Saturday, February 24, 2024

The 1882 Patrick M. Haverty House - 558 East 87th Street


John C. Henderson's laudable project of erecting affordable homes for middle-class families in 1881 was the first of at least two.  Thirty-two brick-faced homes filled the blockfront along East End Avenue and wrapped around the corners of 86th and 87th Street.  The architectural firm of Lamb & Rich placed the cost of construction of each at $6,500 when they filed plans in October that year.  The figure would translate to about $192,000 in 2024.  Completed in 1882, the individual Queen Anne designs melded into a picturesque enclave.

558 East 87th Street sits prominently at the corner.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Patrick M. Haverty moved his family into 558 East 87th Street at the corner of East End Avenue.  Its dog-legged stoop and the basement level are faced in rough-cut brownstone, as is the low wall that ran around the shallow yard.  Rather than stone lintels, Lamb & Rich crowned the parlor floor openings with five dramatic, sunburst-like rows of brick headers.  A plaque of terra cotta tiles sits between the doorway and parlor window.  To the west, a two-story faceted bay with a arched second-floor window rises to a peaked gable and unusual angled bay window.

Two paired windows sit on either side of the second floor corner.  Most interestingly, terra cotta plaques shorten one of each pair to half-size.  The third floor took the form of a steep, slate-shingled mansard, prominently broken at the corner by a tower capped with reverse-curve pyramidal roof.

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1827, Patrick M. Haverty had been a bookseller before coming to America in 1847.  He landed just before the California Gold Rush and in 1849 the young man headed West.  But gold was not in Haverty's future.  In 1898, The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials in the City of New York recounted that after "many months of hardships and privations," Haverty went to San Francisco.  There he worked for a newspaper, remaining on staff "until the great fire of 1851, which destroyed the city," according to The Brown Book.

Patrick M. Haverty, The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City of New York for 1898-9 (copyright expired)

Haverty returned to New York and when the Civil War broke out, helped organize the Irish Brigade.  He saw action in several conflicts, including the battle of Fredericksburg, which earned him the rank of major.  Following the war, he returned to publishing and bookselling in a shop on Barclay Street.  In 1885, three years after moving into the East 87th Street house, Mayor William R. Grace appointed him to the Board of Assessors.

Haverty specialized in Catholic publications and books on Ireland.  Reportedly, his edition of Bourke's Easy Lessons was the first Irish language book published in the United States.  Other volumes he published were Sean Ó Mathúna's translation of Foras Feasa on Ireland, and the collection of 300 Irish Airs.

Haverty married Mary McShean in 1854.  The couple had three daughters, Geraldine, Agnes, and Grace; and two sons, Frank and Patrick A. Haverty.

The prominence of the Haverty family within the Irish Catholic community was evidenced in Agnes's marriage to Jeremiah I. Bacon in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on East 19th Street on January 9, 1889.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the Rev. Vicar General William Keegan, assisted by Rev. J. O'Kelly, performed the ceremony, with nine other priests in attendance.  The article said, "Waving palms and ferns gave a picturesque effect to an impressive ceremony, and there was every evidence of wealth and taste in the drapery of the bride's costume and those of the five bridesmaids."

The reception was held in the East 87th Street house where the the newlyweds "received the congratulations of their friends standing under a floral canopy of white and pink roses in the front reception room."  The article noted, "Dancing and supper by Rogers of Park place followed the reception."  Among those present were the former mayor, William R. Grace and his wife, police inspector Peter Conlin and his wife, and city officials and judges.

Geraldine M. Haverty had been teaching in the primary department of Grammar School No. 37 on East 87th Street for at least a year at the time of Agnes's wedding.  She would never marry and around 1919 would become editor of the bi-lingual monthly newspaper The Gael.  Her brother, Frank, would also go into journalism as a staff member of The World.

On February 2, 1893, Mary Haverty died of heart failure at the age of 62.  Her funeral was held in the Church of St. Columba. 

At the time of his mother's death, Patrick A. Haverty worked as a warrant clerk in the office of the City Chamberlain.  It was most likely his father who arranged the entry position in 1886 when he was just 18 years old.  Described by the New-York Tribune as "tall, broad-shouldered and fine-looking," in 1896 he became engaged.  The wedding was scheduled for just before Christmas.  Tragically, he would not live that long.

On October 8, 1896, Patrick was was speaking to a fellow clerk, Frank Smith, when he suddenly blurted, "Oh! Frank!" and fell forward.  Smith caught him and laid him on the floor.  An ambulance was called, but before it arrived the 28-year-old was dead.

The New-York Tribune reported, "Word of his son's death was carried to Major Haverty, who was deeply affected by the news."  The indiscretion angered the younger Haverty's boss, General McCook, who said, "I very much regret that any one should be thoughtless as to run to Mr. Haverty's father and tell him suddenly that his son was dead.  The Major is in infirm health, and the shock might have caused serious results to the old gentleman.  I intended to break it to him as tenderly as possible myself."

By the turn of the century, Haverty's age and ill health forced him to sell 558 East 87th Street.  He died on September 17, 1901, "after an illness of several months," according to The New York Times.  

The East 87th Street house was owned by John G. and Belle Frank in 1917.  The title had been transferred to them by Belle Frank (presumably John's mother) that year for $1.  By the Depression years, it was owned by William Trevor and his wife, the former Anita Clarendon.

Trevor was the owner of the William Trevor Corp., a women's neckwear company.  Anita was his second wife, his first having died.  On June 24, 1922, the New York Herald had titled an article, "William Trevor Finds Romance at Stage Door Inn," and began its article saying, "Miss Anita Clarendon, famous as a child actress and well known as a grownup, is to be married to-day in St. Thomas's Church to William Trevor."  The article explained, "Friends who learned of the engagement yesterday said that it was an outgrowth of the establishment of the Stage door Inn and the National Stage Women's Exchange...Mr. Trevor became interested in the work, which was started to relieve the unemployment situation, and this interest culminated in a desire for better acquaintanceship."

Anita Clarendon had started her stage career at the age of three.  A celebrated performer, the New York Herald said, "She was a guest at the White House during Cleveland's administration and had dresses and hats named for her."

On September 5, 1933, the Flushing, New York North Shore Daily Journal reported that the Trevors had leased 558 East 87th Street to Marcy F. Hellman, "formerly of Scarsdale."

Around 1946, the house was purchased by attorney Henry Harfield.  A 1934 graduate of Yale University, he earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1937.  A partner in the legal firm of Shearman & Sterling, he was also a director in the Bank of Nova Scotia, Int'l., and the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Co.

Harfield specialized in banking, and in 1961 executed the legal framework for certificates of deposit for his client Citibank.  His negotiation of a letter of credit which partially resulted in the return of prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion earned him a letter of thanks from the John F. Kennedy White House.

While Harfield worked on legal banking issues, a neighbor nearby, Louise Fitzhugh, was writing.  In 1964 she published Harriet the Spy, a children's novel about a sixth grade student who would be a writer and secret agent.  Almost assuredly she based Harriet's home on 558 East 87th Street, from which she spied on her neighbors from her tower room.

Henry Harfield died on September 13, 2003 at the age of 90.  In August 2016 the house was placed for sale for $4.95 million, the realtor noting it "hit the market for the first time in 70 years."  Disappointingly, between Harfield's death and the sale, Lamb & Rich's 1882 interiors were destroyed.  The listing noted the "state of the art restoration down to the studs."  (That realtor needs to be informed of the definition of "restoration.") 

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Friday, February 23, 2024

The 1853 Adolphe LeMoyne House - 62 West 11th Street


The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows were possibly originally fronted by cast iron balconies.

Having inherited the land from his brother Andrew, in 1853 Wall Street broker James N. Gifford began construction of four upscale homes on West 11th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue.  Their three stories of red brick sat upon brownstone-clad English basements.  Transitional in style, their Italianate elements included the prominent window cornices and foliate-bracketed terminal cornices.  The architect's treatment of the entrances was a unique blend of Italianate and Greek Revival, the flat pilasters and entablatures of the latter style married to the arched framing of the doorways.  The deeply recessed double doors were crowned by sweeping fanlights.

The eastern-most house, 62 West 11th Street, became home to the family of cotton merchant Adolphe Desire Joseph LeMoyne.  LeMoyne had arrived in America from France in 1829 and co-founded the cotton commission firm of LeMoyne & Bell.  He and his wife Henrietta had two daughters and two sons.  At least three of them, Adolphe Jr., Edward Mitchell, and Henrietta J. still lived with their parents.

The house was the scene of Henrietta's wedding to Edward Bonaffe Heydecker on February 20, 1862.  The ceremony was performed by the rector of St. Bartholomew's Church, Samuel Cooke.

By 1864, both Adolph Jr. and Edward were working in their father's firm, which was renamed LeMoyne & Sons.  The ongoing Civil War was, no doubt, seriously affecting the business since, according to The Yonkers Statesman, "Their principal business was shipping cotton to France."

Following Edward's marriage, he and his wife, the former Josephine Maria Bond, moved into the West 11th Street house.  Their daughter, Elizabeth Goodrich was born here on April 22, 1864.  Known among the family as Bessie, she was five years old when a piece of jewelry was lost.  Her parents' ad on April 27, 1869 read:

Lost--On Sunday noon, either in Lafayette place, Eighth street or Broadway, between Eighth and Tenth streets, or in Tenth street, a Child's Handkerchief Pin, with Bessie engraved on it.  The finder will be suitably rewarded by returning it to 62 West Eleventh street.

The parlor was the scene of Adolph Jr.'s funeral on April 27, 1876.  The 44-year-old had died "suddenly," as reported by The New York Times, three days earlier.

The LeMoyne family left 62 West 11th Street by 1879, when it was occupied by Mary Lenox Kennedy.  Wealthy and unmarried, she was the daughter of David S. Kennedy and Rachel Carmer Lenox.  She had grown up in the family mansion half a block away at 41 Fifth Avenue where her unmarried sister Rachel Lenox Kennedy still lived.

On February 17, 1880, James Lenox died in his brownstone mansion at 53 Fifth Avenue.  A month later, to the day, The Evening Times of Albany, New York reported on his will, which listed among the heirs his nieces Mary Lenox Kennedy and Rachel Lenox Kennedy.

Before 1890, Mary moved back into the Kennedy mansion on Fifth Avenue.  The 11th Street house became home to Reverend Samuel M. Hamilton.  He was the pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on West 14th Street.  

Sharing the house with him was his brother, the Rev. J. S. Hamilton, who had formerly been pastor of the Rutland Square Presbyterian Church in Dublin, Ireland.  He died here on April 20, 1890, and his funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

By 1896, 62 West 11th Street was being operated as a boarding house by a "Mrs. Ribber."  Among her residents that year was J. P. Williams.  On June 22, he was approached by a teenaged boy carrying a valise, who asked him where he could find a "lodging house."  The boy said his name was Howard Ott and that he had an uncle in the city with whom he intended to stay after that night.  The New York Herald noted, "He was dressed in a light knickerbocker suit, with a blue cap--a good looking lad."

In fact, the 14-year-old was Edward Frank Allen who had arrived from Newtown, Pennsylvania around 6:30 that evening.  His story did not fool Williams, who "told the lad of his suspicions" that he was a runaway.  It did not take long before "the little fellow broke down and confessed."

As it turned out, Edward's school was closed for vacation.  He said he could not find a job and his father would not let him play ball.  Frustrated, he drew a $15 check on the First National Bank, signed his mother's name, endorsed it with his own and his grandmother's names, then boarded a train for Philadelphia, eventually making it to New York.  He still had $13 in his pocket.  Williams brought the teen back to 62 West 11th Street.  The New York Herald wrote, "Mr. Williams has telegraphed to Mr. Allen to come on to New York and get his boy.  But Edward does not know that."

H. C. Johnston listed his address here two years later when he left New York to fight in the Spanish-American War.  On July 3, 1898, The Sun listed Private Johnston among the volunteers "who were civilians two months ago" and who now had fought in the Battle of the Aguadores.  The article floridly reported, "Side by side with the Indian fighters of the regular army they endured the broiling sun and the torturing tropical brush, and played a manful part in the struggle that won the enemy's outworks and established our advance where the Spanish front had rested."

De Forest Deyon, a paymaster in the U.S. Army, also fought in the conflict.  He was on leave in February 1899 when, recently married, he and his "young and pretty wife," as described by the New York Morning Telegraph, took rooms here.  The newspaper said Mrs. Ribber, "is a good, meek woman, of respectable appearance and typical loquacity.  Like most women, she greatly admired the gallant soldiers and battle-scarred veterans of smoke and thunder.  Indeed, she considered herself fortunate in securing such a distinguished guest as Paymaster Deyon, and told the other boarders all about his great exploits at the front."

Trouble came, however, on the night of February 20--the night before Deyon's leave expired.  He returned to 62 West 11th Street "afflicted with alcoholic hallucinations of the San Juan battle," reported the New York Morning Telegraph.  The article said both Mrs. Ribber and Mrs. Deyon were "surprised and troubled" when he came home disheveled and acting strangely.  He went to his room and "dislodged his young wife, who was hiding behind a door.  The paymaster thought she was a Spaniard and chased her all over the house.  He then made a detour to the basement below stairs and stirred up the portly Mrs. Ribber, who was lying in ambush behind a trocha of flour barrels."

The soldier was no match for the feisty landlady.  She pretended to flee, then suddenly turned on Deyon.  The newspaper said she "charged into the enemy's breastworks, to which she clung until reinforcements arrived in the shape of Policeman Passent."   Arresting the soldier, who was suffering from hallucinations that might be diagnosed as symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder today, was not easy.  The Morning Telegraph reported, "Four other policemen came to the rescue and were kept busy for ten minutes before the enemy surrendered."  Deyon was taken to the alcoholic ward in Bellevue Hospital and his wife paid his $10 fine for disorderly conduct.

Samuel Stormer lived here in 1903.  The 28-year-old had recently left his job as a piano salesman for the Stephen T. Musical Automaton Company in Jersey.  As it turned out, he had come to New York City to hide out.  Stormer had sold a number of pianos for half price, writing the full price in the books and noting that the customer had paid $50 on an installment plan.  He then pocketed the remainder of the cash.  "Stormer had carried his alleged shady transactions to a point where he decided it was best to skip out," reported the Jersey City News on December 4.

New Jersey detectives Dan Lee and Frank Bennett searched unsuccessfully for the fugitive who "remained secluded in New York."  Then, in December some "special occasion" came up that necessitated Stormer's return to Jersey City.  The Jersey City News opined he "thought he could by changing his style of dress venture safely over the river.  He had scarcely more than set his foot here when he was nabbed by the two keen-eyed detectives."

Living here in 1910 was Albert Brown, a theater ticket speculator (what today would be known as a scalper).  He would approach patrons in front of various theaters before curtain time, offering cut-rate tickets.  He was working in front of the Metropolitan Opera House on February 2, 1910 when trouble ensued.  Edward Johnson was a carriage starter--the person who kept the line of vehicles smoothly moving along at curbside.  Brown approached two women who alighted from a carriage.  They already had their tickets and Johnson stepped in to move him along.  On February 7, The New York Times reported that Brown had been arrested "on complaint of Edward Johnson, a negro carriage starter, who charged the speculator with striking him."  Brown's arrest was, perhaps, surprising given the gross racial inequities of the period.

Following World War I, unofficial apartments were being rented within 62 West 11th Street.  Living here in 1922 was Dr. Victor O. Freeburg.  His diverse resume included commanding a submarine chaser during the war, serving as a professor of English at Columbia University, as a line officer on the steamship Wisconsin, and writing books on drama and motion pictures.  On August 11 that year, he married Mildred Ekblad.  The well-educated bride held degrees from Yale and Columbia Universities.

That year an advertisement in the New York Herald offered, "Entire parlor floor, 3 rooms and bath, 3 open fireplaces, 3 large mirrors; immediate possession; rent $125."  The rent would translate to about $2,100 in 2024.

From 1985 through 1987, the basement level was home to Batons, described by The New York Times as a "California-style American restaurant."  In its relatively short lifespan, Batons catered to some high-profile customers.  On December 31, 1985, The New York Times noted, "This cold season is also a good time to try hot restaurants.  Calvin Klein, Annie Leibovitz, Elle McPherson, Sean Penn and Madonna, Margaux Hemingway and Cristina Ferrare have all recently sampled the California cuisine served by carefully stubbled waiters in a dazzling black and white room at Batons, 62 West 11th Street."

While there are 14 apartments in the LeMoyne house, outwardly (other than replacement stoop railings and windows) little has changed in just over 170 years.

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Limestone-Faced Phoenix --93-95 Franklin Street


When the Civil War erupted, Swedish-born marine engineer John Ericsson lived in the Federal-style house at 93 Franklin Street.  Years earlier, in 1844, he had designed the U.S.S. Princeton, the first screw-propeller warship.  Now his engineering mastery was called upon by the Union Navy.  He designed the ironclad Monitor, which defeated the Confederate Merrimac in the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862.  On March 12, he was honored at a special meeting of the Chamber of Commerce for his successful contribution to the Union's victory.

The performance of the Monitor prompted increased Ericsson's workload.  On September 3, 1862, an ad appeared in the New York Herald reading:

Wanted Immediately--At 93 Franklin Street, several mechanical draughtsmen to work upon drawings of iron-clad steamers.  Those engaged, who may be drawn in the coming military draft, will be immediately discharged by the Secretary of War.  None but first class draughtsmen need apply.

Ericsson was most likely renting 93 Franklin Street, and in 1864 he purchased another Federal style house at 36 Beach Street.  He may have been hurried along in the move by his landlord.  That same year, William Watson demolished 93 Franklin and its neighbor at 95 and began construction on a modern, limestone-faced loft building.

Completed in 1866, 93-95 Franklin Street was a commercial version of an Italian palazzo.  Above the cast iron, Corinthian columned storefront, tall windows in dignified molded frames sat below prominent cornices.  Stacks of quoins ran up the side of the building, which terminated in a bracketed cornice.

The building's first tenant was the wholesale dry goods firm Davis, Rhodes & Co., which moved in before construction was completed.  On March 5, 1865 it advertised "Choice Goods Cheap."  The names of several of the yard goods it offered would sound alien to customers today, like jaconets, mozambiques, de laines, and drills.

Sadly for the owners, things did not work out.  On November 13, 1867, an announcement "to the trade" in the Evening Express noted:

In consequence of two of the partners declining business, on the 1st of January next, DAVIS, RHODES & CO, 93 & 95 Franklin Street, will sell, for cash, their entire stock of goods, in lots to suit purchasers, at the LOWEST PRICES the same Goods have been sold at the late Auction Sales. Their stock embraces a great variety of dress goods, cloths, Kentucky jeans, flannels, blankets  &c, &c, &c.

In 1869, L. Levenson & Co., makers and jobbers of clothing were here, as was the dry goods firm Loder & Lockwood.  The latter not only sold textiles, but made clothing for select customers.  An ad in the New York Herald on June 2, 1869 read, "Wanted--A Tailor of custom work who understands cutting and making clothes to order.  Call at 10 o'clock at 93 and 95 Franklin st, to Loder & Lockwood."

Among the tenants in the 1890s was Wilson & Bradbury, dry goods commission merchants, which also had a branch in Philadelphia.  The firm was established in 1852.  Also here was the New York office of Fenton, Cooper & Co.  The Belfast-based firm made Irish linens.  

Frederick Hazleton ran the Franklin Street operation of Fenton, Cooper & Co.  Working closely with him was John Emison, the cashier and bookkeeper.  Because Hazleton spent much of his time traveling, Emison had a power of attorney to sign checks.  The temptation proved too much in 1894.

On October 12, Hazleton returned from a two-week trip.  The Evening World reported, "He expected to find from $50,000 to $60,000 in [the] bank to his credit.  He found only $4,000."  He immediately had his bookkeeper arrested.  With Emison behind bars, Hazelton went through the ledgers.  "A closer examination of Emison's books showed the shortage to be $53,000," said The World.  (The figure would translate to a staggering $1.86 million in 2024.)  As it turned out, the 38-year-old married man had gambled the money away in the stock market.  "It is said that he has lost most of the $53,000 in Wall street speculations."

The turn of the century saw other dry goods and apparel-related firms in the building, including E. McConnell & Co., The S. Herbert Golden Co., and Tim & Company, dealers in "white and fancy linen and cotton shirts, men's and women's collars and cuffs."  Shirts and collars were made and sold separately, and Tim & Company introduced a novel style collar in 1908.  Because collars were buttoned onto the shirt, neckties would often snag.  The buttons on the firm's "Ti-Easy" collars were separated from the tie by a cloth band, preventing snags.

Dry Goods Reporter, December 26, 1908 (copyright expired)

Gotham Underwear Company operated from 93-95 Franklin Street at the time.  The firm's tag line was "The Underwear of a Gentleman."  An advertisement in Hampton's Magazine in 1909 urged, "

Don't grill--don't sizzle--avoid clinging, suffocating under-garments for summer weather.  Try the cool loose fitting soft texture Gotham Summer Underwear and Pajamas.  They permit free circulation of air and freedom of motion, are sensibly cut over roomy patterns and tailored in a faultless manner.

At 6:15 on the evening of June 24, 1913, what the New-York Tribune described as "a spectacular three-alarm fire" broke out on the third floor of 93-95 Franklin Street.  There were four tenants in the building at the time--Wilson & Bradbury, linen dealers; I. Weinman, "elastic webs" merchant; handkerchief maker Adam Brickerhoff; and one floor was used by the Independent 5 and 10 Cent Stores for storage of inventory.

The fire spread quickly, trapping several factory girls who had just been preparing to leave for the day.  The New-York Tribune reported they "became excited and ran upstairs to the roof, and by crossing several adjoining roofs, reach the street by the fire escape on Nos. 253 and 255 Church street." 

The conflagration spread to five nearby buildings.  Five firefighters on the fire escape at the third floor were nearly killed.  The New-York Tribune reported "a back draft hit the five men unawares and a sheet of flame caught Lieutenant McKenna, throwing him against [firefighter] Simonetti.  Simonetti was thrown down the well to the fire escape below and only saved himself by clinging to the iron ladder."  Another fire fighter leaped over the railing as the flames "licked his face and ears."  He dangled from I. Wienmann's metal sign until coworkers could rescue him.

Two hours into the battle, the fire seemed under control.  Deputy Chief Binns and another firefighter entered the ground floor of 93-95 Franklin Street.  The New-York Tribune reported that Binns "had hardly reached the stairs leading to the cellar, when there was a loud crash.  Timbers from the floors above came tumbling down, carrying with them a part of the second floor.  Binns and his assistant were struck by the flying debris, but were unhurt."  In the aftermath of the inferno, "Only the walls were left standing," said the article.

Architect Robert Teichman was commissioned by the William Watson Estate to salvage what he could from the burned out shell.  On November 14, he filed plans for a "two-story brick and stone loft and office building."  As it turned out, Teichman was able to rescue three floors.  Now essentially a stump of the former distinguished structure, 93-95 Franklin Street was leased to Cohn, Marx & Co., dealers in imported and domestic textiles.

93-95 Franklin Street became an abbreviated version of its pre-fire self.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

George Gfroehrer was the night watchman for Cohn, Marx & Co. in 1922.  The married Long Island resident earned $23.08 each week (about $400 today).  On the night of April 19, he was making his rounds when he stepped into an open elevator shaft.  His fall to the basement was fatal.  A Workmen's Compensation hearing in 1925 awarded his family the $603.90 funeral expenses they had paid.

Better Waists, December 1921 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on November 20, 1943 sought females to deliver inter-office mail.

GIRLS--Very fine opportunity for future with a large textile firm. Experience unnecessary. We prefer high school graduates who are neat in appearance and mentally alert. To such girls we offer work in our mailing department distributing mail to various departments. The work and surroundings are pleasant, with definite possibilities for advancement. Apply PERSONNEL DEPARTMENT. 3d Floor 93-95 Franklin 8t.. N.Y.C

A renaissance of the Tribeca district in the last quarter of the 20th century finally arrived at 93-95 Franklin Street in 2001 when plans were filed for the building to be "enlarged vertically."  In an astounding renovation, three floors were added that seamlessly meld with the 1866 architecture.  The  restoration architects left no hint to the casual passerby that the top floors are not original.  There are now eight apartments in the building.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The 1927 Lombardy Hotel - 111 East 56th Street


Henry Mandel started his career in real estate development in his father's firm erecting tenement buildings.  His ambitions transcended tenements and in the post-World War I years he turned to progressively more elaborate projects.  In 1926, he demolished the high-stooped houses at 109 through 123 East 56th Street and hired the architectural firm of Farrar & Watmough to design an upscale residential hotel on the site.

Completed in 1927, the 21-floor-and-penthouse Lombardy was faced in beige brick above a three-story stone base.  Farrar & Watmough's romantic design harkened to Renaissance Tuscany, its mountainscape of setbacks embellished with Renaissance inspired corbel tables and arched openings.  

The Lombardy Hotel offered accommodations for both permanent residents and transient guests.  Along with the penthouse, there were a "sun parlor and sleeping porch" on the roof.  Permanent residents chose from apartments of one to seven rooms, which provided "freedom from household cares," according to an advertisement.  Hotel amenities, like maid service, were included and residents dined in the Lombardy restaurant.  An advertisement tempted,

Every day begins auspiciously at The Lombardy.  You never feel that is it just another morning to get up.  The efficient waiter serving your breakfast as if attending royalty...the deft courtesy of our entire staff...lends a sense of well being that starts you off right, a cheerfulness that flavors your whole day.  That is one of the reasons The Lombardy attracts so many people who cultivate the art of living gracefully, and who appreciate the niceties that are part of the daily route at The Lombardy. 
Would you like a new experience in fine living?

An orchestra was nearly obligatory in jazz age restaurants and the Lombardy Hotel was no exception.  On January 26, 1929, The Vaudeville News reported that Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees orchestra had been performing "as The Gondoliers from the Hotel Lombardy."

Henry Mandel set aside a group of furnished rooms for permanent residents who had visiting guests.  An advertisement in the New York Evening Post in July 1927 explained, "Smartly furnished guest rooms will be maintained by the management for guests of residents of the Lombardy.  They cost a reasonable tariff only--and only when they are used."

Despite the ongoing Depression, in 1930 Henry Mandell hired Farrar & Watmough to design the immense Vendome apartments on West 57th Street.  And in doing so, he overstretched his finances.  In March 1932 he filed for bankruptcy and, unable to pay alimony to his ex-wife, he was jailed in 1933.  Before that happened, the Lombardy was sold to millionaire publisher William Randolph Hearst.  (Interestingly, his Warwick Hotel on West 54th Street, designed by George B. Post & Sons and Emery Roth in 1925, was strikingly similar in design.)

Along with successful businessmen, The Lombardy attracted tenants in the entertainment field.  Among the first was composer Richard Rodgers and his wife, the former Dorothy Belle Feiner.  Rodgers was in London in December 1930 for the debut of the Rodgers and Hart play Ever Green.  He rushed back in time for the birth of Mary Rodgers on January 11, 1931.  Mary, who would become a composer, screenwriter, and author, described their apartment in her autobiography, Shy.  "It was a beautiful apartment on the nineteenth floor, with a large balcony and nice views."

Among the Rodgers' neighbors on the 19th floor was Benjamin F. Feiner and his wife.  A partner in the law firm of Feiner & Skutch, the health of the 53-year-old declined that year to the point he needed a live-in nurse.  On the night of October 23, 1931, he went onto the terrace while his wife and nurse remained inside.  The Sun reported, "His body was found on the roof of a two-story extension."

Tragedy visited the Lombardy again nine months later.  On the morning of July 29, 1932, a maid entered the apartment of Theresa Kann.  The Sun reported, "a note fluttered to her feet.  It apparently had been tucked over the door."  It read, "Notify my brother at 1125 Park avenue, so he can break the news to mother."  Theresa's body was on the bed.  "On a table near-by was a glass containing dregs of potassium cyanide, according to police," said the article.

Novelist, playwright, and short story writer Edna Ferber moved into the Lombardy in 1929.  Born on August 15, 1885, she had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for So Big.  Two years before leasing her apartment, the smash hit Show Boat, based on her 1926 novel of the same name, opened on Broadway.  While living here she wrote the plays, Dinner at Eight and Stage Door.  She remained here at least through 1939.

Edna Ferber, Theatre Magazine, July 1928

The Lombardy was a favorite spot for transient stars.  On December 12, 1936, The New York Sun reported, "Gloria Swanson is stopping at the Lombardy Hotel," and two weeks later announced that George Burns and Gracie Allen "will be in New York at the Lombardy Hotel for two or three weeks, in which time they will present several of their broadcasts, discuss a new musical comedy, and confer with...sponsors."  And according to Axel Nissen in his 2021 Beulah Bondi, A Life on Stage and Screen, for years the actress maintained a suite here to use when she was in town.

Divorced actress, singer, and dancer Marion Pierce moved into the Lombardy on May 5, 1938.  Born Marion Dean Hughes in 1911, she married Conkey P. Whitehead in 1929 (his family had purchased the rights to Coca Cola from Asa G. Candler in 1888).  According to the New York World-Telegram, after the couple's divorce in October 1933, she was "written out of the Social Register."  She turned to the stage to make a living, and appeared on Broadway in New Faces, Three Waltzes, and I Must Love Someone.

Marion Pierce's residency would be short, and did not end well.  On November 29, 1938, The New York Sun reported that the Hotel Lombardy was seeking a $1,869 judgement "against the thrice-wed Marion Hughes Pierce," for "rent, midnight refreshments and other service."  Marion countered that the hotel owed her.  Saying "the hotel is wrong in its bookkeeping," and that she had paid the full amount, she contended "the hotel should be compelled to pay her $2,000 for the holding [of] her furniture from May 5 to September 28."

Prolific novelist Octavus Roy Cohen lived at the Lombardy in the late 1930s.  Born in 1891, he would publish more than 60 novels and short-story collections, five plays, and 30 film plays during his career.

Bandleader Xavier Cugat lived here in 1958 when he was a guest on the television show $64,000 Challenge.  It resulted in his being summoned before the United States Congress's Investigation of Television Quiz Shows the following year.  He testified that he was an unwitting participant in the fixed outcome, telling the committee that a few days before the program, producer Merton Koplin came to his Lombardy apartment.

Xavier Cugat - Billboard magazine 1944

"In the apartment we spoke a lot about music," he said.  "He asked me a lot of questions.  Then I found in the program that the questions that he asked me in my apartment were the same questions that went on the air."

The French restaurant Laurent opened here in 1950 and would remain for decades.  It received an unfortunate--and rare--scathing review from The New York Times critic John Canaday on October 12, 1973.  He said that among the contented diners, "none were French, and it showed."   When Canaday revisited three years later, he was more satisfied.  He called Laurent "a superbly professional restaurant that takes pride in its kitchen and service."

In the meantime, the Lombardy's most visible residents were Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  The couple had married in 1964 after romance blossomed while filming Cleopatra.  They divorced in 1974, and remarried on October 10, 1975.  But storm clouds formed over 111 East 56th Street in February 1976.  Burton was currently appearing on Broadway in Equus.  Taylor arrived from Europe around February 15.  On February 24, The Daily News of Batavia, New York reported, "When Miss Taylor arrived in New York last week to join Burton, [gossip columnist Earl] Wilson said a photographer heard Burton remark to a security officer escorting her, 'Do you want to be her lover this week?'"

Burton and Taylor in New York in 1971.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Burton suspected his wife of "having a secret romance in Switzerland with a Maltese advertising man, Peter Darmanin," said the article.  Burton's attorney attempted damage control, saying on February 20, "the couple remained together in the same suite at the Lombardy Hotel."  The Burtons divorced in July 1976.

Richard Burton's fifth marriage was to Sally Hay in July 1983.  On August 24, 1980, Newsday reported, "the BBC said that offstage, Miss Hay has been his constant companion.  It said she has been staying with Burton at his New York hotel suite."  Although the British Broadcasting Corp. reported the wedding took place in the Lombardy, the manager insisted, "the couple was in Los Angeles and he knew nothing about a wedding."

Sir John Gielgud from the collection of the Library of Congress

Another British actor living here was Sir John Gielgud.  Syndicated columnist Leslie Hanscom wrote in Newsday on August 24, 1980, "It would be impossible to carry on a discussion of great actors still living without the name of Sir John Gielgud coming up."  But despite the Shakespearean actor's aristocratic bearing, said Hansom, "When he is loafing in bedroom slippers and an open-necked shirt, as he was doing the other afternoon in his digs in Manhattan's Lombardy Hotel, he is no more intimidating than George Burns."

In 1987 there were 176 cooperative apartments in the building, "of which 100 are for transients," according to The New York Times on August 23.  At the turn of the 21st century, the Lombardy was converted to a four-star boutique hotel.  Its romantic design is as captivating as its long list of celebrated residences.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The William Hubert Burr House - 161 West 74th Street


Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich partnered to form the architectural firm Lamb & Rich in 1880.  Within only six years they had expanded into real estate development.  In 1886 they completed nine residences that wrapped the northwest corner of West 74th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

The easternmost house, 161 West 74th Street, anchored the row by rising a story above the others.  Essentially Queen Anne in style, Lamb & Rich gave the basement and parlor floors Romanesque Revival touches, most evident in the entrance.  Clustered colonettes with stylized capitals supported hefty blocks carved with designs reminiscent of Celtic knots.  Grotesque faces stared out from the swirling forms.

The grouped openings of the second floor were framed in terra cotta embossed with fleur-de-lis.  The architects made creative use of brick in the unusual basketweave panel below the single third-floor sill and in the decoration of the spandrel and frieze under the pressed metal cornice.

William Hubert Burr purchased 161 West 74th Street.  Born on July 14, 1851 in Watertown, Connecticut, he was married to Caroline Kent.  The couple had four children.  

William Hubert Burr (original source unknown)

Burr was a civil engineer and a professor of engineering at Columbia University.  Living with the family was George Shattuck Morison, a bachelor and colleague.  Both men sat on the city's Board of Consulting Engineers, and both were routinely approached by journalists regarding civic projects.

George S. Morison was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on December 19, 1842.  His ancestors had arrived from Scotland in 1710.  Formerly a member of the bridge construction firm of Morison, Fields & Co., The New York Times described him as the "engineer of five great bridges across the Mississippi, ten across the Missouri, the huge bridge over the Ohio at Cairo, Ill., and many others."  The newspaper said, "probably his most notable achievement was the building of the bridge across the Mississippi at Memphis, Tenn., which has a single truss span of 790 feet, than which [sicthere are only two larger in the world."

Caroline Kent Burr died in 1894.  The Burr family and Morison remained in the house until 1897.  (Morison was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to "a board for locating a deep water harbor in Southern California," according to the New-York Tribune.  That position may have necessitated his leaving New York.)

The family of Edwin A. Whitfield followed the Burrs in 161 West 74th Street.  Whitfield traced his American roots on his maternal side to Nicholas Pariset, who came from France in 1780.  Whitfield and his wife, the former Susie Bird, had three daughters, Rebecca Bird, Virginia, and Sue.

Rebecca's marriage to corporation attorney John Wahl Queen was held in the West 74th Street house on December 14, 1898.  The New York World mentioned that Rebecca "is a cousin of Andrew Carnegie, who was one of the few guests present."

Four years after Rebecca's wedding, Dr. Leonard S. Rau leased 161 West 74th Street.  He remained until about 1910, when the house was purchased by John Thomas Bermingham and his wife, Sarah. 

Born in 1862, Bermingham was a retired contractor.  He and Sarah had one daughter.  Their affluence was reflected in John's memberships in the New York Athletic Club and the Columbia Yacht Club.  

John Thomas Bermingham contracted pneumonia in January 1914, and died in the house at the age of 52 on January 14.  Sarah leased the residence in 1917 to Viola Root Cameron.

A widow, Viola was politically involved, a member of the Woman's Forum.  She was also a member of the Daughters of the America Revolution.  

In 1918 she advertised a room for rent.  That year it was occupied by John P. White, and in 1919 by W. K. White, a member of the Produce Exchange (whether the two Whites were related is unclear).  In 1920, another well-heeled widow, Flora Bella Aldrich, lived in the house with Viola.  They may have known one another through their mutual memberships in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

During the Depression years, furnished rooms were rented in 161 West 74th Street, their occupants not always upstanding.  Living here in 1938 was Gladys Stephens, alias Agnes Powers, alias Agnes Stevens, who was described by the North Shore Daily Journal as "a petite twenty-year-old blonde."  Gladys perpetrated what for decades had been known to police as the servant girl scheme.

On August 31, 1938, Gladys was hired by Mrs. Samuel Sultar who lived in the Briarwood section of Queens, New York.  The North Shore Daily Journal reported, "Three days later when Mrs. Sultar returned from a business trip, she discovered the girl gone and the house looted of the jewelry and clothing, including a diamond engagement ring valued at $525, a watch, a signet ring, bath towels, clothing and $5 in cash."  The theft would equal about $12,500 in 2024.

On September 7, police arrested Gladys Stephens in her room here and transported her to the Jamaica police headquarters.  In her room was found a woman's suit which belonged to Mrs. Sultar.  The North Shore Daily Journal reported, "after long questioning by Detective Thomas Sheedy of the Jamaica Squad, she admitted taking the clothing, but denied any knowledge of the missing jewelry and cash."

A renovation completed in 1999 resulted in two apartments per floor.  Although the masonry has been unnecessarily painted, 161 West 74th Street retains much of its 1886 appearance.

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Monday, February 19, 2024

The Lost Theodore G. Thomas House - 600 Madison Avenue


American Architect & Buildings News March 13, 1886 (copyright expired)

The block of Madison Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets in 1886 was only slightly less prestigious than the mansion-lined Fifth Avenue a block to the west.  That year world famous gynecologist Theodore Gaillard Thomas moved his family into their newly-completed residence at 600 Madison Avenue.
Dr. Thomas had commissioned architect Bruce Price to design the five-story mansion.  His Queen Anne design was heavily blended with romantic elements of the German Renaissance--notably in the protruding gargoyles above the fourth floor openings, and the intricate leading of the windows.  

Fearsome gargoyles, and German carvings between the intricately leaded windows were influenced by the German Renaissance.  cropped image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The house was faced in brick and trimmed in stone.  In stark contrast was the full-width bowed bay at the second floor, which was covered in "repousse copper," according to The American Architect & Building News on March 13, 1886.  It provided a spacious balcony to the third which, too, was fronted by copper panels decorated with pressed bosses.  A prominent gable clad in waffle-like "Akron tiles" and stars fronted the mansard, which sprouted two fairytale dormers.

The American Architect & Building News wrote, "The basement-floor, offices, parlor-floor, parlor, library and dining-room are all finished in oak, with heavy-beamed ceilings."  Rowhouses had the disadvantage of having only two walls of windows--front and back.  Price relieved that problem by inserting a light court at the left-center of the house which provided extra light and ventilation.

The Thomas family sacrificed interior square footage for light and air by allowing Bruce Price to cut a courtyard into the side of their home.  The American Architect & Building News, March 13, 1886 (copyright expired)

Although Dr. Thomas was a gynecologist, he nevertheless came into contact with infectious diseases.  He had Price design a personal "hospital" on the top floor, "carrying out a hobby of the doctor's for quarantining any member of his own family stricken with any infectious disease," said the article.

Theodore Gaillard Thomas (who went professionally by his first initial), was born on November 21, 1831 in Edisto Island, South Carolina.  He was educated in his home state, then studied medicine in Europe from 1853 to 1855.  When he erected his Madison Avenue home, he was the chair of the gynecology department at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  His 1868 Diseases of Women was translated into French, German, Chinese, Italian and Spanish.

Dr. Theodore Gaillard Thomas, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Thomas and his wife, the former Mary Theodosia Willard (who went by Mae) were married in 1862 and had three sons, John Metcalf, Edward (who was born disabled), Theodore Jr., and Howard Lapsey.  The family's summer home, The Birdhouse, sat on 13 acres in Southampton, Long Island.

"The Birdhouse" was the subject of an early 20th century postcard.

In fact, The Birdhouse was the second expansive cottage built in Southampton.  After being invited to the area in 1863 by a patient's husband, Thomas vowed to someday build a summer home there.  It was not until 1877 that The Birdhouse was erected.  Originally called The Dunes by the Thomases, villagers thought the two wraparound porches and railings gave the house the appearance of a fancy bird cage.  Decades before Southampton would become the playground of the rich and famous, a journalist with Long Island Magazine scratched his critical head, saying he could not understand "why anyone should wish to imitate the inconveniences that plagued our ancestors."  Thomas is credited today with convincing other well-heeled New Yorkers to establish the summer colony that became the Southampton we know today.

On April 14, 1892, the Arizona Territory newspaper The St. Johns Herald reported, "It is estimated that a hundred New York doctors have each an annual income of $10,000 and over."  At the top of the list were "Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas and Dr. Salisbury," who were "popularly supposed to receive, from their professional duties, $100,000 a year."  It was an almost inconceivable amount to the newspaper's Western readers--equal to around $3.7 million in 2024.

Despite their significant wealth, the Thomases appeared in the society pages only occasionally, like the mention in The New York Times on February 24, 1892 that "Dr. and Mrs. Theodore G. Thomas of 600 Madison Avenue gave a dinner last evening.  Fourteen invitations were issued."

A significant exception was when Howard Lapley Thomas was married to Adele Larocque on November 19, 1895 in St. Bartholomew's Church.  It was a society affair, The New York Times noting, "The church was crowded, many of the guests being from Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia."

Tragically, less than two years later, on June 8, 1897, the New-York Tribune wrote, "The New-York Stock Exchange, of which he had been a member since April 4, 1895, received notice yesterday of the death on Saturday of Howard Lapsely Thomas, son of Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas."  The young man had died of consumption.

Dr. Thomas retired in 1899.  Two years later he was given a testimonial dinner on his 70th birthday.  On November 18, 1901, the New-York Tribune reported, "A large number of his friends in the medical profession intend to take part in the celebration by giving a dinner for him at Sherry's on the evening of his birthday."

It was, perhaps, the last such event the doctor would attend.  On March 1, 1903, The New York Times reported, "Theodore Gaillard Thomas, one of the foremost gynecologists in the United States, died yesterday at Thomasville, Ga.  His home in this city is at 600 Madison Avenue."  The article noted, "His work as a gynecologist became widely known and brought him a fortune."

At the time of Thomas's death, commerce had already invaded his Madison Avenue neighborhood.  By 1907, the Thomas heirs had converted the lower floors of their former home for retail purposes--home to the fur shop of Max Bowsky & Co.--and the upper floors to high-end apartments.  

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Mrs. Gertrude A. Lee, who lived nearby at 570 Madison Avenue, was shopping at Max Bowsky & Co. on the afternoon of November 27, 1907.   Also in the shop was a regular customer named Hunter.  Sometime after Mrs. Hunter's departure, Gertrude Lee flew into a panic when she realized her purse was gone.  The New York Times described it as "very valuable, being of solid gold and studded with diamonds."

Because Max Bowsky knew Mrs. Hunter well, according to The New York Times, "suspicion fell upon the boy, who was the only other person about."  That youth was 14-year-old Edward Fives, who apparently worked for Bowsky.  Gertrude Lee had him arrested for theft, although he vehemently denied having taken her purse.  Fives was taken to the Children's Society and held for trial.

The following day, Gertrude Lee received a telephone call from the Fifth Avenue Trust Company.  Mrs. Hunter had dropped off her handbag there, saying she accidentally picked it up somewhere by mistake.  (Exactly how she mistook a gold bag studded with diamonds for her own was not explained.)  After rushing to the bank and retrieving her purse, Gertrude turned her focus to Edward Fives.  The New York Times said, "after obtaining his release, Mrs. Lee said she would remunerate him for the mistake."

A celebrated resident upstairs in 1914 was the famed Shakespearean actress Julia Marlow.  She gave the public a scare that spring when it was rumored she had undergone an appendicitis operation.  Theater-goers gave a sigh of relief when, on March 11, The Washington Herald reported, "Miss Julia Marlowe, the Shakespearean star, was not operated upon last week as reported. The actress, who is living at 600 Madison avenue, New York, has been seriously ill, but is now able to take daily rides."

Julia Marlow - from the collection of the New York Public Library

On February 3, 1917, the Record & Guide reported that John Metcalf Thomas and Theodore G. Thomas Jr. had leased the building to dressmaker and milliner Fitzpatrick, Inc.  The article noted the firm "will use part of the building for its own business and sub-rent the balance."  The upper floors continued to contain high-end apartments.

The New Gallery, Inc. opened here in 1922.  In December that year it staged "The Hundred Dollar Holiday Exhibition" that included works by Picasso, Modigliani, Dufy, Sprinchorn and other modern artists.

At mid-century, the former Thomas mansion was a distinct anachronism along the once-residential block.  But that ended in 1961 when the Frouge Corporation demolished it and its neighbors to make way for the Emery Roth & Sons designed 600 Madison Avenue, which survives.

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