Tuesday, June 11, 2024

H. Herbert Lilien's 1948 205 West 95th Street


The high-stooped brownstone house at 250 West 95th Street was, for a period, home to author Damon Runyon.  It and three of its neighbors were demolished in 1947 to be replaced by an up-to-date apartment building.  The 95th Street Construction Co., Inc. hired 49-year-old H. Herbert Lilien to design the structure.  Lilien had already established a reputation with his Art Deco style apartment buildings.

Cover of the 1948 real estate brochure. from the collection of the Avery Library of Columbia University.

Completed in 1948, the six-story building had one foot in the waning Art Moderne movement and the other in the dawning Midcentury Modern.  Faced in red brick, its several light courts afforded natural light and ventilation to interior apartments.  Sculptural Art Moderne fire escapes acted as part of the design.  Lilien's most striking details were the curved midcentury railing at sidewalk level, and the recessed entry within a rusticated, reentrant concrete corner supported by a single column.

 from the collection of the Avery Library of Columbia University.

The nine apartments per floor filled with a wide variety of tenants.  Among the first was a Jewish-Iranian family who crushed into a one-bedroom apartment.  In her 2020 Concealed, Esther Amini writes,

My parents slept in the congested living room while my brothers camped out in the coveted bedroom.  In this pinched space stuffed with Persian futons, borrowed folding tables and chairs, a floral slip-covered couch bursting with orange stargazers, sacks of clothing, colanders, Persian rugs, a dayereh and samovar, [the family] navigated tight aisles, tripping over one another.

Amini recalls that next door was the Jacobson family, "big-hearted Holocaust survivors."  Their son, Herman, was a teenaged musical prodigy "crippled by polio."

The reentrance corner and streamlined railings were the salient features of Lilien's design.

Two actresses were listed here in 1957.  Like most aspiring actresses, Gladys Austen's career had had a rocky start.  In 1953, she had fought the Unemployment Board for benefits.  In its defense, the board said, "between January, 1951, and June 23, 1953, claimant had sixty-six weeks employment as a typist-receptionist and only five days of paid employment as an actress."  Unemployment, argued the attorney, did not apply simply "because an applicant desires to exclusively pursue a career which is more attractive."

Gladys Austen, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Things improved for Gladys and by the time she moved into 205 West 95th Street, she had appeared in small parts in Broadway shows like Lunatics and Lovers, which ran from December 13, 1954 to October 1, 1955.   And on August 18, 1956, The Billboard noted, "Gladys Austen has been doing some of the Tide blurbs thru Benton & Bowles."  She would play the role of Vera Wallace in the 1968 production of The Jumping Frog at the Shubert Theatre.

Grace Wallace Huddle's husband had died in 1938, two years after their daughter was born.  To augment her acting career, Grace taught singing.  While her career on stage never really took off, her daughter's did.  Sue Ane Langdon began her career singing at Radio City Music Hall and landed a role in The Apple Tree on Broadway in 1967.  She became a familiar face on television and film.

A frightening incident took place here on May 31, 1976.  The building superintendent, Raul Ortiz, discovered two burglars in the basement.  In the subsequent confrontation, one pulled a screwdriver and attempted to stab Ortiz.  The 61-year-old superintendent fired a handgun, wounding Harold Norman in the cheek.  Norman and Gregory Smith were arrested for attempted assault and attempted burglary, while Ortiz was charged with illegal possession of a .38-caliber revolver.

Judith Scott lived here in the 1980s and '90s.  Born in 1937, she formed Dance Incorporated Chicago in 1963 with Gus Giordano.  From 1969 through 1975, she taught modern dance at Barnard College.  While teaching there, she formed the Judith Scott Dance Company.  By the time she moved into 205 West 95th Street, she had turned her attention from modern to aerobic dancing and fitness and wrote books and articles on the subject.

An enterprising resident at the time was Jim Sanford.  A classically trained chef, he began a clam bake business on Martha's Vineyard in 1970, and relocated it to Manhattan in 1980.  He told Claudia Rowe of The New York Times in May 2000, "When I started this, you'd think you could get anything in New York if you had the money.  You could get a pink elephant at 4 in the morning, but you couldn't get an authentic clambake."

Sanford's operation (which included three hours of prep) provided a real New England clambake--lobster, steamed corn, onions, potatoes, chicken, smoked sausage and watermelon--for as many as 1,000 guests.  Rowe explained, "Authentic is the operative word.  Mr. Sanford arrives with his goods packed in rockweed, and everything is steamed under canvas, which is the traditional way."  

Outwardly, little has changed to H. Herbert Lilien's transitional building in 76 years.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

No comments:

Post a Comment