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
many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. I think the marquee is actually a nice addition

  2. Fascinating history!