architect John Brandt to design a "three story brown-stone front dwelling" on East 92nd Street.  The cost of its construction, equal to half a million in 2024 dollars, testifies to its high-end status.  

Five months later, The American Architect and Building News reported that Jacob Wick Jr. had received a building permit for a five four-story brick tenements with stores on First Avenue at the corner of 71st Street.  Like his father, he used the services of John Brandt.

Unmarried sisters, Minnie D. and E. L. Ryerson lived in the house from 1888 through 1890.  Minnie taught in the Primary Department of Grammar School No. 14 downtown on East 27th Street.  Her sister was the corresponding secretary of The Daughters of The King.  The monthly magazine Church Work described the group in 1889 as "a rapidly-growing church order of young women, corresponding to the St. Andrew's Brotherhood among men," noting, "Its sole aim is the spread of Christ's kingdom among young women."

Joseph J. Cassidy lived at 508 East 87th Street in the spring of 1908.  He was a clerk in the United Cigar Store in the Manhattan Hotel.  On Sunday morning April 5, he valiantly fought with three would-be thieves.  The Tobacco Leaf reported, "The daring attempt to rob was made at 8 a.m. while Mr. Cassidy was alone.  Although nearly beaten to death by a blackjack and a rubber covered club, the young clerk succeeded in capturing two of his assailants and in frightening the other away."

Cassidy suffered several scalp lacerations and his right thumb and left wrist were broken.  The article said, "Both eyes were blackened, and several of his teeth were knocked out."  When Dr. Hastings from Flower Hospital arrived, Cassidy insisted that he dress his wounds on site so he could continue minding the store.  Instead, he was transported to the hospital "against his will."  

The dramatic story caught the attention of the president of United Cigar Stores Co., who read about Cassidy's exploits the following morning.  The Tobacco Leaf said the firm's general superintendent, F. J. Rosenfeld, visited Cassidy at 508 East 87th Street and handed him a letter from vice-president H. S. Collins.  It expressed the company's gratitude and included a $1,000 check.

Michael Wirth lived here in 1926.  A carpenter, he was estranged from his wife, with whom he had eight children.  On August 29, he was convicted of non-support and sentenced to six months in the City Prison.  Considered a low threat and because of his carpentry skills, he was made a "trusty," which came with broad freedoms so he could work in different parts of the jail.  

With only weeks left on his sentence, on January 12, 1927, the Brooklyn Standard Union reported, "The body of Michael Wirth, 45 years old, of 508 East Eighty-seventh street, father of eight children, was found hanging from a beam in the cellar of the City Prison in Long Island City at 10:45 A.M. to-day by Keeper Eugene Carney."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Martin Kulmier, who lived here at the time, was affluent enough to afford a large automobile.  On the afternoon of April 5, 1927, he took another resident, 25-year-old Rose Raanes, to Queens where they picked up 41 year old Delicka Eugine.  Prohibition did not stop Kulmier from acquiring liquor.  The trio's partying, however, did not end well.

On April 6, the Brooklyn Daily Star reported, "Two women were injured at 6 o'clock last night when a touring car in which they were riding left the roadway and crashed into an electric light pole on Rock Hill Road."  Delika Eugine was cut on the cheek and Rose Raanes suffered contusions and a sprained back.  Kulmier was arrested, charged with driving while intoxicated.

In 1949, 508 East 87th Street was converted to a two-family home, with a triplex in the basement through second floor, and one apartment on the third.  A subsequent renovation completed in 1996 returned the house to a single family residence.

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Thursday, May 30, 2024

The 1853 Nelson Beecher House - 397 Bleecker Street


In 1852, John B. Walton, a dealer in crockery, began construction of four identical homes with stores on the east side of Bleecker Street between Perry and West 11th Streets.  Completed the following year, the four-story structures were faced in red brick above the storefronts and trimmed in brownstone.

Nelson H. Beecher lived and worked in 379 Bleecker Street (renumbered 397 around 1870).  Born in Connecticut in 1809, he and his wife Catherine had a grown daughter, Jane Delia.  In 1855, Nelson listed his occupation as "feed" with a store at 584 Hudson Street.

The Beechers filled the upper floors with boarders.  In 1855, they included John W. Chapman and William Davis, both carmen; mason Charles Brown; George W. Griffin who ran a "coffeemill" at 580 Hudson Street, near Beecher's shop; and William E. Beardsley, whose tailor shop was in the ground floor.  

William E. Beardsley was an inspector of the Common Schools for the 9th Ward, as well.  And he seems to have had a sideline.  In 1858, he advertised, "For Sale--A choice lot of canary birds, raised from imported stock, including several prize birds of the association, never before offered for sale.  Can be seen at 379 Bleecker st., in the store."

Working in the tailor shop in 1859 was James A. Beardsley,  presumably William's son, who lived in Brooklyn.  By then, Horatio N. Beecher lived upstairs.  He was in the flour business on Hudson Street, a few blocks north of Nelson's store.  The two men were most likely brothers.

In 1864, Beecher leased the store to Asa Lemlein, who opened the first in a long string of cigar stores in the space, and boarded with the family.  Also living here that year were Sarah McCracken, the widow of Alexander McCracken, and her son.  The following year, on March 15, 1865, W. McCracken's name was pulled in the draft lottery.

By then, Horatio Beecher was no longer living here, and Nelson had changed his business from feed to flour, moving it to Spring Street.  He was sued in March 1866 by another flour company, Hecker Brothers, "the makers of the so-called 'self-raising flour,'" according to The Evening Post.  Beecher was accused of so closely imitating the Hecker Brothers packaging and labeling as to cause serious injury.  The judge disagreed in the end.

In 1868, Henry and Ferdinand Loewenthal, under the name H. & F. Loewenthal, took over the "segar" store.

The Nelson Beechers left Bleecker Street around 1875, when Owen McPartland (whose surname was sometimes spelled McPartlin) and his wife, Ellen moved in.  McPartland was a "doorman" in the 13th Precinct police station.  (A doorman did not walk a beat, like "roundsmen," but was stationed in the precinct house, addressing the needs of incoming visitors.)  He earned $900 a year, or about $28,000 by 2024 conversion.

Like the Beechers, the McPartlands took in boarders.  In 1876, they included Henry Adams, a sawyer (or carpenter), his wife, Mary, and his mother-in-law, Eliza G. Richards.  Peter Collins, a printer, also boarded here that year.  Eliza Richards died on July 2, 1876, at the age of 63.  Her funeral was held in St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Hudson Street three days later.

Ellen McPartland died here on May 23, 1886.  Her funeral was held upstairs two days later.  Owen McPartland left the Bleecker Street residence not long afterwards.

Jacques Van den Broeck took over the cigar store around 1888.  In August 1889, he cashed two checks--one for $5 and the other for $10--for Abraham L. Grabfelder, "a young printer," as described by The New York Times.  As it turned out, they were forgeries and Grabfelder was arrested on August 7.

The cigar store would change hands several more times.  In 1899 it was run by George A. Winter, the following year by E. B. McDuffie, and in 1903 A. Cohen signed the lease.

In the meantime, various boarders continued to come and go upstairs.  In 1894, Robert Scott, a member of the St. Cecile Lodge was here, and musician H. B. Steel lived here from about 1895 through 1897.  He was the organist of St. Ambrose Chapel, and was a pianist, as well.

Christopher Baum and his wife lived here in 1910 when he was arrested for "abduction," what today would be termed statutory rape.  That spring, the mother of 17-year-old Elsie Haesh discovered torrid letters to her daughter.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on May 11, "According to the girl's affidavit, he met her at a moving picture show on Broadway on April 15, and then took her to Plum Beach, where they remained for the night.  She said that she submitted to Baum's attentions only because he promised to marry her."

In 1929, the four houses in John B. Walton's 1853 row were converted to two-family homes.  The storefronts were bricked in and each building now held two duplex apartments.  Called Bleecker Gardens, they shared "a common back yard with a wading pond and a playground for children," according to court papers later.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Living in one of the apartments in the 1930s were Graham R. and Florence Taylor.  Born in 1878, Graham Taylor was a graduate of Harvard and former newspaper man.  When the couple moved into 397 Bleecker Street, he had been editor of The Survey and director of publications for the Commonwealth Fund for years.  The Survey was "published in connection with a Chicago settlement house," according to the New York Sun in 1940.  The newspaper said Taylor was "considered an authority on race-relations and planned communities."  The couple was still living here when Graham R. Taylor died at the age of 62 in 1940.

In 1946, Werner Wolff, fresh out of the army, purchased 397 Bleecker Street.  Court papers in 1956 said, "it contained two duplex apartments, each occupying two entire floors.  He then converted the upper apartment into two self-contained units, one on each floor."  Wolff leased the top floor apartment in 1948.  But when he attempted to evict that tenant six years later, he found himself in trouble.

The case brought the conversion--done without the filing of plans nor city approval--to the attention of the Department of  Buildings.  Not only was Wolff fined for an illegal conversion, but the tenants were allowed to stay.  The court said in part, "the landlord may not properly insist upon the removal of the tenants to extricate himself from a predicament which he created himself and from which he has substantially benefitted."

A project begun in 2012 returned the ground floor to commercial use.  The architects convincingly recreated a mid-19th century storefront that would not have been unfamiliar to the patrons of Jacques Van den Broeck's cigar store.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

J. M. Felson's 1938 Southmoor House - 230 Central Park South


Born in Russia in 1886, Jacob M. Felson received his architectural training at Cooper Union, opening his office in 1910.  At the time, The Hubert apartment house sat at 226-230 Central Park South.  In 1937, Felson was hired by the Park Slope Construction Corp., of which Siegfried Moisseiff was president, to design a modern apartment on the site of The Hubert.

Southmoor House was completed in June 1938.  Felson's subdued Art Moderne design included a stone base with reeded piers.  The entrance was framed by two stories of dark red stone that terminated in a faux balcony.  

The cover of the 1938 brochure depicted the new building.  from the collection of Columbia University's Avery Library.

With Central Park providing spectacular views, Felson gave the northern elevation an abundance of casement windows.  On July 30, 1938, the New York Sun remarked: 

230 Central Park South, opened about a month ago, overlooks the wide reaches of Central Park with a view of lawns and lakes unimpeded clear up to the northern end of the park.  Windows...have been cannily planned to take full advantage of the unusual views.  At Southmoor House, living rooms have been so designed that the entire wall facing the park is given over to an unbroken expanse of casement window.

Views to the south were equally impressive.  The real estate brochure mentioned that the "room width casement windows" on the south side of the building, "with Solarium effect, overlook the skyline of mid-Manhattan."  Noting that suites of one to six rooms were available, it said, "The rooms are large and well-planned and a spaciousness has been added by unusually large foyers, attractive dining galleries and convenient dressing rooms."  Among the building's up-to-the-minute amenities were "metal kitchen cabinets with stainless steel sinks," electric refrigerators, venetian blinds, and "master radio aerials."

The marquee over the entrance is a relatively recent addition.

The Southmoor House attracted several residents involved in the theater.  Among them was 27-year-old playwright Winifred Howe, who moved in in August 1935.  The challenges for a fledgling playwright in the Depression years were too much for Howe.  A month later, on September 28, the New York Post reported she "met her death in a fall from a sixth-floor window of the apartment house...She wore only a nightgown."  Winifred had left several suicide notes.  One of them, addressed to her father, said she "was sorry and very tired."

On March 11, 1941, The New York Times reported that with M. Clay's signing a lease, "that sixteen-story and penthouse structure is now 100 per cent rented."  Among the residents were the emerging entertainer Danny Kaye and his bride Sylvia Fine.  The couple was married in 1940 after they worked together in the short-lived The Straw Hat Revue, which opened on September 29, 1939.  Sylvia was the show's composer, lyricist and pianist.  Although it closed after ten weeks, the show landed both of them work at the La Martinique nightclub.  There, playwright Moss Hart saw Kaye and cast him in his 1941 comedy Lady in the Dark.

Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

It was the 30-year-old Danny Kaye's breakout role.  On December 31, 1941, columnist Jane Corby wrote in the Brooklyn Eagle that the newlyweds were, "living very well, thank you.  They have an apartment on [sic] swanky 230 Central Park South."  Kaye would go on to become one of America's best known actors, comedians, singers and dancers, starring in 17 motion pictures.

On March 13, 1947, before television was omnipresent, resident Ben Washer held a party to listen to the Academy Awards ceremonies from Hollywood on the radio in his apartment.  A bachelor, Washer was a press agent and manager.  Among the guests that night were the syndicated columnist Earl Wilson, composer Irving Berlin and his wife Ellin, and actor Frederic March and his actress wife Florence Eldrich.

The following day, Earl Wilson wrote, "Frederic March learned via radio somewhere around 2 a.m. today, that he'd won the Oscar for his part in 'Best Years of Our Lives.'"  Florence Eldrich told Wilson, "We're awfully happy.  He's become very proud already.  I've asked him three times to go home and he refuses."

Described by The Pittsburgh Press as the "longtime personal manager and companion" of actress Mary Martin, Ben Washer's life would end tragically.  On the evening of September 5, 1982, he was in an automobile in San Francisco with Martin, actress Janet Gaynor, and Gaynor's husband Paul Gregory.  The car was involved in a horrific crash with a drunk driver.  Washer was killed instantly.  The other occupants of the car were seriously hurt.  (Janet Gaynor died two years later from complications of her injuries.)

John and Helen Noga maintained an apartment in the Southmoor House as their New York pied-à-terre.  In the 1950s, the couple owned two San Francisco jazz clubs--the Downbeat and the Black Hawk--where renowned musicians like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck performed.  It was at the Black Hawk that Helen Noga discovered 19-year-old Johnny Mathis.  She became his manager and made him a star.

In 1968, having landed a new position as a talent agent at the Ashley-Famous Agency, David Geffen leased the Nogas' apartment.  In his 2000 The Operator--David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood, Tom King writes, "The apartment was furnished with a white Steinway grand piano in the living room and a sweeping view of the park."

The following summer, one of Geffen's clients, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, was scheduled to appear on the The Dick Cavett Show on August 18.  Concerned that she would not be able to get back in time, Geffen convinced her not to attend the Woodstock festival.  Instead, according to Katherine Monk in her The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell, she:

...watched this 'cosmic accident' unfold on television at Geffen's deluxe duplex at 230 Central Park South, a property owned by Helen Noga, the woman who made Johnny Mathis a star.  Spellbound by the sight of so many young people converging on Max Yasgur's six-hundred-acre dairy farm, Joni began composing the soundtrack for the rapidly evolving Woodstock myth:  "I came upon a child of God.  He was walking along the road.  And I asked him where are you going?  And this he told me: I'm going down to Yasgur's farm.  I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band.  I'm going to camp out on the land.  I'm gonna try and get my soul free."

At the time, attorney Philip Peitz lived in Southmoor House.  Few residents appeared in the media because of scandal, crime or other untoward reasons.  But Peitz was an exception.  The 36-year-old was convicted of illegally obtaining information from an employee of the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning an investigation in 1968 and was sentenced to three months in prison on January 9, 1970.

Seven years later, Peitz's name would be in the newspapers again, this time for being the court-appointed defense attorney for serial killer David Berkowitz--the infamous Son of Sam.  The attorney was in trouble again when he attempted to sell taped conversations with his client.  He was disbarred on December 8, 1977.

Southmoor House was renovated in 1994, and it was possibly at this time that the metal marquee was installed over the entrance, replacing a canvas awning that had extended nearly to the curb.  Other than that and the replacement windows, little has changed to J. M. Felson's sedate 1937 design. 

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The 1896 Peter J. Brennan House - 788 West End Avenue

Although the first-floor window has been bricked over, the house is overall remarkably intact.

John G. Prague and Peter J. Brennan were no doubt well-acquainted with one another before 1894.  Both were well-known developers and builders.  (In 1890, in reaction to Prague's building--and designing--of hundreds of Upper West Side residences, the Record & Guide said he had "created a neighborhood.")  Brennan was equally prominent in the building industry and erected many of New York City's school buildings.

In 1894, Brennan hired Prague to design a trio of townhouses at 788 through 792 West End Avenue.  Like the other opulent residences rising along the thoroughfare, they were intended for monied families.  Costing Brennan a total of $45,000 to construct (about $560,000 each in 2024 money), the homes were completed in 1896.

Peter J. Brennan kept 788 West End Avenue for his family.  Prague's American basement design included two entrances (one for the servants and deliveries and such) above short stone stoops.  The window between them was fronted by a carved half-bowl decoration.  The three-story bowed midsection was essentially undecorated, save for blind panels below each set of windows.  Above a prominent cornice, the curious fifth floor facade morphed shoulder-high to the two fully-arched windows into a highly unusual, nearly vertical mansard.

In the 1940s, the ground-floor window survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Living with Peter and Sarah Brennan were their son and daughter, James and Sally, as well as Sarah's widowed mother.  The family maintained a summer home in Edgemere, New York.  Proud of his Irish heritage, Peter was a decades-long member of the American-Irish Historical Society.

Brennan nearly lost his life on the day after Christmas in 1900.  The New York Times reported, "Peter J. Brennan, an elderly, wealthy builder of 788 West End Avenue, was run down by a cab at the crossing at Thirty-fourth Street, Broadway, and Sixth Avenue last night."  Brennan was taken to New York Hospital with a broken leg and "contusions of the body."  The cab driver, Edward Hamill, was jailed.

The scope of Brennan's construction operation was evidenced  in an article in The Sun on February 14, 1907.  President Theodore Roosevelt and the Isthmian Commission (in charge of the building of the Panama Canal) were holding hearings with contractors.  The Sun explained the purpose, "was to give the contractors an opportunity to tell of their resources and responsibility."  The article said, "Next Tuesday, Peter J. Brennan...will go to the White House to tell the President and his canal advisers of [his] abilities and resources."

Brennan gave his family another scare in 1910.  On November 23, The Rockaway News reported,

Mr. P. J. Brennan, a summer resident of Edgemere, and well known in this section being the contractor who built St. Mary’s Lyceum, and the O’Kane Building, and at present constructing the Inwood Public School, had a paralytic stroke on Saturday, and is quite ill at his home at 788 West End Avenue, Manhattan.  It Is hoped our esteemed friend will recover, as he is a man held in high esteem by all his friends and neighbors.

At the time of his stroke, the well-to-do family owned at least two motor vehicles.  Sarah drove a Hudson and her son had a Stearns.  In 1919, James purchased a $2,500 Cadillac (the price would translate to $38,000 in 2024).  On the night of December 8, he parked his new car in front of the house, locked it, and went inside.  Thirty minutes later he walked out to find his luxury automobile missing.  

The case received wide-spread press attention when Benny Kauff, the star center fielder for the New York Giants was arrested and charged with running a car theft ring.  The ballplayer, who also ran an autobody shop, took orders for particular models, sent his cronies out with the list, then repainted the stolen autos in his shop.  Kauff, known as the "Ty Cobb of the Feds," was banned from baseball, despite being acquitted of the Brennan theft.  (He testified he had been eating dinner with his wife at the time of the crime.)  Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis said the acquittal "smelled to high heaven."

In 1912, the houses to the south of 788 West End Avenue were demolished to make way for an apartment building, and in 1920, the other two houses of Brennan's 1896 row were razed for the same reason.  With their home now vised between soaring, multi-family structures, the Brennans left in 1924.

The Brennan house became home to the De Lancey School for Girls.  An advertisement in The New York Times on September 27, 1925, offered, "Kindergarten, Primary, Intermediate, College Preparatory and General Courses."  While it was primarily an exclusive girls' school, the ad noted, "Classes for Little Boys."

The school remained through 1931, after which the Claremont School moved in.  First, however, architect George A. Bagge was hired to remodel the interiors.  The school now occupied the first through third floors, there was an apartment on the fourth, and the fifth was reserved for storage.  (Interestingly, the Certificate of Occupancy was granted on the condition that the apartment house at 800 West End Avenue was allowed access to the passageway between it and the house.)

Established in 1913, the Claremont School was coeducational.  It accepted students from three to fifteen years of age, whose parents paid tuition as high as $350 in 1935 (about $7,700 today).  Its occupancy of 788 West End Avenue would be relatively short-lived.  

In 1939, the former Brennan house was converted to apartments, two per floor on the second through fourth floors, and one on the fifth.  It was purchased by Cuban-born Hilario Villavicencio in 1979 who embarked on a campaign to make the exterior more interesting.  He splashed the facade with brilliant red and yellow, and added found statuary--a woman's head and two dragon heads--below the second floor windows.

Villavicencio told The New York Times columnist Christopher Gray in September 2010, "I try to make something alive.  But some people they don't like it; they say it looks like a circus.  Hey, you can't please everyone."

The colorful, vintage holdout--dwarfed by its early 20th century neighbors--is a delightful surprise along busy West End Avenue.

photographs by the author
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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Lost Henry G. Trevor Mansion - 28 East 52nd Street


The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

When the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum opened in 1851, the block on which it sat--Fifth to Madison Avenues from 51st to 52nd Streets--was well north of the developed city.  But that had all changed by 1899.  The orphanage was surrounded by the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  Directly across Fifth Avenue, for instance, was William Henry Vanderbilt's three-mansion complex, the Triple Palace.  In 1899, the trustees of the orphanage took title to property in Fordham Heights as the site of a new facility and the "Asylum Block" was put on the market as building plots.

Millionaires like the Vanderbilt family, terrified by the threat to their property values, pressured the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum trustees to write restrictive covenants into the deeds, "that they be used solely for residential purposes," according to the Record & Guide.  

On January 27, 1900, The Evening Post noted that real estate market interest for the past five days "has centered about the Orphan Asylum block."  Among the millionaires who snatched up properties was Henry Graff Trevor, who paid $2,000 per square foot for a 30- by 100-foot lot at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street, across the avenue from the asylum proper.

Trevor was born on April 25, 1865 to John B. Trevor (described by Prominent Families of New York in 1898 as "one of the leading bankers of New York in the last generation) and Louisa Stephania Stewart, daughter of Lispenard Steward.  Henry was a member of the firm co-founded by his father, Trevor & Colgate.  In 1890, he married Margaret Helen Schieffelin.  The couple had five children, George Schieffelin, Margaret Estelle, Louise Stephanie Stewart, Henry Jr., and Helen Lispenard Stewart.  (Another child, Henry Stewart, had died in infancy.)

A very young Trevor, possibly from his college yearbook.  (original source unknown)

The Trevors commissioned architect Augustus N. Allen to design their mansion.  Construction did not begin until late in 1903 when the orphanage had moved and its buildings were demolished.  Completed in 1905, the residence opened onto Madison Avenue where a marble portico supported an iron-railed balcony at the second floor.  Allen's neo-Colonial design included paneled, stepped lintels over the grouped windows of the second floor; and layered, splayed lintels above those of the third and fourth.  The arched dormers of the fifth floor peeked above the stone balustrade that crowned the cornice.

The Trevors opened their home on December 11, 1905.  The New York Times reported they, "gave a novel entertainment last evening in their new residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, to celebrate not only their crystal wedding, but the opening of their new house."  

The ground floor held only the Drawing room, Stairhall and Library.  Entertaining was done on the second floor, or piano nobile.  The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

Two of Margaret's sisters had married into the British Ismay family.  Julia was married to J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line; and Matilda Constance's husband was Charles Bower Ismay.  Matilda was visiting and assisted Margaret and Henry in receiving that night "in the large hall on the second floor."

After the reception, the guests were shown into the drawing room.  The New York Times said, "The entertainment was entitled 'The Crystal Vaudeville.'"  A platform had been built at one end of the room and the chairs arranged "as in a theatre."  Guests were entertained by an orchestra, dancers, a solo musician and vocalist, and the Chihuahua Troubadours.  "There was also cartoonist, Thomas Nast, Jr., who made funny pictures."  (A caricaturist, Thomas Nast is remembered both as a pioneer of editorial cartoons and the creator of the accepted appearance of Santa Claus.)

Also appearing on stage were two of the Trevors' daughters.  The article said, "but perhaps, the most pleasing part of the entertainment was the dancing by the little Misses Margaret E. and Louise S. S. Trevor of a gavotte, a Narcissus dance, and a jig."  After the "vaudeville," supper was served.

The Trevors' summer home was Meadowmere in Southampton, Long Island.  The sprawling home on the estate was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury.

A 1922 postcard depicted the Trevors' country home, Meadowmere.

The townhouse was a center of entertaining.  On January 26, 1909, for instance, The New York Times reported,

Mrs. Henry Graff Trevor gave a dinner last night at her residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, for twenty guests.  The dining room was decorated after the fashion of an Italian garden, and the table was adorned with American Beauty roses.

(Decorating with roses in January was a costly touch in the early years of the 20th century.)

In 1912, Margaret's attention turned to the first of her daughters' introductions to society.  On November 3, The Sun reported, "Another of the debutantes for whom much will be done in the way of entertaining is Miss Margaret E. Trevor."  The article said, "Mrs. Trevor is giving a large coming out tea for her daughter at her house, 28 East Fifty-second street, on December 7, and she will give a dance there on December 30."  It added, "Miss Trevor is a great-niece of Mrs. Hamilton Fish, who will no doubt give her a dinner and dance."

George was the first of the children to marry.  His engagement to Alice Haven was announced in July 1914.  Two of his sisters would follow in quick succession.  

Louise Stephanie Stewart Trevor was married to James Couper Lord (son of architect James Brown Lord) in St. Bartholomew's Church on May 15, 1916.  The New York Times called the event, "One of the largest of the Spring weddings."  Margaret was her sister's maid of honor and Helen was one of the bridesmaids.  The newspaper reported, "The reception was held at 28 East Fifty-second Street, which was decorated with roses, lilacs and many choice Spring flowers from the conservatories and hothouses of Glenview, the country estate of the bride's grandmother, Mrs. John B. Trevor."

Five months later, in October, Margaret's engagement to Dr. Irving Hotchkiss Pardee was announced.  The Sun said, "The engagement is of much interest to the summer colony of Southampton, L. I., where Miss Trevor has passed a good deal of her time at the country place of her parents."

Like her sister's, Margaret's wedding took place at St. Bartholomew's Church.  It was held a year later, on October 27, 1917.  Notably, The New York Times reported, "The wedding reception was held at the residence of the bride's parents, 37 West 51st Street."

On November 24, 1917, the Record & Guide reported that Henry G. Trevor had sold 28 East 52nd Street.  The article said the mansion was already leased "to Chamberlin Dodds, of the firm of Dodds & Wallick, decorators, for residence purposes."  That was only technically true.  Chamberlin Dodds moved into the mansion, but operated his gallery from the ground floor. 

He was instrumental in the organizing of the Society of Interior Decorators of New York City that year.  In January 1918, The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator reported, "The headquarters for the present are the headquarters of the secretary, 28 East Fifty-second Street."

Dodds opened the mansion for a suffrage benefit on April 15, 1922.  The New York Herald reported, "At the home of Mr. Chamberlain Dodds, 28 East Fifty-second street, today thousands of prize winning blossoms coming from one of the largest private greenhouses near New York and Easter baskets and fresh eggs from the farms of Mrs. Frank A. Vanderlip will be sold for the benefit of the New York State League of Women Voters."   Among the patronesses were Eleanor Roosevelt.  

The New York Times, February 5, 1922 (copyright expired)

Dodd had at least one tenant in the mansion in 1922, actress Marie Doro.  Marie was visited by a female reporter from the New York Star, who reported on March 4 that when she arrived, "In her super-artistic home at 28 East Fifty-second Street, [Marie] was testing perfumes."  The smell-test was necessary because whichever scent Doro chose would be named after her.

Marie Doro, The Theatre magazine, July 18, 1913 (copyright expired)

Marie Doro had begun her career as a chorus girl, moved to Broadway under impresario Charles Frohman, and, following his death in 1915, went into silent films under contract to Adolph Zukor.  In 1921, she appeared on Broadway for the last time, in Lilies of the Field.

On August 15, 1925, the Record & Guide reported that Harry T. Peters had sold his mansion at 32 East 52nd Street to Arthur Brisbane.  The article noted that Brisbane had already acquired "the former Trevor house" and the abutting 30 East 52nd Street.  The following year, on July 30, 1926, the Board of Standards and Appeals approved a petition to permit the construction "into a residence district of a proposed business building" on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street.  The mansions, including the Trevor residence, were demolished to make way for the 24-floor office building designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, which survives.

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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The 1926 Lowell Hotel - 28 East 63rd Street


photo by Jim Henderson

When Leo H. Wise purchased 30 East 63rd Street in June 1916, he had lived in the high-stooped brownstone next door at 28 West 63rd Street since 1890.  The Record & Guide advised he "will alter the house into a modern American basement dwelling."  Instead, in 1925 he purchased 32 West 63rd Street.  On September 2, the New York Evening Post reported that Wise would erect "a fifteen-story apartment hotel" designed by Henry S. Churchill on the site of the three vintage houses.  "The structure will have suites of two, three and four rooms and every living room will have a wood-burning fireplace," said the article.

The Arts, January 1927

Completed in 1926, the upper floors of the Lowell Hotel were faced in tapestry brick, its stoic mid-section nearly unadorned.  Churchill clad the single-story base in vibrant rose and cream terra cotta.  Its Art Deco design included an intricate mosaic by Bertram Hartman above the entrance doors.  Atop it, a terra cotta pediment rose like a crashing wave.  The upper floor setbacks were decorated with cream colored terra cotta parapets and chunky Deco ornaments that acted as capitals to the long brick piers.

The Arts, January 1927

Architectural critic H. R. Shurtleff addressed the stark contrast between the robust, colorful base and the "common plane" of the upper floors.  "Neither in material, texture, color or decorative motif is there any kinship between these two divisions."  He praised Churchill for rejecting architectural conventions, saying, "What is valuable in a new form is not its degree of finish...but rather its courage in emancipating itself from an outworn formula and in attempting a new synthesis."

Because the Lowell Hotel was an apartment hotel rather than an apartment building, in March 1927 The Architectural Record explained, "No provision is made for cooking in these apartments, but a 'serving pantry' is provided for the convenience of tenants, to be used in connection with the restaurant and kitchen on the street floor."  The magazine said such hotels were popular because of "the growing tendency to live longer periods of the year at summer or sea shore homes, and shorter and shorter periods in the city," adding, "It also suits a large number of business and single men or women for headquarters throughout the year, relieving them of major housekeeping worries.

Residents (and the public) could take their meals in the restaurant, entering through this Art Deco foyer.  The Architectural Record, March 1927

Among the earliest tenants were playwright and screenwriter Donald Davis and his wife, Thebe Bell.  The son of playwright Owen Davis, while living here he wrote for the radio show The Gibson Family, and in 1935 became involved with NBC's experimental television.  Among his other works while living here were the screen plays Two Flaming Youths in 1927, Dangerous Curves in 1929, and a three-act play Nothing Matters Much in 1930.  He dramatized Pearl Buck's The Good Earth for the stage with his father, then wrote the screenplay in 1937.

Even the wallpaper in the restaurant foyer was Art Deco in style.   The Architectural Record, March 1927

A celebrated resident was Dorothy Parker, poet, critic, satirist and writer.  According to Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in his A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York, she moved into the Lowell Hotel following her unsuccessful suicide attempt at the Algonquin Hotel in February 1932.  He notes:

After moving into the Lowell, Dottie produced some of the best short stories of her career.  She would ask friends to come over and sit with her for three or four hours and force her to stay focused and keep writing.

Among those stories were Lady with a Lamp, Dusk before Fireworks, and The Waltz, all published in Harper's Bazaar or The New Yorker in 1932 and 1933.

In October 1933, New York Evening Post journalist James K. Martindale interviewed Dorothy Parker in her apartment regarding the upcoming mayoral elections.  At one point the photographer snapped a photo and remarked, "That shot was no good, Miss Parker.  You were squinting."

Dorothy replied, "You didn't look so good yourself."

This photograph of Dorothy Parker was taken in her Lowell Hotel apartment during the Martindale interview.  New York Evening Post, October 27, 1933.

Following the death of playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1953, his widow Carlotta Monterey moved into the Lowell Hotel.  Born in 1888, she went into acting following World War I.  She met O'Neill in 1922 when she had a part in his play The Hairy Ape.  They were married seven years later in Paris.

Carlotta and Eugene O'Neill in 1933.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Director Jose Quintero visited Montery here in 1956.  He told The New York Times, "It had been 10 years since any of O'Neill's works had been performed in America.  He had been sentenced to oblivion, convicted of being dark, undistinguished and of no more than historical importance."  The purpose of Quintero's visit was to get Monterey's permission to produce The Iceman Cometh.

It was the first of a resurgence of O'Neill's works.  From her Lowell Hotel apartment, Carlotta Monterey O'Neill typed her husband's unproduced plays More Stately Mansions and Long Day's Journey Into Night, working his handwritten edits into the scripts.  The latter play received the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Walter Lippmann and his wife, the former Helen Byrne, moved into the Lowell Hotel around 1970.  The couple had married in 1938.  By then, Lippmann was a well-known political journalist and author, having written A Preface to Politics in 1913 and Drift and Mastery the following year.  He became a syndicated columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in 1931.

Walter Lippmann, Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1936.

Helen was her husband's constant support.  The New York Times recalled that since their marriage, she "accompanied her husband on his travels and to meetings with foreign dignitaries, learning Russian some years ago to ease his path."

On February 16, 1974, Helen Lippman suffered a heart attack "after a sudden illness at their home," reported The New York Times.  She died of cardiac arrest on her way to the hospital.  Walter died 10 months later, on December 14.  In reporting his death, The New York Times called him, "one of the most respected and influential political writers of his time."

  The Architectural Record, March 1927

In June 1976, the restaurant became the Grand Cafe.  Its Art Deco interiors prompted The New York Times critic John Canaday to gush, "They serve food at the Grand Cafe, a new restaurant at 28 East 63d Street, but they could serve sawdust and we would still recommend a visit, just for the decor."

In 1984, The Gruzen Partnership restored the facade and the Reynolds Partnership reworked the interiors.  After the months-long renovations, the Lowell Hotel was reopened by its new owners, Lowell Hotel Associates.  On January 29, The New York Times reported that the one- and two-bedroom suites, "all will have living rooms, marble bathrooms and complete kitchens.  Residents will have concierge, maid and telephone-answering service, as well as meal service provided by The Post House, the ground-floor restaurant."

In its February 14, 1994 issue, New York Magazine said the Lowell Hotel "combines the atmosphere of a genteel European retreat with the warmth of a private home."  It became the out-of-the-way stop-over for major celebrities like Dennis Quaid, Matt Damon (the "hip but humble manchild," as described by Rita Kempley of The Washington Post on December 31, 1999), Cybill Shepherd, and Jeremy Irons.

The Post House restaurant, described by The New York Times as "classy...commodious and masculine," occupied the ground floor space for more than two decades.  It was replaced in June 2016 by Majorelle.

photograph by Jim Henderson

Tucked away on the tree-lined side street, Henry S. Churchill's Art Deco Lowell Hotel, with its forceful ground floor, is worth the side trip.

many thanks to reader Frank Regan for suggesting this post
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