Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The 1887 George and Louise Ferris House - 369 Manhattan Avenue


George Ferris Ferris graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1881.  Although listed as "architect" alongside "builder" in directories, when he planned a row of ten three-story dwellings on the west side of Manhattan Avenue between 115th and 116th Streets in September 1886, he hired the 37-year-old architect William B. Tuthill to design them.

As he often did, Tuthill blended the Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles to create the charming row.  Completed in 1887, they were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Intended for middle and upper middle class families, each of the homes had cost $7,000 to erect, or about $234,000 in 2024.  George F. Ferris retained one of them, 369 Manhattan Avenue, for his own use.  

Romanesque Revival played a significant role in the parlor level where undressed stone blocks created chunky voussoirs above the openings.  It appeared again on the second floor, where brick eyebrows rested on a projecting bandcourse, its ends capped with carved Medieval-style ornaments.  The third floor windows were grouped under a single sandstone lintel.  An ambitious, multi-level, pressed metal cornice crowned the design.

Shortly after moving in, on November 10, 1887, George Ferris Ferris and Louise C. Wood were married in Philadelphia in what The New York Times called, "an interesting wedding."  Guests came from Manhattan, New Jersey, Boston, and Pennsylvania.  Although the newlyweds originally occupied the Manhattan Avenue house, they would not stay especially long.  

In 1889, George Ferris moved his business to Philadelphia.  He would join the architectural firm of Moses & King there the following year.  It became Moses, King & Ferris.

The Ferrises sold 369 Manhattan Avenue to Edward Todd, Jr. and his wife Bessie T. on June 25, 1890 for the equivalent of $484,000 in today's money.  Todd was associated with his father in Edward Todd & Co., described by The Jewelers' Circular as the "well known manufacturer of gold pens."

Todd's father died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his residence at 66 Madison Avenue on New Year's Eve 1899.  His funeral was held in the Manhattan Avenue house three days later.  In reporting on Edward Sr.'s death, The Jewelers' Circular mentioned that Edward Jr. had taken over the firm.

The Todds sold the 20-foot-wide house on September 27, 1906 to Asa and Julia Rosen Lemlein.  The couple had two sons, 12-year-old Harold Leon and 8-year-old Barton.

Like Edward Todd, Asa Lemlein followed his father's professional path.  Asa Lemlein Sr. had operated a cigar store as early as 1864, when he opened a store at 397 Bleecker Street.  The younger Asa expanded the cigar shop to a substantial business, Asa Lemlein & Co., "the first tobacco jobbers' association in New York," according to Tobacco years later.  It became, according to the Congressional Record on May 28, 1906, "the largest jobbers in New York and Brooklyn, doing a business of about $500,000 per year."

Decades later, in 1942, Asa Lemlein recounted his first interaction with James Buchanan Duke to John K. Winkler for his book Tobacco Tycoon.  Duke tried to convince the cigar dealer to sell a new product--machine rolled cigarettes.

I remember the first time young Duke came into my cigar store.  He had ridden up on the steam-driven "L" which used to drop live cinders on pedestrians and horses alike...He wanted to sell me some of his newfangled machine-made cigarettes on consignment.  I told him I wouldn't handle cigarettes under any circumstances, that my customers didn't want 'em.

Duke's brilliant marketing campaign finally swayed Lemlein, who said:

The climax came when Duke began putting into each package a picture of a famous actress or athlete or the flags of all nations.  That was a million-dollar idea, for the pictures came in numbered sets and the kids began pestering their dads for them.  Soon collecting pictures became a craze and we had to order the cigarettes in quantity.

Shortly before purchasing the Manhattan Avenue house, Asa had suffered a serious professional setback.  Independent wholesale tobacco, cigar and cigarette dealers consolidated to form the Metropolitan Tobacco Company.  It became a massive trust that eventually caused the collapse of smaller businesses.  On May 28, 1906 (the year the Lemleins purchased the Harlem house), the Congressional Record explained that Asa Lemlein Company, "would not go into the original formation of the Metropolitan Tobacco Company, because they did not care to lose their identity with the trade.  They were eventually compelled to go out of business after losing almost all their money."

The article noted, "Mr. Asa Lemelin [sic] is now the New York representative of the E. H. Gato Cigar Company."  Despite losing his company, Lemlein and his family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and maintained a summer home in Neponsit, New York.  Julia busied herself, in part, as a member of the Theatre Club.

In 1916, as war raged across Europe, Harold Leon (who was now 22 years old) joined the U. S. Army.  In 1919, following the end of the conflict, he was a first lieutenant in the Quartermaster Section.

Seen here in 1941, 369 Manhattan Avenue is directly behind the man on the sidewalk.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

On December 21, 1920, The Tampa Times reported, "The E. H. Gato Cigar Co. is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary early in January next.  There will be a gathering of the clans at Key West, and a great family reunion will take place."  Among those taking part were the Lemleins.  The article said, "An excursion from Key West to Havana is planned, that a perfect 'celebration' may be rounded out, 'in due and ancient form.'"

Asa's and Julia's tropical adventure lasted several weeks.  On February 3, 1921, Tobacco reported, "Asa Lemlein, New York manager for the E. H. Gato Cigar Co., returned last week with his party from their trip to Key West and Havana."

By then, Asa was also the president of the New York Cigar Manufacturers' Board of Trade, and a director of the Salesmen's Association.  Around 1925 he became manager of the Retail Tobacconist.  Saying that he "is universally known to the tobacco trade," on August 12, 1926, Tobacco reported, "Since Asa Lemlein took over the business managership of the Retail Tobacconist recently, it is reported that there has been a visible increase in advertising for this noted trade paper." 

By 1939 the Lemleins moved to 245 West 107th Street.  The Manhattan Avenue house was converted to one apartment each on the second and third floors, and a "meeting room" on the former parlor level.  In the 1960s, that space was home to the Virgin Islands Public Affairs Council, Inc.

A second renovation, completed in 2015, resulted in one apartment per floor.

photograph by the author
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