Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The New York Cab Company Stable - 318-330 Amsterdam Avenue



Despite the Real Estate Record & Guide's describing him as "the dealer in fancy goods," William T. Walton had turned much of his focus away from his Eighth Avenue dry good store to Upper West Side real estate development by the mid 1880s.  A resident of the district himself, his name regularly appeared in realty documents as he purchased plots, and built apartments and commercial buildings.

And as the city's population swelled, increased transportation was needed for those residents not wealthy enough to own their own vehicles and horses.   The concept of New York Cab Company was announced on October 6, 1876, prompting The New York Herald to run the headline CHEAP CABS and explain "The rate of transportation will be fifty cents an hour for all passengers."  (The fare would translate to about $11.50 per hour today.)

Although the firm had not yet been formally organized, it proposed to revamp the disorganized taxi system currently in place.  Independent drivers who owned a carriage operated on their own, setting their own fares (normally higher than those in Europe).  The New York Cab Company would hire existing cabs and drivers, cover their stabling and repairs, and pay them $1.50 per trip.

In 1884 the firm finally began operation.  Appleton's Dictionary of Greater New York said "The New York Cab Company have recently placed on the streets cabs at rates much cheaper than have hitherto ruled.  The cabs are black and yellow, and are popularly known as the 'black and tan.'"

In the eight years since its organizers had first come up with the idea, the fares had risen.  Appleton's said that there were two kinds of cabs--two-seated and four-seated--and "The tariff of charges is twenty-five cents a mile, or fraction thereof, or $1.00 by the hour."

The guidebook warned tourists about being fooled by other cabs who parroted the bright yellow stripe.  "Strangers should be cautioned against cabs painted yellow and black in imitation, the drivers of which usually charge higher rates."

That same year, in July, William T. Walton purchased the large plot of land at the northwest corner of 10th Avenue (renamed Amsterdam Avenue in 1890) and 75th Street.   By the time his architect, Charles Abbott French, filed plans four years later, in March 1888, the New York Cab Company had several stables throughout the city.

A comment in the Record & Guide on November 2, 1889 may explain the long delay in constructing Walton's building.  "W. T. Walton intends completing the storage warehouse, commenced some eighteen months ago, on the west side of 10th avenue, between 75th and 76th streets."

It appears that the storage warehouse idea stalled, and construction was kickstarted following negotiations with the New York Cab Company.  Their newest stable was completed in July 1890 at a reported cost of $45,000--more than $1.2 million today.   The only commercial stables in the neighborhood at the time, French's five-story structure was as handsome as it was utilitarian.   His elegant take on Romanesque Revival included expected beefy elements, like the undressed stone courses above each row of openings, and the chunky boulders that formed the base of the massive arched carriage bays.  But he softened the design by adding tasteful fanlights to the arched openings of the top floor and dripping incised lines that implied fluting down the three story pilasters .


The New York Cab Company was fully installed in the building in 1891.   Almost immediately the firm experienced labor problems.   Drivers complained that they were allowed only one meal break during their long shifts (Thomas Ketchell later testified to the State Arbitration Board that his shift ended at 1:00 in the morning and his next started at 6:00).  One hackman, Timothy O'Connor, testified that any driver who arrived to work more than three minutes late would be laid off for a three days.

Late in 1896 the drivers struck.   The New York Cab Company continued operations, using non-union labor.  On January 11, 1897 Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt received a letter from J. E. Bausch, secretary of the Cab Driver's Association, requesting that police be removed from outside the stables.  Roosevelt's reply evidenced the violent nature of labor conflicts at the time.  It said in part:

As a matter of fact the strikers or their sympathizers have committed a number of brutal assaults upon the peaceable employees of the New York Cab Company, in addition to attempting to destroy the property of the company...If the strikers are law abiding and peaceable they can have no possible objection to the presence of the police.

The strike sparked a surprising counter-move by the management.  On January 10 the New-York Tribune reported "The New-York Cab Company has been making preparations for some time to introduce horseless carriages to take the place of the cabs now in use, and the strike of its drivers has spurred it on to hasten the work of the inventors."

That announcement may have been more bluff than reality, for it would be several more years before motorized taxicabs would become viable.  The New York Cab Company continued providing its services with telegraph lines (and later telephones) in the office provided connection to theaters, docks and other facilities where passengers could call for cabs.  The firm negotiated an exclusive contract with the Cunard Line, for instance.

Among the New York Cab Company's valued customers at the turn of the century was Dr. Albert M. Johnston and his wife, Marie Layton Johnston.  The couple was married in 1901 and Johnston's dental practice was at No. 463 Fifth Avenue where he made about $291,000 per year by today's standards.  Marie added to the household by working as the head bookkeeper and cashier of the United States Playing Card Company.

The New York Times reported on October 5, 1903 "Both husband and wife were well known for their manner of dress and the lavishness of their tips."  They lived near the New York Cab Company's stable, in the Dorilton Apartments at 71st Street and Broadway.  Marie's taxi bills ran about $200 per month--more than $5,600 today--by the time of The Times article.

The reason the newspaper was reporting on the Johnstons' lifestyle was because Marie's employer had discovered how they managed to support it.  The 29-year old was arrested for having embezzled between $30,000 and $40,000.  The New York Cab Company found itself not only short two customers, but a significant amount of money.

Among the original founders of the New York Cab Company was William K. Vanderbilt, Jr.  In May 1907 he joined in another new enterprise, the Motor Carriage Company.  Power Wagon reported the firm "proposes to operate 300 gasoline cabs...within the period of a year."

In a separate article the magazine noted that Vanderbilt "is known to be enthusiastic on the subject of motor cab use, and is already heavily interested in the New York Cab Company, which operates horse-drawn vehicles."  The writer suspected "that the time is not far distant when a merger of these two interests will take place."

Indeed, on January 7, 1911 Automobile Topics noted "The Cab and Taxi Company is a consolidation of the New York Cab Company, the New York Livery and Auto Service Company, the Taxi Service Company, the Com-Automobile Company, the Club Taxi Company, Union Taxicab Auto Service Company and the Moulton Stable Company."  Among the 35 "stations" listed for the new conglomerate was the former Amsterdam Avenue stable.

By the time of the article, William T. Walton had altered the ground floor to accommodate shops.  On February 11, 1911 the Record & Guide announced that he had leased a store and basement "to the Colonial Restaurant for a term of years.  This completes the renting of the stores recently altered in the building."

Another business in the building by 1913 was the Metropolitan Motorcycle Repair Co.  An advertisement that year read "Have your motorcycle overhauled now; expert work, moderate charges; ten years' experience in motor cycle repair work."

I. H. Simpson operated his plumbing business from a ground floor shop by 1915 when he purchased a new Ward Special electric truck.  One of 18 merchants in New York City to use the innovative vehicle, he no doubt garaged it within the building.  The Edison Monthly noted in January 1916 "Arrangements have been made with stables throughout the city whereby these electric cars may be stored for ten dollars a month, this fee including the washing of the car."

I. H. Simpson's 1915 Ward Special truck, like those pictured above, was garaged in the building.  The Edison Monthly, January 1916 (copyright expired)

Simpson was still operating from the shop at No. 326 Amsterdam Avenue when he partnered with John Fath.  Fath had run his own company on West 83rd Street for years; but The Plumbers Trade Journal explained the men joined forces "to conduct a plumbing and heating business on a larger scale."

Two years before women won the right to vote nationally, New York State allowed women to register.  One of the shops in the former stables building became a registration office in the spring of 1918.  In reporting on the procedures on May 26, the New-York Tribune pointed out "In the garage at Amsterdam Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street a woman election clerk, Miss Beatrice Cassell, won the admiration of the man who was working for the other party with her, Arno R. Domeyer."

Domeyer told the reporter "For nine years I've been inspector of elections and I've never seen the equal for speed of Miss Cassell."  Beatrice was optimistic about the future for women, adding "When I've been inspector for nine years I'll be a Congresswoman."

At least one potential voter was having a hard time grasping her gender's newly-acquired independence.  The Tribune reported "One of the women who will know better next time is Mrs. Laura Rosebault, of 1 West Sixty-seventh Street, who tucked the card carefully into her pocketbook and started toward the door."

When a clerk pointed her toward the canvas enclosure for filling out the form, she explained "Oh, I'm going to take it home and let my husband show me how."

The article continued "After the clerk had brought her to understand that this was not the usual thing she emerged triumphant, having placed the cross in the proper place without her husband's aid."

In July the following year the McGraw Tire & Rubber Company leased the entire second floor.  A surprising tenant already in the building was the Enterprise Music Supply Company.  Charles Shongood described it later saying "The business occupies 10,000 square feet of floor space and contains the best equipped jobbing plant of its kind in New York City."

After that company declared bankruptcy in 1920, a public auction was held in the building on January 13 1921.  The announcement said "The stock to be sold comprises all of the latest and most popular instrumental and vocal numbers of sheet-music, as well as a complete line of the earlier standard musical compositions; also an extensive stock of phonograph records and music rolls."

The following year the Walton family had extensive renovations done, costing more than $200,000.  Included in the updates were reinforced floors and new elevators.  Now, in addition to the sidewalk level stores, an automobile repair shop was on the first floor and basement, with "public garage and auto repair shop" on the upper floors, according to Department of Buildings documents.

The Sherman Square Garage moved into the renovated space, while the auto repair shop was leased to the Graves Sales Corporation.  On the morning of June 8, 1923 Phyllis Simpson, secretary to Robert Graves, Jr., was sitting at her desk in the Graves Sales first floor office.  Upstairs 15 employees of the Sherman Square Garage were tending to business.  There were about 100 cars parked throughout the building.

Suddenly a gasoline tank exploded in the basement repair shop directly under Phyllis Simpson's desk.  The force of the explosion threw her from her chair and the entire building was rocked.  Twelve of the Sherman Square Garage employees rushed out of the building.  The other three ran to the roof and down a fire escape to safety.

The fire in the basement spread to flammable, toxic supplies.  The New York Times reported "Smoke poured from the place and fumes from burning tires, electric batteries and other automobile paraphernalia swept over the district."  Fourteen fire fighters staggered out of the basement, nearly overcome by the fumes, and were treated at a nearby store.

Fire Chief John Kenlon arrived after the third alarm was sent out.  "It may not have been a spectacular fire," he told reporters after a two-hour battle, "but it was ten times harder on the men than spectacular blazes usually are."

None of the vehicles on the upper floors were injured; but the building suffered about $50,000 in damages--a significant $703,000 today.

As the Upper West Side neighborhood changed, the old structure rather remarkably did not.  The Walton family sold it in 1946 and throughout the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st it continued to house a garage with various businesses--a player piano store, a laundry, and a succession of restaurants, for instance--on the ground floor.

Like gaping maws, the massive arched bays survive on the 75th Street side.  Once scores of horse-drawn hansoms and landaus came and went through these openings daily.

In the late 1980s the preservation group Landmark West! began efforts to protect the building.  Its location outside the boundaries of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District put it in jeopardy of demolition or significant alteration.  Two decades later, in October 2006, the group's unrelenting push finally resulted in the Landmarks Preservation Commission designating the former New-York Cab Company Stable an individual New York City landmark.

photographs by the author

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Lost Robt. L. Stuart Mansion - 154 Fifth Avenue


The rear and side of the mansion as seen from the 20th Street side.  The carriage entrance is flanked by massive lanterns.  The sunlit conservatory, or tea room, faces the side street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

When Kinloch Stuart and his wife, Agnes, fled Scotland to New York in 1805 because of crushing debt they could never have imagined that their sons would be among their new homeland's wealthiest citizens several decades later.   Upon landing in Manhattan Kinloch took his total savings of about $100 to open a candy store on Barclay Street.  The couple lived above the business and it was there in July 1806 that Robert Leighton Stuart was born.

When Kinloch died in 1826 he left a substantial estate of $100,000 (about $2.5 million today), half going to his widow and the other divided between his two sons, Robert and Alexander.

The brothers took over the family business, adding sugar refining to the manufacture of candy.   In 1835 the refinery business had grown so large that the candy operation was abandoned.  As their fortunes increased, the Stuarts completed side-by-side mansions at Nos. 167 and 169 Chambers Street.  But in 1862, "the business part of the city having invaded Chambers-street," as explained by The New York Times, Robert and his wife Mary erected a lavish stone-faced mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 20th Street.

The Italianate residence and grounds engulfed fully half of the block front; the norther half being occupied by the Gothic Revival-style South Reformed Church.   The manicured grounds included a greenhouse--necessary to propagate the exotic plants de rigueur in mid-Victorian interiors--and were anchored by a palatial carriage house at the western edge of the property.

Between the South Reformed Church and the mansion were manicured gardens.  The handsome Stuart stables are in the background.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Stuart mansion was a staggering 92 feet wide and 100 feet deep.  Its rooms reflected the Stuarts' refined culture.  The library contained about 25,000 volumes and included rare illuminated manuscripts.   One newspaper deemed it "one of the most valuable in the City."  The Times noted that "Mr. Stuart's gallery of paintings was collected with great pains and lavish outlay and was one of the finest in the City."

The couple may have been influenced in the choice of the site by to its proximity to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, a block away at the northwest corner of 19th Street.   Both Robert and Mary were ardent Presbyterians and deeply religious.

The couple focused more on charitable and civic causes than lavish entertainments.  At the time they moved into their new home Mary held the post of First Directress of the New-York Half Orphan Asylum.  In 1864 Robert was among the founders of the Home for Disable Soldiers; and he was a trustee of the First Ward Lord Industrial School and president of the Presbyterian Hospital.

The Stuarts' second floor sitting room was quintessentially mid-Victorian in decor.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1870, when John Taylor Johnston assembled millionaire art collectors to form the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his marble mansion nearby at No. 8 Fifth Avenue, Robert L. Stuart was expectedly among them.   He was also a founder of the Museum of National History, and when President Ulysses S. Grant laid the cornerstone for that new building on June 2, 1874, Stuart was at his side.

Later that night the President, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Orville E. Babcock (the Secretary to the President, or what in today's terms would be the Chief of Staff), and Secretary of the Navy, George M. Robeson, dined in the Stuarts' Fifth Avenue mansion.

Stuart would brush shoulders with the new U.S. President, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879.  Hayes traveled to New York to open the fair within the new Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.  A feature of the fair was the 135 loaned artworks that hung in three large galleries on the third floor.  Collectors like John Jacob Astor, William B. Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt removed paintings from their picture galleries to loan to the exhibit.  Stuart loaned First Impressions, by German genre artist Johann Peter Hasenclever, and Grandmother's Story, by French painter Hugues Merle.
 
Grandmother's Story was loaned by the Stuarts to the Seventh Regiment Armory Fair.  image via wahooart.com
 On the evening of April 21, 1880 a fund raising event for the Hahnemann Hospital took place in Madison Square Garden.   Well-dressed citizens danced and chatted in elegant surroundings.  And then tragedy occurred.   The Madison Avenue wall “including the tower at the north-western corner, fell into the street, carrying away the Art Gallery, the dancing-room, and part of the restaurant.”  Four patrons were killed and 22 hospitalized.

Robert L. Stuart responded by writing a check for $10,000 to the Hahnemann Hospital--just under a quarter of a million dollars today.  It was just one of the munificent gifts the Stuarts routinely bestowed.  He was described by The New York Times as "one of the most generous donors of Princeton College," and he and Alexander jointly built Stuart Hall on its campus.

The Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church moved to Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in 1875.  It was emblematic of the northward migrations of its neighbors and congregants leaving the Fifth Avenue neighborhood below 23rd Street.  On March 19, 1881 The Real Estate Record & Guide announced that "Mr. Robert L. Stuart will build a sumptuous dwelling at Sixty-eight street and Fifth Avenue."

Robert Leighton Stuart as he appeared just prior to his death in 1882.  Contemporary Biography of New York Vol. II 1882 (copyright expired)

Sadly, the mogul would never see his new home completed.  In late November 1882 he became ill and was confined to his bed for three weeks.  He died in his bedroom on December 12 from what The New York Times reported was septicaemia, a blood infection.  The newspaper noted "Mr. Stuart leaves a widow and an estate valued at between $5,000,000 and $6,000,000."

Stuart's funeral took place in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church three days later.  The church was crowed with millionaires, educators and politicians.  Former Governor Edwin D. Morgan, Assistant U.S. Treasurer Thomas C. Acton, John Sloane, J. Pierpont Morgan, John T. Agnew, and Darius Ogden Mills were a few of the notable mourners.

Mary moved into the completed mansion at 871 Fifth Avenue and leased No. 154 to the well-known decorating and furniture firm Herter Brothers.  The company signed a 10-year lease at $20,000 per year--an astounding $40,333 per month in today's dollars.

New-York Tribune, March 3, 1886 (copyright expired)

On July 2, 1889 the Philadelphia News wrote a one-paragraph article that had nothing to do with a news story.   It merely enlightened its readers on the noble works of Mary Stuart.  The writer said that she cared little for high society, "and probably never saw the inside of a theatre; but the poor and afflicted know her bounties, if not herself."

The newspaper revealed "She keeps a person whose sole occupation it is to visit the different police courts and give bail for any deserving person whose detention would be a hardship until proved guilty, and often pays their fines when the offense is light."  Calling her a "sweet, simple, retiring woman of the noblest type, quiet and self-sacrificing," it noted that the widow had inherited "some $10,000,000."  "She does more genuine good than the world dreams of; but then she does not do it for the world to know or herald."

Two years later, on December 30, 1891 Mary died at the age of 75.  Her will left $1 million to the Boards of Home and Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church "to be used as a permanent fund."  The Boards purchased Mary and Robert Stuart's old home at No. 154 Fifth Avenue in December 1893 and used her endowment to replace it with The Presbyterian Building to house its mission offices.  That building, designed by James B. Baker, survives.

An early postcard view depicts the gleaming new building.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Frederick Zittel House - 222 East 62nd Street



When Adam Tredwell (sometimes spelled Treadwell) died in 1852 his estate was valued at more than $400,000--about $12.8 million today.  Among his real estate holdings were about 24 acres of former farmland on the still undeveloped Upper East Side.  His heirs wasted no time in dividing the land into building plots and by 1854 were selling off the lots.

Construction and development ground to a near halt in New York City during the Civil War; but almost immediately afterward developers bought up tracts within the "Treadwell Farm."   In order to protect the value of their projected properties, 20 real estate operators came together and agreed on protective covenants.   They included standards for construction quality, height and width requirements, and the prohibition of undesirable businesses like saloons or factories.

Among the developers were brothers John and George Ruddell.  Between 1868 and 1870 they constructed 19 rowhouses on the south side of 62nd Street, between Second and Third Avenue.  Rather surprisingly, they used two architects--F. S. Barns designing nine of them, and James W. Pirrson responsible for two groups of five.

One of the Pirrson groups included Nos. 222 through 230.   The stone-faced Italianate houses were three stories high above an English basement.  The handsome arched entrances were capped with pediments supported by foliate brackets.  The architrave moldings of the windows were distinguished with prominent lintels, and cast modillioned cornices completed their dignified appearance.  At a cost to construct of $16,000 each--nearly $280,000 today--they were intended for upper middle class owners.

No. 222 was purchased by real estate broker Frederick Zittel.  With his partner, Walter B. Waldron, he did business from No. 1026 Third Avenue.   Zittel was married to the former Hattie J. Bodge.  Her widowed mother, Mary, moved in with the couple.

But the family had barely settled in before misfortune occurred.  Mary Bodge died on October 23, 1869 at the age of 77.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.

On October 19, 1872 Zittel and Waldron dissolved their partnership.  A notice in The New York Herald assured clients "The real estate business heretofore existing under the name of Waldron & Zittel will be continued by Frederick Zittel, at the old stand."

The East 62nd Street house was the victim of a mysterious sneak thief in November 1874.   Zittel placed a notice in The New York Herald that offered "$20 reward and no questions asked--For return of Overcoat and Memorandum Book taken from 222 East Sixty-second street.  By returning the above to the house or to 1,026 Third avenue the above reward will be paid."

As was customary, the title to No. 222 was in Hattie's name.  After more than a decade in the house the Zittels sold it to Andrew B. Yetter on June 29, 1880 for $14,000.   Yetter and his wife, the former Elizabeth Wack, had two children, 12-year old Charles and his 17-year old sister, Nellie.

Andrew Yetter's businesses were diverse.  He was the president of the Atlas Storage Co., of the Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning Co., and ran one of the several companies that did the city's street sprinkling.

Exactly why 14-year old Charles was out past midnight on May 21, 1882 is unclear.  But he was headed home on the Second Avenue streetcar with two friends that night.  Around 12:30 his friends said good night and disembarked at 59th Street.  Charles fell asleep, waking up suddenly just as the car passed 63rd Street.

When he realized he had just missed his stop, the teen jumped up and sprang from the moving streetcar.  The New York Times reported "He struck head foremost against one of the pillars of the elevated railroad and was thrown to the ground under the car, the wheels of which passed over his legs, severing them from his body."  The boy died in the Presbyterian Hospital later that morning.

The extent of Yetter's businesses was reflected in his constructing a six-story factory on East 61st Street in 1884, and a six-story storage warehouse in 1888.

After Nellie married James L. Hiller the newlyweds moved into the house with her parents.  And Andrew Yetter got a new business partner.  Hiller became an officer in the Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning Co.

A century before the realty television show Storage Wars Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning held auctions for abandoned goods.  One, for instance, held on August 28, 1922 included suites of furniture, pianos, Victrolas, phonographs, sewing machines, china, glassware and a profusion of other items.

Andrew Yetter died on February 18, 1925 at the age of 87.  Elizabeth died 10 months later, on December 20, at 81.  Both funerals were held in the 62nd Street house.

In what The New York Times deemed "its first change of ownership in sixty years," the Hillers sold the house in 1944.  The new owner was Major General Anson Conger Goodyear.  Despite his many accomplishments--he was a manufacturer, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist--he was best known as a founder and the first president of the Museum of Modern Art, and for his impressive collection of 20th century American and European art.

Its comparatively stuffy Victorian style made the house a surprising choice for Goodyear.  It stood in stark contrast to his sleek, modern summer estate in Old Westbury, Long Island--emblematic of his taste in art and architecture.  In 1938 Goodyear had commissioned Edward Durell Stone to design the International Style residence.   The completed structure, designed in part to exhibit Goodyear's art, was later described by The New Yorker architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, as "one of the most important houses built in the United States between the two world wars."

The Goodyear house in Old Westbury.  The Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

It was in the Old Westbury home that Goodyear was married to Zaidee C. Bliss in November 1950.  Goodyear was divorced from his first wife, Mary Martha Forman, and Zaidee's husband Cornelius N. Bliss, had died in 1949.  In reporting on the marriage, The New York Times announced "They are making their home here and at 222 East Sixty-second Street."

But the elderly couple (the groom was 73 years old) would spend little time in the city house.  Within the year No. 222 was home to Austrian-born artist Rudolf Anton Bernatschke and his wife, Wynne.   Best known for his portraits of politicians, celebrities and statesmen, including General Douglas MacArthur, and Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarty.  His diverse sitters ranged from Gypsy Rose Lee to Cardinal Spellman and Gary Cooper.

Bernatschke died on August 22, 2010.  No. 222 East 62nd Street was almost immediately offered for sale.  By now it was the last of Pirrson's 1868 row that had not been substantially altered; other than new iron railings and and a coat of gray-white paint.

Real estate offering photos in 2010 showed many of the 19th century interior details intact.  The artist's works still adorn the walls.  photos via Curbed New York

It was purchased by the Republic of France as the home of Francois Delattre, the French Ambassador to the United Nations.   In reporting on the $13.9 million sale, The Observer mentioned the house "has five bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms plus staff quarters" and "an elevator from the basement to the penthouse."


The handful of owners of No. 222 resulted in its escaping modernization; giving us a clear image of what the block looked like in the first years after the Civil War.

photographs by the author

Friday, October 13, 2017

The J. Clawson Mills House - 32 West 9th Street




As the blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenues just above Washington Square developed in the 1840s, the Jackson Marine Insurance Company embarked on a speculative investment project.  In 1845 the firm erected three matching, upscale homes at Nos. 32 through 36 West 9th Street in the fashionable Greek Revival style.

Three stories tall above high English basements, the brick-faced homes were trimmed in brownstone.   The year that the homes were completed First Lieutenant Robert Anderson was fighting the Mexican-American War.  Already a seasoned veteran, the 40-year old had served in the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the 1835 Second Seminole War under General Winfield Scott.

In 1855, because of wounds he received in battle (and his connections to Scott) Anderson was assigned to light duty inspecting iron beams manufactured in Trenton, New Jersey for Government use.  On October 5, 1857 he was promoted to major of the 1st Regiment of Artillery.  It was about this time that he moved into No. 32 West 9th Street, near his former commanding officer.  General Scott was by now living at No. 24 West 12th Street),

Anderson's relatively quiet life would be short-lived.  Following South Carolina's secession in December 1860, he was appointed commanding officer of the US Army forces in Charleston.  Although he was born to a wealthy slave-owning family in Kentucky and was vocally pro-slavery, he never wavered in his loyalty to the Union.

Major Anderson moved his garrison into Fort Sumter.  It was the first target of the new Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, who ordered the fort to be captured.  Ironically, the Confederate attack on April 12, 1861 was commanded by Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had been a student of Anderson at West Point.

Robert Anderson was already showing his age when Mathew Brady took this studio photograph.  from the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration

The events at Fort Sumter made Robert Anderson a national hero and a symbol of Union resistance.   The week after the battle he arrived in New York to great fanfare.  A New York City policeman had already traveled to South Carolina to escort Mrs. Anderson back home.  Anderson was center-stage in the massive pro-Union rally in Union Square on April 21.  He carried the flag that had flown over Fort Sumter.

The following month, on May 15, he was promoted to brigadier general.   Beleaguered after decades of battle he retired from military service on October 27, 1863.  His discharge explained "for Disability resulting from Long and Faithful Service, and Wounds and Disease contracted in the Line of Duty."

In April 1865 Anderson was at home at No. 32 West 9th Street when a telegram arrived from the Secretary of War Edward Stanton asking him to raise the old garrison flag over Fort Sumter in a ceremony scheduled for the fourth anniversary of Anderson's departure.   The impressive ceremony took place on the afternoon of April 14.   The celebration was tarnished when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated only a few hours later.

The New York Herald mentioned the aging officer later that year, on November 12.  "Robert Anderson, now retired, may be seen occasionally in Fulton market with his basket on his arm, still strong and hale, though gray and a little bent, or on Broadway with a step that has not lost it martial tread."

But Anderson's health was failing.  He and his wife soon moved to Nice, France, in hopes of restoring his health.  He died there on October 26, 1871.

The Anderson's 9th Street house became home to Madame Grenier's dressmaking establishment.  High-end shops like hers were often quietly nestled within upscale neighborhoods with little or no outward signage to intrude on the residential surroundings.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on October 27, 1872 read "Mme. Grenier does Dressmaking in all its branches in the latest Paris style.  Charges are far less than other first class, reliable dressmakers.  No sign."

In the midst of the winter season of 1873, The New York Herald commented that the women of high society were busy shopping for "evening dresses, dinner dresses, ball dresses, fancy dresses, walking dresses and riding dresses."  The writer said "We have never seen the rooms of the modistes more crowded than they were yesterday or a greater variety of beautiful fabrics on hand."  The article specifically pointed out Mme. Genier's as an example.

Madame Grenier seems to have leased upstairs rooms.  In June 1873 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald that read "A French Teacher wishes to find an engagement to teach during the Summer; perfect reference;" and on Christmas Day that year another ad read "A lady who is a first class musician, desires a resident engagement; teaches Piano, Singing, English, French, German, Italian, Drawing and a thorough education."

Madame Grenier stayed on at No 32 for years.  In the spring of 1874 she advertised "elegant Walking, Evening and Reception Dresses, trimmed in the latest Parisian style."  And the following year, in October, she was looking for "A French lady as saleswoman--one who understands thoroughly about dresses and laces; no objection to leave the city."

Her insistence that the potential employee be able to travel suggests that Madame Grenier followed her patronage to fashionable resorts like Newport or Bar Harbor in the summer months.  Without that flexibility, society dressmakers would have no clients while the wealthiest citizens escaped the city's oppressive heat.

The dressmaking shop was gone by 1885 when No. 32 was once again a private residence, home to F. G. King.   Within the decade William Greenough moved in.  Born in Boston in 1843, Greenough was a graduate of Harvard College, and ran a dry goods business in Boston until 1879 when he came to New York City.

He was by now a partner in Patterson & Greenough, a trustee of the Teachers' College, the New-York Free Circulating Library, and of the Charity Organization Society.  His involvement in those educational facilities caught the eye of the mayor and in November 1896 he was nominated as a school commissioner.

Greenough and his wife, Alice Mary, had five children, Alice, Marianne, William, Edith and Carroll.  Alice Mary died at the age of 48 in 1897.   Three of the children were at least 20 years old at the time; but Edith was 16 and her brother, Carroll, was 14.  While a staff of servants would help in the rearing of the teens, Greenough would have the uncomfortable duty of hosting the debutante entertainments of his daughter.

Introducing a young woman to society was the eagerly-anticipated responsibility of mothers.  Teas, receptions or dances required a thorough knowledge of protocols normally the bailiwick of the female sex.   Nevertheless, Greenough bravely forged into uncharted territory.  On December 8, 1900 the New York Tribune reported that he would give a tea that afternoon for Edith.

William Greenough died on July 8, 1902 at the age of 59. 

By 1912 J. Clawson Mills was doing a thriving interior decoration business based in Brooklyn.  In 1912 The J. Clawson Mills Co. advertised "Whether you have in mind the idealization of a single corner in one room, of the creation of an entire establishment, you should write today."

In 1917 he purchased No. 32 West 9th Street and laid plans for a thorough transformation of the out-of-date Victorian.  In April his architect, Hugo E. Magruson, filed plans for $9,000 in renovations, including "studio, sun & sleeping porch, doors, windows, partitions, stucco front."

The completed make-over left little hint of the home's Greek Revival origin.  Magruson placed square headed neo-Gothic moldings above Tudor-style openings.  A handsome window at the second floor extended nearly the entire width of the structure.  The Gothic door of the main entrance contrasted with the more severe door to the service entrance with its heavy strap hinges.



Mills filled his home with priceless artwork, including paintings attributed to Rembrandt, Rubens and Franz Halls.   He shared the house with two close friends, Albert M. Shannon and Percy F. Emory.

On April 15 1940 the 80-year old decorator died in the 9th Street house.  His will gave a large amount of his fortune to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Architectural League.  That money was "to be used in providing scholarships to be known as the J. Clawson Mills Scholarships in music, architecture, painting, sculpture or other branches of the fine arts," according to The New York Times on May 9, 1940.  The J. Clawson Mills Fellowship continues to be awarded by the Metropolitan Museum today.

Albert M. Shannon received a life income from $2,500 (about $428,000 today) "and specific art objects;" and Percy F. Emory received $4,000.  Surprisingly, the valuable art collection did not go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as some might have suspected, but to an executor, John McLaren Strong.


The house was included in Mills's estate and was sold to an investor later that year "for altering into apartments," according to an announcement.   A renovation, completed in February 1942, joined No. 32 internally with No. 30 next door and resulted in four apartments on the lower floors, with three on the top floor.

Among the first tenants was Joseph P. Lash who was 32 years old in 1942.  As an advisor to the Young Division of the Office of Civilian Defense he had become what The New York Times deemed a "protege of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt."  But his other affiliations raised eyebrows just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On January 24, 1942 The Times reported "Mr. Lash has appeared several times before the Dies Committee on Un-American Activities.  His last appearance was on Thursday night."   His claim of 1-H status (being over 28 years old) made him illegible for the military service.  It did not, however, gain him much sympathy in the eyes of the patriotic public.

He was instructed to appear before Local Board 19 for possible reclassification.  On April 2, 1942 The Times reported that Lash was "ordered to report for induction into the Army as a private on April 13."
Now part of a duplex apartment, the second floor with its eye-catching window retains its beamed ceiling, 1917 fireplace and built-in bookcases.  photo via bhsusa.com

Other than the remarkable 1917 facade of No, 32, the combined houses drew little attention to themselves for the rest of the century.  They received updates in 1962 and 1976; neither of which fussed with Magruson's fairy-tale design.  As it did when J. Clawson Mills moved in, No 32 still causes passersby to pause and enjoy.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kingdon Gould's 1928 160 East 72nd Street




When George Jay Gould died on May 16, 1923 his son, Kingdon, was living with his family in a handsome home at No. 160 East 72nd Street.    The extended Gould family had inherited substantial personal fortunes from the estate of Kingdon's grandfather, multimillionaire Jay Gould.

Kingdon got his somewhat unusual first name from his mother, Edith M. Kingdon.  He had married Annunziata Camilla Maria Lucci on July 2, 1917 in St. Patrick's Cathedral and by now had two children, Silvia Annunziata and Edith Kingdon Gould.  A third child, Kingdon, Jr. was born in 1925.  The family also maintained a sprawling country estate at Lakewood, New Jersey.

The Goulds' lifestyle was about to change.  In 1927, the same year he sold his interests in family-owned mines in the West, he demolished the East 72nd Street mansion.  Gould's intention was not to relocate; but to modernize his family's living conditions.  Lavish apartment buildings designed with moneyed residents in mind had risen throughout the upper sections of the city since the late 19th century.  By now members of society's uppermost echelons lived in modern, spacious apartments the size of private homes.

Gould hired architects Taylor & Levi to design his building.  Completed in 1928 it rose 14 stories plus a penthouse.  The architects married a jazz age take on Renaissance architecture with elements of a Mediterranean villa.   Faced in ruddy-colored brick, it was highlighted by orange-toned stone and colorful terra cotta.  Leaded windows, balconettes and arched openings at the top floor worthy of a Medici provided a sense of age.  The design culminated in an unusual scalloped roofline topped with massive urns.

Now lost, the massive stone urns along the scalloped parapet were a prominent feature when this photograph was taken in 1929.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The building offered immense cooperative apartments.  There were just two each on the first four floors.  Each of the upper floors, through the 10th, contained just one 11-room apartment; and the 11th and 12th floors comprised a 17-room apartment that included a double-height music room.   The initial prices ranged from $14,000 to $51,000--the most expensive equaling about $715,000 today.

Columns of different stone, colorful terra cotta plaques, and variegated stone provides an old-world feel.

But the most impressive apartment was reserved for the Gould family.  Engulfing the top two floors plus the penthouse, it contained 20 rooms and 8 bathrooms.  The top floor included a screened terrace to the rear, another terrace at the front, and a squash-tennis court in between.   Kingdon's widowed mother was an artist and a penthouse level studio was included for her.

As intended, the building attracted well-to-do buyers.  Before construction was completed The New York Times noted that "Miss Carol N. Rhoades, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Rhoades of 130 East Sixty-seventh Street" had purchased an apartment; and shortly afterwards Robert Le Roy traded his brownstone at No. 182 East 75th Street for an eighth floor co-op.

Le Roy was a partner in the legal firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and the secretary of the Museum of the City of New York.  Both he and his wife, the former Grace A. Moore, had at one time been well-known tennis players who had won many trophies.  They had married in 1911.

At around 1:00 on the afternoon of January 16, 1932, while Robert was at work and Grace was out, the Le Roys' doorbell rang.   Mary Dolan, one of the three servants at home, opened the door to a man who blurted "Got a package for Mrs. Le Roy" and pushed past her.

Before the maid could speak, two other thugs barged in.  One brandished a pistol and forced Mary back to the servants' area.  She was soon joined by the cook, Amanda Kornder, and another maid, Anna Fagan.   While the terrified women were held at gunpoint, they could hear the other two men ransacking the apartment.

The Great Depression had little effect on most of the residents of No. 160 and Mary Le Roy had left the apartment decked out in expensive jewelry.  Nevertheless, the thieves were about to find about $10,300 worth of jewelry in her bedroom (more than $175,000 in today's dollars).   Police noted that they "overlooked, however, a considerable quantity of jewelry."  Before they left with their loot, they warned the three servants to keep quiet.

They had managed to get inside the building by sheer force.  According to the 60-year old service elevator operator, Frederick Spielberger, later, four men had entered the service entrance and ordered "Take us up to the eighth floor."  One of them pulled out a knife and forced Spielberger to the rear of the car while another bound his hands behind his back with picture wire.

While the criminal with the knife stood watch over Spielberger, the others went to the Le Roy apartment.  When they returned the elevator man noticed "they had two leather jewelry boxes and a small silver one, which they tucked inside their coats."  They took the elevator to the basement where one man removed the fuses so it could not be operated.  They warned Spielberger not to move for 15 minutes then rushed up the stairs to a waiting automobile.

The heist was just the first committed by the gang in rapid-fire succession.   When they robbed the home of Harry Glemby on January 21, it was the fourth within six days.  Among the other victims was William A. Rockefeller.

In the meantime, the Gould family entertained lavishly in their massive apartment. A dinner to celebrate the engagement of Priscilla St. George to Angier Biddle Duke, was given on December 26, 1936, for instance.  There were more than two dozen guests.  For more opulent affairs tents would be erected on the terraces.


The wedding of Silvia Annunziata Gould to Charles Dabney Thomson, took place in the apartment on January 14, 1938.   The ceremony was set in the library, which had been outfitted with an altar draped in old Venetian lace.  An organ had been installed solely for the occasion.  Later that year the apartment was the scene of the debutante entertainments for Edith Kingdon Gould, including a dance on November 26. 

That same year the Le Roys had a house guest, Mrs. Elsa Houtermans.  She became frantic when her son, a German citizen, was arrested in Russia.   She pleaded with Albert Einstein for his help.  He wrote to Mrs. Houtermans at the East 72nd Street address, enclosing a letter to the Russian ambassador in Washington he had written on her behalf.  "You can add some explanatory information about the career of your son and send both letters in the same envelope to the ambassador," he instructed.

1938 was also the year that Kingdon Gould suffered a stroke from which he never totally recovered.  In the fall of 1945 he became critically ill and died in the apartment on November 7 at the age of 58.

The Le Roys, whose country estate was in Glen Head, Long Island, were still in the building at the time.  Robert Le Roy was 61 years old when he died on September 8, 1946.

The following month the Gould apartment would be the scene of another wedding.  On October 12 Edith was married to Guy Martin in the two-story music room which, according to The Times, "had been arranged as a small chapel for the wedding."  Members of the wedding party came from as far away as London, Chicago, California and Washington DC.

At the time of Edith's wedding the building was populated by the families of financiers, lawyers and businessmen.  But by the 1960s at least one tenant from a far different profession--show business--had arrived.

Actress Joan Fontaine divided her time between her fifth floor apartment and her Eaton Square residence in London.   In the spring of 1966 she was in Britain, so she offered the apartment at No. 160 to Vivien Leigh and Jack Merivale who were appearing in the Broadway production of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov, directed by John Gielgud.    (Leigh and Merivale had been involved in an undisguised romantic relationship since 1958, even before her 1960 divorce from Lawrence Olivier.)   The two remained in the apartment throughout rehearsals and then for the five and a half weeks the play ran.

Artist Don Bachardy described visiting Fontaine's apartment in 1976 in his 2000 book Stars in My Eyes.   He eyed a red-varnished wooden armchair as a possible seat for the actress to pose. 

I learned from her later that the tiger's head of the seat had been designed by Salvador Dali especially for her, and that she herself had executed the needlepoint work.  I asked if it would be a comfortable chair for her.  'Yes, perfectly.'  Her tone implied: Why else would it be in my sitting room?

While upscale apartment buildings of the 1920s in other parts of the city had suffered decline by now, such was not the case along East 72nd Street.  In the 1980s No. 160 was home to Princess Lee Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Count Demetrio Guerrini-Maraldi (described by The New York Times as "an accomplished sportsman...a student of history, a linguist and raconteur, a man of discipline and high standards known for his wit and humor); and James Niven, son of screen actor David Niven.  Apartments at the time were priced at about $3 million.


Some of the spaces retain their lavish original appointments.  photograph via cityrealty.com 
The floorplan of Kingdon Gould's 1928 project remains unchanged.  Residents still enjoy the sprawling spaces and in many cases the handsome original interiors.   And casual passersby could not suspect that one of America's wealthiest families lived in 20 rooms here during the Depression years.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Engine Company 16 - 223 East 25th Street



photographs via www.elliman.com
When the loose network of volunteer fire companies was disbanded in 1865 as the professional Metropolitan District fire department was formed, it was a melancholy day for many of the veteran "laddies."   Among the 41 members of the Lexington Engine Company, No. 7 were a barber, two butchers, a ship-joiner, a horse shoer, and a carriage maker.   On September 18, 1865 the fire department announced that their old fire house at No. 223 East 25th Street would become home to the newly-formed Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine Company No. 16.

When Engine Company 16 took over the building the Kips Bay area was still relatively undeveloped.  But the flurry of construction in the first years following the Civil War brought tenements, stores and small factory buildings.   In the early 1880s the fire department was scrambling to build new firehouses and update or replace the old ones to keep up with the expanding city.

In 1879 Napoleon Le Brun had become the official architect for the fire department.  The following year his son, Pierre, joined him to create N. Le Brun & Son.  The firm filed plans on August 1, 1882 for a replacement fire house for Engine Company 16.  The three-story structure was projected to cost $18,000, or in the neighborhood of $436,000 today.

The completed structure followed the typical fire house pattern.  The cast iron base was dominated by the central truck bay.  The two upper floors were clad in red brick.  As was often the case with their less opulent fire houses, N. Le Brun & Son relied on terra cotta and creative brickwork for decorative effect.  A knobby quilt of terra cotta tiles filled the spandrels above the second and third floors, and the dog-tooth pattern brick filled the arches of the top floor openings.   Above a frieze of floral terra cotta tiles was an unusually deep bracketed cast metal cornice.

As with all fire companies, No. 16 responded to an array of calls.   The fire on the night of July 10, 1899 was especially memorable.  It broke out in the Infants' Pavilion of Bellevue Hospital, described by The New York Times as "ramshackle."

Around 11:00 Miss Abbe, the head of the four nurses in the ward, entered the darkened room to check on a sick baby.  The hospital's location near the East River and the summer heat necessitated the cribs being covered in mosquito netting.  While Miss Abbe tended to the baby, her candle fell over setting fire to the netting.

The Times reported "With a puff the whole netting burst into flames.  The blaze jumped to either side, ran along from crib to crib, and caught the bed linen.  Miss Abbe stood her ground heroically and pulled at the blazing material until her hands were seriously burned."

By the time Engine Company 16 could respond the fire had spread to the adult wards.   Here, too, the mosquito netting quickly caught fire and a civilian, Albert Stone who was a former fireman, rushed in to help, tearing down the netting as Engine Company 16 attacked the flames.  Unfortunately some of the patients were burned.  The Times reported "The injury to the patients may be serious." 

The work of fire fighters, by nature, put their lives at risk.  On May 3, 1903 Engine Company 16 responded to a fire in the four-story boarding house at First Avenue and 15th Street.   When the truck arrived 50-year old Henry Williams was trapped on the upper floor and flames could be seen in his room from the street.

Twenty-four year old William McNally scaled a ladder to the window.  The New-York Tribune reported "As McNally got to the top a sheet of flame burst out of the window."  The fire fighter paused, then jumped inside.  A few moments later he appeared with McWilliams in his arms.  The crowd watching from the sidewalk broke into cheers.

Their jubilation was soon crushed.  Just as McNally started to climb out of the window, he was overcome and both he and McWilliams fell back into the burning room as "another sheet of flame leaped from the window."

Firefighter James C. McEvoy clambered up the ladder.  He reappeared in the window with McNally, half conscious, whom he managed to get to the ground.  Now Engine Company 16's foreman, McGarrity, and firefighter Lang headed up for the other victim.   They found McWilliams unconscious and dragged him to another window where there was a fire escape.  On the way down, McGarrity's foot got wedged in a triangular space of the fire escape.  Lang continued down with McWilliams while McGarrity struggled to escape as the flames closed in.

By the time firefighters freed his foot by using crowbars and hammers it was too late.  McWilliams died on the way to Bellevue Hospital.  Both McNally and McEvoy suffered severe burns.

McWilliams's widow would receive half his salary as a pension.  But the following year there was a question about whether Mark Kelly's widow would receive the same compensation.

On February 7, 1904 fire broke out in the western part of downtown Baltimore.  It quickly outstripped the abilities of the Baltimore Fire Department and calls for help were sent out to other cities.   New York's Acting Fire Chief Kruger received a telephone call saying "that Baltimore's men were worn out and needed all the help they could get," according to the New-York Tribune.

Before dawn the following morning nine engines and a hook and ladder truck along with 105 firemen, including the men of Engine Company 16 headed south.  The Tribune noted "It was the first time within the memory of old firemen when the department had been called on to send the fire fighters so far outside the city."

Ballation Chief Howe telegraphed Chief Kruger at 5:30 a.m. on February 9 saying "We are now combating the fire on the water front.  All our firemen are in good condition and working hard."

Among those men was Engineer Mark Kelly, of Engine Company 16.  The frigid February winds off the Baltimore harbor made the work even more grueling.  The Evening World later pointed out "He had been on constant duty for twenty-two hours without being relieved at the Baltimore fire."

The inferno was finally extinguished; but not before 1,500 buildings and some 140 acres of Baltimore were destroyed.  The men of Engine Company 16 returned home on the night of February 9.  When they arrived Kelly was so ill he had to be helped home.  He had contracted pneumonia due to exposure.

Kelly was already a hero who had distinguished himself in more than two dozen fires and was credited for saving several lives.  His condition did not improve and on February 26, 1904 The Evening World ran the headline: NOTED FIRE HERO MARTYR TO DUTY.

Kelly received an impressive department funeral.  But then his comrades turned their attention to his pension.  Widows of firefighters who died of natural causes were eligible to $25 a month, as opposed to the one-half salary for line of duty deaths.  Kelly earned $1,600 a year so the difference to his widow and three children would be significant.

The Times reported "Kelly's fellow-firemen believe that the widow will be allowed half his salary as a pension, since the disease he contracted was a direct result o his exposure while performing his duty."   The nation responded as well, The Insurance Times noting "Few public funds created more sympathy or support than did that raised for the widow of the brave New York fireman, Mark Kelly, who lost his life through his hard work in connection with the Baltimore fire."

In July 1906 the department's architect Alexander Stevens filed plans to renovations to the 25th Street station house, including "new reinforced concrete floors and installing iron staircases."  The $15,000 improvements were intended "to increase the floor stability."

The heavy engine of Company 16 was pulled by three strong horses.   The firefighters riding on the front of the vehicle were expected to use what today would be called seat belts.  The importance of the safety feature became tragically obvious on the afternoon of March 28, 1910.

Fireman Joseph White was the driver that afternoon when the company responded to a grocery store fire on First Avenue.   In his haste, White failed to strap himself in.  The engine headed east, but "when the wheels struck a deep rut at First avenue and 23d street White was pitched forward to the pavement between two of the three galloping horses and then crushed under the wheels of the engine."  The horses galloped on until a group of civilians were able to bring them to a halt. 

White never regained consciousness and died within ten minutes.  Ironically, the fire, described by the New-York Tribune as "a trifling affair," caused a mere $25 in damages.

The rules of the Fire Department expressly prohibited drinking alcohol while on duty.  Fireman Walter J. Hicks cleverly devised a way around the rules--for a while, anyway.  His undoing cam when Captain Martin Morrison was talking to Assistant Foreman Slowey outside the fire house on August 10, 1911.  They noticed a small boy with a can "such as is generally used to carry beer from saloons," as explained by The Times, go into the house next door to the station.

The newspaper reported that Morrison's suspicions were raised and he sneaked up to the top floor of the fire house with Slowey as a witness, "but stopped on the stairs when his head was on a level with the floor."  Peeking through the banisters, he saw Hicks staring at the skylight.  Suddenly the skylight opened and the can of beer was lowered down on a cord.  "Hicks grasped it and drank its contents with signs of great satisfaction."

Morrison and Slowey quietly went downstairs, but returned later for the evidence.  They confronted the imbibing firefighter who said he "knew nothing about the can."  Nevertheless, The Times explained "the evidence was so strong against him that he was required to give up five day's pay."

The company's motorized truck can be glimpsed through the open bay doors around 1935.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Columbia University Libraries, Information Services

Engine Company 16's horses had been replaced by a motorized truck by 1924, when the city was plagued by an arsonist.   When they arrived at a blaze at 23rd Street and Second Avenue at 4:40 on the morning of August 20, it was the latest in more than 100 fires had been purposely set.  The man leaning against the fire alarm box post at that hour of the morning raised the suspicions of Fire Captain Amanuel Goldsmith.  He detained him, then turned him over to Patrolman Murphy.

The young man would not answer the question as to whether he had set the fire.  Instead he rambled on about himself, saying his name was Kenneth Karick and was a horse trainer and former jockey.   While he claimed he had just arrived from Saratoga "with a large sum of money," he had no cash on him "and was unable to tell them what had become of it," according to newspaper accounts.

After much questioning, he finally confessed.  His name was actually George C. Custow, and he told a judge he had "an uncontrollable impulse to set fires" and that he "got a wonderful thrill" watching the firemen and fire apparatus. The 26-year old's father blamed his "aberrations" on "an attack of infantile paralysis which left him a cripple in 1916."

By the 1960s the old fire house was inadequate for modern equipment.  In 1968 Engine Company 16 moved into the newly-built fire house at No. 234 East 29th Street with Hook and Ladder Company 7.

Five years later the city announced the 25th Street fire house would be sold at auction, with an opening bid of $24,000.  The 500 bidders quickly drove the price up, until the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist won it with a bid of $217,000.   Even the city's Department of Real Estate was surprised, a spokesman saying "we never thought it would go as high as it did."

The second floor was slightly remodeled for worship space, leaving the original pressed tin ceiling intact.  On the top floor one can envision Captain Morrison peeking through the banisters at a beer-drinking fireman.  photographs via www.elliman.com

The church made expected renovations to the building, removing the truck bay doors and remodeling the interiors.  The group remained in the building until 2017 when it offered the property for $7.3 million.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Thos. Drummond House - No. 214 West 71st Street



The business run by John H. Edelmeyer and Charles W. Morgan started out as a builders' supply firm.  Having taken over the Mechanics' and Builders' Hoisting Machine Co. around 1882, Edelmeyer & Morgan leased "endless ladders, steam hod elevators and hoisting engines."   Within a decade, however, the firm branched into real estate development.

In the spring of 1891 Edelmeyer & Morgan hired architect George Fred Pelham to design a row of speculative row houses on the south side of West 71st Street, between Amsterdam and West End Avenues.  His plans, filed in April, called for seven "three-story and basement stone dwellings" to cost $12,000 each (about $322,000 today).


Construction on the houses, ranging from No. 212 to 224, was completed in 1892.   Pelham had designed the restrained Romanesque Revival homes with subtle differences arranged in an A-B-C-D-C-B-A pattern.

No. 214 and its counterpart at No. 222 exhibited the medieval elements expected Romanesque Revival.  But Pelham reined them in to create a sophisticated, sedate facade in contrast to the chunky, heavy presence the style so often produced.

No. 214 was identical to No. 222, seen above.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
The entrance above a high brownstone stoop was especially handsome.  Twisted, engaged columns extended only half-way down from the parlor floor cornice; ending in foliate-carved corbels.  The leafy carvings were like a lacy filigree--a masterful handling of the style which normally was both masculine and beefy.

The capitals of the parlor window decorations flow into the twisted entryway columns.  Unfortunately, the carved details are clogged with paint.

The pencil-like clustered columns that separated the openings of the second floor shared a single capital.  They were mimicked by single examples in the flanking corners.  The otherwise stark treatment of the top floor windows was relieved by eye-catching foliate ears.  A pressed metal cornice and frieze completed the design.

Henry E. Woodward purchased No. 214 on March 25, 1892 "for about $24,000."  Woodward, who was a partner with Charles H. Knox in Knox & Woodward and owned several other houses in the neighborhood and one on the same block, apparently bought the property as an investment. 

Woodward sold the house to Margaret and Thomas J. Drummond in 1898.  Drummond was an architect and builder.  By the time the 44-year old moved his family into the 71st Street house he was the sole partner in the contracting firm of R. Drummond & Son, his father having either died or retired.  He was an active member of The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, serving on its Literary Committee.  Soon after purchasing No. 214 the Drummonds welcomed a son, Thomas Kenneth.

Margaret was the daughter of another builder, John L. Hamilton who, with her brothers, operated as John L. Hamilton & Sons.  (One of them, Thomas, eventually left the firm to enter politics and would become well known as a police commissioner.) 

In 1901 New Yorkers were scandalized when they read that Police Captain Gannon had been discovered "in a disorderly resort which he had been vainly petitioned by the residents of his district to suppress."  The polite wordage was readily understood by the public--Gannon had been caught in the back room of a brothel that enjoyed his protection.

Perhaps more shocking, after Gannon was charged with neglect of duty, the Grand Jury refused to indict him.

In October that year Thomas J. Drummond was called to serve on a Grand Jury.  Gannon's release was fresh on the mind of Justice P. J. Jerome and he unloaded insults on the assembled men.  Calling the Grand Jury system "debauched," he berated the process saying in part:

A Justice walks in, hat on head, cigar in mouth, and says to an attendant that a Grand Jury will now be drawn.  A clerk puts a lot of slips with names on them into a box and spins it around.  Then the slips are drawn and a conversation like this takes place:

"John Harsen Rhoades, banker," and the slip is put back again.  "Patrick McDougal, liquor dealer."  "Ah! He's our man," and the liquor dealer goes on the jury.

Drummond and his co-jurors were insulted and incensed.  The New York Times reported on October 18 "The Grand Jurors occupied the larger part of their morning session in discussing what action they might take in regard to Mr. Jerome's remarks."  The headline above the article read "May Sue Mr. Jerome for Criminal Libel."


On October 17, 1911 Drummond died suddenly in the 71st Street house at the age of 58.  Margaret leased space in the house, most likely the basement, the following year to a Dr. Walstall, and by 1913 to Dr. Joseph Eastman Sheehan.   

Dr. Sheehan in 1930, sporting an aggressive boutonniere from the collection of the Universidad Complutense Madrid
In 1915, while still renting from Margaret, Sheehan invented his "Self-Retaining Retractor for the Submucous Resection of the Nasal Septum."  The apparatus looked as complex as its name sounded.  Sheehan designed it for use during nasal operations "when an assistant is not to be had."

The metal, hairpin-like prongs of Dr. Sheehan's retractor were inserted into the patient's nostrils.  Journal of the American Medical Association, October 2, 1915.

Thomas Kenneth Drummond grew up in the West 71st Street house.  He entered Princeton University in 1918 where he was highly involved in class politics.  He was elected to Class Secretary in 1921, and chosen Chairman of the Undergraduate Schools Committee.

Drummond's Ivy League grooming did not prepare him for the melee that arose when he and five classmates attempted to vote in November 1920.   When they presented their voter registration cards to officials at the polling site, the cards were pronounced "no good because they had not been signed by the Secretary of State."  According to Ralph Gilmore Williamson later, when a policeman overheard him and Drummond say they were going to find a telephone and "call up Prosecutor Garvin," they were told "to stay where they were if they knew what was good for them."

Disregarding the warning, the six young men entered a nearby saloon to use the pay phone.  They were followed by a group intent on preventing that telephone call.  According to the New-York Tribune, "Williamson said he was knocked unconscious by a blow from the fist of a hoodlum in a corner saloon while [Charles] Fraser was trying to get a telephone connection.  The next instant, he said, the air was full of missiles."

Testifying before the Mackay Joint Investigating Committee in Hoboken later, Williamson said "knives, glasses, plates and cuspidors were thrown at them by the gang."  Drummond and his friends "fought their way back to their automobile, tossing cobblestones at their pursuers in retreat."  The boys never managed to cast their votes.

In 1922, the year that Thomas graduated, his mother leased the house to Joseph F. and Mary E. Goble.  Like her previous tenants, Mary was a doctor.  Or claimed to be.

On April 14, 1926 The New York Times reported on 15 chiropractors, "five of them women," who were arrested for practicing without a license.  Among them was Mary E. Goble.  The intimation of the arresting officers was that something more insidious than mere massages was taking place.

Mary was arrested again on April 4, 1928, along with a masseuse, Mrs. Louise Sunkenberg.  This time Mary appeared in court armed with character witnesses.  She brought Rev. Father Cullum, of the Church of the Sacred Heart; Policeman John C. Uminger and, for good measure, his wife; and John F. Kelley, a Post Office superintendent.

Mary was found guilty and given a year's probation.  But she fought back to clear her name.  In March 1931 her lawyer protested to the judge, "You've heard the testimony of Mrs. Gobel here today.  Didn't she impress you as being a perfectly respectable and reputable woman?"  The judge agreed.

"Did it ever occur to you in that court that a good many cases had been framed by the police?" the attorney pressed.  Judge Renaud replied "It certainly did not."

The Times reported that Judge Renaud later asserted "he would give the same verdict again even in the case of a grandmother, Mrs. Mary E. Goble...despite the appeals of a half dozen character witnesses, including a Catholic priest, a nun, a policeman and the policeman's wife."


Following the expiration of the Gobels' lease, the house was operated as rented rooms.  Its colorful history simmered down for the rest of the century.  It was converted to apartments in 1976, and survives as the last intact house of George Fred Pelham's 1892 row.

photographs by the author