Thursday, September 28, 2023

The 1957 House of Advent Hope - 111 East 87th Street


photograph by the author

Until 1955, two identical brownstone-fronted apartment buildings stood at 109 and 111 East 87th Street.  In 1933 musicians Charles Louis Seeger, Jr. and his wife, Constance de Clyver Seeger moved into an apartment in 111 East 87th Street with their 14-year-old son, Peter.  Pete Seeger would go on to be one of America’s best known folk singers and social activists.
The Seegers had moved into the then-predominantly German neighborhood of Yorkville.  It had seen an influx of German and Irish immigrants in the 1850s, many of them hired to build the Croton Aqueduct.  Following the horrendous General Slocum disaster in 1904 that killed more than 1,000 German-speaking residents of the Lower East Side, residents migrated north.  Yorkville became Manhattan’s center of the German immigrant community.
A German language Seventh-Day Adventist congregation was established in Yorkville in the second half of the 19th century.  Its building burned in 1949 and a fund-raising drive was begun to purchase a new property and erect a church.  Alfred B. Heiser, a Seventh Day Adventist who may also have been a congregant, was chosen to design the structure.  A 1910 graduate of New York University, Heiser was educated as an engineer, not an architect.  At the time of the commission he was the chief draftsman of the American Can Company.
For the site of their new Church of the Advent Hope, the trustees chose the old flat buildings at 109 and 111 East 87th Street.  The property plus construction costs were projected at $320,000—nearly $4 million in 2023.  Less than one-third was guaranteed by the Seventh-Day Adventist Conference.  Fund-raising for the remainder took time and it was not until 1955 that Heiser filed plans. 
The dedication took place in May 1957 with German Consul General Franz Josef Hoffman addressing the congregation.  Heiser had produced a charming, country church in an urban setting.  Faced in randomly laid, rough-cut granite blocks, it was a rustic version of Tuscan Gothic.  Flat-faced limestone piers separated the façade into three vertical sections.  The two Gothic-arched entrance doors sat within a larger, slightly recessed arch that announced, “Haus der Advent Hoffmung / Siebenten Tags Adventisten Kirche.  (House of Advent Hope / Seventh Day Adventist Church)
photograph by Eigenes Werk

A virulent anti-German sentiment pervaded the country following World War I.  In its February 17, 1947 issue, Life magazine published an article entitled "Peoples of New York."  Its description of the German community of Yorkville reflected the still-fresh anti-German sentiment, saying in part, “Dressed in their regional costumes and speaking German, they engage in violent Bavarian folk dances and drink huge quantities of beer…Germans in the city's Yorkville district are fond of uniforms and costumes, and a pro-Nazi Bund flourished before the war.”  The pervasive mindset no doubt had much to do with the dilution of the district’s German language, customs, and identity. 
By the last quarter of the 20th century, the ethnic personality of Yorkville had changed as younger generations of Germans moved away.  The House of Advent Hope eventually discontinued its German language services.
Like the side walls, the wall behind the altar was originally unplastered.  photograph by Eigenes Werk

Music was an important part of the church’s function within the Yorkville community.  On December 5, 1986, for instance, The New York Times reported, “The New England Youth Ensemble and the Atlantic Union College Choir will present the American composer Randall Thompson’s rarely heard ‘Nativity According to St. Luke’—the Christmas story in music, pageant and biblical costume—at the Church of the Advent Hope.”  In October 1990 a concert by the New England Youth Ensemble/Collegiate Choir presented “works by Haydn, Handel, Bach, and English composers,” according to New York Magazine.
Another rarely performed work presented here in the summer of 1994 was C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  On July 10, The New York Times explained, “Screwtape, a senior devil, instructs his nephew Wormwood, a junior demon, in the art of winning over a young man’s soul—not by luring him into a sudden fall into mortal sin but by means of the routine temptations of daily life.”  The readings of C. S. Lewis were accompanied by the music of Benjamin Britten, John Ireland and Frank Bridge.  Music director David I Spelman said the work had been chosen “because we wanted to stick with programming that had a spiritual quality but also goes against the mainstream.”
Sitting between modern apartment buildings, Alfred B. Heiser’s quaint country church is a calming presence.  Its German inscription above the entrance is a reminder of an era when Yorkville was the epicenter of Manhattan’s German culture. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Chrystie Street Settlement House - 75-77 Horatio Street


Builder William R. Halsey purchased land from Francis B. Cutting on the north side of Horatio Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets in 1835.  The following year five Greek Revival style homes were completed on the plots.  Two of them, 89 and 91 Horatio Street (renumbered 75 and 77 in 1854), were built for politician Henry J. Wyckoff as investment properties.

Faced in brick above a brownstone basement level, the identical homes were two-and-a-half stories tall and 24-feet-wide.  Handsome iron fencing protected the areaways, and stepped and paneled stone wingwalls flanked the stoop where only the topmost level held iron railings.  The elegant single-doored entrances were recessed behind stone pilasters that supported a heavy entablature.  They were flanked by narrow sidelights and capped by multi-paned transoms.

Wyckoff leased 89 and 91 Horatio Street.  No. 89 became home to the William Knowles family, while next door lived William Henry Tinson and his family.  Tinson ran a printing concern at 43 Centre Street.  In 1847 his family was searching for a live-in servant through a highly detailed ad:

Wanted--A neat and industrious girl, English, Scotch or German, to do the general house work of a family of three persons.  She must be a good plain cook, washer and ironer; to one answering the above qualifications (and none other need apply) a comfortable home and good wages will be given.

William Knowles was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1806.  Living with him and his wife Elizabeth (known as Eliza) were their grown sons, William F. and Frederick C., and William's wife Margaret.

Knowles died at the age of 47 on March 23, 1853.  As was customary, his funeral was held in the parlor of 89 Horatio Street.  A second funeral was held there on September 26, 1859 for Norman White Knowles, the seven-month-old son of William F. and Margaret.

The Tinsons moved to 40 West Washington Square in 1863, after which 77 Horatio Street was leased to two families at a time--one each in the "upper" and "lower" portions.  Eliza Knowles remained in 69 Horatio Street through the mid-1870s.

For years 77 Horatio Street was shared by the families of Stephen Curtis and Robert Thompson.  Curtis was in the Brittania business (a metal alloy similar to pewter).  His son Stephen Jr. was involved in the firm with him, and his daughter, Emily taught at Grammar School No. 10 at 180 Wooster Street.

Two young men living at 77 Horatio Street, Daniel M. Hogan and John H. Allen, were accepted into the New York City Police Department one year apart--Hogan in 1891 and Allen in 1892.  Hogan astonished physicians during his physical examination on February 21, 1891 simply because they could find nothing to fault.  Of the 300 applicants, the Board of Examiners said he was "the most perfectly developed man of the lot."  The 30-year-old was currently employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as foreman of Pier 16 on the Hudson River.  

The Sun reported that he lifted 660 pounds "on the lifting machine," and 1,188 pounds with his legs.  The doctors measured his biceps at 15.5 inches.  "With the right arm he put up a dumb bell weighing seventy-five pounds, and with the left one of sixty pounds," said the article.

By the turn of the century, the titles to 75 and 77 Horatio Street had passed to a daughter of Henry J. Wyckoff with the married name of Bright.  On February 8, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported on their sale to Maria S. Simpson.  The reporter got the history only slightly wrong when he commented, "The property had been owned by the Bright estate for more than one hundred years."

Simpson resold the houses in November 1905.  In 1909, the homes became the northern annex to the Chrystie Street House, a settlement house that had focused on helping homeless boys and young men for years.  Wallace Gillpatrick, who had been associated with the Chrystie Street House downtown, moved into the Horatio Street facility.  

In 1908 he explained, "The Chrystie Street House is ready to help any homeless boy or young man who wants to improve his life.  But I suppose easily 75 per cent of the young men who come to the Chrystie Street House have been through the workhouse, where they have been committed on a technical charge of vagrancy."  The 1913 Documents of the Senate of the State of New York was more direct, saying the Horatio Street facility, "aids young men who have been in prison."

In May 1912, the downtown Chrystie Street House was discontinued and the entire operation moved to Horatio Street.  In anticipation, 75 and 77 Horatio Street were renovated and combined internally.  On January 27, 1912, The New York Press reported that they "are to be remodeled for use as a home for friendless boys.  It will replace the present house in Chrystie street...The new home will be prepared at a cost of $8,000."  Included in the plans were "a gymnasium, reading and dining rooms, and accommodations for twenty boys."  

Expectedly, not all the residents were upstanding citizens.  On September 14, 1913, The New York Times reported, "After being sheltered and fed at the Settlement Workers' House, 77 Horatio Street, for several days, Joseph Toy and Leroy Matlock, 23 and 24 years of age respectively, repaid the breaking into [superintendent M. Heilbroner's] room on Friday and taking two suit-cases filled with clothing and small articles of jewelry.  The thieves were arrested later in a Chatham Square lodging house."

In 1917, Wallace Gillpatrick read a paper to the American Prison Association in which he described the work of the Horatio Street facility.  He said in part:

Young men on leaving prison seek companions and recreation.  Unless some special form of effort is made in their behalf, they frequently find both companions and recreation under unfavorable conditions...The effective way to help them is by means of recreation centers, with club features, as a library, music, billiards, games, etc., under the supervision of a board of directors and with a competent secretary always in charge.

The Chrystie Street House remained in 75-77 Horatio until the late 1920s.  In 1927, the combined property was renovated for the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc.  It now held a day nursery and kindergarten on the first and second floors, and a caretaker's apartment on the third.  It was inaugurated on May 4.  The New York Sun reported, "Members of the board of managers of the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc., formerly the Bloomingdale Day Nursery, at 75 Horatio street, will give a tea on Wednesday afternoon from 4 to 6."

The success of the facility was such that in 1930 73 Horatio Street was purchased.  While that house was operated as an adjunct to the main property, they were not joined internally.

Repeated benefits were held for the Winfield Day Nursery over the years.  In reporting on an upcoming lecture at the Plaza Hotel ballroom for the facility on November 7, 1938, The New York Sun described its operation:

The nursery, at which babies as young as two weeks old have received care, maintains a kindergarten and provides warm mid-day dinners for the children after they have gone on to public schools.  Facilities for supervised play in the nursery yard are also available for the children who have reached school age.

There were meeting spaces, as well, for Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations.

The Winfield Day Nursery operated from the houses until 1957, when 75-77 Horatio Street became the Masters Children's Center.  It opened in September that year and, according to The New York Times, "provides a therapeutic program for disturbed children in a nursery school setting."  Like its two predecessors, the Masters Children's Center remained for decades.  Then, in 1986, a renovation resulted in two and three apartments per floor within the combined homes.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The 1892 Clarence Fagan True House - 322 West 85th Street


Clarence Fagan True worked in the architectural office of Richard Mitchell Upjohn (son of eminent architect Richard Upjohn) from 1881 through 1887.  In 1892, three years after opening his own office, the 32-year-old True was commissioned by developer Charles G. Judson to design a row of six homes along the southern side of West 85th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  Years later, True would insist that he initiated the American basement plan, 
which did away with high stone stoops in favor of low porches or none at all.  These would be his first American basement designs.  (In fact, True was not the first to break the decades-old English basement trend, but he was definitely an early and strong promoter.)

Patently True, who worked in often playful variants of historic styles, the completed three-story dwelling were picturesque.  A blend of Italian Renaissance Revival and Romanesque, their rusticated red sandstone parlor floors were accessed by three-step porches flanked by heavy stone wing walls with muscular, nubby-topped newels.  A carved Romanesque stone course supported by beefy brackets introduced upper floors, faced in orange Roman brick. 

Each house in the A-B-A-A-B-A row had a projecting bay at the second floor, and arched openings on the third.  Most eye-catching, perhaps, were the hoods True placed over the second floor bays of the "A" houses, like 322 West 85th Street.  Their S-shaped tiles, or pantiles, evoked a Mediterranean feel and echoed the deeply overhanging roofs.

The architect was apparently pleased with his work.  The houses were completed in 1892 and True leased 322 West 85th Street from Judson.  After the developer sold three of the houses--316, 322 and 326--to real estate operator Francis S. Smith in 1893, Clarence F. True continued to rent No. 322 until the fall of 1895.  In November that year, Smith sold the house to John Rutherford Buchan and his wife, the former Nellie Woodward.  

Living in the house with John and Nellie were John's widowed mother, Rachel, and his unmarried sister, Sarah.  Born in 1862, Buchan, who was in the insurance business, had two great passions--sailing and French Bulldogs.  When he purchased 322 West 85th Street, he owned a schooner yacht the Christine, which boasted a stateroom, water closet, and six berths.  

Buchan's expertise in sailing was equaled by his knowledge of bulldogs.  The secretary of the French Bulldog Club of America, on February 21, 1897, he sent an exhaustive letter to the editors of Turf, Field, and Farm, which explained in excruciating detail the difference between the ears of the English and the French Bulldog.

Three years after the family moved in, John was called away.  With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, he was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy.  Six months later he was promoted to executive officer of the United States Ship KanawhaThe Seventh Regiment Gazette recalled in 1917, "Owing to his professional attainments he was entrusted with watch duties not often accorded to so young an officer."

He had barely returned home when the 85th Street house was the scene of sorrow.  Rachel Buchan died at the age of 82 on November 6, 1899.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Buchan's maritime knowledge quickly drew him away again.  He was appointed "expert in charge of marine exhibitions" of the United States Commission to the 1900 Paris Exhibition.

Sarah Buchan died on November 10, 1915.  There would be another Buchan funeral in the house two years later, following John's death at the age of 54 on April 7, 1917.  The Seventh Regiment Gazette reported, "Mr. Buchan's funeral was attended by many prominent officers and citizens."

Now alone, Nellie sold 322 West 85th Street to widow Rosalia A. Becker in April 1919.  Sharing the house were her unmarried daughters Elsa G., Grace Heidt, and Loretta F. Becker.  

Grace Heidt Becker graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1922.  Her sister Elsa had graduated from the same school in 1914 and quickly became known as a pioneer in the school counseling movement.  On November 21, 1924, for instance The Eagle reported that the previous day Elsa had visited the Santa Barbara State Teachers College "to interview Dean Pyle."  The article noted, "Miss Becker stopped in the city yesterday on her way North, where she goes to gives lectures in Education at various northern colleges and universities."

The house in 1941 when the Becker sisters were living here.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1936 Elsa published an article, "Guidance in Progress in a Large City High School," in The Journal of Educational Sociology.  She was by now the chairman of the Guidance Department of the Samuel J. Tilden High School in Manhattan.  The same year she published Guidance at Work.

The Becker women remained at 322 West 85th Street for decades.  Elsa died on December 27, 1967.  It is unclear how long Loretta or Grace remained; however, the house remained a single-family dwelling until 1988.  That year a renovation turned the basement into a separate apartment.

photographs by the author
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Monday, September 25, 2023

The Lost 1908 540 Park Avenue


Architecture magazine, 1908 (copyright expired)

In the 19th century, multi-family residential buildings were, for the most part, viewed as being middle-class at best.  But by 1906 the concept of fashionable apartment houses had taken hold.  Their sprawling suites included all the amenities of a private home.  In August that year the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the newly formed Five Hundred and Forty Park Avenue Co. intended to erect a 12-story "fireproof apartment house" on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 61st Street, designed by Boring & Tilton.  Construction costs were placed at $350,000--or about $11.7 million in 2023.

What the article did not say was that William A. Boring, a partner in the architectural firm, was one of the owners.  The journal would explain two years later that the syndicate was composed of "a group of men, prominent in financial and professional circles who wish to have homes in New York."  Each would have a full-floor apartment, with the other four suites to be leased for additional income.

On April 4, 1908, the Record & Guide described the newly-completed building as "one of the most ornate and best equipped of its kind in the metropolis, and certainly none is arranged with more regard for the comfort of those who are to dwell within it.  The architects had produced what the journal called "a rather classic expression of the Renaissance."  The entrance within the three-story marble base sat above a short flight of steps.  Its iron and glass marquee bisected a double-height arch.  The seven-story mid-section was defined by stone balconies that girded the structure, while a substantial stone cornice crowned the design.

The Record & Guide pointed out that the main rooms--the library, drawing and dining rooms--faced 61st Street, "while four bedrooms are arranged along the Park av. side."  It added, "the rooms for the servants face the outer court to the west."  Each apartment had two "iron safes" built into the walls--one for silverware and the other for valuables like jewelry and cash.  An advertisement in 1908 touted, "In character and appointments this building has no equal."

The Douglas Elliman Locator, 1923 (copyright expired)

The full-floor apartments rented for $6,000 a year--or about $16,400 per month in 2023 terms.  The lobby necessarily made the first floor apartment smaller.  It was given a private entrance and marketed as "suitable for a physician."  The nine-room, two bath suite was offered for lease at $3,750 per year.  The advertisement noted, "The service includes vacuum cleaning and refrigeration."

Among the building's initial residents were John W. Castles, his wife the former Elizabeth Eshleman, and their two children, Frances and John Jr.  The family's country home was at Morristown, New Jersey.   

Born in Texas in 1858, Castles was president of the Guaranty Trust Company when the family moved into their apartment.  He resigned on January 1, 1909 to accept the presidency of the Union Trust Company.  It was apparently a stressful change and soon afterward, according to the New-York Tribune, the banker suffered "an acute nervous breakdown."  He was sent to an upstate sanitorium to recover.

On September 8, 1909, Castles returned to 540 Park Avenue.  Elizabeth and the children were spending the summer at the Adirondacks League Club.  The New-York Tribune reported, "his altered appearance, which showed him to be failing in health, shocked his brother and John Fletcher, Mr. Castles's private secretary."  Burton S. Castles employed a private nurse and began arrangements to send his brother to Hot Springs, Arkansas to regain his strength.

Banker John W. Castles's life ended tragically.  New-York Tribune, September 14, 1909 (copyright expired) 

Despite his family's absence, Castles was not alone in the apartment.  In addition to his live-in servants and the nurse, his private secretary was there every day.  On the morning of September 13, he told his nurse and secretary that he felt well enough to go to the office.  At 10:00 the nurse walked with him to the 42nd Street subway station and saw him off. 

The New-York Tribune reported, "When Mr. Castles failed to return to his home by 4 p. m. the brother telephoned to the office of the trust company and immediately became uneasy when he failed to get in touch with the president."  A search of hotels and clubs resulted in a grisly discovery.  Castles had checked into the Grand Union Hotel under his own name, carefully removed his suit so as not to ruin it, laid on the bed and sliced his throat with a razor.  His body was found with his hands folded across his chest.

Other residents well-known to society at the time were Stephen S. and Emma D. Cummins; Helen Garrison Villard, the widow of publisher Henry Villard; Henry Dexter, head of the American News Company, and his wife the former Nellie M. Lawrence; Helen Kelly Gould (who had just divorced millionaire Frank Jay Gould); and bachelor Winthrop Williams Aldrich, the son of politician Nelson W. Aldrich.

The Gould apartment was the scene of Helen's wedding to Ralph Hill Thomas on July 12, 1910.  The next day the newlyweds boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm der Gross for their European honeymoon.  In articles that smacked of disapproval, newspapers made clear note that Helen's two daughters, seven-year-old Helen and five-year-old Dorothy, were not along.  The headline in the New-York Tribune read, "Sail Without Children / To Be Away Two Months."  The article noted that the girls "were not among the many persons at the pier to bid the couple godspeed.  Instead, they were safely ensconced in the home of their aunt, Miss Helen Gould, at Irvington-on-the-Hudson."

It was the beginning of a tug-of-war over the girls.  Their father (who was also remarried by now) and their aunt, Helen Gould, were both poised to litigate permanent custody.  (As it turned out, Helen Kelly Gould Thomas's marriage did not survive.  She would have a total of five husbands before her death in 1952.)

Winthrop W. Aldrich was 29 years old when he finally married on December 7, 1916.  His bride, Harriet Alexander, was the daughter of Charles B. Alexander and came from one of the most prominent families of New York society.  The couple was married in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.  The New York Times noted, "The guests included representatives of the Astor, Fish, Harriman, Rockefeller, Crocker, Webb, Rhinelander, Cutting, Vanderbilt, Bacon and other well-known families."

Architecture magazine, 1908 (copyright expired)

Bertrand Leroy Taylor, Jr. and his sister, Dorothy Cadwell Taylor, had apartments here.  Dorothy would be, perhaps, the most colorful of the building's residents throughout its existence.  She was the former wife of British aviation pioneer Claude Grahame-White.  The couple had divorced in London on December 17, 1916, shortly after Dorothy inherited about $12 million (closer to $330 million in 2023).  

A lost bracelet in 1921 exposed her heretofore clandestine romance.  Dorothy owned an unique neckless "that once adorned a grand duchess of Russia," according to the New-York Tribune.  The piece was composed of 16 sapphires, each set in diamonds, and had been fashioned by the jeweler to the Russian royal family, Saberger.  The necklace, appraised at more than $600,000 in today's money, was made so that it could be converted to pendant earrings and two bracelets.

On May 4, The Evening World reported that Dorothy and Count Carlo Dentice de Frasso had visited Mrs. Herbert Shipman at 439 Madison Avenue.  Dorothy was wearing the two bracelets, the larger one of which was "continually slipping down on her hand."  When she arrived back at her apartment, she realized the bracelet was missing.  Amazingly, the cab driver went back to the Madison Avenue address and found the bracelet at the curb.

Dorothy Cadwell Taylor  (original source unknown).

The incident sparked a rumor that "a wedding may soon climax the six weeks' romance which Mrs. Dorothy Cadwell Taylor...and Count di Frasso have enjoyed," according to The Evening World.  The newspaper said, "The Count and Mrs. Taylor both refused to affirm or deny that they would soon be married.  The Count recently received an annulment decree in Rome from the former Georgine Wilde, daughter of Mrs. Henry Siegel."

The rumors proved true.  On July 5, 1921 the New York Herald reported that Dorothy, her brother and his wife, and Count Dentice di Frasso had sailed on the Aquitania.  "Mrs. Caldwell Taylor will stop at the Ritz in London with her brother and sister-in-law, while the Count goes to Rome to await the annulment."

Dorothy's life only became more colorful.  As the Countess Dentice di Frasso she restored the 16th century Villa Madama outside Rome.  Later actor Gary Cooper was filming a movie in Rome and became ill.  Dorothy took him into the villa during his recuperation, and the two began a torrid affair behind the count's back.  She moved to Beverly Hills, where she eventually began another affair with gangster Bugsy Siegel.  She died of a heart attack aboard a train to Los Angeles with actor George Fact in 1954.

Other noted residents in the 1920s and 1930s were Sarah Fotterall Harriman, the widow of James Arden Harriman; and socialite and social worker Margaret Crane Hurlbut.  Never married, Margaret was the daughter of William H. and Margaret Havens Crane Hurlbut.  Her sterling pedigree was reflected in her memberships in the Colony Club, the Huguenot Society, the Daughters of Holland Dames, the New York Society of Colonial Dames, and the Mayflower Descendants.

Bertrand L. Taylor, Jr. was still living here in October 1934 when he had to fight for his and Dorothy's shares in their father's $5 million estate.  Described by The Spokesman-Review as a "member of the Board of Governors of the New York Stock Exchange, who also is popular in gay cinema circles," he had to face off in court with Geraldine Louise Ott.

Geraldine L. Ott testified that she was known in Europe as "Mrs. Taylor."  Star Tribune, July 31, 1934

Bertrand Leroy Taylor, Sr. had died at the age of 72 in April 1934, leaving the bulk of his $5 million estate to Bertrand Jr. and Dorothy.  Also listed in the will was "my friend, Geraldine L. Ott," who received $10,000.  The bequest was not enough for Geraldine Louise Ott.  The beautiful young woman, who was in her 20s, sought to overturn the will as Taylor's "surviving spouse."  The case extended into the following spring when finally, on April 23, 1935, Judge James A. Delehanty ruled that Geraldine "had failed to establish that she had been the common law wife of Bertrand L. Taylor," as reported by The New York Times.

The building continued to be home to wealthy and socially prominent residents for the next three decades, including Neville G. Hart and his wife, the former Augusta Lyon; Mrs. Peyton Van Renssalaer; and the Ronald Hugh MacDonalds.  

Realtor Jules Pallister, his wife, the former Ethel Nerring, and their five year old son Jeffrey lived here in the early 1950s.  The 47-year-old's death on April 5, 1952 macabrely echoed that of John W. Castles nearly half a century earlier.  Late in 1951, Pallister, who ran his own realty firm, was diagnosed with a nervous disorder.  Still under treatment, he went to the Long Island home of his sister on April 2.  Two days later she found his body in the basement.  He had tied his bathrobe belt to a steampipe and hanged himself.

At the time of the tragedy, the end of the line for the luxurious apartment building was on the near horizon.  In 1961 a demolition permit was granted and two years later the Loew's Regency Hotel opened on the site.

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Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Marion Apartments - 1297 Lexington Avenue


In 1896 architect Edward W. Gayle designed a five-story flat and store building at the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 87th Street.  Called the Marion, it was completed the following year.  The ground floor housed four stores, two on either side of the centered entrance.  The upper floors were clad in beige brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Gayle had successfully melded two currently popular styles.  Renaissance Revival was evidenced in the cast metal cornice, the overall orderly lines, and the centered entrance on Lexington Avenue.  The doorway sat within an engaged portico decorated with Renaissance style carvings atop a three-step stoop.  And yet, the chunky, undressed brownstone blocks that created the quoins and lintels of the arched, top-floor openings were influenced by Romanesque Revival.

A short stoop originally fronted the entrance.

The Marion filled with professional, financially-comfortable residents, as was evidenced in one lovelorn man's personal advertisement in the Utica Sunday Journal on August 8, 1899:

A wealthy gentleman, alone and quite lonely, will appreciate with all his heart a kind wife.  Genuine. 1297 Lexington ave. New York.

A well-known occupant was attorney Ira Edgar Rider.  Born on November 17, 1868, he had graduated from Saint Lawrence University.  In 1898, the same year that he married Sophia Regine Funke, he was appointed secretary to James Jay Coogan, president of the Board of Aldermen.  It was the first step in his political career.  The couple had one child, John Edgar Rider.

Ira Edgar Rider, The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City f New York for 1898-99 (copyright expired)

On October 3, 1902, The World reported, "The delegates in the Fourteenth Congressional District met at No. 1297 Lexington avenue, and named Ira E. Rider as the Democratic nominee."  Two weeks later, The Newtown Register noted, "The candidate for Congress in the fourteenth Congressional District has fully earned the new honor accorded him." 

Rider easily won that election.  But the Tammany bosses who ran the Democratic party in New York City soon found their  newest congressman was his own man.  And so Charles F. Murphy, also known as Boss Murphy and "Silent Charlie," chose a replacement.  In 1903 he offered Ira Rider "the Secretaryship of the Fire Department and the assurance that he would be well cared for by Tammany in the future," according to The New York Times, if he would resign.  Murphy intended to fill the seat with Charles A. Towne.

On January 22, 1904, The New York Times reported that Rider refused to resign his seat, "and Murphy, it is said, was sorely vexed as a result of this contumacy."  The following month, on February 14, The New York Times ran the headline, "Murphy Planning A Congress Shake-Up" and reported that the Tammany head planned "the greatest shake-up this Fall New York delegations have known in years."  Ira Rider apparently realized he had no future within the New York Democratic machine.  The article noted, "It is understood now, however, that when March 4, 1905 comes Mr. Rider will end his career, for the present at least, as Congressman."

Rider returned to his practice of law with the firm of Lexow, MacKellar, Guy & Wells.  Just before his term ended, Sophia died, leaving him to raise their young son alone.  Then, on May 26, 1906, Ira Edgar Rider suffered a fatal heart attack in his apartment at the age of 35.  Newspapers barely mentioned his death.

The stoop extended beyond the property line into the sidewalk, what was known at the time as an "encumbrance."  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

In the meantime, the Marion was home to several real estate developers and builders (Abraham D. Weinstein, Saul Wallenstein, and A. Bernstein were all here in 1903), educators and musicians.   Elizabeth L. Plaisten was a teacher in Public School 184, and musician Hans Kronold was the musical director of the Trio Club, organized in 1902.  A women's club whose president the wealthy Mrs. Gustav Schwab, it had just ten active members.  Nevertheless, it held weekly meetings and gave six public concerts per year.

Artist J. Andre lived here by 1909, at which time he was looking for work.  His advertisement on January 1, 1910 read:

Artist, Designer.  first class designer, decorator; best reputation; reference; requests orders or somebody who could recommend in better families. J. Andre, 1297 Lexington ave.

Two weeks later, he rethought the wording of the "work wanted" ad, and changed the title from "Artist, Designer" to "Artist, Sculptor."

Police Lieutenant William V. Keeling of the 79th Precinct lived here in 1916.  On July 6 that year, The Daily Argus reported that he was "ill at his home, 1297 Lexington avenue, last evening."  He was still here in 1923 and held the same rank.  Keeling was injured on duty that year, but not by a gunshot or other criminal cause.  The Brooklyn Standard Union reported that on February 12 he was in Central Park when he saw William Foley lose control of his sled on Cedar Hill.  Foley and his runaway sled, said the article, was "heading toward a tree."  Lt. Keeling jumped into action, saved Foley from injury, and broke his left leg in doing so.  Eight months later he was still on sick leave.

Moritz Neuman owned the building at the time.  He vehemently rallied against a proposed garage on East 87th Street in 1928, testifying before the Board of Standards and Appeals, in part, that:

The noise of exploding gas, the rattling of faulty engines and motors and the odor of gasoline, grease, oil and rubber emanating from a garage in the proposed locality would seriously affect the peaceful and quiet possession of the tenants.

He added, "Besides, a garage in the proposed locality would be a cause of danger to school children who live in the immediate vicinity."

Moritz Neuman's estate sold 1297 Lexington Avenue to real estate operator Henry Payson in 1955.  In reporting on the sale, The New York Times mentioned, "There are five stores and twelve suites in the property."

There are still twelve apartments in the building.  Other than the lost stoop and the brick and stone being painted, little has outwardly changed to Edward W. Gayle's handsome structure after more than 125 years.  Most remarkably, the delicately carved Renaissance Revival entrance is intact.

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Friday, September 22, 2023

The 1836 Henry D. Thayer House - 317 West Fourth Street


In the spring of 1835 merchant Charles W. Hawkins lived at 98 Greenwich Street.  That year he purchased ten vacant lots on Fourth Street between Bank and West 12th Street from Samuel Bayard.  Within the next four months he resold the 20-foot-wide parcels to six men, all of whom were builders or otherwise involved in that trade.  Solomon Banta and Abraham Frazee made up the construction company Frazee & Banta, James Vandenberg and Aaron Marsh were also builders, while Henry M. Perine was a mason, and Richard Taylor was a dealer in lime.  A year later, ten houses were nearly completed on the sites, presumably constructed by their several owners.

Each of the nearly identical, brick-faced homes was two-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  Like its neighbors, 45 Fourth Street (renumbered 315 West 4th Street in 1863) was Greek Revival in style.  A short stoop led to the entrance where Doric pilasters flanked the single door.  The attic windows pierced a wide fascia board below the dentiled cornice.

By 1840 Joseph Fennimore, a carter, lived in the house.  It is unclear how long he remained, but in 1851 it was home to two families, the Finches and the Tallmans.  Whether the families were related is uncertain, but they would live together for years.

George Finch was a builder.  In his spare time, he volunteered at the Harry Howard Hose Company No. 55 on Christopher Street.  Living with him and his wife was his mother-in-law, Lavina Allen.  The parlor was the scene of 87-year-old widow's funeral on December 26, 1854.  

Tunis Tallman was a cabinet maker, whose shop was at 609 Hudson Street.  His son, Abraham S. Tallman, would go into the drygoods business around 1856.

The two families left West Fourth Street in 1863.  They were followed in the house by Thomas Forbes, a clerk, and his family.  Joseph Forbes, possibly Thomas's father, listed no profession in city directories, suggesting he may have been elderly and retired.

The Forbes family sold 315 West Fourth Street in 1868 to Nelson D. Thayer, a collector for the city.  Thayer was born in Schenectady on November 6, 1818 and moved to New York City in 1829.  He married Margaret Eliza Brown in 1840 and the couple had six children, Joanna, Lovina Ann, Margaret Jane, Irene, Seth Nelson, and Ella.  Highly involved in civic affairs, he had been elected to the City Assembly in 1857 and held the position through 1866.  In 1859 he was elected Fire Commissioner, as well.  

It was most likely Thayer who updated the home's appearance by raising the attic to a full third floor, and installing beefy, cast iron Italianate railings and newels to the stoop.

The muscular cast iron stoop ironwork survived in 1941.  The approximate appearance of the original third floor can be seen at right.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Middle-class households like the Thayer's would have had one or two servants, such as a cook and chamber maid.  In August 1869 Margaret advertised for "A German girl, to do general housework."

Like most of their neighbors, the Thayers took in a boarder.  In 1871 it was policeman William H. Christie, and the following year Harriet Habermehl lived with the family.  Harriet died on August 27, 1873 "at the residence of N. D. Thayer," according to her death notice in the New York Herald.  It described the 73-year-old as "the relic [i.e., widow] of Henry."  Her funeral was held in the house the following day.

Over the next few years the Thayers' boarders were Irene Pierce, a teacher, here from 1874 through 1876; and attorney Henry Winans the following year.

The Thayer family left 315 West Fourth Street in 1878, and the house continued to be home to middle-class families for decades.  Then, in 1926 architect George Provst was hired to convert the building to bachelor apartments--meaning that for the most part, they did not have kitchens.  The Department of Buildings warned, "not more than two families cooking independently on the premises," and "not more than 15 sleeping rooms in building."  

An advertisement for one of the two apartments within the "remodeled dwelling" that did have a kitchen was advertised for rent in 1933.  Rent for the two-room apartment was $35 per month, or about $750 in 2023.

Among the tenants here in the mid-1940s was inventor Shepard J. Goldin.  Goldin did not attempt to change the world with ground-breaking inventions, but focused on improvements to everyday objects.  While living here in 1946, he received patents for an "ornamental design for chess pieces," and an "illuminated watch clip and mirror."  The latter was an "attachment for watches in form of a flashlight mount for casting light on face of watch, having mirror over center of crystal."  Earlier he had patented an improved eyeglass case.

A renovation completed in 1963 resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor floors, and two apartments each on the upper floors.  Then, in 1996, the house was returned to a single-family home.  New stoop ironwork based on the surviving areaway fencing replaces the Italianate examples.

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Ill-Treated Houses at 228 to 232 West 21st Street


Only the cornice and fourth floor windows hint at the homes' aristocratic beginnings.  Two of the unusual overhanging window cornices survive.

In 1845 William Jay Haskett and his family lived at 34 Cottage Place in Greenwich Village.  (The street, lined with refined homes at the time, would be erased by the extension of Sixth Avenue in the 1920s.)  Within five years he would move the family to the rapidly developing neighborhood of Chelsea.

Haskett purchased 228 West 21st Street, one of three recently completed homes between Seventh and Eighth Avenue.  Their up-to-the-minute Anglo-Italianate style forewent the ubiquitous high stoops seen throughout the city in favor of short, three-step porches.  The most unusual elements were the bold, projecting cornices of the second and third floor windows.  A single cast metal cornice with paired backets connected the trio.

The Haskett house with its doorway intact, is at  left.  The row retained its window cornices in 1941 (note the Victorian garden urn in front of 230).  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

William Jay Haskett was a well-respected citizen.  An attorney with offices at 15 Centre Street, he was also an alderman, a trustee with the Board of Education, and in 1862 would be appointed Excise Commissioner.  The Hasketts had two children, Carrie Matilda and William Jr.

The Enrollment Act of 1863, otherwise known as the Civil War Draft, was passed to augment the Union Army's fighting force in the South.  On August 22, 1863, The New York Times reported on the previous day's lottery, saying "Messrs. Wm. Jay Haskett, Alderman, Lewis R. Ryers and Councilman Munson were appointed to count the ballots."  Presumably to ensure impartiality in drawing the names, "Mr. Benson, the blind man, took out the ballots."  One can imagine the emotions William Haskett felt when among the 1,181 names pulled that day was that of his son, William Jay Haskett Jr.

William Jr. marched off to war.  At the battlefront he, like thousands of soldiers, was afflicted with disease.  He was sent home on the riverboat St. Patrick in early summer 1864.  But the 18 year old would not survive the trip.  He died on the boat at Louisville, Kentucky on June 11.  His body was brought home to the West 21st Street house where his funeral was held on June 17.

By 1866 the Haskett family had moved to 340 West 21st Street, a block to the west.  William Jay Haskett would die there in December 1876, The New York Times saying, "he lost a son in the late civil war, and grief on account of the death of his daughter, his only remaining child, is thought to have so depressed his spirits as to hasten his death."

No. 228 West 21st Street was now the home of the Henry Leo family.  Henry was in the fur business on Canal Street, and his son Simeon was a physician.  Henry's wife was the president of the B'Nai Jeshurun Ladies' Benevolent Society for the Relief of Indigent Females.

On September 21, 1867, The Medical and Surgical Reporter announced, "New York has a Medico-Legal Society."  The article said the organization was formed "on Tuesday evening of last week at Dr. Leo's dwelling, No. 228 West Twenty-first Street," where "subjects of interest to the medical and legal professions were discussed."

It appears that his mother had recruited Simeon Leo to her cause.  In 1870, The Jewish Messenger reported, "An excellent project is to be shortly set in operation by the Directresses of the 'B'nai Jeshurun Ladies' Benevolent Society.'  They intend to open in a central location an Industrial Home where indigent Jewesses, married or single, will receive different kinds of work, or be taught sewing."  The article noted that additional information "will be readily furnished by the Secretary, Dr. S. N. Leo, 228 West 21st Street."

In the meantime, the house next door at 230 had been operated as a high-end boarding house by widow Elizabeth Herbert for years.  That changed around 1881 when attorney Christopher Fine purchased the property.

Born in New Jersey in 1825, Fine was described by The New York Times as "a large man, with a leonine countenance"
whose success in the courtroom was a result of his "fervid style of oratory, which was very effective with juries."  Among Fine's private clients was millionaire Edward S. Stokes.  

He and his wife had seven daughters, the eldest of whom was approaching her debutante years.  The ability to dance was a must for young people, and mothers often involved themselves in that training.  On November 29, 1882, The New York Times reported, "The Hawthorne, a new dancing club, gave its first reception last evening at the residence of Mrs. Christopher Fine, No. 230 West Twenty-first street."

By 1896 there were just three daughters still unmarried and living in with their parents, and there was about to be one fewer.  On February 23, 1896, the New York Herald reported, "One of the prettiest home weddings last week was that of Miss Christine Fine to Mr. Robert Besson McCague...which took place at half-past eight o'clock on Tuesday evening at the residence of the bride's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Fine, No. 230 West Twenty-first street."  The families' affluence was evidenced in the article's noting, "The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of white satin, elaborately trimmed with pearls.  Her veil of tulle was fastened with a cluster of orange blossoms and a diamond sunburst, a gift from the groom."

Four years later, on December 20, 1899, Christopher Fine died at the age of 74 in the West 21st Street house.  In reporting his death, The New York Times described him as "one of the last survivors of a famous school of lawyers."

The house at 232 West 21st Street was originally home to Charles Sands, an educator, and his family.  Son Henry F. Sands was an official in the Customhouse downtown.  Living with the family was Charles's mother, Elithear, the widow of James Sands.  The Sands family remained here through the Civil War.

By the early 1890s, 232 West 21st Street was operated as a boarding house.  Among the residents that year was the medium, Mrs. Carrie M. Sawyer.  Spiritualism, which was rampant at the time, was fertile ground for scammers intent on taking advantage of grieving widows and relatives.  But not everyone was easily convinced.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

On June 1, 1892, Rev. Dr. Robert Collyer spoke to a group about his experiences at Mrs. Sawyer's séance the previous evening.  He said, "I went there open to conviction--in a state of suspended expectation.  I went there eager to know the truth and willing to be convinced.  I left troubled.  The séance seemed absurd." 

He told of apparitions that appeared in the darkened room, and while someone in the dozen or so participants might recognize a loved one, he said, "I think all these forms were represented by one person, and the forms were clothed in calico and not in celestial attire."

Two months earlier the world famous actress Sarah Bernhardt had attended a séance here with members of her company.  Her resultant outrage far surpassed that of Rev. Collyer.  The evening started out quietly, the New York Herald reporting on April 23, "Two carriages drove up to the house of Mrs. Carrie M. Sawyer, a materializing medium at No. 232 West Twenty-first Street at half-past eleven o'clock.  Mme. Bernhardt jumped out of one."  The séance took place in the second story parlor, and Bernhardt made an entrance befitting a star.

"Mme. Bernhardt was attired richly...Her thick hair of burnished gold was thrown to the breezes like the flowing locks of Paderewski, and she wore no hat or bonnet when she entered.  Her pose was that of Cleopatra on her throne."  The calm of the room and the regal demeanor of the actress would not last.

After a dozen spirits had manifested themselves from a "spirit cabinet," Bernhardt became suspicious and angry.  Accusing the members of her company of conspiring with Mrs. Sawyer against her, she spat, "You must be in league with the medium...You are all fools or confederates."  The New York Herald reported, "Madame Bernhardt left the house in a towering rage.  The members of her company followed her, greatly chagrined at her conduct and humiliated at the suggestion she had made that they were in a conspiracy to deceive her."

Living at 228 West Twenty-first street at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War was Vincente Hauria-Martens, his son Richard, and daughter Elsie, who was an actress.  Hauria-Martens had arrived in New York from Spain in 1868.  He initially was an agent for a champagne firm, but then went into the insurance business.  Following his wife's death, he had expressed a desire to return to his homeland.

Now, after the U.S.S. Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor and the Spanish were blamed for it, he made up his mind to return and to fight for his country.  The decision caused a major rift in his family.  In his 1899 book Reminiscences and Thrilling Stories of the War, Congressman James Rankin Young quoted Hauria-Martens as saying, "It is my country, and I love it far better than this land."

Richard replied, "Well, this is my native land, and to my thinking the Stars and Stripes float over the best people on the earth."  The New York Herald reported that he added, "I am a New Yorker, and stand ready to fight for my flag."  The article said, "The quarrel terminated by the father taking the first steamer for Madrid after the war was declared."

"I go to fight the Yankees," he vowed.

"I shall enlist to oppose you," declared Richard.  

The next day Richard enlisted in the 71st Regiment.  The New York Herald wrote, "in a letter to his sister, he said he was chafing at the delay in invading Cuba, and hoped to see his father in the ranks of the enemy."

All three houses were operated as rooming houses throughout most of the 20th century, their tenants not always on the right side of the law.  And then, a renovation completed in 1981 combined them internally, resulting in duplex and triplex apartments and a new penthouse level.  The configuration of the doorways was changed, and nearly all of the mid-Victorian details removed.  Only (oddly enough) two of the window cornices, the top floor details, and the cornice were left intact.  A stucco-like substance was applied over the brownstone.  In all, the attempt to modernize the facade fell on its face, leaving the former homes sadly disfigured.

photographs by the author
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