Saturday, June 29, 2024

H. I. Feldman's 1949 36 East 36th Street


In 1948, real estate developer Joseph Perlbinder demolished a row of mansions at 28 through 36 East 36th Street as the site of a modern apartment building.  Completed in 1949, architect Hyman Isaac Feldman (who went professionally by his first initials) designed the 11-floor-and-penthouse structure in the late Art Moderne style.  Its entrance, capped with a wavecrest entablature, sat within the limestone base that stair-stepped from one to two floors, then to four at the center.  At the topmost floors, setbacks allowed for railed terraces.

Corner-wrapping casement windows had been in vogue for a generation; but at 36 East 36th Street, Feldman's were different.  He rounded the corners of the recessed sections, then used long, thin panes that allowed the windows to follow to gentle shape.

The cover of the 1949 real estate brochure pictured the building.  from the collection of the Avery Library of Columbia University.

Despite the relatively small size of the apartments (most had just one bedroom), the residents were well-heeled.  Among the first were Julia Green Sturges and her daughter Cary.  Julia, who was the daughter of Thomas Dunbar Green, president of the American Hotel Association, was divorced from Perry MacKay Sturges, who lived in Princeton, New Jersey.  Cary's marriage to Alan Lincoln Burns, Jr. in St. James Protestant Episcopal Church on June 17, 1950, was highly covered in the society pages.

Two months later, The East Hampton Star reported on the "very interesting house" designed by A. M. Shoemaker that residents William C. Eberle and his wife Cora were constructing in East Hampton.  Saying "Mr. and Mrs. Eberle will use the house as a summer home," the article mentioned, "Mr. Eberle is a prominent engineer who has been sent by President Truman as an adviser to various parts of the United States and South America."  Eberle was a partner in the fuel consulting firm Eberle & Leyford, Inc.

In 1949, Meyer Lansky and his second wife, Thelma Schwartz, moved in.  Perhaps because of his shady occupation (he was known as the "Mob's Accountant"), Lansky did not stay long at one address.  Since signing a lease at 411 West End Avenue in 1941, he had lived at 211 Central Park West and 40 Central Park South.  The Government, however, managed to keep up with his movements.  A year after moving in, he was subpoenaed to testify before Congress's Hearings to Investigate Organized Crime. 

The committee was not successful in obtaining much information from Lansky.  He was asked, for instance, by Senator Estes Kefauver, "May I ask you, did you bring all these books and records we asked for?"

Lansky answered, "No."

When asked why he had not complied, Lansky replied, "I decline [to answer], on the ground that it may tend to incriminate me."

Asked, "What is your business," he answered, "I declined to answer on the ground that it may tend to incriminate me."

And so it went.

Lansky would eventually die of lung cancer in Miami Beach in January 1983.

In 1951, Russian-born author Ayn Rand and her husband, actor and painter Charles "Frank" O'Connor, moved in.  The couple had met on the set of the 1927 silent film The King Of Kings and were married in 1929.

They had been living on a ranch in California. In her Ayn Rand and the World She Made, Anne C. Heller writes, "On October 24, they took occupancy of apartment 5-A.  Their furniture had preceded them by a day, but the apartment was small, and much had been left behind."  Heller describes it as:

...not only relatively small but also plain.  First-time visitors, expecting Roarkian grandeur along the lines of the Neutra house, were surprised by its modesty.  An entrance foyer doubled as the dining room, with a black-lacquered table, designed by O'Connor, pushed against a mirrored wall.  Formal dinners were eaten there; otherwise, the table served as a work surface for a series of manuscript typists.  A small kitchen opened off the foyer.  The living room was small, with windows on the far wall, and was decorated by Frank with mid-century modern chairs and a black tweed sofa, glass-topped tables, and green-blue pillows and knickknacks strewn around.  There was one bedroom and a tiny study facing an air shaft, from whose single window she could see the Empire State Building, if she leaned out and peered west.

Writer and editor Evan Welling Thomas 2d and his wife Anne lived here at the time.  Born in 1920, Thomas was the son of former Presidential candidate Norman Thomas.  Evan's war memoir, Ambulance in Africa was published in 1945, the same year he joined Harper & Brothers as an editor.  

In his book, Controversy and Other Essays in Journalism 1950-1975, author William Manchester talks of meeting with Thomas here while writing his 1967 Death of a President--the book about the five day period before and after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Manchester said, "it was then that I began to understand the depth of his feeling on this issue."

Among the other notable books Thomas would edit were Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Robert F. Kennedy, and Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph P. Lash.

Charles Kurzon lived here by the early 1960s.  He was president of Charles Kurzon, Inc., which dealt in architectural and finishing hardware.  Kurzon hardware was used in important Manhattan structures like the Time & Life Building, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the New York Coliseum.

An interesting figure residing here at the time was Nathaline Frackman.  A 1925 graduate of Columbia University, The New York Times said she "devoted her career to arranging social and business parties."  Using the pseudonym Nata Lee, she wrote The Complete Book of Entertaining, Nata Lee's Guide for Every Hostess.  She died in her apartment at the age of 74 on January 27, 1977.

The Art Moderne wavecrest patten above the entrance can be glimpsed behind the awning.

Other than replacement windows, H. I. Feldman's late Art Moderne design, which borders on mid-Century Modern, is little changed.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
photographs by the author
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Thursday, June 27, 2024

The 1870 William P. and Annie Brown House - 435 West 47th Street


The well-rounded John Hayes was an architect, developer, builder, and real estate agent.  Partnering with Myers Hayes (presumably his brother) in 1869, he designed six "three-story brick and brown stone first class dwellings" on the north side of West 47th Street east of Tenth Avenue.  Similar to other Italianate style residences appearing throughout the city, the identical 18-foot-wide rowhouses were completed in 1870.  Stoops with beefy stone railings and newels rose to the arched entrances, which were capped with impressive pediments upon scrolled brackets.  The windows were fully framed, and handsome bracketed cornices completed the design.

William P. and Annie R. Brown purchased 435 West 47th Street.  Interestingly, when he bought the house in 1870, he listed his business as "stone" at 456 West 46th Street.  Six years later, he described himself as a "silk and ribbon manufacturer" at the same address.  Brown invested heavily in real estate and owned scores of Manhattan properties, including several tenements as well as his 46th Street factory.

In 1881, William P. Brown's business failed and he began selling off his real estate.  The factory building was purchased by one of his creditors, Adam Nickel.  The Browns managed to hold on to 435 West 47th Street until March 10, 1884, when they sold it to Nickel for $16,000 (about $513,000 in 2024).

It is unclear whether Nickel and his family ever occupied the house.  In 1894, James O'Grady lived here, but he was most likely a boarder.  A conductor on the Third Avenue cable car line, he would not have had the income to afford a house like this, even in the Hell's Kitchen district.

On July 19, 1894, Hugo Schueler, who worked as a cook in Brooklyn, attempted to board O'Grady's street car.  He fell and fractured his skull.  Surprisingly today, O'Grady and his gripman, Frank C. Wieger, were arrested.  The Evening World reported, "Justice [Frank C.] Feitner paroled them for further examination."

By the turn of the century, the Ehrenberg family lived here.  Mrs. M. Ehrenberg was apparently a widow.  She had three daughters, Leonora, Emily and Frances.  Leonora taught in the primary department of Public School No. 28 at 257 West 40th Street, earning $680 per year.  She got a raise of $36.63 in 1903, bringing her annual income to the equivalent of $25,600 today.

Leonora Ehrenberg was a talented musician, as well.  In 1917 she attended the Eastern Music Supervisors' Conference.

In 1941, the stoop railings and newels, the entrance pediment, and the window enframements all survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Emily worked for the Christian Herald in 1923. On August 9 that year, the newspaper chartered a bus to take sixty employees on a summer outing.  On the way home, just outside of Nyack, New York, "they were discussing the celebration just over and singing songs," according to the New York Evening Telegram, when tragedy occurred.  The article said the "sightseeing car carrying sixty persons skidded into a concrete mixer and smashed the steam boiler."  The scalding steam killed one young woman instantly and five others died within 24 hours.  "Hospital authorities fear three of the remaining six patients may not live."  Among those three was Emily Ehrenberg whose recovery was listed as "doubtful."  

Happily, however, she did recover.  Three years later, on June 24, 1926, the Sullivan County Record reported that among the guests at A. Heidt's Valley View House at Kenoza Lake were "Mrs. M. Erenberg [and] the Misses Frances and Emily Ehrenberg."

The house received its moment of cinematic fame when it served as the exterior of the apartment of the character Babe in the 1976 film Marathon Man.

In 1978, 435 West 47th Street was converted to 28 "class B furnished rooms" with a common dining room and kitchen in the basement.  (Class B rooms or apartments do not require a lease.)  It was possibly at this time that the stone stoop railings, the entrance pediment, and the window enframements were removed.  

Fountain House, a self-help organization, purchased four of the 1870 rowhouses, including 435 West 47th Street, in 1985 and converted them into the "Van Ameringen Center, providing increased space for the group's charitable efforts," according to its website.

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The 1821 James M. Vandenbergh House - 68 Bedford Street


The house was originally two-and-a-half stories tall, like its once-identical neighbor to the right.

Born in 1798, James Mandeville Vandenbergh, Jr. was listed as a mason in 1819.  He was a partner with Isaac Freeman, another mason, with an office at 14 North Moore Street.  That year merchant Isaac Jacques purchased several lots in Greenwich Village, then negotiated a deal with Vandenberg and Freeman.  The pair purchased several of the plots and erected identical, two-and-a-half story homes for themselves and Jacques.  Completed in 1821, Isaac Freeman owned 66 Bedford Street, which he rented, while Vandenbergh owned and moved into 68 Bedford Street.

Like its neighbors, 68 Bedford Street sat above a shallow basement level.  The wood-frame structure was faced in red Flemish bond brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Two dormers pierced the peaked attic roof.

James M. Vandenbergh would become a prominent builder in Greenwich Village.  A bachelor, he lived here until a few years after his marriage to Eliza Ann Ackerman in 1830.

By 1836 Hobart Weekes, a grocer, leased 68 Bedford Street.  His store was conveniently just steps away, at the corner of Bedford and Morton Streets.  For some reason, Weekes sold the business that year.  An advertisement in the Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer offered, "For Sale--the grocery, stock and fixtures...together with the lease for four years from the first of May."

Samuel Delamater Vandenbergh occupied 68 Bedford Street by the early-1850s.  An older brother of James, he was born in 1790 and listed his occupation as "turner"--a woodworker who manufactured items like spindles on a lathe.  He and his wife, Cornelia Lott, were married on March 15, 1814.  The couple had three daughters.

On September 1, 1855, Samuel D. Vandenbergh died at the age of 65.  His funeral was held in the parlor on September 5.

Cornelia lived on in the Bedford Street house.  It was not, apparently, until 1864 that she took in a boarder, Henry D. Rogers, who was a fish dealer in the Fulton Market.  Her boarder in 1866 was Gamaliel R. Christie, a truckman (or delivery driver), and in 1867 it was Charles H. Wright, a clothier on the Bowery.  Anna L. Fountain, a teacher in the primary department School No. 16 on West 13th Street who lived here in 1868 was, perhaps, Cornelia Vandenberg's last boarder.  As early as 1870, Ignatius and Annie Flynn occupied the house.

Flynn had two disparate occupations.  He was a deputy sheriff in the County Courthouse, and owned a saloon at 51 Carmine Street.  He was, as well, the president of the Ancient Boon Companions.

It was most likely the Flynns who raised the attic to a full third floor.  The architect carefully matched the brick color, without going to the expense of carrying on the more costly Flemish bond brickwork.  Pressed metal cornices were installed over the lintels and diminutive brackets under the sills.  A handsome Italianate cornice completed the updating.

Before the updating, the house matched 66 Bedford Street, to the right (other than that house's remodeled doorway).  The clapboard siding can be seen on the side of the addition.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Ignatius Flynn died at the age of 43 on September 19, 1874.  His funeral was held in the house three days later, followed by a requiem mass at St. Joseph's Church.

Somewhat surprisingly, Annie took over the operation of the saloon.  As Cornelia Vandenbergh had done, she took in a boarder.  The year after Ignatius Flynn's death, teacher Hattie McKinley lived in the house, and the following year William Madden listed his address here.  The arrangement seems to have been a conflict of interest, since the saloon owner's boarder was a clerk in the Board of Excise (the state department that controlled liquor licenses).  Madden earned a salary of $1,000, equal to about $29,300 in 2024.

Mary Cook, the widow of Sidney Cook, leased 68 Bedford Street by 1882, operating it as a boarding house.  A succinct article in The New York Times on March 22, 1884 read, "A fire last night at No. 68 Bedford-street, the residence of Mary E. Cook, did $500 damage to the furniture and about $300 damage to the building."  The total damages would amount to about $25,600 by today's conversion.

The working-class status of Mary's tenants was evidenced in an unusual position-wanted ad on December 30, 1889.  It read, "Janitor--Mother and son wishes to take charge of flat or apartment house.  Address George Miles, 68 Bedford st."

The house was sold in December 1891 to Albert Etzel and Emanuel Kronacher.  It continued being leased and operated as a boarding house.  Two tenants were looking for work in 1895.  An advertisement on June 19 read, "Day's Work--Widow wants work by the day, washing, ironing & housecleaning," and on November 18 another read, "Tailoress--Young lady to do tailor's sewing at home.  68 Bedford st., basement."

Emil Mueller, who worked as a cabinet maker, was first listed here in 1897.  By the time of his death at the age of 56 on October 5, 1902, he had Anglicized his surname to Miller.

An interior renovation completed in 1925 resulted in rented rooms.  An advertisement on August 9 in The New York Times offered, "Greenwich Village--Charming room, adjoining bath; $25," and another read, "Attractive room, adjoining bath; $35; remodeled house, 68 Bedford st."  The rent for the more expensive room would equal about $608 today.

On January 9, 1964, The Villager reported that John J. Repetti had sold 68 Bedford Street.  The buyers, said the article, "will occupy it as a one-family house after extensive restoration."

By the turn of the century, Anthony Tarsitano and his wife Deborah owned 68 Bedford Street.  The owner of a successful advertising agency, Tarsitano had made a drastic career change in his 50s by turning to filmmaking.  In 2008, he wrote and directed Calling It Quits, followed by Ice in 2013 and Lost Cat Corona in 2017.

The following year Stacey Cunningham was appointed the first female president of the New York Stock Exchange.  She stepped down in December 2021, and shortly afterward purchased 68 Bedford Street from Tarsitano.  Outwardly, little has changed to the house since its updating in the second half of the 19th century.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The 1884 "French Flat" at 693 Ninth Avenue


On February 7, 1872, William C. Morgan purchased three properties on the Ninth Avenue block between 47th and 48th Streets from the estate of Henry Ulrick.  The Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in which the old buildings sat was, overall, sketchy at best.  Morgan may have had buyer's regret.  He attempted to sell the property to Michael Lorentz on March 21, 1874, but the transaction was never completed.  In 1880, he transferred the title to Charles W. Morgan (presumably a son), but on November 22, 1884, the Record & Guide recorded that Charles had transferred the title back to William.  In recording the change, the journal noted, "new buildings projected."

Morgan erected two French flat buildings with stores on the sites.  No. 693 Ninth Avenue, in the middle of the block, was five stories tall and faced in red brick above the storefronts.  Its prim neo-Grec design featured stone bandcourses that connected the window sills and lintels.  Diminutive rosettes decorated the lintels, one on each corner.  The building's metal elements, no doubt chosen from a catalogue, stepped away from neo-Grec: the highly decorative fire escapes harkened to the Italianate style of a generation earlier, while the cornice included neo-Classical swags and a triangular pediment.

With his property improved with a modern building, Morgan sold 693 Ninth Avenue in February 1887 to Zachariah Jaques for $38,000--about $1.26 million today.  The building became home to respectable families--one realtor telling the courts that it had a "better class" of tenants than did buildings a block to the west on Tenth Avenue.

Two stores flanked the entrance at ground level.  One was initially home to a D. Auerbach & Sons candy store.  The firm's large factory was at 334-336 West 39th Street.  For some reason, in 1887 D. Auerbach & Sons moved their shop next door to 691 Ninth Avenue, and their former space became home to the P. C. Eckhardt real estate office.

Record & Guide, June, 30, 1888 (copyright expired)

Peter C. Eckhardt had founded the business in 1858.  When he moved into 638 Ninth Avenue his two sons worked with him.  P. C. Eckhardt specialized in Hell's Kitchen properties.  Peter C. Eckhardt, Jr. (who started out in the office at the age of 12 in 1873), testified in 1892 that in addition to the "general course of real estate, "We do a great deal of collecting of rents and for a great number of parties on Ninth Avenue and on Eighth Avenue...also on Tenth Avenue and on the intervening streets between Thirty-fourth and, say, Twenty-third Streets."

In 1898, A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City said, "There is a class of real estate men who are as much a necessity to a community as is the medical practitioner...No one would question the right of placing the firm of P. C. Eckhardt in this category."  The Eckhardt concern would operate from 693 Ninth Avenue into the first decade of the 20th century.  It was still here in January 1910 when Peter Jr. became a director in the newly formed Penn Amusement Company, organized "to own and manage theatres and to present plays, operas and moving picture exhibitions."

The other store was originally home to the Farmer's Butter & Egg Co., then to an S. Cushman & Sons bakery.  There were three other Cushman bakeries in the city.

In the meantime, the residents of 693 Ninth Avenue drew little undue attention.  An exception was 13-year-old Marcella Hunter who got into trouble with her classmate, Maude Vliet on February 6, 1893.  Something about their behavior when they walked into the Bloomingdale Brothers' store caused the store detective to suspect "the girls of misconduct," reported the New York Press.  He watched them and, sure enough, they pocketed merchandise.  The "two pretty young girls" were "committed to the care of the Gerry society to await trial."  (The Gerry Society was the common name for the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.)  The fact that the residents of 693 Ninth Avenue were of "a better class" was evidenced in the newspaper's saying that the girls "are well connected."

Living in the building at the time was the family of Peter J. Ferrier, a veterinarian whose office was at 521 Seventh Avenue.  He was foreman of the jury that heard the case against Joseph F. Blaut, former President of the Madison Square Bank in February 1894.  Blaut was charged with perjury and fraud, having accepted deposits while knowing that the bank was insolvent.  After three days of heated deliberation, the jury gave up without reaching a verdict.  The World remarked that the "feeling in the jury-room grew so bitter that the Jurors went out and talked about each other."

Godfrey Gort lived here by 1907.  He was a member of the New York Railroad Club and would remain at least through 1911.  Another resident, Frank Morris, was affluent enough to afford a motorcar.  He apparently missed the newspaper articles about the crackdown of Westchester county police on Sunday speeders in the spring of 1906.  On April 30, the New-York Tribune reported, "A score of men were on guard on the leading highways with motor cycles, stop watches and flags," but they did not get "the usual Sunday harvest."  Only one speeder was arrested--Frank Morris.  He deposited $100 (a hefty $3,500 today) for his appeared in court.

Nellie Hayes, who lived here by 1922, was a school teacher.  On July 16 that year, The New York Times reported on The Sight Saving Class, "The first training class ever given under the auspices of an American university began at Columbia University last week with a class of twenty-one."  Among the educators in the class was Nellie Hayes. 

Nellie had a close call two years later.  On August 21, 1924, she went to Long Island City with a friend, Harriet Friedman.  That afternoon, they were "found unconscious at Court Square," according to the Queens, New York Daily Star.  The women were taken to St. John's Hospital in Long Island City where physicians "worked for hours before reviving the women."  An analysis of the seafood in their stomachs was "declared to be poisonous" by the doctors, who said "the sea food was not as fresh as it should have been."  The women were held overnight at the hospital.

In 1935, a year after the repeal of Prohibition, one of the stores became home to Dan Sheehy's restaurant and bar.  On July 27, the Irish American Advocate reported that Dan Sheehy's "goes with the Patrick Henry beer tide."  (Patrick Henry was a brand of draft beer.)
The other shop was Sam's Ninth Avenue Meat market.  During the World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Office of Price Administration to control prices and limit consumption of certain commodities, like meat.  On July 25, 1946, the New York Sun reported on "treble damage actions seeking to recover more than $1,000,000" that were filed against eight Manhattan meat dealers.  The article said the "largest sum sought in the actions filed by [Callman] Gottesman in Federal court here, was $294,337.68 from Sam's Ninth Avenue Meat Market, Inc."

The R & T Meat Market occupied the space in the third quarter of the century.  The store's participation in the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival on May 15, 1977 reflected the change in the neighborhood's demographics.  Molly Ivins reported in The New York Times, "The R & T Meat Market at 693 Ninth Avenue had a loudspeaker broadcasting salsa music which attracted some very fine dancers and a two-man rhythm section.  One fellow played a bongo drum while the second got a nice beat by playing a Ballantine Ale can with an Afro comb."

As the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood continues to change (there is a Dunkin' Donuts and a smoke shop in the store spaces today), William Morgan's 1884 building has not.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

An Unlikely Holdout - 770 West End Avenue


In 1890, developer Edward Kilpatrick filled the eastern blockfront of West End Avenue between West 97th and 98th Street with eleven upscale rowhouses.  Designed by Boring & Tilton, they were three stories tall above English basements.

The house at the middle of the row, 770 West End Avenue, became home to George Eugene Poole and his wife, the former Florence Britton Ballou.  Eugene was born in January 1848 and Florence in November 1856.  Both came from colonial Connecticut families.  Eugene was the great-grandson of John Poole, a corporal in the Connecticut militia; and three of Florence's ancestors played prominent roles in the Revolution.

The affluence of the Pooles was evidenced in 1895 when they commissioned George F. Pelham to design a six-story brick stable on West 87th Street.  The cost of the commodious carriage house was $40,000, or about $1.5 million in 2024.

On February 24, 1898, as "the Spanish crisis" intensified, reporters from The World were sent throughout the city to interview women "as to whether or not they regarded war with Spain as probable and if, should hostilities occur, they would or would not be willing to let their male relatives and friends go to the front."  Florence Poole rendered a split decision:

Should war come I would be willing myself to make any sacrifice, to nurse the wounded and work as I could for my country's good, but to yield my husband--No!  He is all I have in the world.

In June 1900, Frank Lugar and his wife Harriet purchased the Poole house for $17,400 (about $641,000 today).  He leased it to Rev. Henry Van Arsdale Parsell, Jr. and his wife, the former Maud Collins.  The couple was married on January 31, 1893. 

In addition to his clerical work, Reverend Parsell was an electrical genius.  In 1899, he partnered with Arthur J. Weed to form Parsell & Weed, which manufactured inventors' and experimenters' models.  The firm designed and built the Franklyn Model Dynamo, which received a diploma at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.  Parsell was, additionally, president of the Baldwin Calculating Machine Co., treasurer of the New Amsterdam Eye and Ear Hospital, and a director in the Taylor House Association and the photolithographic firm Norris-Peters Co.  

Reverend Parsell had grown up in his parent's "old-fashioned brownstone house at 31 East Twenty-first street," as described by The Sun.  His father, Henry Sr., had been adopted as a boy by his uncle, John Van Arsdale, a shipping magnate.  Upon Van Arsdale's death, Henry Sr. received his fortune.  Henry Sr. never worked, instead he "spent most of his lifetime looking after his property holdings," said the newspaper, and giving away money to assist young men in achieving success.  Henry Van Arsdale Parsell Sr. died in 1901.

Henry's mother, Hannah Parsell, raised eyebrows across the city on June 21, 1905, when the 70-year-old married John M. Hardy.  She had met her 35-year-old groom in Plainfield, New Jersey, where her summer home was located.  The Sun reported, "At first the gossips thought Hardy was a relative, but it was not long before they agreed that he was courting the elderly woman."  Reverend Parsell did not comment on his mother's unexpected marriage.

Parsell would be consecrated a bishop in the Anglican University Church on September 19, 1920.  But by then, he and Maud had been gone from West End Avenue for a decade.  In 1910, the Lugars leased 770 West End Avenue to Dr. Henry E. Hale, Jr. and his wife.  He had graduated from the Columbia School of Medicine in 1896.  Like the previous occupants of the house, the couple was listed in Dau's Bluebook of New York Society.

The Lugar estate sold 770 West End Avenue in July 1920.  It was briefly operated as a rooming house.  The tenants, ironically, worked for families like those who had previously lived here.  In 1920 and '21, three occupants sought work as a chauffeur, a butler, and a masseur.

In 1923, Solomon and Elizabeth Riley purchased 770 West End Avenue for $35,000 (about $625,000 today).  Controversy  soon ensued.  The couple hired architect Rudolf Ludwig to renovate the interiors for a club--an idea that did not sit well with their well-to-do neighbors.  On June 12, 1926, The New York Age reported:

Solomon Riley, said to be one of the wealthiest Negroes in New York City, has stirred the white people of the exclusive West End avenue announcing that he plans to form a cultural club for Negro youth, devoted to Negro music and dances for philanthropic and religious purposes, using his three-story and basement brownstone residence at 770 West End avenue as the club house.

Neighbors were tipped off when the Rileys put up a large sign on the front of the house.  They filed "a protest against the proposed club house" with the Board of Estimate.  The New York Age reported that the Board, "has declared that a Zoning law will prevent Riley from turning his private home into a dancing school, club or any other enterprise."

The Rileys were involved in another battle at the time.  The same year they purchased 770 West End Avenue, the couple bought seven acres of land on the east shore of Hart's Island as the site of a resort.  The New York Evening Post reported they, "erected ten buildings and a dance hall.  They acquired three motorboats to give access to the mainland and intended to establish a bungalow colony and summer resort for negroes."

It would never open.  The city seized the land "by condemnation" on April 1, 1926.  The New York Evening Post explained, "the authorities feared that the project might facilitate the escape of prisoners" from the nearby New York City Reformatory.  (The Rileys, no doubt, suspected other, more discriminatory reasons.)  The couple sued and on November 25, 1927, were awarded $144,015 for the lost property.

Five months later, Solomon and Elizabeth Riley sold 770 West End Avenue to Dr. Max Soletsky.  On March 14, 1928, The New York Times reported that he intended to replace the vintage house with "a twelve story building containing bachelor apartments."  He had already hired architects Goldner & Goldner to prepare the plans, "which call for an unusual building owing to the fact that [the] plot is only 18 feet wide," said the article.  "The two lower floors will be used by Dr. Soletsky for his offices."

The doctor soon scaled back his plans.  Instead of a new, 12-story building, he had the architects remodel the existing building.  The stoop and brownstone facade were removed, and another floor added.  

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The renovations resulted in a 1920s take on Italian Renaissance architecture.  Faced in brown-red brick, its details--like the square-headed drip molding above the grouped windows of the second floor--were executed in brick.  A brick parapet rose above a trio of fully arched windows at the fourth floor.

By now, the ten other brownstone houses of the 1890 row had been replaced with tall apartment buildings, the 15-story structure to the south completed in 1925, and the 12-story building on the other side completed in 1912.

There are still two apartments per floor through the fourth, and one on the fifth floor.

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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Lost 1921 290 Park Avenue Apartments


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

On July 19, 1920, architects Warren & Wetmore filed plans "for the great $2,500,000 cooperative apartment house to be erected in the west side of Park av., between Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth sts," as reported by The Sun.  Projecting that it would be the "world's biggest apartment," the article noted that while Warren & Wetmore had been hired by the 290 Park Avenue Company, "the New York Central and Harlem River Railroad Company are the owners of record."

It was a complicated arrangement.  About 30 wealthy families had formed a co-op in order to erect a building with apartments to their specifications.  On November 20, 1921, the New-York Tribune explained they, "own the structure from the ground floor up, and own it outright."  But the New York Central owned the land and the railroad tracks over which the building would be erected.  The builder of 290 Park Avenue, Fred T. Ley, paid the $450,000 necessary for the construction of the steel structure over the railroad tracks in exchange for rent on an apartment.  "The cost represented about five years' rent, which was assigned to Mr. Ley by the New York Central," said the New-York Tribune.

Describing the planned building on July 20, 1920 as, "one of the finest apartment houses in the world," the New-York Tribune said, "It will be built to meet the special requirements of a number of folks who have been unable to find what they wanted in other houses and decided to build an apartment, part of which they would occupy."

The original 30 families were joined by "some of the wealthiest people in the country," according to the New-York Tribune.  The New York Times explained on November 14, 1920, "About 70 per cent of the structure will be sold to individuals and 50 per cent rented."  The article said, "Many of the new owners are already having plans drawn for the apartments they have purchased."  

Three months before Warren & Wetmore filed plans, an advertisement in The New York Times promised:

It is to be the last word in apartment house construction.  Ultra modern in every detail.  More than a city residence--more than a hotel--where the hourly or double service system of domestic employment is to be inaugurated.  This service solves the servant problem and includes a hotel service of the highest, but strictly private order, when desired.

As construction neared completion on March 9, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported, "Seven million dollars is involved in the operation."  That figure, equal to about $119 million in 2024, was free of any mortgage.  Warren & Wetmore's staid neo-Italian Renaissance design included a four-story stone base.  The decorations--stone balconies and Renaissance-inspired pediments--were minimal.  A distinctive corbel table ran below the cornice.

The large ground floor commercial space was leased "to Pierre, the restaurateur" in March 1921.  Few New Yorkers knew that Pierre had a first or last name.  Charles Pierre Casolasco was already well known among Manhattan's upper crust for his high-end cuisine and service.  Pierre not only opened his first-class French restaurant in the building, but he and his wife, the former Adeline Harbord purchased an apartment here.  

On October 7, 1922, Hotel Operation described Pierre's as, "the place where New York's 400 lunch and dine and dance."  The restaurant's status among high society was reflected in the New-York Tribune's mentioning on October 21, 1921, "Among those who entertained at luncheon yesterday at Pierre's Restaurant, 290 Park Avenue, were Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt 2d, Mrs. Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Mrs. August Belmont jr., Mrs. Lyttleton Fox and Foxhall P. Keene."

Saying, "All of the apartments are luxurious and designed especially for people of untold wealth," Hotel Operation said, "One floor which has a ten-room apartment on it cost to buy $100,000 and the new owner is spending another $50,000 in rebuilding it to suit himself...Another room has a paneled ceiling with hand-painted work done in each panel."

Among the earliest owners was one of its designers, Whitney Warren.  Like their neighbors, he and his wife, the former Charlotte Augusta Tooker, would appear in society columns routinely.  On February 10, 1922, for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Whitney Warren will give the second of a series of receptions with music next Tuesday night," and on September 14 that year, the New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. Whitney Warren gave a dinner at his home, 290 Park avenue, last night for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Goelet."

Whitney Warren from the collection of the Library of Congress

Paul D. Cravath and his wife, opera singer Agnes Huntington, were also early residents.  A prominent corporate lawyer, Cravath was a director of the New York Symphony Society and the Juilliard School of Music.  He would become chairman of the Metropolitan Opera in 1931.  The couple's summer estate, Veraton, was in Locust Valley, Long Island.

On August 3, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported that James Brown "of the international banking house of Brown Bros. & Co." had purchased an apartment.  Like most residents, the Browns traveled extensively.  On February 2, 1923, for instance, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported, "Mr. and Mrs. James Brown of 290 Park avenue sailed for a cruise in the Mediterranean today.  They will be away until May;" and on July 29, 1925, the newspaper announced, "Mr. and Mrs. James Brown...who have been spending the early part of the summer at the Bungalow, one of the Piping Rock Club cottages at Locust Valley, are planning to join the American contingent abroad and will set sail on Aug. 5."

Potential residents who chose to rent rather than buy could expect to pay up to $14,000 a year for a nine-room apartment (about $19,800 per month in 2024 terms).  An advertisement noted, "A competent staff of servants under the direction of a housekeeper is available for those who desire to eliminate unnecessary burdens.  An added attraction is Pierre's restaurant on the main floor from which meals may be served in the apartments."

Two views inside of the I. E. Verrando apartment.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Bessie Douglas Dearborn purchased a 15-room apartment with five baths in December 1921.  Her husband, George S. Dearborn, president of the America-Hawaiian Steamship Company had died on May 29, 1920.  The New York Times had described their yacht, the Colonia, as "one of the most beautiful of its class afloat."

Dr. Percival Martin Barker and his wife Alice Hearn were early residents.  The couple was married on December 20, 1917.  Alice's grandfather had founded the dry goods firm of James A. Hearn & Son.  Tragically, just months after moving in, Alice died of pneumonia in their apartment on December 20, 1921.  Her estate was formally estimated at "more than $1,000,000," according to the New-York Tribune.

Barker's grief was still fresh when he had to deal with a burglar less than three months later.  The thief made off with $12,000 of Alice's jewelry (closer to $218,000 today).  Miles Boucher, who was captured on March 22, 1922, was "alleged to have committed at least forty burglaries in order to finance a burlesque show," reported the New York Evening World.

Resident Caroline Graham Slaughter was the divorced wife of E. Dick Slaughter.  The Texas native drew society's attention when she married William Robertson Coe in her apartment on December 5, 1926.  The New York Evening Post said on December 11,  "It was impossible for Mr. William Robertson Coe to marry again, without creating a flutter of interest."  Coe's first wife, Mai Rogers (daughter of Standard Oil magnate Henry H. Rogers) died in 1926.  The New York Times remarked, "No previous announcement of an engagement had been made, and news of the marriage came as a surprise."

Coe's estate, Planting Fields, was one of the showplaces on Long Island.  The New York Times said, "On their return from the West Mr. and Mrs. Coe will live at Planting Fields, Oyster Bay.  They plan to leave in January to spend four months on a Mediterranean cruise and a trip in Egypt."

A celebrated couple at 290 Park Avenue were Edward H. Sothern and his wife Julia Marlowe.  The two had met in 1904 when the played opposite one another in Romeo and Juliet.   The on-stage chemistry led to a long-term partnership in Shakespearean roles and, finally, to marriage.  Julia Marlowe retired from the stage in 1924 due to failing health (although she survived until 1950).

Marlowe and Sothern in their roles as Romeo and Juliet (original source unknown)

In 1930 Charles Pierre Casalasco opened the 41-story, 714-room Pierre Hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street and moved his famous restaurant into the building.  "Helen Worden's 1932 The Real New York recalled, "Famous parties have been staged here.  Debutante affairs that sometimes cost fifty thousand dollars had this spot for a background."

Now, the book noted, Pierre's former space was home to Therese Worthington Grant's.  Worden called it "a nice place to take out-of-town relatives."  Therese Worthington Grant's cuisine could not have been more different from Pierre's.  Explaining that Grant was "born and reared in Kentucky," Worden said, "The cooking is the sort you hope to find south of the Mason and Dixon line."

Steel tycoon Charles M. Schwab and his wife, Eurana, built one of Manhattan's largest and most opulent mansions, Riverside House, in 1906.  Then the Depression hit and Schwab's fortune was greatly reduced.  On Christmas day 1938, Eurana suffered a heart attack and died on the morning of January 12, 1939.  Early in March, Schwab closed Riverside House, sold his two country estates, and moved into 290 Park Avenue.  His residency would be short-lived.  The 77-year-old died of a heart attack in his apartment on September 18.  About 2,000 people attended his funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The fact that the co-op owners did not own the land under the building was their undoing.  No doubt to the surprise of many New Yorkers, on December 13, 1957, The New York Times reported, "The New York Central Railroad is about to lease to builders the land at 290 Park Avenue...The builders will replace the apartment house on the site with an office building."  The Bankers Trust Building designed by Emery Roth & Son was erected on the site.

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

The August R. Zicha House - 516 East 87th Street


In 1874, real estate developer John Hillenbrand erected a long row of identical, Italianate style rowhouses on the south side of East 87th Street between East End and York Avenues.  Faced in brownstone, the 20-foot-wide homes were three stories tall above high English basements.  Robust stone stoop railings with urn-shaped balusters terminated in finial-capped newels.  The arched double-doored entrances sat below impressive pediments on scrolled brackets, and the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows most likely had cast iron balconies.

The title to 516 East 87th Street was held by Hillenbrand's wife, Elizabeth.  The couple initially leased the house.  Their first tenant, John Hunt, was here only a few months before his death at 73 on March 14, 1875.  The house was next leased to the Burns family, whose son Charles Henry was attending New York City College in 1878.

The Hillenbrands sold 516 East 87th Street on April 15, 1880 to William Arnold for $9,000 (about $266,000 in 2024).  He continued to lease it to the Burns family.

Annie M. Burns went shopping downtown on Broadway on May 12, 1881.  While making some purchases in a drygoods store, she laid her pocketbook on the counter, and it disappeared.  The New York Times reported, "It was found in Mrs. Conterno's pocket and returned after having been demanded twice."  Annie Conterno (who had wrapped a handkerchief around the pocketbook) proclaimed her innocence.

Annie Burns appeared in court on May 24 to face Annie Conterno and Pauline Vibert, who had been arrested as an accomplice.  Conterno took the stand in her own behalf after Mrs. Burns testified.  The New York Times reported,  

She said that the had forgotten her pocket  book previously in another store.  When Mrs. Vibert, therefore, gave her the pocket-book belonging to Mrs. Burns, saying. "That's twice you've for gotten your pocket-book,” she put it into her pocket without looking at it.  She denied that she had wrapped her handkerchief around it. 

Annie Burns told the court she did not want to press charges, "as she had reason to believe that the accused were respectable persons."  Justice Wandell was less charitable.  Grumbling, "I am instructed by my colleagues to discharge the accused," he did so with a formal dissent.

In September 1906, the house was purchased by August R. Zicha, a partner in the Cork & Zicha Marble Company and an officer in the Home Alliance Realty Company.  He was, as well, the secretary of the Czecho-Slavonian Fraternal Benefit Union.

By 1920, the name of the firm had been changed to the August R. Zicha Marble Company, Inc.  On December 11, the New-York Tribune ran the headline, "29 Stone Men Indicted as Anti-Trust Violators" and reported on the smashing of a price fixing "ring" that had rocked the industry.  Among those indicted were Henry Hanlein, "whose $2,372,000 limestone contract for the proposed new courthouse would have mulcted the city of close to $1,000,000;" Wright D. Goss, known as the "brick king;" and August R. Zicha.

Of the 29 company heads indicted, 19 were found guilty, including Zicha.  On December 24, 1921, the Record & Guide reported, "The prison terms were for six months to three years in the penitentiary, but will not be enforced at this time.  Each of the defendants will be released on a suspended sentence on payment of a fine."  Zicha got off with a $250 fine--equal to about $4,000 today.

Living with the family at the time was August Zicha's nephew, Joseph.  The 24-year-old was the victim of an ambush in the winter of 1921.  He had known Beatrice Dorsey "for some time."  She lived in Long Island City where the Zicha marble works were located.  On the evening of February 10, according to Zicha, Dorsey telephoned "and made an appointment to meet him."  Later that night, he walked her home and as they approached a secluded spot, Zicha was set upon by two teens.  The New-York Tribune reported, "the youths beat him when he refused to hold up his hands, and robbed him of his watch and $11."

As it turned out, Beatrice Dorsey had set up the ambush.  She and two 18-year-olds, Joseph Mascio and John Penno, were arrested on a charge of highway robbery.  (Beatrice was unable to make her $10,000 bail and was jailed.)  The newspaper reported, "The boys in court accused the girl of planning the holdup.  This she denied, and said she merely asked them to assist her in getting rid of the attentions of Zickla [sic]."

In 1930, Sibyl A. Scott, who also owned 514 East 87th Street next door, purchased the former Zicha house.  She removed the stoop and lowered the entrance to the basement level.  It appears she converted the interior to unofficial apartments.

516 East 87th Street originally matched its neighbor to the left.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Living here in 1951 were Marjorie and Edward O. Salant, along with Marjorie's adult twin children by her late husband Dr. Joseph J. Asch--Thane, who had served in the Air Force during the war, and Meadra.

In 1941, "when my job as a mother seemed to be nearing its end," as Marjorie worded it, she started taking courses at Columbia University.  Meadra began her music studies at Columbia in 1945, and the following year Thane enrolled in the university's pre-medical courses.  It all came together in 1951.

On February 8, the Columbia Daily Spectator reported, "A mother and her 23-year-old twins discovered last week while registering at Columbia's School of General Studies that they were classmates in the Senior Class."  The article said, "to their surprise" they found that "in adding their credits that they would all bring a diploma to their home at 516 East 87th street in June."

Living here in the mid-1970s were Jane S. and Charles Clay Dahlberg.  Married in 1959, the couple had four sons.  Charles Dahlberg was a psychoanalyst, described by Dr. Mark Blechner in Contemporary Psychoanalysis as "a maverick, known for tackling difficult and cutting-edge subjects."  Jane received her Ph.D. from New York University in 1964 and was the author of the 1966 The New York Bureau of Municipal Research.

In 2000, plans were filed for structural work described as being "for expansion of town house."  Once again a single-family home, a fourth floor was added and the 1874 details enhanced with architrave window frames.  The entrance was returned to the parlor level and given a sharply angled pediment.  The house received period-appropriate cornice and a coat of pink paint.  

photographs by the author
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