Saturday, October 31, 2015

Odd Fellows' Hall -- Grand and Centre Streets




photo by Jim Henderson
 On June 7, 1847 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on the laying of the cornerstone of the new lodge building for the Right Worthy Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ which had taken place two days earlier.  According to the newspaper, the procession (of about 5,000 participants) and ceremonies were “as gorgeous and impressive as ever transpired in this City.”

After “remarks appropriate to the occasion” were made by several officials, “deposits” were made into the cornerstone.  Included was “the name of the architect of the Odd Fellows’ Hall, Joseph French,” said the Tribune.  If, indeed, the report was accurate, both architect and his partner had reason to be insulted.

Joseph Trench, not “French,” had taken John Butler Snook into his practice a few years earlier.  Modern architectural historians credit Snook as having major input in the design of Odd Fellows’ Hall; but he was snubbed by the Odd Fellows’ who ignored his participation in the paperwork within the cornerstone.

Nearly a year later, on March 1, 1848, a New-York Daily Tribune reporter was back to investigate the progress.  “It is really a magnificent edifice, an ornament to the City—chaste, elegant and well-proportioned—front Centre-st. 77 feet, on which is the main entrance, 71 feet on Grand-st. and 105 on Orange-st.,” the newspaper reported the following day.

By now the exterior of the structure was nearly completed.  The Tribune reported ”The fronts are of Connecticut polished brown sandstone, and of superior workmanship—the first story is faced with rusticated ashlar, and the others with plain ashlar.”  The newspaper once again ignored any participation by Snook, while getting his partner’s name right this time.  “The architect is Joseph Trench of Chambers-st.”

No matter whether Trench worked alone or with Snook, the structure was indeed impressive.  Four stories tall, each elevation featured three-story fluted pilasters that supported a classical triangular pediment.  The rusticated first floor was designed to accommodate 19 commercial spaces which would provide rental income.  Above the roofline was a drum and shallow dome that rose 98 feet from the sidewalk.

Well dressed citizens and handsome carriages pass the Odd Fellows' Hall in 1866 -- Miller's Stranger's Guide for the City of New York With Map 1866 (copyright expired)

Visitors entering on Grand Street were met by a grand staircase 12 feet wide leading to the Hall.  The second floor included five Committee rooms, offices, the library, a reading room, and the Order’s post office.   On the third floor were three immense Lodge rooms and on the fourth there were two.  Also on the fourth floor was “a suite of Encampment rooms, which are to be fitted up in a very superior style for that branch of the order,” reported the Tribune.  “The main one is an elliptical saloon 40 by 33 feet.”  

The newspaper described the “attic” or fifth floor, saying it “is to be occupied with a Rotunda 13 feet in diameter and 25 in height at the apex or center of the ceiling.  The Rotunda will be reserved for the grand bodies, and have two Committee rooms, an Ante-room and an Outer room.”  The Grand Lodge-room, or Rotunda, will be elegantly lighted and ventilated from the dome, and from sixteen windows around the body of the room.  It will hold 1,200 persons.”

The New-York Daily Tribune estimated the cost at completion at $100,000—about $3 million in 2015.

The Odd Fellows’ Hall Association had been incorporated in April 1844 with, according to the New-York Daily Tribune, “the object being to provide premises for a library and reading rooms, apartments for natural history, science and the arts, school, lecture and meeting rooms, and to provide for the education of orphans.”   King’s Handbook of New York City described the purpose of the group in more altruistic terms.  “To visit the Sick, Relieve the Distressed, to Bury the Dead, and to Educate the Orphan.”

Members donated to a fund which could be drawn upon when a member or one of his family became sick or died, or to help widows and orphaned children of members.  The Journal of Commerce brutally berated the concept in 1848.  “For individuals to form a common purse by a general contribution upon the condition that they shall draw from the fund when sick, and their families if necessitated, after their decease, is a very direct way to make men live sick and die poor.  Upon this plan the industrious will always make the fund and the lazy spend it.”

The Odd Fellows’’ Hall was completed in 1849 at a final cost of $125,000.  It was dedicated on June 4, 1849 after a massive procession from Hudson Street.  Later that night, at 8:00, the Evening Exercises took place in Castle Garden.  Members paid 50 cents for tickets.  The New-York Daily Tribune advised “At the termination of the above exercises the floor will be cleared, and the band will be at the service of such as desire to conclude the festivities with dancing.”

The neighborhood around Odd Fellows' Hall was romantically depicted by Charles M. Autenreith's watercolor later in the century --from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Several years later the elegant interiors were described by Miller’s Stranger’s Guide for the City of New York in 1866.  “It contains a series of highly ornamented lodge-rooms richly furnished and in different styles of architecture: some Egyptian, Grecian, Elizabethan, &c.”   The period-themes of the Lodge Rooms were suggested by their names:  The Gothic Room, the Corinthian Room, the Antique Room, and the Egyptian Room among them.  These room were routinely used not only for meetings, but for the funerals of members.

Among the commercial spaces of the first floor was Perkins restaurant.  Owned by a Lodge member, James H. Perkins and his brother, it was a favorite venue for lodge dinners.  On December 3, 1850 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on the anniversary celebration for Lodge 355 here.  “The attendance--especially of the fair—was all that could be wished by the members of ‘Constitution,’ or by Brothers P. and all went ‘merry as a marriage bell.”

A Perkins Restaurant advertisement from about 1849 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The restaurant was, of course, not hired only by Lodge members.  On Christmas Day that same year the Bruce Guards hosted a dinner here.  “This company of citizen soldiers paraded in fine style yesterday,” said the New-York Daily Tribune on December 26.  They dined at Perkins’s (Odd Fellows’ Hall), where they could not fail to enjoy themselves well.”

Another of the private spaces was leased by the New-York Liquor Dealers’ Society in the 1850s.  Rather ironically, on June 15, 1855, The New York Times heavily covered the Convention of Temperance Delegates; and on the same page it mentioned the Liquor Dealers’ Society having “their head-quarters at Odd Fellows’’ Hall, corner of Centre and Grand-streets, where the books of the Society are kept open every day, for the enrollment of names and the delivery of cards…None but members of the Society are permitted to be present at its meeting.”

On December 2, 1857 patrons of the restaurant were horribly frightened when an explosion occurred below the building.  Someone had carried a lighted candle near an open gas jet between 1:00 and 2:00 that afternoon.  The explosion that followed was powerful.

The New York Times reported “The loudness of the report caused a considerable apprehension for a time in the vicinity, and rumors prevailed that several had been killed and a large number wounded.”  No one was hurt, but the restaurant was damaged and patrons dodged falling plaster.   “Fortunately the only result of the explosion was the dislodgment of the restaurant fixtures, and the tearing of the plastering from the ceiling.”

By 1862 the restaurant was being operated by Dorset & Brown.  Next door was the clothing store of William Grant.  As had happened five years earlier, an open flame caused problems in the cellar below Dorset & Brown’s restaurant on October 13, 1862.

Around 5:30 that afternoon Brown headed to the basement “for the purpose of letting water out of the gas pipes,” according to The New York Times the following day.  He carried a lighted lamp and just as he neared a kerosene container, he stepped on a stick.  The stick flew up, struck his lamp, and “and then the ignition immediately took place.”

The resulting blaze filled the restaurant with dense smoke and flames which “made considerable headway before they could be extinguished.”  The Odd Fellows’ Hall suffered $2,500 in damages; the restaurant $6,000 and William Grant’s clothing store about $300.

In the meantime, the Odd Fellows’ Hall leased space to various organizations for meetings, presentations, and other events.  In 1869, for instance, the Williams Literary Union held its monthly meetings here.

In 1881 it was evident that the majority of the members were willing to leave the changing neighborhood.  But not all of them.  Just as the building came up for auction on March 15, 1881, one member stepped in.

The New York Times reported the following day “Odd-fellows’ Hall…would have been sold yesterday by auction if an injunction obtained by Mr. Robert E. Dunham, one of the stockholders of the association that owns the building and land, had not prevented the sale.  Mr. Dunham complains that the Directors of the association did not take the advice of the stockholders before determining upon the sale, and he considers that they should have done so.”

Dunhan was eventually out-voted and the elegant building was sold to Robert Hoe, one of the principals of the printing firm R. Hoe & Company.  Hoe commissioned architect John Buckingham to convert the structure for factory purposes.  The grand interiors were gutted and the “Rotunda” and dome removed.  In their place a two-story mansard, having nothing to do with the architecture below, was conspicuously added rather hat-like, which resulted in the loss of the pediments.

The neighborhood continued to change—becoming part of the Italian District at the turn of the century and then engulfed by Chinatown.  Throughout the 20th century the old Odd Fellows’ Hall saw the comings and goings of a myriad of small businesses, while at the same time somehow avoiding drastic change to the façade.  The building was given landmark designation in 1982—a move that stopped planned alterations by Bijan Nassi who purchased the property in 1997.  The antiques dealer hoped to convert the building into restaurant and office spaces, but was unable to meet the Landmarks Preservation Commission requirements.

Photographer Edmund V. Gillon captured the care-worn structure in the 1970s.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Despite Buckingham’s insensitive 1881 alterations; the old Odd Fellows’ Hall remains an imposing and impressive presence on Grand Street.  It is a remarkable surviving example of private institutional buildings of pre-Civil War Manhattan.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Colonial Studios No. 39 West 67th Strreet



In 1903 American impressionist painter Robert Vonnoh and his wife, sculptress Bessie Potter Vonnoh, took studios in the newly-completed 67th Street Studios building at No. 27 West 67th Street.  The 14-story co-operative structure was constructed especially as artists’ residences and studios. 

The following year construction began on a similar studio building, The Atelier.  It was the second domino to fall in a trend that would soon give the 67th Street block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue the reputation as a “studio colony.”

In 1905 Robert Vonnoh joined the movement when he commissioned architects Pollard & Steinam to design a studio building at Nos. 39 and 41.  On November 5 that year The New York Times advised that plans had been filed for what would be called the Colonial Studios.  The architects had cleverly addressed the artists’ need for light and ventilation in designing the deep building.

“It is to be fourteen stories high in front, seven in the centre, and ten in the rear,” reported the newspaper.”  Pollard & Steinam estimated the cost at $200,000 (about $5.5 million in 2015).

Like the other studio buildings on the block, Vonnoh’s Colonial Studios would be a cooperative.  On June 26, 1906 as the building rose, he advertised in The Sun “YOUR OWN STUDIO APARTMENT; opportunity to become a stockholder in an attractive and safe investment of $8,000 to $15,000.”  By now the construction cost had risen to $275,000.

The Colonial Studios was finished in 1907, a neo-Renaissance structure influenced by the Arts and Crafts style also seen in other studio buildings on the block. The two-story rusticated limestone base included a classical pediment supported by planar pilasters.  Handsome double-height oriels, clad in pressed copper, overlapped the base and the third floor.  Above three projecting stone sections clung to a brown brick façade.  The deeply-overhanging cornice was supported by hefty copper brackets.


Unlike other studio buildings on West 67th Street, the owner-residents in the Colonial were a mixed group.   Along with the expected artists was Dr. Lindsley F. Cocheu, who moved into the building 1908; and pianist Agnes Osborne who presented pupil Fanny Elizabeth Cass in a recital in her studio here on Friday, March 20 that same year.

Another non-artist in the building was Frederic Dean, a lawyer.  He leased his seventh floor studio to Mrs. Mary Castle in the summer of 1909.  Mary had recently separated from her husband and had been staying in the home of her cousin and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Craig.

In the brief time she lived there, Mary became infatuated with Craig, who was 35 years old.  It was possibly this awkward situation that led to her leaving the Craig household and moving into the Colonial.  Mary Castle’s passion for William Craig progressed to stalking and, finally, to violence on August 3.

The New York Times noted “She had a handsomely appointed apartment on the seventh floor, where she kept house with one servant.” Apparently William Craig had, at least initially, contributed to Mary’s affections.  Other residents of the building told reporters that he had been one of her most frequent callers.  “The lawyer, it was said, was here several times a week, and frequently took her out in the afternoons.”

The newspaper described the 36-year old Mary Castle as “rather fine looking, with plentiful dark-brown hair and large dark eyes and regular features.”  On the afternoon of August 3 when she left the apartment, she carried with her a “capacious handbag” in which was, “besides many articles of feminine use, nearly a full box of cartridges.”  The bullets were for the cheap revolver that was also in the purse.

Mary found William Craig on 34th Street, outside of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  Patrons later said Craig appeared at first startled, then seemed to enter the hotel in an effort to “get rid of the woman.”  She followed him into the crowded lobby and “were soon in an animated conversation.”  The Times reported “the man seemed to be urging the woman to leave him alone, she half pleading and half demanding to be heard.”

Craig rushed through the corridors, closely pursued by Mary; “he several times throwing up his hands as if in deprecation.”

As they passed a bank of elevators, the doors of one began to close.  William Craig bolted inside in an attempt to lose Mary Castle.  The Times reported “He had one foot in the car when the woman, apparently seeing that he certainly intended to leave her standing alone in the corridor, quickly drew from the black handbag she carried a small revolver.  Before the lawyer could offer the least resistance she had fired.”

Inside the elevator was, coincidentally, E. R. Carrington, a detective from Montreal.  He and the elevator boy, William J. Fitzgerald, were momentarily stunned as Craig staggered into the cab and Mary followed.  As the car shot up to the seventh floor, Mary desperately tried to shoot Craig again while Carrington struggled to wrest the weapon from her grasp.  She was finally disarmed and Fitzgerald returned the elevator to the lobby.

While the drama was playing out in the moving elevator, the lobby had been a scene of panic.  Now it turned to one of curiosity.  “The return of the elevator was the signal for the throng, many of whom were women dressed in bright Summer garb, to gather about the spot,” said The Times.

Maids scrambled to bring pillows and cushions to prop up Craig and house detectives worked to calm the crowd.  An inspection was made of Craig’s condition—the near range of the shot feared to be fatal.  Unbelievably, his brown suit had a clear-cut bullet hole and the fabric was scorched from the closeness to the firearm.  But the inside pocket held a heavy silver fountain pen, its “mountings bent and twisted by the impact of the ball.”

The bullet had struck the fountain pen which had taken the impact.  Later, even more astoundingly, the bullet was found in the same pocket.

Mary Castle, nearly hysterical, was taken away along with Craig to the police station.   In the car going to the station house she sobbed repeatedly, “He was the cause of all my troubles!”

Twice at the station she tried to break free and get to Craig.  And when he left she exclaimed “He loves me.  He will come back tonight and bail me out.  I have no fear of that.”

Rather predictably it was not Craig who bailed out his attempted assassin, but Mary’s landlord, Frederic Dean.  In the meantime, Mary’s cousin had little compassion and refused to believe there was anything to the affair.

“It is a clear case of ingratitude,” she told reporters.  “We took this woman into our house and did everything we could for her, but she became infatuated with Mr. Craig, and this is the result of it.  I know well enough what she says, but it is not true.”

Eye-catching pressed copper bays with dripping blossoms and garlands adorn the facade.

Among the resident artists was Charles Courtney Curran.  The painter was born in Kentucky in 1861 and by the time he moved into the Colonial (of which he was secretary and treasurer) he had garnered many prestigious awards including several medals from Expositions ranging from the 1893 Chicago Columbia Exposition to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.  He was also an accomplished fencer.

Another was Isabel Vernon Cook, who preferred to be known as Mrs. Jerome C. Cook.  Isabel had studied in Paris and now lectured on art and travel as well.  The Woman’s Who’s Who of America later mentioned in 1915 that she “Favors woman suffrage.”

She had a comrade in painter Harriet Sophia Phillips.  The colorful artist had been trained in Germany and Paris and had a broad range of interests, including woman suffrage.  Among the entertainments she hosted in her studio were suffragist teas.

But not everyone in the building shared the women’s passion.   Richard Barry was, as described by The New York Times in 1911 “the ardent anti-suffragist.”  A writer of magazine articles, he raised the ire of the theatrical community and the Woman’s Suffrage Party when his article appeared in Pearson’s Magazine in March 1911 entitled “Why Women Are Paid Less Than Men.”

The highly-sexist article included passages like:

The chorus girl gets as much as the chorus man.  She ought to have more, for who cares anything about the chorus man  It is the chorus girl that draws people to the musical shows  Again, the reason her pay is not more is that the supply of her is seemingly inexhaustible.  Besides, she is not dependable; she may be on hand for a performance; she may not be.

If the theatrical community did not find that, alone, insulting; it definitely took offense to “Very few persons on the stage know how to think.  In fact, few of them know how to feel, though they all make some sort of bluff at it.”

The Players, the Gramercy Park club for those in the theatrical profession, dropped Richard Barry from its rolls.

Mrs. Barry shared her husband’s convictions and on March 23, 1913 signed the petition that was sent to Albany.  It began with the sentence, “We, your petitioners, believe that the present favorable status of women in this State is just and right because we are women.”  One may imagine that the corridor conversations in the Colonial Studios building between Mrs. Jerome C. Cook or Harriet S. Phillips and Mrs. Richard Barry were polite and short.


While some residents of the Colonial Studios busied themselves with political issues, Bernetta Miller had more thrilling adventures on her mind.  She had been a bookkeeper in Canton, Ohio but moved to New York at the age of 22 in 1912 to pursue a dream.

She procured an apartment in the Colonial Studios and enrolled in the Moissant School.  What her family did not know was that it was an aviation school.   Bernetta was still a novice student on June 21, 1912, having only had three lessons.  To date she had “not yet attempted anything more difficult than running an aeroplane over the ground,” said The Evening World the following day.

To ensure that the plane stayed on the ground, the wing elevators were disabled. Newspapers gave conflicting accounts on what went wrong.   According to The Sun, “a piece of wood that blocked the elevating plane dropped out;” while The Evening World said “some one removed the fastening.”

Whatever the case, Bernetta Miller suddenly found her monoplane shooting into the air.   “She retained her presence of mind,” said The Evening World, “and before the monoplane had ascended higher than about twenty feet, shut off the motor.”

The airplane nose-dived to earth where it “pancaked” to the ground.  The Sun reported “Miss Miller climbed out of the machine somewhat frightened, but unhurt.”  The Evening World deemed the aircraft “completely wrecked” and said “Miss Muller [sic] was not injured, and jumping up ran for the hangar to escape the newspaper men.”

A much more tragic story played out in 1916.  Socially prominent Estelle Garrett Baker, society editor of The Atlanta Georgian and a member of the well-known Garrett family, was in the process of divorcing her husband.  She slipped away from Georgia press to stay with her widowed sister, Emma Garrett Boyd, who lived in the Colonial with her 10-year old son, Spencer Boyd.

Although Estelle seemed, for the most part, normal; she gave her sister a scare on the day she moved in when she bolted up and tried to snatch a firearm from the mantelpiece, “but was prevented,” as Emma later recalled.  Following that episode, Emma made sure that Estelle’s bedroom window was always locked.

Estelle was undergoing treatment for “nervous shock” by Dr. Foster Kennedy.  He mostly prescribed rest for her condition.    The treatments seemed to be working.  On Tuesday February 22, 1916 she seemed happy at breakfast and the New-York Tribune reported “She romped with Mrs. Boyd’s children and played the piano so cheerfully that her sister was not surprised at her fatigue in the evening, when she said she would not eat with family.  She retired to her bedroom.”

Estelle told her sister what she would have for dinner and asked her to have it sent up from the dining room.  Before going down to the dining room with Spencer at around 6:00, Emma double checked the window lock.

Fifteen minutes later “a chauffeur ran into the building and told the switchboard operator that a woman was lying dead on the sidewalk.”  Estelle had unlocked the bedroom window an thrown herself from the 10th floor apartment.  Her skull was crushed and her legs broken.

The Colonial Studios continued to attract successful artists, including Theresa F. Bernstein, Maurice Molarsky and Clara Weaver Parrish; and in at least two cases, opera singers.  

Mme. Rappold, former Metropolitan Opera singer was leasing the studio of Mrs. Jerome C. Cook in 1922 when her habits prompted the New York Clipper to report on September 13 “Whatever charm an opera diva’s golden notes may possess when wafted over the footlights during regulation opera hours does no obtain during the wee small hours of the morning, according to the owners and tenants of a studio apartment at No. 39 West Sixty-Seventh Street.”

Mme. Rappold paid $300 a month rent on the apartment and had reportedly spent $2,500 in redecorating.  But Isabel Cook received numerous complaints, she said, from tenants who objected to her after-midnight concerts.

The diva laughed at the tempest, saying “I am going to stay…The whole affair amuses me.”

Mrs. Jerome C. Cook was less amused.  She filed eviction proceedings against her tenant, whose lease was up on October 1.   The New-York Tribune reported “Mrs. Cook declared, however, that she had started the action against the soprano not because of other tenants, but because she had made plans for some time to make the apartment her home after October 1.”  The newspaper noted that the majority of the tenants were “singers and painters.”

Eminent contralto Mme. Marguerite d’Alvarez lived here by 1925.  Early that year she received a “wild letter” from a perfumer who demanded immediate payment for expensive scents sold to “Mme. D’Alvarez.”  The curious invoice prompted an investigation and the opera star was soon to be shocked.

In February it was found that Mrs. Harriet Bridgeford, “tall and impressive,” according to The Times, had been impersonating Mme. D’Alvarez for years.  Among her ruses, the woman, who bore a striking resemblance to the singer, went about the city selling cheap silk as quality goods under the diva's name.   She was arrested on February 10, 1925 after Marguerite d’Alvarez pleaded with police that she “was causing her much embarrassment.”

After living in the Colonial Studios for more than two decades, Harriet S. Phillips died of pneumonia here at the age of 78 on July 30, 1928.

Other artists to live in the building were Charles Allen Gilbert, best known for his magazine illustrations; modern artist Walter Pach who moved in in 1932; A. Phimiser Proctor, Wheeler Williams and John Alonzo Williams.

By now described as “a leading American artist,” Charles C. Curran was still living in the building in 1942 when he died at the age of 81.

In 1962 the building took on another face when The Drama Studio moved its headquarters here.  It staged live productions for several years.

Outwardly little has changed to the Colonial Studios.  Like most of the studio buildings along the West 67th Street block, it now is home to fewer artists and more wealthy residents attracted by the unusual layouts.

photographs by the author.

The Jas. Austin House--No. 424 West 22nd Street


As the 1840s dawned the block of West 22nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenue saw a flush of residential construction.  In 1843 developer James Phelan completed a row of three speculative houses at Nos. 424, 426 and 428.  The up-to-date Greek Revival homes were faced in orange-red brick.  Three stories tall over rusticated brownstone basements, they featured the expected stone door enframements, dentiled cornices and understated brownstone lintels and sills.

Horace F. Clark owned No. 424, the easternmost of the three identical homes, following the Civil War.  In 1871 he decided to give the now-outdated house a facelift.  On Saturday, January 7 of that year the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that he had filed plans for “one story to be added, with Mansard roof and extension on rear 14 by 20.”

Clark’s architect indeed constructed a steep, trendy mansard covered in slate fishscale tiles and topped with lacy cast iron cresting.  Two tall dormers sat upon an updated, bracketed cornice.  At the third floor, miniature stone brackets were added to the sills and, oddly, just two of the windows received updated lintels.  The original simple iron fencing with its stylized Greek key design was retained.
Prior to 1871 No. 424 was identical to its next door neighbor at No. 426 (right).  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows, also evident in No. 428, were apparently reduced in the update.

Clark’s improvements were apparently done purely for investment purposes; for within a year of their completion he was living at No. 10 East 22nd Street.

The house became home to the family of Dr. James M. Austin.  The physician held the esteemed position of Grand Secretary of Masons in New York and his Masonic activities were a major part of his life.  In fact, in 1881 the Grand Commissioner of Appeals, Frank R. Lawrence, said that for the past quarter of a century “the history of his life had been to a great extent the history of the Grand Lodge.”

When Austin died in December 1881 his funeral, as expected, was one of great rituals directed by the Masons.  On December 7 “short religious ceremonies were held at Dr. Austin’s late residence,” reported the New York Times.  They were conducted by the pastor of the Church of the Holy Apostles, assisted by the pastor of St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal Church.

The body was then taken to the Masonic Temple, at 6th Avenue and 23rd Street, where the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the State of New-York took over burial services.  In the eulogy, “the sterling worth and character of the deceased were referred to in appropriate terms,” said The Times.  “In the death of Dr. Austin, the speaker said, the order had lost a father…His influence had been felt throughout the United States, and wherever his name had been spoken it had been revered.”

Dr. Austin’s widow and daughter, Ida, continued on in the 22nd Street house.  They took on at least one boarder, Ella G. Condie.  Their tenant was an artist who did illustrations for St. Nicholas magazine.  While staying at No. 424 West 22nd Street, Ella Condie exhibited “Roses, A Sketch” at the Annual Exhibition of the American Water Color Society in 1886.  She put a price tag of $20 on the painting; equal to about $500 today.

In 1891 Ida Austin was working as the Cooking Teacher at Grammar School No. 10 at No. 180 Wooster Street.  The women were financially stable enough to advertise in The Sun on May 2, 1892 for a “Chambermaid: a neat young girl as chambermaid and waitress.”

By 1897 Ella Condie had married and moved a block away to No. 360 West 22nd Street.  Three years later the house would be home to the unmarried Wilson S. Dunn.  The wealthy businessman was the principal in W. S. Dunn & Co., manufacturers of “moldings.”  He held memberships in the Manhattan Club and the Ohio Society.

On Thursday May 14, 1903 Leopold Oswald and Henry Carroll crossed the river to Bayonne, New Jersey to bring back three cows for their employer, J. H. Hecht.  Hecht was, as reported in the New-York Tribune, “a dealer in milch cows.”  What started out as a routine assignment would become anything but.

Once the cows had been taken off the ferry on the New York side, the pair started to drive them north to Hecht’s operation at No. 424 East 48th Street.  When they got as far as 8th Avenue and 21st Street one of the cows refused to go any further.

The Tribune said “The animal seemed tired and hungry.  The two men beat her with sticks and kicked her, but the wornout animal refused to move.”

Oswald and Carroll did not anticipate that Agnes Shilling, who was now living at No. 424 West 22nd Street, would be around.  Incensed that the men were abusing the Jersey cow, Mrs. Shilling ordered them to stop.  “She says one of them told her to seek a place where ice is not known,” said the newspaper.

Agnes stormed off to telephone the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  During the ten minutes it took agents to arrive, she told a reporter that the poor cow was sorely abused.  When Agent Lambert appeared she urged “Come quick or they will kill that cow.”

As Lambert dealt with Oswald and Carroll, Agnes forced her way through the crowd that had formed and patted the cow on the head.  “Come Bossy, we won’t let those cruel men hurt you anymore,” the Tribune quoted her.

Police removed Oswald, Carroll, the three cows and Mrs. Shilling to the West 20th Street station house.  There Agnes filed a charge of cruelty and the men were given another violation for driving cows through the city streets before 10 p.m.

While things were sorted out, Agnes Shilling crossed the street to Hook and Ladder 12 and asked for hay for the cows.  “Two firemen carried it across to where the cows were standing, and they ravenously ate it.  Mrs. Shilling fed the red cow, patted its neck and spoke to it in endearing terms.”

After keeping watch over the cow for two hours, Agnes Shilling went back home to 424 West 22nd Street.  As she walked away Captain Cottrell of the 20th Street station said “I wish there were more women of her character in the city, and men as well…if more men and women would take the stand that Mrs. Shilling did animals would suffer less.”

During World War II the house was home to Bert E. Bibby and his wife, the former Lora Ann Clark.  On October 21, 1944 their daughter, Erma Bell Bibby joined 27 other young girls who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy as WAVES and were headed to the Naval Training School. 

The block of once proud homes saw marked deterioration as the 20th century progressed.  No. 424 had been divided into a number of small apartments by the 1964 when 26-year old Haitian immigrant Claude Morreiset arrived in New York and began work as a shoemaker.

Also living in New York was Mary Dutchalellier, an older woman who worked as hotel maid.  Morreiset had known the woman since he was 12 years old in Haiti.  Two years later he was living at No. 424 West 22nd Street when he became convinced that Mary Dutchalellier had put a voodoo curse on him.

On Saturday, January 15, 1966 at around 8:30 at night, Morreiset went to Mary’s second floor apartment at No. 206 West 95th Street and ordered her “You have to cure me!”

The 55-year old woman explained that she could not cure him, to which Morreiset replied “You’re going to die; I’m not going to die alone.”  He thrust a seven-inch kitchen knife into her stomach twice, killing her.

His explanation was simply that the woman had put a voodoo curse on him.  He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for observation.

In 1971 the house was converted to two apartments per floor.  It was possibly at this time that the wonderful and delicate iron cresting on the roof was lost.  On the whole, however, the exterior of No. 424 looks much as it did in 1871 when Horace F. Clark gave the house a Victorian make-over.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The 1903 67th Street Studios Building -- 27 West 67th Street






In 1903 artist V. V. Sewell mulled “people have no conception of how difficult it is for one to find a suitable studio in New York.”  It was a problem that had prompted James Boorman Johnston to erect the famous 10th Street Studios Building in Greenwich Village nearly half a century earlier, in 1858.  His was the first step in the movement of artist residence-workspace buildings that would gain momentum at the turn of the century.

In July 1901 three artists—Frank V. D. Du Mond, Henry W. Ranger, and Louis Paul Dessar—incorporated the Sixty-Seventh Street Studio Building Association with capital of $25,000.  The well-established artists chose a rather questionable block on which to construct their cooperative studio building—West 67th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  Despite its proximity to the Park, it was lined with stables and other service buildings and described by the New-York Tribune as “the center of a negro settlement.”  Yet these were minor obstacles when compared to the unblocked northern light so important to painters.

Henry W. Ranger had initiated the project and recruited Dumond and Dessar as the initial stockholders.  He was also reportedly highly involved in the layouts of the apartment-studios.  Architects Simonson & Sturgis were given the commission for the 14-story building.  They turned to the currently popular Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau styles for the brick and terra cotta façade. 

Construction was nearing completion on Christmas Day 1902 when disaster occurred.  William Allen was employed by the contractor, W. J. Taylor, as a watchman.  He was given a room on the ground floor with an iron stove for warmth.

One of Allen’s responsibilities was the care of the little heating pots located throughout the building to keep the new plaster from freezing.  On December 26 The New York Times reported “There were pots of this kind on the third, fifth, and tenth floors last night.”

Just before midnight Allen was making his rounds.  He was on the 10th floor when he smelled smoke.  Before he could find the source on the first floor, a passerby saw the flames and turned in an alarm.  Firemen soon arrived and extinguished the fire; but not before $3,500 worth of damages to woodwork and plaster was done.

While police attributed the blaze to Allen’s stove becoming overheated, the watchman was positive it was arson and a witness agreed.  William Martin, a watchman across the street, told reporters that “just at the time the fire started he heard the two fox terriers of the watchman on the ground floor barking furiously…He thinks someone got into the watchman’s rooms and started the blaze.”

The Times added “Allen is certain some one got in and set the fire.  He says his stove was one which was so set that it could not have started a fire in the room.”

The damages were repaired and by the end of March the building was nearly finished.  On March 27, 1903 The New York Times reported “No. 27 West Sixty-seventh Street is sufficiently complete, so that a dozen artists are already ensconsed [sic] therein, with more to come.”

The fire was not the only problem during construction.  “There have been the usual delays—trouble with the foundations, trouble from strikes, trouble about the architects—but at last the sober-looking pile (with its heavy-browed, low entrance, its marble vestibule decorated by Sewell with two friezes of youths on caracoling horses, its green painted casements and tall façade on red and black brick is taking on the animation of a hive of bees, as one studio after another receives its married couple or its bachelor occupant.”
 
A magnificent art glass lamp--a hybrid of Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau--clings to the undressed stone by slender tendril-like supports.
While the stone-and-brick “heavy browed” entrance was rather imposing with the address carved into shields and a magnificent art glass lamp with tendril-like supports on a purposely undressed stone base; the bulk of the façade was minimally decorated.  The architects relied instead on recessed sections and variation in colors and materials to provide dimension and interest.

The New York Times was not impressed.  “The front of the Sixty-seventh Street studios is not a thing of beauty, though their inner arrangement may be a joy forever.  The model might have been a plain or even ugly Jacobean house or a somewhat ornate factory. This has been drawn up into the air after the fashion of Manhattan in order to gain many floors, but the imagination of the architect has not kept pace with the upward expansion.”

The Times’ critic felt that the weight of the design gave the impression of flattening the arches and crushing the entrance.  He proclaimed the effect “depressing” and it was “not relieved by the colors chosen for the facing of brick.”


The absence of nearby structures gave the back of the building access to uninterrupted northern light. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Nevertheless, the newspaper was taken with the resourceful layouts inside.  “Great ingenuity has been expended on the problem of giving each apartment a well-lighted studio large or small.  In some cases a tenant by taking two apartments and eliminating the dividing wall has doubled the size of his working room.”

The design did not rely on overt ornamentation; but on varying colors of brick and three-dimensional effects of recesses within recesses.
There were 14 two-story, 18-foot high studios flooded with northern light.  Duplex living areas were to the front.  These consisted of a dining room, study, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a balcony that looked down into the studio.  There were an additional 20 smaller units in the rear, two per floor.

The New-York Herald glowed in its assessment.  “These Sixty-seventh street studios have brought domesticity—wives, babies and social life—into the studios.  Here are all the conditions for comfortable living—electric lights, private baths, salons, kitchens, bedrooms, as well as lofty studios—and all the machinery for ambitious as well as private life.”

The building was formally opened at a reception on the afternoon of April 5, 1903.  The New York Times reminded its readers at the time “This is the edifice erected by a knot of painters who found it difficult to get good studios in Manhattan.”

The Sixty-Seventh Street Studios welcomed an esteemed list of residents.  Among the first were, of course, Dessar, Ranger and Du Mond; joined by Robert W. Vonnoh, F. Childe Hassam, Robert V. V. Sewell (who executed the lobby frescoes), Charles Naegele, and sculptress Bessie Potter Vonnoh and her husband, impressionist painter Robert.

American Art News described the Vonnoh apartments on October 21, 1905.  “Both these studios are unusually large and well lighted and built under their owner’s supervision, with every convenience and comfort.  Mr. Vonnoh’s studio is beautifully finished with rare hangings, rugs, and furniture.  Mrs. Vonnoh’s is most artistic and interesting, though more plainly furnished than that of her husband, as is suited to her work as a sculptress.”

Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Robert Vonnoh -- photo Archives of American Art
In November 1903 The School of Decorative and Applied Art opened in the building.  Affiliated with the New York School of Art, it was supervised by Eliza A. Sargent.  Drawing and Manual Training Journal explained its purpose was “to meet the demands of the times that art, the crafts and the handicrafts be correlated.”

English-born sculptor Samuel J. Kitson died after a brief illness in 1904.  At the time he was working on a model for a bronze statue, “Christ, the Light of the World.”  The figure had been finished but it was his widow, Anne Meredith Kitson, who completed the base.  The model was awarded the Pope’s Gold Medal for Sculpture in 1906.  Anne stayed on in the studio, surrounded by models of her husband’s best works.

Artists taking space in the Sixty-Seventh Street Studios were not struggling.  They had taken their places in the art world and, in many cases, in society.  Anne Meredith Kitson herself was descended from an old New England family.  Among her impressive list of friends, past and current, were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, Edwin Booth, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Samuel J. Tilden, General Philip H. Sheridan, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Alexander Graham Bell, and William McKinley.

Italian-born Pilade Bertieri took a studio in October 1905.  The New York Times noted that he “has painted portraits of several well-known society people…and will receive on Saturdays.  Mr. Bertieri spent the Summer at Newport.”

Like Anne Kitson, Cadwallader L. Washburn did not achieve his place in society, he was born into it.  Technology Review, in 1906, called him “the scion of an old and well-known family, and a wealthy young man to boot.”  The journal noted “He has been everywhere, all over Europe a score of times, to the Orient, across the Himalayas, and down into the heart of Africa.”

Washburn studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but turned his focus to art.  He earned the nickname the “Silent Artist.”   He worked at his easel alone in his studio here, “with never a sound to break the stillness save the plushing of his damp brushes upon the canvas or the delicate scratching of his etcher’s point,” wrote Technology Review.

The quiet was a result of Washburn’s inability to hear.  He had been a deaf-mute since the age of three.  “And yet, in spite of his affliction, there is probably no artist in all that life-loving and life-living profession who lives a fuller life, or one filled with a greater variety of enjoyment, than does Mr. Washburn.  When his workday is over, he diverts himself with society.”

Equally prominent was artist George Henry Clements and his family.  The landscape painter’s apartment was the scene of debutante entertainments in 1910 when daughter Anna was introduced to society.  They ended with a supper and theater party on Monday, December 5.  The joy of that occasion turned to grief only 11 days later when Anna’s 21-year old brother, Brent Dixwell Clements, died of pneumonia in the apartment.

Other artists in the building at the time included Ray Lindham, who had held an exhibition in his studio in February that year; portrait artist Lawrence Nelson; and Benjamin A. Morton.

Theodore Pembrook was an original resident and, like Cadwallader Washburn, was born into privilege.  On February 16, 1911 The Potter, Glass & Brass Salesman noted “The Pembrooks were wealthy and their home became a treasure house stored with the products of centuries of European genius.  Into this atmosphere the boy was born who was destined to become one of the foremost American artists.”

In 1914 F. Childe Hassam set a legal precedent when his law suit against the United States Express Company was decided.  In 1905 he had send a painting, “A Rainy Day in Washington Square,” to Denver to be exhibited.  On June 3 the express company was instructed to return the artwork to Hassam.

A worker mislabeled the package, sending it to No. 27 West 27th Street, an entrance to the Metropolitan Hotel.  The Sun later reported “An employee of the hotel signed the receipt for it and it remained unclaimed at the hotel.”

While F. Childe Hassam tried in vain to discover what had become of his missing painting, it sat behind the hotel’s desk for months.  An employee testified that it was still there on May 1, 1906 when he left the hotel’s employment.  “Shortly afterward the hotel was torn down and its contents sold,” reported The Sun.

On July 10, 1914 the court ruled in favor of the artist, granting him the $1,174 for the lost painting.  The Sun reported “The court holds that the express company is liable because the shipment was delivered at an address where the person to whom the shipment was made was not known.”

The New York Times chimed in, saying “What became of the picture is unknown.  It lay behind the desk in the hotel office until the building was abandoned.  In the course of a century or two, if Mr. Hassam takes rank as an ‘old master,’ the picture will doubtless be dug up and become the subject of debates as to whether it is a ‘fake’ or an original.”

Henry Ward Ranger died in the building he had conceived at the age of 58 on November 7, 1916.  His will directed that his paintings be presented to art institutions or galleries “in America having galleries open to the public.”  The remainder of his estate went to the National Academy of Design.

A year later, Theodore Kenyon Pembrook died in his apartment where he had lived for nearly 15 years.  An art broker, Charles H. Boynton, said Pembrook was often referred to as the “hermit artist” because “he seldom showed interest in anything outside his studio.”  The artist rarely sold his work, living off his inheritance.

On the evening of Thursday, September 20, 1917 Pembrook consulted with Charles Boynton about donating about a dozen of his landscapes for the war effort.  After the broker left, it appeared that Pembrook took up working on a painting.

“Pembrook, who had been troubled with a weak heart for some time had apparently tired of painting, and, still wearing his painter’s smock, he had taken a novel and lay down on a couch to rest and read,” surmised The New York Times later.

When the building’s janitor had not seen the 52-year old for two days, he entered the studio.  There he found Pembrook’s body on the couch with his brushes at his side.

Italian-born artist Luigi Curci shared a studio with his brother, Gennaro Curci in 1918.  The speeding fine of $30 that Gennaro incurred for driving an automobile at 30 miles an hour on Broadway in July that year was nothing compared to the problems that were to come.

Luigi was married to the successful operatic prima donna Madame Amelita Galli-Curci.  Things were not going well for the couple.  On September 4, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported that the pair had separated and each was suing the other.

Curci alleged that his wife’s manager and accompanist had alienated her affections.  He sued them for $250,000 damages—nearly $4 million in 2015.   Madame Galli-Curci, at the same time, instructed her attorneys to remove everything from the Sixty-Seventh Street Studios apartment.  She valued the contents at $17,000 and said they included “tapestry panels, rugs, a Capo di Monte vase, all the singer’s wearing apparel in the house, and the furnishings of a modern apartment.”

She issued a statement which said that since their marriage in 1908 she had earned all the money and he, “practically nothing.”  The Tribune advised “Also, for the last two years, she added, her husband’s brother, Gennaro, has looked to her for support.”

She said that when she returned from a European tour in 1917 she found her bank account nearly empty.  She was forced to change banks and revoke her husband’s access.  According to The New York Times “Galli-Curci at once issued a statement branding her husband’s charges as ‘absurd,’ and made for the purpose of humiliating her.”

By 1927 American novelist Fannie Hurst was living here.  Her works often dealt with women as victims of social and economic discrimination.  Two of her novels, Back Street and Imitation of Life would become the bases of successful screen plays.

Her societal interests were reflected in her activities, often taking place in the studio.  On March 7, 1927, for instance, she hosted a committee meeting of the National Health Circle for Colored People, Inc.  Five years later, in March 1932, she addressed a group of convicts on Welfare Island.  Several days later she received a knock on her door in the Sixty-Seventh Street Studios. 

The man at her door said he had heard her speech on that Sunday.  According to The Times he “described himself as Frank Brown, a newly released convict.  He said he could get a job as a musician if he had evening clothes.”

Fannie Hurst was sympathetic to the needs of society; but she was no fool.  “Miss Hurst checked up his story, found that he was an impostor, and refused to aid him,” reported The Times.

Fannie Hurst lived in the Studios Building for years -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Frank V. Du Mond, one of the founders of the studios, was still here at the time.  On June 3 his daughter was married at the family’s country estate, Grassy Hill, in Lyme, Connecticut.  Also still here was Anne Meredith Kitson, after three decades.

Over the years several art patrons and galleries had made offers to buy the “Christ, the Light of the World” sculpture and have it cast.  The Times would later explain “But Mrs. Kitson declined all offers, expressing the desire to place it where she thought it would be most appreciated.”

Finally she found the right place in 1936 when she was introduced to Father Bernard R. Hubbard.  Called by some the “glacier priest,” he was also a scientist and explorer and had as his parish the 190 Eskimo inhabitants of King Island in the Bering Sea.  Father Hubbard had for months been seeking an appropriate statue for the desolate island “as a symbol to Christians of Christ’s love, even for the atheistic Soviets,” as explained by The New York Times, and to “commemorate the heroism of Catholic missionaries working among the Eskimos.”

Anne Kitson was exhilarated at having found the perfect spot for her husband’s masterpiece.  The 82-year old paid for and oversaw the arrangements for the casting, packing and shipping of the statue.   But on November 7, 1937, The Times reported “The exertion proved too much for her strength, she became ill and died on Holy Thursday.  Had she lived another week she would have seen her statue cast in bronze and started on its long journey to Alaska.”

The Sixth-Seventh Street Studios continued to be the home of established artists for decades, including Harrison Cady who moved into his eight-room studio in 1942.  By the 21st century the unusual spaces had attracted those not involved in the arts, as well.   What had not changed was the financial status of the occupants.  When graphic designer Milton Glaser sold his duplex in 2007 the price tag was $4.1 million.


The striking façade of the Sixty-Seventh Street Studios, once considered “depressing” by one critic, is happily pristine.  And, almost miraculously, the marvelous art glass lamp over the entrance survives.

photographs by the author