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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