Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The John L. Crawford Mansion - 24 East 82nd Street

photograph by the author

In the 1870s Richard W. Buckley was deemed by the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide a "rising young architect."  For a few years he and Robert McCafferty worked together to design rows of brownstone homes aimed at middle-class buyers.  In 1880 they formalized the partnership by establishing the office of McCafferty & Buckley.

Before long the pair would target a more moneyed customer base.  Acting as both architect and developer, the firm designed opulent speculative residences along the blocks off Central Park.  Years later The New York Times would say "McCafferty & Buckley produced many of the handsomest private dwellings on the east side of the city."

In 1900 McCafferty & Buckley began construction on five abutting mansions at Nos. 18 through 26 East 82nd Street.  Although the corner house presented a restrained gray brick appearance, the others were more ebullient.  Their Beaux Arts designs were similar enough to create a congruous group, yet each was distinctly different, avoiding the sameness of rowhouses of a generation earlier.

Nos. 24 was a commodious 27-feet wide.  Completed in 1902, the houses not only presented the French-inspired style so popular with the upper classes, they offered the last-word in domestic conveniences.  Like its neighbors, No. 24 boasted "Otis electric passenger elevator, automatic intercommunicating telephones, automatic heat regulating device, patent hot air clothes dryers [and] adequate hot water supply independent of kitchen boiler."

An advertisement placed by McCafferty & Buckley on September 21, 1902 called it "perfectly planned and replete with the latest innovations" and stressed that it was carefully designed so "that every room is flooded with sunlight."

Surprisingly, certainly to McCafferty & Buckley, the houses did not sell.  No. 22, for instance, sat empty until 1908.  In the meantime they were maintained--kept heated in the winter and ventilated in the summer, for instance, to prevent mold or other damage.

The partners no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when No. 24 was purchased by John L. Crawford in June 1905 for "about $200,000."  The price would equal about $5.63 million today.

Like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick, Crawford was a Pennsylvania steel magnate.  Now nominally retired, he moved his family from Pittsburgh to New York.  He was, as well, a director in the New Castle and Beaver Valley Railroad Company.

The Crawfords' social life seems to have been rather subdued.  Society columns did not announce dinners or dances in the 82nd Street mansion.  Perhaps the first mention of the Crawford name appeared in February 1908 when daughter Ninette married Louis A. Greenley in the Church of the Incarnation.  Her sister, Edna, served as maid of honor and John Crawford, Jr. was best man.   The unfamiliarity of the family among New York society was, perhaps, why the groom got first billing in the event's press coverage.

Three months later Ninette, along with sister Hazel, were bridesmaids at Edna's marriage to Charles H. Johnson in the Hotel Manhattan. 

In the years just preceding the onslaught of the Great Depression Madison Avenue, just steps from No. 24, saw rampant commercialization.  In 1924 the mansion was combined internally with the Henry Siegel mansion at No. 26.  There were now four apartments each on the second through fifth floors, with a new penthouse of two rooms as part of a fifth floor duplex.

On July 25, 1929 the antiques and interior decorating firm Lenygon & Morant purchased the properties, prompting The New York Times to report it "now owns a plot fronting 102.2 feet on Madison Avenue by 62 feet on Eighty-second."  For 16 years the firm's galleries had been located at No. 16 East 16th Street.  Now, as Madison Avenue morphed into a high-end shopping thoroughfare, it planned a move uptown.   The firm announced "The two houses will be remodeled into art galleries, showrooms and studios to be entirely occupied by Lenygon & Morant."

Francis Henry Lenygon was an English-born cabinetmaker who studied at the South Kensington Museum in London.   While in Britain he had become well-known as a cabinet maker to England's aristocracy.   In 1912 he merged with Morant & Co. to create Lenygon & Morant.  The respected firm held royal warrants under four successive kings.

In 1910 Lenygon had traveled to the U.S. to supervise the interior decoration of the the mansion of Whitlaw Reid.   His firm soon opened a New York City branch, furnishing America's millionaires with hand-made reproduction furniture.  At the same time that Lenygon & Morant purchased Nos. 24 and 26 East 82nd Street, the firm was acting as the major consultant to Nelson Rockefeller in the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg. 

Within months Lenygon & Morant commissioned architect Julius Eckmann to renovate the interiors.   While the corner mansion retained a dignified presence, it received a sidewalk level storefront.  Eckmann preserved the exterior of No. 24, on the other hand, so it appeared to still be a private residence.

Eckmann's plans called for "stores" on the first floor, with the upper stories reserved for "interior decoration [and] furniture display."   The sophisticated and wealthy nature of Lenygon & Morant's patrons was reflected in the gallery's interiors.  Complete period rooms were installed, including an 18th century room by esteemed British architect Colen Campbell.

On October 24, only three months after Lenygon & Morant purchased No. 24, the Stock Market crashed, triggering the Great Depression.   The subsequent slowing of the purchase of costly art and furnishings even among the nation's wealthiest citizens may have prompted the firm to sell the property in 1935.  The mansions were converted that same year to upscale apartments, including separate maids' rooms and a duplex on the upper two floors.

Among the first tenants were Leonard A. Busby and his wife.  Their daughter, Janet, had recently married Phillip Marsden Walsh.  When that couple's first child, named Marsden, was born on September 11, 1937, the story appeared as far away as Chicago.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the baby was at the Busby's 82nd Street apartment.

Two other early tenants were Count Nikolai von Keller and his new bride, the former Rose Hope Nelson.  The couple was married on March 21, 1936 in Englewood, New Jersey's St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  It was apparently an impressive ceremony.

Rose Nelson's great-granddaughter was Chief Justice John Marshall and she was a descendant of Governor Thomas Nelson of Virginia.  Her grandfather, Brigadier General Alexander G. Taliaferro was a commander in the Confederate Army.  But it was the groom whose pedigree drew attention.

Von Keller was the son of the Russian Princess Cyril Toumansky and the late Major General Count Arthur von Keller, who was killed in World War I.  His mother then married Imperial Guard Captain Toumansky, Prince Zabarajsky.  An ancestor of von Keller was Count Drotheus Ludwig, who was the Prussian Ambassador to the Court of Catherine the Great and who married Serene Princess Vitgenstein.

The New York Times reported that "Many members of the former Russian nobility now living in this country were present at the ceremony."  On her wedding dress Rose wore a jeweled pin which had been presented by the Czar to the groom's mother when she was a young girl.

Following their honeymoon they moved into No. 24 East 82nd Street.

The seeming tradition of newlyweds making their home here continued in 1938.  In January that year the quarterly journal of The Grenfell Association of America announced "Dr. Edward Herbert, formerly of Fall River, is now living at 24 East Eighty-second Street, New York.  He has recently been married."

The apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Parish II was the scene of a socially-important wedding on May 1, 1948.  Millionaire Paul Mellon was married to Rachel Lowe Lambert Lloyd that afternoon.  Mellon was the son of the late Andrew M. Mellon, financier and industrialist, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, and an Ambassador to Great Britain.

His father's reputation and stature did not, however, overshadow Paul.  He was a former director in the Mellon National Bank, in the Gulf Oil Corporation, the Pittsburgh Coal Company and several other corporations.  He was also a trusted of the National Gallery of Art in Washington (a gift of his father), and of the A. W. Mellon Charitable and Educational Trust.

Another socially visible couple who lived here at mid century was Evans Rogers Dick and his wife, the former Joan Tuckerman.  Interestingly, she preferred to be referred to as "Mrs. Tuckerman Dick."  Their daughter, Joan Cotton Dick, enjoyed the privileges of wealth.  She was educated in private schools in Boston and later Sarah Lawrence College.

With the United States' entry into World War II, however, she served overseas with the Office of War Information.  In 1948 she was the secretary of United States Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (later 38th Vice President of the United States).  On December 14, 1950 her parents announced her engagement to William Stanwood Pier, her mother steadfastly using her maiden name: "Mrs. Tuckerman Dick of 24 East Eighty-second Street and Evans Rogers Dick have announced the engagement and approaching marriage of their daughter."

In 1971 the former mansion once again was home to a business.  Donald Bruce White Caterers, described by New York Magazine as "well known in New York and Southampton for his prepared send-out meals," opened here.  White's take-out meals were not delivered in plastic bags by bicycle.

Instead he catered "buffet dinner parties."  The magazine described a delivery for a roof-garden picnic on November 8, 1971.  "Each guest would get a painted, red mushroom basket containing the meal.  Done up with red and white checkered cloths, the baskets were attractive."  They contained delicacies like pate, chicken Kiev, rice and cucumber salad.

Among the residents upstairs at the time was retired stockbroker Norman C. Lee and his wife Norma Parro.  In 1939 he had made headlines as the first regular passenger to fly around the world using scheduled commercial airplane service.

It took Lee 20 days and 15 hours to circumnavigate the globe, costing him $2,100.  He told reporters "One of the most interesting points of the trip was eating one day's three meals on three different continents.  I had breakfast at Basrah on the Persian Gulf in Asia; luncheon at Alexandria, in Africa, and inner in the European city of Athens."

He was still living in his apartment here when he died in November 1973 at the age of 77.

Nos. 24 and 26 are still internally joined, undetectable from outside.

In the mid-1970s the Barry Friedman Gallery of fine and decorative art was in the building.

In 2007 motion picture actress Renee Zellweger purchased an apartment in the building.  The following year, when the parlor floor apartment was offered in foreclosure, she purchased that.  Before long she spent a reported $8.2 million to combine three apartments into one lavish apartment.  She sold it in the spring of 2011 to 2011 to actress Leelee Sobieski.

Much of McCafferty & Buckley's original detailing survives, including a frescoed ceiling (above) photo via

While there is still a discreet commercial space on the ground floor, there is no obvious evidence from outside.  The handsome Beaux Arts structure looks little different that it did in 1903 when its builders and architects had a difficult time finding a buyer.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Firemen's Memorial - Riverside Park at 100th Street

Fifth Avenue's St. Thomas's Church at 53rd Street was the scene of the impressive funeral of Deputy Fire Chief Charles W. Kruger on February 16, 1908.  An estimated 25,000 persons crowded the avenue, extending as far as Columbus Circle.  The beloved firefighter had died in a Canal Street fire a few days earlier, drowning in the water-filled sub-cellar after the floor gave way.

The Elmira, New York newspaper, The Summary, reported "Bishop Henry C. Potter put aside the custom of the Church in refraining from eulogies during services for the dead, and in an address from the pulpit advocated the building of a monument to the memory of the man who was known by the fire fighters under him as "Big-Hearted Charley."

Potter said, in part, "Shall the honor we are paying his memory here end with this service?  New York is adorned with monuments to soldiers and statesmen, and it should have a monument to typify the splendid heroism of this department."

Within one week of the funeral a committee had been formed to manage "the Kruger and Firemen's Memorial Fund."  On February 24 The New York Times reported "It is the purpose of the committee not only to erect a memorial to Deputy Chief Kruger and other firemen who have lost their lives in the performance of their duty, but to raise a fund large enough to provide for the care of such firemen's widows and the education of the children, supplementing the pension fund of the Fire Department."

Bishop Potter was appointed chairman of the committee.  Public response was overwhelming.   On February 27 the committee received a $1,000 check from J. P. Morgan--a significant donation equaling about $27,000 today.  The gift may have produced a bit of peer pressure, for on March 17 John D. Rockefeller sent his $1,000 check, followed by Andrew Carnegie's identical amount six days later.

Benefit events included the gala performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in April.   Celebrities donated their services for the star-studded evening.  Patrons paid between $1 and $3 for seats to see acts by George M. Cohan, Eddie Foy, Joe Weber and his company, Otis Skinner and his players, Anna Held and others.  Music was provided by the combined orchestras of the New Amsterdam, New York, and Liberty Theatres.

W. H. Crane, the composer of The Merry Widow, presented an act from that play.   And so did Joe Weber.  The Times noted "The particular novelty of the bill will be the entire second act of "The Merry Widow," followed by Joe Weber's company in their burlesque of the same act.  It is claimed that this will be the first time in New York that an act of a popular success and a burlesque of it have been presented on the same stage and in the same bill."

The benefit brought in an additional $12,000 for the fund.

Bishop Potter died three months later, on July 21.  His post as chairman of the memorial committee was taken by Isidor Straus, a founder of Macy's department store.

The questions of what form the monument would take and where it would be placed were seriously considered.  One group wanted a dramatic "huge statue of a fireman with a rescued baby swung aloft in one hand and a fainting woman tucked under the other arm," according to the New-York Tribune on January 9, 1910.  But, the article said, that idea "at last yielded to those who believed that something lower in tone and more classic in design would have a more permanent value."

The committee chose architect H. Van Buren Magonigle and sculptor Attillio Piccirilli to design the monument.  The pair was currently at work on another project, the imposing Maine Memorial to be placed at the southwest entrance to Central Park.  Magonigle had recently designed the William McKinley Memorial in Canton, Ohio.  Piccirilli was one of the six Piccirrilli Brothers, responsible for monumental sculptures like the later New York Public Library lions.

Magonigle told reporters "The monument proper is in the form of a votive tablet about 25 feet long, 22 feet high and 8 feet thick, flanked by two statues symbolical of Duty and Sacrifice."  An 18-foot long bronze tablet would feature a bas relief of "a dash to a fire and the elements of a scene familiar to every New Yorker."  Below it would be an "ample bowl of running water for horses."

The artist had chosen Knoxville marble for the material.  The Tribune noted its "warm slightly pink tone" had "been a factor in making Mr. Morgan's library in 36th street one of New York's chief delights."  Piccirilli's grouping of Duty would depict a "woman with a dead fireman lying across her knees," and Sacrifice would be represented by "a fireman's widow reciting to her child the story of his father's death."  As he did for the Maine Memorial, Piccirilli chose the highly-popular model Audrey Munson to pose for both women.

In January 1910 Magonigle released a rudimentary sketch of the memorial as it would appear in Union Square.  New-York Tribune January 9, 1910 (copyright expired)

When the Parks Department announced the site for the Firemen's Memorial in January 1910--the northern end of Union Square--the fire department balked.   On April 9, 1910 Chief Croker told reporters he "could not think of a site in Manhattan less suitable," and one reporter added "it is said he speaks for practically every man in the department."  The New York Times noted "If a Riverside Drive site is chosen, it is his idea to have the memorial placed at the foot of one of the streets, as the Sigel and Soldiers' and Sailors' monuments are situated."

The Parks Commissioners and the memorial committee listened.   At the November 27, 1910 committee meeting it was announced that Magonigle's plans and specifications were competed as were Attilio Piccirilli's sketches, and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment had appropriated $40,000 to add to the fund (bringing the total raised to date to nearly $100,000).  And a new site in Riverside Park at 100th Street above Riverside Drive had been approved.  The New-York Tribune reported the following day "It is expected that the first sod will be turned some day this week."

The upper roadway behind the monument, today a spur of Riverside Drive, was known as Property Road.  The completed memorial backed up almost to the curb of that narrow street.  Here an inscription read "To the Men of the Fire Department of the City of New York Who Died At The Call Of Duty.  Soldiers in A War That Never Ends."  (That last phrase was a quotation from Bishop Potter's 1908 eulogy of Chief Kruger.)

If a visitor was not overly impressed with the Property Road side of the memorial, he would be dazzled by the Riverside Drive elevation.  A grand, wide staircase from the Drive rose to a balustraded plaza.  Although Magonigle's fountain and pool could no longer be used as intended--to quench the thirst of weary horses--it provided a dramatic and beautiful element to the design.

Sacrifice was represented by a widowed mother and her child.  Piccirilli placed a fire hydrant by her side.

The completed monument cost $90,500 (more than $2.3 million today), and while millionaires and the city had provided around half that amount, common New Yorkers had donated unselfishly.

To represent Duty, the sculptor depicted a grieving woman with a deceased firefighter across her lap.

The New-York Tribune noted on January 9, 1910 that most of the $52,000 in public donations was "contributed in small sums.  Twenty-five and 50-cent pieces were common offerings, and these often came from 'Johnny's bank' and 'Little Mary's candy money.'  Many children in Harlem got up fairs to raise dollars."

The unveiling of the memorial came on September 5, 1913 during the Convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers.  The ceremonies began with a parade of 1,500 regular firemen and 2,000 volunteers who marched up Fifth Avenue, starting from 57th Street.   Forty pieces of fire apparatus were in the parade, viewed by thousands of persons along the three-mile route.

The Sun reported that 1,200 fire chiefs from all parts of the world (in town for the convention) were among the 4,000 dignitaries in the viewing stands.  Noticeably absent was the committee chairman, Isidore Straus.  He and his wife, Ida, had died on the RMS. Titanic in April 1912.

The unveiling was emotional and dramatic.  The Sun reported "Ten thousand persons stood with uncovered heads while four little girls, daughters of firemen who lost their lives fighting the flames, pulled aside the American flags veiling the monument as the band played 'The Star Spangled Banner.'  Fifty-three other girls, whose fathers died in fires, assisted as the ceremony.  All were dressed in white and wore bouquets of roses donated by the Park Department."

The dramatic sweep of the staircase and the imposing location of the memorial plaza can be seen in this 1925 photo.  Note the bronze lamp posts at the base of the stairs, later stolen for scrap.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Firemen's Memorial became the site of the Fire Department's annual October memorial services.  But in 1917 they ceased due to the department's resources being spread thin when so many firefighters left to fight the war overseas.  They did not resume until 1920.

The dangers and sacrifice required by the job were evidenced in the October 5, 1935 services at the memorial.  Both Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Fire Commissioner McElligott spoke to the nearly 2,000 firefighters assembled that day.  The Times mentioned that "During the past year eight firemen have died in the line of duty."

Like all Manhattan monuments and public artwork, the Firemen's Memorial suffered abuse.  In the winter of 1935 youngsters sledding down the hill used the bowl of the fountain to built a fire to warm themselves.  The New York Times reported on the subsequent damage on August 23, 1936, saying "stone difficult to match was cracked and destroyed." The damage sparked a conservation of the monument sponsored by the Work Progress Administration.

Piccirilli's bas relief of galloping steeds pulling a fire truck to a blaze was a scene "familiar to every New Yorker."

By mid-century vandals were harvesting bronze from public artworks for scrap.  A bronze plaque had been pried off the Soldiers' and Sailor's monument several years earlier, and in the early 1950s Piccirilli's stunning tablet of the galloping fire truck was stolen.  The tablet seen today is a replica cast in the 1950s.

Perhaps even more audacious was the theft of the bronze lamp posts that flanked the base of the staircase.  They were first noticed missing in 1974.   John Tauranac, writing in New York Magazine on November 15 1976 mentioned the lost lamp posts and complained "These dodgers are stealing us blind.  And they are not just stealing second base, they are robbing us of some decent urban amenities and our heritage."  Tauranac placed the scrap value of bronze at the time at about 35 cents a pound.

By the early 1990s the monument itself was in disrepair.  Not only had the fountain not flowed in decades, there were severe structural problems.  On February 24, 1991 The Times reported "Water had seeped between the marble and the brick foundation, causing the stone to bulge and shift."  Park Administrator Charles McKinney deemed it "the most deteriorated monument in Riverside Park."

An $2 million city-funded restoration was initiated in 1991, headed by architect Richard Pieper.   During the dismantling of the monument, a copper box was discovered within the foundation.  The Times reported that it contained "letters from the architect, as well as the badge and firebox key of the city fire chief who saw his deputy die in 1908 in a fire on Canal Street that inspired the monument."

Water once again flows into the basin.
The restoration of the monument was completed before the most tragic and poignant day in Fire Department history.  On September 11, 2001 the Fire Department lost 343 firefighters in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center--the worst loss of life ever in a single day for the department.  The Firemen's Memorial became a shrine for the lost heroes and for weeks it was the site of vigils.

photographs by the author

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Lost Peter Doelger Mansion - Riverside Drive at 100th Street

In 1925 a massive apartment building can be seen in the background.  It had replaced the private mansions north of the Doelger residence and was a sign of what was to come along the Drive.  To the far right can be seen the Doelger carriage house.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Born in Bavaria on March 3, 1832, Peter Doelger and his five brothers learned the brewery business from their father who ran a “small but prosperous brewery, in which he made a dark brown beer, known as ‘yellow’ beer, whose fame spread beyond the province,” as recorded in the American Brewers’ Review decades later.

Peter traveled to New York in 1850.  The 18-year old had big dreams and no money.  After working in New York for a year, he traveled to Savannah with the idea of starting a business.   But Savannah was a disappointment and he returned to New York where, with a brother, he started a brewery on Third Street between Avenues A and B.  This time he succeeded.   Nine years after setting foot on American soil the young man was ready to go it on his own.  He bought four lots on Avenue A and started an independent brewery.  Nearly single-handedly Doelger introduced New Yorkers to beer—and they liked it.

The Sun remarked that when Doelger came to New York “lager beer, in the brewing of which he was to make a fortune, was an exotic and unappreciated drink…a mysterious German drink, as remote from most of the community as pulgue or vodka is today.”
Doelger and his first wife, the former Margayethe Lambrecht, had five children.  Mary died in 1878 at the age of 39.  Two years later Peter married Marie Wagner, who was better known as Mary.   The family was quickly increased when Marie was born later that year, followed by Cecelia (known as Celia) and Frank George, born in 1884 and 1886 respectively.

With a family of ten Doelger needed an expansive home.   He chose a plot on the Riverside Drive at the northeast corner of 100th Street with sweeping views of the Hudson River and Palisades.  On September 5, 1885 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported "William Schickel is the architect for Peter Doelger's house, to be erected on One Hundredth street and Riverside Drive.  It will be one of the handsomest residences in the city."

Doelger may have been attracted to Schickel because of their shared heritage--both being born in Bavaria--and the architect's several works for the Catholic Church.  Doelger was an ardent Roman Catholic.

But the brewer seems to have been in no particular hurry to build his home.  His patience was quite likely due to the the slow development of Riverside Drive this far north.  It was not until the fall of 1887 that construction began.  On January 7, 1888 The Record & Guide pointed out that work was being done on the house and stable.

Just five days earlier The New York Times noted "Riverside Drive has assumed an aristocratic character.  Several houses, palatial in their appointments, have been constructed on the Drive during this year, and are in the course of construction, and land has been bought on which some of the richest families will doubtless build homes in the early future."  The article mentioned Peter Doegler's anticipated $100,000 mansion among those of millionaires like Cyrus Clark, James A. Dearing and Samuel G. Bayne.

Peter Doelger had, by now, come a long way from the nearly penniless 18-year old who came to America.  On November 2, 1888 the Australian newspaper The Petersburg Times noted that he ranked fourth in American brewers "and his wealth is said to run as high as two million dollars."  That would be equal to more than $52 million today.

The Doelger house was completed in 1889.  Schickel had produced a four-story free-standing mansion faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Surrounded on three sides by gardens and protected by a chunky stone wall, the house was a somber take on the often light-hearted Queen Anne style.  The house faced 100th Street where the entrance sat within an impressive portico upheld by paired stone columns.  It provided a balustraded balcony at the second floor.  Two additional balconies perched above two-story three-sided bays--one facing the front of the mansion, the other overlooking the drive.  Various sized dormers made the hip roof a visual mountainscape.  

On February 16, 1897 the house was the scene of daughter Madeline's wedding to William A. Morschauser.  Her 13-year old sister, Celia, was the flower girl and 11- year old Frank was the "page."

The more than 300 guests were surrounded by American Beauty roses and orchids.  The Doelger fortune was evidenced in the Madeline's wedding dress.  "The bride wore a costume of white satin, court train, point lace, diamond ornaments, and a diamond necklace, the gift of the groom," reported The New York Times.

Among the guests were other wealthy German brewers, like Jacob Ruppert and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. George Ehret; as well as well-known society figures like John D. Crimmins and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. King.

The following spring the wedding of Mathilde was celebrated in the Riverside Drive mansion.  She was married to Adolph G. Hupfel on the May 3, 1898.  Hupfel was the son of another German-born brewer, J. C. G. Hupfel, partner in the Hupfel Brewing Co.  The Times remarked "The ceremony was performed in the drawing room, a veritable floral bower."

Wealthy businessmen were expected to contribute to civic causes.  In 1899 a drive was initiated to enhance the collection of the Central Park Menagerie and the response was substantial.  Among the donations were a monkey and a peccary given by Lawrence  A. Libbert, two alligators by James E. Jones and an eagle by Edward F. Burke.  Peter Doelger's donation was less grand.  He gave an opossum.

The brewer seems to have been more generous in adding to his own collections.  In March 1900 the American Art Galleries auctioned off the "rare collection of Augustin Daly."  The Daily Journal of Telluride, Colorado, reported the "valuable bric-a-brac, bronzes, glassware, rare china and relics" went for "ludicrously low prices."  The newspaper reported "The highest price realized was $145, paid by Peter Doelger, a brewer, for a large ivory tankard, carved in relief and elaborate with repousse silver mountings."  The price Doelger paid would be equal to nearly $4,300 today.

At the time of the auction the United States, and New York in particular, were being plagued terrorist.  Most were anarchist groups like the Black Hand, or radical labor unions.  At around 3:00 on the morning of January 20, 1903 a man rushed up to Patrolman Relyea at West End Avenue and 101st Street and told him that two men were acting suspiciously in front of the Doelger mansion.

Finding no one around the house, Relyea tried the front and back doors and found them locked.  Despite the early hour, he decided to check on the family.  He rang the doorbell which was answered after a few minutes by two servants.  

Upstairs were Peter and Mary, the three children still living here, Mamie Celia and Frank, and three other servants.  Peter, now retired and 72 years old, had been ill for several weeks, confined to his bed.    While the policeman talked to the servants, he glanced down and, in the light from the hallway, noticed a pipe bomb lying near the doorstep.

The quick-thinking policeman woke up the coachman in the stable.  He told him to bring a pail of water to the porch.  The bomb was dropped into the water and taken to the West 100th Street Station. Superintendent George Murray of the Bureau of Combustibles inspected the bomb later in the morning.  It appeared that the fuse had gone out before reaching the powder.  

The Evening World published a photo of the pipe bomb.  January 20, 1903 (copyright expired)
He told reporters "If a damp fuse had not extinguished the spark just where it did the Doelger house would have been wrecked and doubtless several lives would have been lost.  The explosive was packed in the tube and the pipe caps were of great strength.  The explosion would have been a terrific one.  I never saw a more powerful bomb than this one.  It was made by an expert."

Peter Doelger, Jr., assured investigators that no servants in the house or employees of the brewery had been fired recently and, according to The Times, "had not the faintest idea who could have tried to harm the family."  He did offer a clue, however.  A private detective agency had been offering protection services for homeowners in the neighborhood, but his father had refused to subscribe.  It was possible that the bomb was never intended to explode, but merely to scare the Doelgers into hiring additional protection.

In 1906 a guidebook, Seeing New York, was published.  It mentioned the mansion and a particular feature often overlooked by other chroniclers.  "Peter Doelger's large red-brick one of the landmarks from the river.  A small herd of white deer is usually to be seen in a netted enclosure."

The Peter Doelger Brewery was headed by Peter Jr. now.  He and other brewers and distillers were challenged with the increasing threat of the Temperance Movement.  An advertisement in 1911 offered a creative angle: it was medicinal and healthful.

Peter Doelger First Prize Bottled Beer is an article of diet, a tonic, and will like its popular forerunner on draught, be recommended by medical men, to convalescents in place of wine.  It is a natural food product, every drop laden with body building, healthful, food substances.  The ingredients of this beer are the same as those that go into the making of bread.

On December 15, 1912 Doelger died in his Riverside Drive mansion at the age of 80.  In reporting on his death the American Brewers' Review said "Peter Doelger was one of the last of the old guard of the pioneer beer brewers of this country, and no man did more to elevate the standards of the industry as a whole."

Mary received $30,000 and the use of the mansion, "his personal effects, carriages, horses and autos."  Each of the eight children received $15,000, and various charitable bequests included $2,000 for the poor of the town of Kleinwallstadt, Bavaria and $6,000 to the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis.  The rest of his sizable estate was to be put back into the brewery.  Interestingly, a provision demanded that no officer of the brewery could receive a salary exceeding $20,000 a year.

Following her period of mourning, Mary continued her works for Catholic charities.  On March 7, 1914, for instance, she opened the house for the Lenten Sewing Class for the Catholic Institute for the Blind.  At the time Frank, now 28 years old, and Celia, 30, were both unmarried and still living with their mother. 

On July 12, 1914 Frank was driving on Eighth Avenue with three passengers in his car--two women and a man.  He crashed into a crosstown street car at 116th Street.  The impact was so severe that all four were thrown to the street.  Luckily only one, Lillian Reynolds, was injured badly enough to be taken to the hospital.

Celia's driving drew press attention for a pluckier reason.  On August 12, 1916 the Los Angeles Herald reported "Miss Cecelia Doelger, eldest daughter of Mrs. Peter Doelger of New York, holds the record of having driven her automobile up the classic trail on Mt. Greylock, 3500 feet high, the loftiest peak in Massachusetts.  No other automobile has ever gone up the mountain by this trail, which is narrow and steep and heretofore has been only used by pedestrians."

The family pet in 1921 was a black and white wire hair fox terrier named Jack.  Their love for the dog was evident after he got loose in February.  An advertisement in The New York Herald offered a $50 reward for his return--nearly $675 in today's dollars.

After a long illness, Mary died in the Riverside Drive house on January 2, 1925 at the age of 70.  The Times mentioned that she "helped generously many Catholic institutions, among them the Poor Clares, an order of nuns; the Holy Name Club, the Convent of the Repartreas, the Mary Knoll Convent and the St. Vincent de Paul Society."

Later that year Brown Brothers photo agency photographed the house, explaining it "will soon be demolished to make way for a large apartment house."  

from the collection of the New York Public Library
Completed the following year and designed by Rosario Candela, that 15 story Colonial Revival building still stands. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

James Phalen's 1851 No. 88 Bedford Street

Following his death in 1889, The New York Times said of James Phalen "He was the first man who made it a business to buy lots and sell them to builders, taking part payment and a lien on the property for the remainder."  The erudite real estate operator was president of the Academy of Music.  The Times added that he "had a taste for books and the fine arts, and gathered many things of great value.  Among these are five early editions of Shakespeare's plays, dated respectively 1600, 1607, 1619, 1634 and 1655; Guido's Cleopatra, and a marble bust of Lamartine by Count d'Orsay."

In 1850 the block of Bedford Street between Grove and Barrow Streets was lined with three-story wooden and brick-faced houses built in the 1820s.  Among the many real estate deals that garnered Phalen his fortune involved the old house of S. A. Cunningham, at No. 88 Bedford Street.   Phalen demolished the building and began construction on up-to-date brick faced residence.

Completed in 1851, the Greek Revival house was three stories tall above a rusticated brownstone basement.  Beside the Cunningham house had been a horsewalk, or narrow passageway to the rear.  The architect retained the necessary passage, but extended the building above it, bringing the interior floorspace to its full 25-foot width.

The design was restrained, ornamented only by prim corniced lintels, a handsome doorway with sidelights and transom, modest bracketed cornice and an attractive oval opening over the horsewalk door.

The paneled, recessed entrance and the sidelights and transom are typical of Greek Revival doorways.

Phalen's involvement in the property seems to have ended soon after its completion.  But an interesting footnote to the story occurred after his death.  His two daughters had married well, both becoming French countesses.  His son, Charles, however, enjoyed his carefree bachelor life.  When Phalen's will was read, it was discovered that Charles had been cut out, on the grounds of "profligate and reckless habits."  A subsequent law suit to overturn the will dragged on for months.

The family who owned No. 88 Bedford Street either found itself with spare bedrooms in 1872, or the economic difficulties that would soon erupt in the Financial Panic of 1873 (equivalent to the Great Depression of the 20th century) prompted a need for additional income.  For whatever reason, an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald on October 13 offering "To Let--Two nicely furnished rooms to gentlemen only; terms moderate, reference required."  (The caveat "gentlemen only" ensured that no immoral women would tarnish the respectability of the house.)

The hard economic times were evidenced in advertisements placed by boarders.  Despite his long career, "J.M." was unemployed in December 1872.  "A situation wanted--as steward or manager in hotel, club or restaurant; has 15 years' experience and good references."

And in January 1874 The New York Herald ran the ad "A clear soprano desires a position in a quartet choir (Episcopal preferred); salary moderate."

The owners made it clear in their ads that this was not a boarding house.  "A private family will let a neatly furnished room, with fire; terms, $10 per month," it announced on September 26, 1875; and similarly, "An American family will let a large front Room, nicely furnished, stove &c." in 1879.

While still a single-family home, its future seemed doomed in 1899.  A year earlier developers Leister & Dohrenwend had purchased the three old houses abutting No. 88 Bedford--Nos. 90 and 92 Bedford and No. 20 Grove Street--and begun construction of a six-story apartment building.

As that structure neared completion, Leister & Dohrenwend purchased No. 88 Bedford and hired Schneider & Herter to design a $23,000, six-story apartment.  The architects were the same who had designed the new building next door; so the new project was most likely intended to be an extension.

But something happened and the plans, already filed, never came to pass.  Finally, in March 1901 Otto A. Leister sold his half-interest in the property to Gustav J. Dohrenwend.    He continued to lease the house.

Peter J. Welsh and his family lived here around the time of the transfer.  A wholesale fruit dealer at No. 206 Greenwich Street, he maintained a country home at East Rockaway.   The Civil War veteran and his wife had six children.    He died at the Long Island house in 1906 at the age of 64.  The New York Times noted on July 28, "His funeral will be held from his city home, 88 Bedford Street, to-morrow at 1 o'clock."

Following the Welsh family, Dohrenwend leased the house to George C. Blickensderfer and his wife, Nellie Irene.   Inventor and president of the Blickensderfer Typewriter Company, he had started out his career as a dry goods salesman with a public school education.

His astounding adaptation of the typewriter, however, made him a fortune.  The Times later explained "Mr. Blickensderfer adapted the typewriter he invented to the Chinese alphabet, an accomplishment which so interested the Japanese Government that it revised its written language to adapt it to a typewriter keyboard."

The couple maintained a country estate in Sound Beach, Connecticut, near Stamford.  It was there, on June 9, 1915, that Nellie Irene died.  As had been the case with Peter Welsh, her body was brought back to Bedford Street for the funeral.

With the outbreak of World War I the Government sought Blickensderfer's mechanical expertise.  He focused all his energies on developing "belt loading devices by which cartridges are automatically loaded into machine guns" and to improved machine gun mounts.  But the pressure was apparently too much for the 67-year old, who died on August 15, 1917.

The New York Times subheadline read "Typewriter Inventor Broke Down from Work on Munitions Devices" and the article ended "Hard work on thee inventions caused a breakdown of Mr. Blickensderfer's health."

By the Great Depression there were four apartments in the house.  The residents over the years drew little attention other than commonplace announcements--Leonard and Frieda Stimmel had a baby girl, Ilene Hope, on June 13, 1935; and Benjamin Field passed the State Bar exam in 1954, for instance.

Eugene F. Suter, Jr., however, stood out.  When he was five years old, in 1938, his parents divorced.  Suter's father was an inventor and machinery manufacturer.  When he died in 1943 he left an estate of around $1 million--more in the neighborhood of $9.8 million today.  A trust fund for young Eugene paid for his "maintenance" until he was 21 years old; then he would receive the accumulated income at the ages of 25, 35 and 40.

In 1953 Eugene was studying at Yale and living at No. 88 Bedford Street with his half-brother, George Bingham, when in New York.  He turned 21 that year and on May 18, 1954 received his first payment of $35,000 (about $309,000 in today's dollars).  Eugene wanted nothing to do with his father's money.

He donated it to the American Friends Service Committee, the Socialist Party, the U.S. Grant School for Negroes, and the rest to his mother.  He then informed the trustees of the fund that he wanted to relinquish further payments for "moral and political reasons."  He said he had "two hands and a head of my own."

If newspaper readers considered Eugene Suter insane for turning down a fortune, so did his half-brother.  George Bingham filed a petition in 1957 to have his Eugene deemed incompetent.  "Mr. Bingham, in his petition, said that for some time Mr. Suter had been incompetent to manage his property and was of unsound mind and mentally incapable of governing his affairs," reported The Times.

When No. 88 Bedford Street sold in February 1992 for $720,000, it was described as a "three-family house."  That would change in 2003 when a substantial make-over to a single-family residence was begun.  It was completed in 2006.

Period elements, like the Greek Revival mantel, were preserved.  photo via Curbed New York

It was home to photographer Paul Costello and his wife, former Domino magazine style director Sara Ruffin until 2010 when they sold it for $9.6 million.   While the renovations transformed the interiors to a modern, upscale home; the architects sympathetically preserved much of the surviving period detailing.  From the outside, little has changed since the home's completion more than a decade before the Civil War.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 18, 2017

Debutantes and Nazis - 152-156 East 82nd Street

In 1859 Joseph D. Stantial completed construction of three 16-foot wide, brick-faced homes on East 82nd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.  The highly unusual homes were accessed nearly at sidewalk level--foregoing the tall stone stoops seen on the majority of Manhattan's townhouses at the time.  The first floor openings sat within stone architrave frames.  A brownstone bandcourse ran unbroken through the three homes, separating the ground floors from the second.

The upper floors were trimmed in brownstone as well.  Molded lintels graced the floor-to-ceiling windows of the second floor and the notably smaller openings of the third.  Individual cast metal cornices completed the design.

Stantial retained ownership of all three homes, leasing them to financially comfortable families.  Finally, in April 1872, he sold No. 152 to Dr. Tobias S. Ring and his wife, Mary.  The couple paid $8,500 for the house, about $172,000 today.  He, perhaps, had trouble selling the other two homes; for when he sold them the following year in May the price had dropped to $8,000.

Shipper George Blauvelt had been leasing No. 152.  The new owners had been residents of the Yorkville neighborhood for years.  Dr. Ring studied medicine under the physician Dr. M. Freligh in the 1840s, when homeopathy was just appearing in America.    The alternative medical treatment system was controversial.  In response to a Dutchess County Medical Society investigation in 1865, Dr. Freligh mentioned "Dr. Ring is in full practice in Yorkville and continues an unswerving homoeopath."

Both Ring and his wife, the former Mary Kimball, were 44 years old when they moved into No. 152.  She died on June 26, 1896 and the doctor the following year on July 30.

In the meantime, Martin McIntosh had purchased No. 154 from Statial.  Previously it had been rented to Montgomery Kellogg, the Chief Engineer in the New York Department of Public Parks.  It was Kellogg who for decades worked closely with Calvert Vaux on the plans for Central Park.

Statial's tenant in No. 156 had been Dr. Hugh Williamson.  His leaving coincided with a dark period in his two-pronged career.   He both practiced medicine and was an educator.  In 1872 not only was he the principal of Grammar School No 53; but he was appointed Professor of Latin for the night classes at Ewing High School, for which he earned $6 a night.

But Williamson's respectability was tarnished after he went on a medical call in January 1873.  When his patient's husband came home, trouble ensued.  The New York Times explained "He got into an unfortunate difficulty with a jealous piano-maker whose wife he had been attending.  The affair resulted in the shooting of the Doctor by the irate husband."  Not only did Williamson resign his position in the school system, he left the 82nd Street house around the same time.

Statial sold No. 156 to Samuel T. Lappin.  His wife, Harriet, had died two years earlier in their home on West 20th Street.   Born in Montreal in 1831, he had six children.

Nothing truly out of the ordinary would take place for the occupants of the three houses until 1933.

That year both 156 and 154 were home to upscale families.  Charles A. Lindley had purchased No. 156 in 1920.  He was a partner in the brokerage firm of Harris, Upham & Co.  His wife was the former Marion Du Bois Floyd and their social standing was evidenced in the guest list at their 1885 wedding.  Among those in St. George's Church that afternoon were Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Morgan, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Field, and the Clarence G. Mitchells.

The Lindleys summered at the fashionable Lakewood, New Jersey resort and their names routinely appeared in the society columns as Marion served as patroness for various benefit balls and other events.  As had been the case with his parents, when the engagement of  F. Vinton Lindley and Grace Bigelow Cook was announced in November 1932, it received wide-spread press attention.

Robert E. Goggin had purchased the house next door, at No. 154, in 1908.  Son Francis X. Goggin drove a Hupmobile in 1914.

Francis's automobile may have been similar to this 1914 model Hupmobile (copyright expired)

When Francis married, he and his bride moved into the 82nd Street house.  Like her next door neighbor, she was actively involved in social events.  In 1931, for instance, she was a patroness of the bridge and tea for the American Women's Association, hosted by the alumnae of St. Lawrence Academy.

Political and social upheaval in Europe was about to bring the Lindleys and the Goggins a starkly different--and perhaps unwelcome--new neighbor.

In May 1933 Rudolf Hess, the Nazi Deputy Fuhrer, gave German immigrant Heinz Spanknobel authority to form an American Nazi organization.  The Friends of New Germany was formed in July 1933 with help of the German consul and the group established its headquarters at No. 152 East 82nd Street.

From here the Nazi group espoused ideologies chillingly similar to ideas being promoted by right wing groups today: disparagement and rejection of the free press, and attacks on the left, for instance.  When press accounts were unflattering, the group denounced them as false.  Uniformed members stormed the offices of the German-language newspaper the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and demanded that pro-Nazi articles be published.

(Those uniforms included white shirts and black trousers for the men; and white blouses and black skirts for the women.  Their hats were emblazoned with a red Nazi symbol.)

Propaganda flowed from No. 152 East 82nd Street.  It did not go unnoticed by the Federal and local governments.

In October 1933 Spanknobel was deported to Germany for having failed to register as a foreign agent.  On October 28 the State Attorney General announced he was launching an investigation into the activities of the League of the Friends of New Germany.  And Mayor John P. O'Brien incurred the wrath of the group when he banned the German Day celebrations scheduled for that month.

Fritz Gissibi, head of the Nazi organization in Chicago told the Chicago Tribune "the action of Mayor O'Brien constituted an act of war on the Nazis in America."  O'Brien responded in kind, issuing a press release on October 28 that said in part "I accept the challenge.  No man or set or men seeking to set up a state of terrorism can frighten or coerce the Mayor of New York.  There will be no gang rule while I am Mayor."

The Lindley and the Goggin families no doubt heaved collective sighs of relief when, in December 1935, Rudolph Hess recalled the leaders of the the Friends of New Germany to Germany and effectively disbanded the organization.

The East 82nd Street block returned to normalcy.   No. 152 received another socially visible family.   Somewhat ironically given the home's former occupants, Dr. Alexander Victor Lyman was a World War I hero.  He had served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Force having left Princeton in 1916 before the United States entered the war in order to serve his country.  He was now an instructor in children's diseases at Columbia University.

The Lyman family included the doctor's second wife, Elizabeth; her daughter from a previous marriage, Patricia; and Sally, Alexander, Victor and John Maynard Lyman.  Like the other two houses in the group, No. 152 returned to upscale social entertaining.

Sally was educated at Miss Hewitt's School and went on to Sarah Lawrence College and then Vassar.  She was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence in 1947 when her coming out was celebrated.  On December 26 the Lymans hosted a supper dance in the Pierre Hotel to introduce her to society.

On October 2 1950 the engagement of Sally to John Morgan Allen was announced.  Eight months after their March 11, 1951 wedding Patricia's engagement to Robert G. Owen was announced.

Dr. Lyman died on February 27, 1959.  In July 1964 Elizabeth sold No. 152 to Dr. and Mrs. Alan Kark.  Three years earlier Mary C. Goggin sold No. 154 to an investor, Henry Lambert.  It was purchased by Soap Opera actress Robin Strasser around 1976.  She remained in the house until she put it on the market in 2016 for $7.5 million, having decided to move to California.

The three venerable brick houses all survive as single-family homes.  Their weather-abused brownstone lintels have been shaved flat at No. 156; but otherwise the homes are little changed on the outside.  And no one passing by could imagine that one of them was a center of hate and bigotry during one of the world's darkest periods.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Henry Siegel Mansion - 26 East 82nd Street

With a little imagination, one can envision the mansion in 1901 without stores sprouting from its ground level.

In 1867 Henry Siegel found work in a Chicago clothing store earning $3.50 a week (about $58.50 in today's money).   The hard-working young man saved his money and learned the trade.  In 1887, a year after his wife, Julia Rosenbaum, died, he established his own department store with partners Frank Cooper and Isaac Keim.

Siegel's grand plans did not stop there.  In 1895 he and Cooper embarked on a plan to open the largest department store in the world in New York City.  Two years later the colossal Siegel-Cooper Department Store was completed on Sixth Avenue.  The New York Times compared it to "the grandeur of ancient Rome."

The Siegel-Cooper store engulfed nearly an entire city block.

The following year Marie Vaughn Wilde arrived in New York with her two children.  Born in Virginia, she was the widow of George N. Wilde.  She found a job with the New York Press as a fashion reporter and shortly after was sent to the Siegel-Cooper store to cover an innovative display.   She met Henry Siegel, who was already being described by newspapers nationwide as "the merchant prince."

Later the Monroe, North Carolina newspaper The Monroe Journal explained "Shortly after a position was offered her in the store, and she accepted it at considerable more pay than she received as a newspaper writer."  Marie Wilde was nothing if not socially ambitious.  On April 24, 1898 Henry and Marie were married.  Siegel's 11-year old daughter, Julia, attended her new stepmother.

The Sun, June 22, 1915 (copyright expired)

The Superior Wisconsin's The Superior Times noted that the newlyweds and their daughters would live "for present at the Savoy.  They will go to Europe in June for an extended tour."

At the time developer Robert McCafferty and architect Richard W. Buckley were producing upscale speculative residences in the blocks near Central Park.  They had formalized their partnership in 1880 as McCafferty & Buckley.  The New York Times later remarked "McCafferty & Buckley produced many of the handsomest private dwellings in the east side of the city."

In 1900 they began construction on five adjoining mansions at Nos. 18 through 26 East 82nd Street.   While four of the homes were designed in the popular, frothy Beaux Arts style, No. 26 at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue was more subdued.  Its gray brick facade was trimmed in pinkish-hued stone.  Like its neighbors, it was designed in the American Basement plan--foregoing the high stone stoops of a generation earlier.  The mansion was a generous 35 feet wide on 82nd Street and more than 100 feet long on Madison Avenue.

The houses were completed in 1901 and the third to be sold was No. 26--purchased in November by Henry Siegel for just under $250,000--in the neighborhood of $7.25 million today.  It was just the first of a string of residences.

Marie was deemed by the Chicago periodical The Day Book to be "perhaps America's most lavish social climber."  The following year Siegel commissioned James L. Burley to design a summer estate, Driftwood, in Mamaroneck on Long Island.  Marie convinced her husband to buy yet another residence, a town house in Park Lane, London; followed by a Paris apartment.

The Siegels filled their homes with costly antiques and artwork.  In 1902 The Onlooker wrote "At 'Driftwood,' the Mamaroneck home of Mr. Henry Siegel, are two Sevres vases presented by the Emperor Napoleon to his brother Jerome...Mr. Siegel, who owns to a craze for Napoleon, is a tireless collector of all things historic, in which fancy he is so aided and abetted by his clever spouse that, in their course of their travelings, they have picked up enough attractive odds and ends of lamps and cabinets, pictures and bric-a-brac to stock a museum; and all of the genuine stamp."

Julia Siegel was little seen at any of the residences.  She was sent to a convent school in upstate New York before heading to Dresden, Germany to attend a finishing school.

In the meantime, Marie spent much of her time abroad, without Henry.  In 1903 she made what The Day Book called "her first big social coup when she was a guest of Sir Thomas Lipton on his yacht, the Erin."  That same year she entertained Lady Swettenham, wife of the British governor of Jamaica at Driftwood.  The Day Book commented.  "Thus she 'arrived.'"

Manhattan millionaires had grand townhouses and summer estates equal to the palaces of European nobility.  But they did not have titles.  The greatest success of an American socialite was to marry her daughter to a noble.  British aristocracy disparagingly called those brides "penny princesses."

In 1906 Marie saw her daughter, Georgine, married to Count Carlo Dentice de Frazzo.  Now she went to work on matching Julia.  It was through her stepmother's British social contacts that Julia met Tyrell William Cavendish "of Craigmarsh Hall, Straffordshire, England," as described by The New York Times.    Five days later they were engaged and on December 26, 1906 they were married in the 82nd Street mansion.  Considering that Cavendish was marginally noble (he was a relative of the Duke of Devonshire), the ceremony was shockingly understated.  There were only about 20 people present, mostly relatives and there was no reception.

By now Marie rarely was seen in New York; but she returned in 1908 for the debutante entertainments for her younger daughter, Dorothy.  The Chicago Day Book described Dorothy's debut as "one of the most costly functions New York ever saw."  Immediately afterward, Marie returned to her London townhouse and Paris apartment and would not be back for two years.

In the meantime, Julia and Tyrell lived in Battlies House in Suffolk initially, eventually moving to Little Onn Hall in Staffordshire.  Julia returned to New York every year to visit her father, however in 1912 Tyrell accompanied her.  Leaving their two-year old toddler at home with his nurse, they booked passage on the new luxury liner the RMS Titanic.

On the night of April 14 Cavendish woke his wife.  She told investigators later "I hurriedly put on a wrapper and one of my husband's overcoats and we both rushed to the upper deck...I was in the second boat.  My husband kissed me and bade me to remain in the boat, declaring he was all right."

Julia arrived in New York on the Carpathia.  She never saw her husband again.

Marie was, not unexpectedly, in Paris when Julia arrived.  Other than the tragic loss of her stepson-in-law, The Monroe Journal pointed out "The year 1912 was a banner year for Mrs. Siegel in a social way.  First she entertained the Infanta Eulalia of Spain at her elaborate apartment in the Avenue Malakoff, Paris.  Then came as her guest the Countess Esterhazy of Austria and Princess Hohenlohe of Germany."

Henry scrambled to keep up with his wife's lavish spending.  In 1904 he organized a private bank, Henry Siegel & Co., and in 1905 he expanded the department store with a Boston branch.  But now Marie's spending "alarmed" Henry.  The Day Book said "1912 was the year of Mrs. Siegel's crowning triumphs in a social way and money flowed like water."  In addition to the grand parties which she hosted in the Paris apartment, "she gave entertainments at a club in the Bois de Boulogne whose gorgeousness and display stunned even Paris."

The Monroe Journal, May 1, 1914 (copyright expired)

Henry separated from Marie, agreeing to provide her with a $25,000 yearly allowance.  The stipend, approximately $638,000 today, put a significant crimp in her lifestyle.  A newspaper reported in March 1914 "Last year she did not entertain lavishly in Paris and since her return to New York she was been in practical retirement."

But Henry's reining in of his wife's spending came too late.  A few months before the separation, in September 1911, he commissioned architect George Keister to renovate the 82nd Street mansion.  The plans called for $10,000 of interior alterations including bathrooms, new walls and staircases.  The result was a sprawling 11-room duplex apartment within his mansion from which Siegel could garner extra income.

Charles S. Kuh, who signed a lease the duplex apartment in Siegel's mansion in October 1913, had problems of his own.   The following year, on October 29, his limousine was heading along Park Avenue between 46th and 47th Street.  A group of boys was playing handball on the sidewalk and suddenly 10-year old Eugene McCarthy dashed into the street in front of Kuh's car.

The New-York Tribune reported "He was thrown fifteen feet.  His head struck a curb and his skull was crushed."  In the automobile behind the Kuh limo was Dr. E. W. Roberts, who rushed to the injured boy.  "A glance told him that the accident had been instantly fatal."

The newspaper noted "The automobile concerned last night was travelling slowly, and the chauffeur was freed of all blame."

Henry Siegel's financial deck of cards was about to collapse.  On March 12, 1914 The Evening World ran the headline "Big Siegel Stores to Be Closed Out to Pay Creditors"  Two months earlier the private Siegel bank had failed.

Siegel's lawyers blamed Marie in part for the bankruptcy.  In distancing herself from the humiliation of financial problems, she had published statements saying Siegel had "pursued a criminal course after she had warned her husband that he was on his way to state prison."

And if Henry Siegel had any thoughts that his wife might stand by his side, they were dashed when she sued him for divorce and, separately, for possession of the real estate and the art and antiques in the 82nd Street and Driftwood homes.  She was specific in her list of wants, going so far as to include "letters from a former husband, a bed once occupied by royalty and a vacuum cleaner."

In court, according to The Day Book on April 1, 1914, "Mrs. Siegel denied flatly that her husband was ruined by her extravagance."  Instead, she insisted that Henry had spent "large sums of money on various women of his acquaintance."  She described herself as "entirely destitute and without means."

She claimed the emotionally-draining affair had made her an invalid.  Newspapers nationwide were not quick to take pity.   They repeatedly recalled her social climbing and ambition.  On April 12, 1914 the New-York Tribune noted "Mrs. Siegel, who at Laurel-in-the-Pines, Lakewood [New Jersey], was said to be seriously ill, was well enough yesterday afternoon to attend the polo game with a maid.  She looked the picture of health, but was said to be in an extremely nervous condition and under the constant care of Dr. Charles P. Lindley and a trained nurse."  And despite being "entirely destitute," she lived in "elaborate apartments" at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

On June 22 1915 The Sun reported "Humiliated by the fact that he is now a convict, but optimistic regarding his future, Henry Siegel entered the Monroe county penitentiary here this afternoon to begin serving a term of ten months."  The sentence was the result of fraud charges regarding his failed bank.  Despite his optimism for the future, Siegel died in a boarding house in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1930.

Six months prior to his imprisonment No. 26 East 82nd Street was sold in foreclosure.  It was purchased by the United States Trust Company for $115,000, less than half of what Siegel had paid for it originally.  The Times, in reporting on the sale, noted that house had been "recently altered for business."

When the United States Trust Company sold the property in 1919, in was described as an "apartment house."  Nevertheless, the 11-room duplex was still intact.  When it became available in 1922 the listing described "exceptionally large light rooms; 3 baths; magnificently furnished."

In 1924 the former mansion was combined internally with No. 24, resulting in four apartments each on the second to fifth floors.  A new penthouse of two rooms was part of a fifth floor duplex.

Among the moneyed residents in the newly-converted building was the family of Justus Ruperti.  A banker and a partner in the import-export firm of G. Amsinck & Co., he was married to the former Sallie Nicoll, who came from the old New York Corlandt and Nicoll families.

Not only did the couple move into a new home in 1924, they were planning the weddings of three of their five daughters that year.   On November 7 the apartment was the scene of the wedding reception of their eldest daughter, Lilly.  The New York Times noted "Last August, while at their country place, Marigolds in Cedarhurst, L. I., Mr. and Mrs. Ruperti announced the engagement of their second daughter, Miss Ida Ruperti, to Charles Marshall, Jr."  And on October 18, just weeks before Lilly's wedding, they announced the engagement of Sallie to Charles K. Clisby.

The Rupertis and the other residents would have to find new homes in 1930.  Architect Julius Eckmann converted the combined former mansions into an interior decorator store.   By 1984 the Barry Friedman antiques gallery was located in the building.  

From outside there is no hint that the two houses are internally combined.

In 1979 the two structures had been purchased by Kreisel Company, a real estate management firm.  Then in 1984 it announced it would convert them to "condops," described as "a combination of co-op and condominium characteristics, and are usually formed when a landlord divides a mixed-use commercial and residential building into several large condominiums, then subdivides one condominium into a residential cooperative."

Although somewhat confusing in concept, the result was commercial space on the first floor, apartments and an art gallery on the second, and two apartments each on the upper floors.  Although the ground floor of No. 26 was heavily altered in the 1915 makeover, the upper floors are little changed since Henry Siegel and his socially-ambitious bride took possession in 1901.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Andrew Porter for suggesting this post

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The New York Mercantile Exchange - 628-630 Broadway

Henry Newman, the principal in Henry Newman & Co., was an importer of tailors' trimmings and clothiers' supplies.   It may have been the news that the New York Mercantile Exchange was looking for larger headquarters that prompted him to embark on a construction project in 1882.

In January of the previous year J. H. Mahoney had purchased at an executor's sale the two old buildings at Nos. 628 and 630 Broadway, between Houston and Bleecker Streets.  The price he paid, $111,200 (around $2.7 million today) reflected the influx of commercial buildings along this section of Broadway.

Newman leased the properties and hired H. J. Schwarzmann & Co. to design a six-story commercial building.  According to the Engineering Record on February 23, 1882, the projected construction costs were $125,000; more than $3 million in today's dollars.  (Interestingly, while plans were filed under H. J. Schwarzmann & Co., the 1898 A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City gave full credit to another firm, Buchman & Deisler.)

The building, completed in 1883, would have been little different than scores of other cast iron fronted buildings were it not for its eye-catching, unique ornamentation  The Aesthetic Movement was taking hold in America, appearing mostly in furniture and artwork.  The movement stressed natural motifs--birds, flowers, and leaves, for instance--and Far Eastern influences.  H. J. Schwarzmann & Co. took it from the drawing room to the facade of Newman's building.

The engaged columns of the ground floor storefront, along with those on each of the succeeding floors, took the form of bamboo poles.  Recessed panels on the side piers at this level were incised with stylized leaf designs.  Applied cast iron flowers to the side were slightly offset from the panels.

The remarkable decoration continued at the second and third floors with thin palm trees and clumps of calla lilies.  The trees terminated in just two fronds.  Like the cast iron plants on the third and fifth floor piers, the palms and lilies no doubt once sprouted from a now-lost cornice.

A decorative cornice once upheld the now-floating palm trees and lilies at the second floor.

The filigree panels forming Moorish-type arches that framed the top story openings were almost assuredly repeated throughout the lower floors.  One can easily imagine the overall delicate and lacy Asian appearance they created.

Newman had the architects incorporate the name "The New York Mercantile Exchange" into the cast iron facade.   And, indeed, that group did temporarily lease space on the second floor for offices and showrooms.  Newman moved his own business into the building, sharing the third, fifth and sixth floors with Cohn, Ball & Co., makers of boys' and men's clothing.  On the fourth floor in 1884 was clothing merchant L. Clark, and the two street level stores were home to Joseph W. Lester & Co., a hat shop, at No. 628 and I. Oberndorfer & Co.'s "gentlemen's furnishing goods" at No. 630.

Just after 4:00 on the morning of August 19, 1884 fire was discovered on the fifth floor.   Firefighters had the blaze out within an hour, but the damage was significant.  Both Cohn, Ball & Co. and Henry Newman & Co. had their new fall and winter inventory stored there.

The New York Times reported "When the firemen entered the building the upper floors were so filled with smoke that it was impossible to move about until the skylight on the roof had been smashed and the front windows on Broadway had been broken out."

Although the fire was confined to the fifth floor, as was often the case with 19th and early 20th century fires water damage was severe.   Joseph W. Lester & Co., for instance, lost $4,000 in ruined hats, and I. Oberndorfer & Co. suffered $5,000 in losses.

The pressed frieze of leaves below the cornice reflects an Aesthetic Movement motif.  The filigree frames of the upper floor windows, almost assuredly, continued throughout the facade.

The building was repaired and the former Cohn, Ball & Co. (by now renamed Ball & Co.) celebrated is grand reopening in March 1886.  The fire may have ruined Newman's plans for a long-term tenant in the New York Mercantile Exchange, however.  It completed its own building on Harrison Street that same year.

Ball & Co. had expanded, now taking several floors.  The New York Times called it "an immense store," and noted "down stairs is their retail department and up stairs the manufacturing is done."  The firm touted its "new and spacious stores" as having "the largest stock of fine clothing for men, youths and boys ever exhibited in this city."  Men's spring overcoats, "made of meltons, cassimeres and corkscrews" were priced at between $6 and $12 (a reasonable $316 today for the most expensive model).

Later that year Ball & Co. launched a clever marketing scheme.  For every purchase of $15 or over the customer would receive a Limoges clock.  On November 24, 1886 The Times commented "These clocks are really good time-keepers."

Other tenants in the refurbished building were clothing firms of Leo Schlesinger, Vanderhoef & Co., Rindskopf & Barbier, W. Hillman & Co., J. Klee & Co., Joseph Rosenthal, and Charles Simon & Co.

Tragedy repeated itself on July 2, 1887 when fire broke out again.  This time total damages to the various tenants amounted to $130,000 and it was apparently the last straw for Ball & Co.  The firm did not return to Nos. 628-630 Broadway.

Henry Newman's tenant list slowly reflected the migration of the millinery district from south of Houston Street.  In 1888 William McElhinney & Co., milliners, was in the building, as was Henry Zeimer & Co., "importers of artificial flowers." 

The Evening World, March 8, 1893 (copyright expired)

The apparel industry was stunned when Henry Newman & Co. declared bankruptcy in May 1894.  The Clothier and Furnisher reported that the announcement "produced an immense sensation throughout the trade, and expressions of sympathy with the defunct firm could be heard in every quarter of the market."

J. H. Mahoney still owned the building.  He died in 1901 but his estate continued its management.  In April 1901 I. Isaac & Co., "neckwear manufacturers" moved in.  Then in 1902 the entire building was leased to The New York Millinery & Supply Company.  Negotiations for that lease were most likely the cause of the $3,000 in alterations the Mahoney estate made on the building that year.

The firm advertised one of its Pattern Hats in July 1904.  The Millinery Trade Review (copyright expired)

The New York Millinery & Supply Company offered the latest in women's head wear.   Its new line of 1904 fall and winter hats was unveiled on August 9,  The firm tempted buyers saying "We are showing a most superb line of Ladies' and Misses' correct, artistic, snappy Millinery Merchandise."  The announcement added "Our famous $3.50 each Pattern Hats are wonders in value--each one embodying the swellest, latest and most popular New York and Parisian ideas."

The firm sub-leased space to non-competing tenants.  Among them in 1907 were Millen, Aikenhead & Co. makers of men's pajamas and shirts, Eisenberg & Settel, men's overcoats and clothing makers, (which moved in on February 1), and Proser Bros. whose hand-made worsted suits ranged from $7 to $9 that year.
Fairchild's Men's Wear Directory, 1907
The Steinfeld Brothers toy store was in the ground floor retail space.  They were doing a brisk business in Rudolph Fleischer's popular teddy bears.  Following a well-publicized story of President Theodore Roosevelt's 1902 bear hunting trip in Mississippi during which he refused to shoot a cornered bear cub, toy manufacturers like Fleischer cranked out thousands of the cuddly plush animals.

Just before the Republican convention in 1907 Steinfeld Brothers ordered another 525 dozen teddy bears from Fleischer.  The store, according to the New-York Tribune later, "figured that President Roosevelt would accept a third term.  Teddy bears would still be a valuable investment with Mr. Roosevelt in the White House four years more"

But to the management's amazement and dismay, it was William Howard Taft who received the nomination.  Despite their standing purchase order, Steinfeld Brothers told the manufacturer they would accept 20 dozen bears, but no more.

Rudolph Fleischer went to court.  He told reporters the bears were not bears any longer, but "white elephants."  The New-York Tribune reported on July 4, 1908 "Fleischer says they broke their contract, and now he wants damages."

The New York Millinery & Supply Co. remained in the building for years.  Its large staff of hat makers and shop girls was entirely female.  In 1913 it employed 31 women and two office workers.

In 1915 women's hat fashions--like New York Millinery & Supply Co.'s "Knickerbocker hat"--were decidedly less exuberant.  The American Angler, January 1915 (copyright expired)

In the years following the end of World War I the millinery and apparel districts moved northward.  The Broadway section just above Houston Street saw drastic change during the Depression years.   The store space became home to the Bleecker Trading Corporation, a check-cashing operation.

On the evening of September 4, 1941 Oliver Scherman was alone there when a gunman, around 45 years old, walked in around 6:15.  He pushed a revolver through the grill of the cashier's cage and ordered "Give me all the money you have."

The New York Times opined "He had apparently been watching the place for some time and knew when Scherman would be lone."  The cashier handed him everything in the till.  The thief left the checks behind, but took about $2,000 in cash.

Among the upper floor tenants was the Capitol Folding Box Company, Inc.  In 1945 that firm broke through the basement wall to connect to the building next door at Nos. 632-634 Broadway.

Fire once again struck the building in 1951, this one on the lower floors.  The architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons was commissioned to repair the damages, including the construction of a new lobby.

Another brazen robbery took place in the building just over a decade later.  A holdover from the apparel manufacturing days, Rettinger Raincoat Manufacturing Company operated from an upper floor.  Until the second half of the 20th century payroll was customarily distributed in the form of cash.  It was a tempting arrangement for robbers.

On June 24, 1953 Bertha Rosen, the company's bookkeeper, returned from the bank with the payroll.  As she entered the elevator, two men pushed their way in.  One brandished a pistol.  They snatched the $2,569 in cash, wrapped it in a newspaper, and fled the building.

Beginning in 1940 the city had been plagued by a mad bomb maker who planted 28 devices, 23 of which exploded.   On December 1, 1956 six patrons were injured when a homemade bomb exploded in the Brooklyn Paramount Theater.  Three days later a surge of bomb threats sent police scurrying throughout the city.  The following day The New York Times reported "Thirteen new threats yesterday to bomb public places, including theatres, schools, an airlines terminal, a ship and an Army base, intensified the police hunt for a deranged perpetrator."

Among the calls was that received at 1:30 p.m. warning that a bomb was set to explode at No. 630 Broadway.  That call was a hoax and no device was found.

By the last quarter of the century this section of Broadway was dingy and neglected.  In 1981 Nos 620-630 Broadway was home to the Commercial Plastics and Supply Corporation, described by The New York Times as "the largest of a half-dozen plastics merchants clustered together."

But the neighborhood, soon to be known as Noho, was on the brink of rediscovery.  As former loft buildings were restored and rehabilitated, No. 628-630 received a make-over in 1990.  Today the strikingly exotic cast iron building is as remarkable as it was in 1883.

photographs by the author