Friday, August 28, 2015

Wm. Berick's 1839 No. 78 Washington Place





As Washington Square and the streets branching off it were developing in the 1830s, speculator William W. Berwick got in on the action.   Starting out as a mason, by now he was a builder.  In 1839 he completed two identical brick-faced Greek Revival homes at Nos. 15 and 17 Washington Place, just steps from the Square.

The style was just gaining a foothold, pushing out the Federal style used for the Washington Square mansions begun just a few years earlier.  Berwick’s new homes were accented with brownstone; found in the high stoops, the doorway surrounds including heavy entablatures and cornices, and the lintels and sills.  William Berwick and his family took No. 17 for themselves; while he retained possession of No. 15 and leased it as additional income.

The two handsome homes were, by no means, the builder’s last projects in the neighborhood.   The extent of his activities are evident in an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune on February 1, 1851.  He offered for sale “two three-story and attic brick houses fronting on Washington-square, corner of West Washington place and Macdougal-st.  Also, the two Houses adjoining 3 and 5 West Washington-place will be sold low.”  The ad promised “They are built in the best manner, under the superintendence of William W. Berwick, Esq. and have every possible modern convenience.”  Berwick was offering the most desirable houses—those facing Washington Square--at $13,000—about $415,000 today.

William Berwick, for some reason, eventually moved next door to No. 15.  It was here, on Tuesday, November 18, 1856, that the 70-year old died and where his funeral was held three days later.

In 1859 A. H. Emery, whose business card listed civil engineer, “inventor and patentee,” was living and doing business from a suite of rooms in the fashionable Astor House Hotel.   In August that year he advertised that “a rare opportunity to invest in two new and important inventions, patented June 21, 1859, will be found by calling…at his rooms.”

The two inventions Emery had come up with that year were the “New Anti-Friction Cotton Press” (both for packing and compressing), and the useful “Hay, Cider, Cheese and Tobacco Press.”  He especially was interested in Southern investors for these latest devices.

The inventor had moved to No. 17 Washington Place by 1863, and with the outbreak of Civil War he turned his focus on implements of battle.  While living in the house he filed for a patent for “a new and improved Projectile for Rifled Muskets and Other Kindred Arms.”

A. H. Emery’s stay here would be relatively short-lived.  By 1864 the Serrell family was in the house.  William Indigo Serrell was studying at the Free Academy of the City of New York at the time.  And by 1869 it had been purchased by James T. Derrickson.

Derrickson was the principal of the James T. Derrickson & Co., paper business.  The firm manufactured “fine note and envelop paper” and operated as a commissioner paper warehouse as well.  His wife sat on the Board of Managers of the Magdalen Benevolent Society.  Founded in 1830, its object was “the promotion of moral purity, by affording an asylum to erring females, who manifest a desire to return to the paths of virtue, and by procuring employment for their future support.”

On July 8, 1871 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that Derrickson was updating the Washington Place house.  Calling the 24-foot wide residence a “first-class dwelling,” it announced “one story with Mansard roof to be added.”  The completed alteration gave the nearly 30-year old house a touch of cutting-edge residential design.

Exactly one decade later Washington Place was renumbered and No. 17 became No. 78.   It was not the only change to come to the block, however.  While Washington Square remained an exclusive address; the side streets were less fortunate.   The brick and brownstone houses that had been “first-class dwellings” were quickly being operated as boarding houses.

The Greek Revival palmette motif of the stoop railings is repeated in the finials of the areaway ironwork (far right).  The stumpy newels are a late Victorian addition.
Such was the case with No. 78 Washington Square.  Now owned by John McCabe, an assistant chief of the Fire Department, his family lived here while taking in boarders.  On November 22, 1891 an advertisement appeared in The Sun offering “Nicely furnished small and large rooms, with or without board; terms reasonable.”

A defamatory circular had been distributed in 1885 that purported to list McCabe’s indiscretions.  “In 1869 he was indicted for shooting a man; that in March, 1870, he shot four other men, for which he was indicted, but the case was not prosecuted; that he was also indicted for assault and battery and was discharged in court, and that he was also arrested on a charge of highway robbery.”  

The New York Times reported “The circular also states that in September, 1884, a quantity of goods stolen from O’Neill’s dry goods street, at Sixth-avenue and Twentieth-street, by Agnes Francis, an employe of O’Neill’s, was found in McCabe’s house.”

It was “defective vision and a chronic throat trouble” that ended Chief McCabe’s career in January 1893.  Among his tenants around this time was an out-of-work nurse who sought employment through an ad in the New-York Tribune on April 15, 1894.  Apparently eager to find a job, she was willing to relocate.  “Medical and surgical nurse; first-class; city or country.”

Since his forced retirement, John McCabe had spent much time at the nearby Milholland Club at No. 111 Clinton Place.   He became troubled in the spring of 1895 after being notified that was being called as a witness in the investigation by the Special Committee of the State Senate into corruption within the Fire Department.  His testimony would require him to implicate good friends in illegal activities.

The Evening World, April 25, 1895 (copyright expired)
On the morning of April 25, 1895, the day before he was scheduled to testify, the 60-year old McCabe left the Washington Place house and went to the Milholland Club.   He got there about 10:30 “and chatted with those of the members who were in the rooms,” reported The New York Times the following day.  The other men recalled that he “was not in his usually cheerful mood, but was rather moody and appeared depressed.”

His impending appearance before the Senate Committee was weighing heavily on John McCabe.  By noon there was only one other person in the club and McCabe had been sitting by the window without talking for almost an hour. Suddenly he looked at his watch and said to George Williamson, “Why, it’s after 12 o’clock.”

They were the last words John McCabe would ever utter.  He walked into a small room off the back of the main parlor and within moments Williamson heard a pistol shot. McCabe had put a bullet into his right temple.

The now-widowed Jessie McCabe and 16-year old John McCabe, Jr. stayed on in the Washington Place house.    Jessie continued to take in boarders, like Waldo H. Richardson who was Chairman of the Public Schools in 1898.  She was determined that her son would succeed and by 1901 he was studying at Columbia University.  After John McCabe received his medical degree, he opened his practice at No. 78 Washington Place. 

In 1911 a boarder died and the McCabes generously permitted the funeral of Barnard Brown to be held in the parlor on October 2.   Only six months later it would be the scene of another funeral—that of Jessie McCabe.  She died in her bedroom on March 20, 1912.

John McCabe retained possession of the house, and continued his practice here.  In 1915, though, he updated and renovated the building as apartments.  On November 22 that year Domestic Engineering reported that John A. Scollay, of Brooklyn, “will install the heating in a new apartment block at 78 Washington Place, New York.”

The building attracted a wide variety of tenants.  In 1917 Texas-born Will Boaz lived here.  A contracting engineer, the 30-year old had an office in the Woolworth Building.   And in 1919 author Hart Crane moved in for a short time.  Crane’s biographer Paul Martani, in his The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane, noted “It was a larger apartment than he’d rented before and boasted all the twentieth-century luxuries: double bed, stove, closet, even running water.”

By now Greenwich Village had become the mecca for artists, poets, writers and musicians. On April 2, 1921 the Liberator Costume Ball was held, prompting the New-York Tribune’s headline “Bohemianism Runs Unbridled at Dress Ball of Liberator.”  In reporting on the event, the newspaper noted “Chase Herendeen, a dancer of 78 Washington Place, was accredited with being the most beautiful girl in the grand march.  She represented a slim pirate in a red silk cap set on top of her bobbed hair, a white waist open at the throat and a pair of black silk breeches.”

Mrs. J. B. Irwin lived in the building at the same time.  In August 1922 she made a bid for one of The Evening World’s $25 prizes for the best real-life story submitted by a reader each day.  She wrote about seeing a man and his little son enter Washington Square Park on August 4.  The boy carried a toy automobile.  When his father sat on a bench to read the newspaper, “a horde of bootblacks descended upon him and to git rid of them seemingly he chose one to shine his shoes—a little fellow.”

In the 1920s Manhattan streets were still filled with impoverished young boys trying to earn money as bootblacks and newsboys.  They were often homeless, living in charity-run lodging houses.  And they definitely had nothing like toy automobiles.

Mrs. Irwin related “The bootblack worked slowly, spending most of his time watching the child play with the toy.”  Exasperated, or possibly simply kind, the man took the brush from the bootblack and motioned him to play with his son and the toy car.  “The bootblack went to play while the man finished shining his shoes himself.”

By 1938 the apartments that Hart Crane found to have all the 20th century luxuries, were now described by the Department of Buildings as “furnished rooms.”


While its twin sister next door received an artist’s studio upper floor in the early 20th century; No. 78 is little changed since James Derrickson updated it in 1871.   It survives as a wonderful piece of the tapestry that comprises the block and catalogs nearly two centuries of residential architecture.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Engine Company 56 (now 74) No. 120 West 83rd Street



In 1895 The New York Times ran a three-page article on the Upper West Side with the headline “West Side Is Itself a Great City.”  The newspaper recalled “It will be seen that by 1882, when building operations began on an extensive scale, the State and the city and the individual property owners, singly and collectively had secured for the West End everything that would make it the most healthful, the most beautiful in its location, and the most comfortable part of the city in which to reside.”

This rapid development following the Financial Panic of the 1870s resulted in the need for new police stations, schools, and fire stations.  The City scrambled to keep up, as did Napoleon Le Brun.  In 1879 Le Brun became the official architect of the New York City fire houses.  A year later his son Pierre joined him in the business, creating the firm N.  LeBrun & Son.  Their fire house work focused as much on design as function and each one of the resulting structures was a visual pleasure.

In 1888 the firm began work on the station house for Engine Company 56 at No. 120 West 83rd Street.  The five-story firehouse was completed the following year—a masculine mix of Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival elements.  Typical of firehouse design, the truck bay was flanked by a door and a window matching in proportion.  Le Brun decorated the bay with medieval motifs and surrounded it with hefty brownstone blocks.

Two stories of red brick were separated from the fourth by a stone bandcourse.  Stone piers—like engaged colunettes--ran up the sides and curved gently into the brickwork.  Their rounded form was echoed in the bull-nosed bricks that softened the corners of the openings.  The fourth floor vied for attention with its single arched opening, accentuated by a lushly-carved eyebrow and broken cornice.  The top story hid behind the ambitious gable as a slate-covered mansard.


Captain Michael J. McNamara was put in charge of organizing the new Engine Company.  Born in Ireland in 1849, his family brought him to America when he was still an infant.  He joined the Fire Department in 1873 and had been promoted to Captain on December 1, 1886, just three years before the station was completed.

He filled the open positions with two engineers, James Claire and William Massey; and seven firefighters: Michael Dinan, Charles Calahan, Robert Geddis, Richard Hyde, William Lumbolster, John Linck and John Douglass.  Engine Company 56 and the other new Upper West Side houses helped out with blazes throughout the city.  The Times noted “They do not ‘run’ to every fire.  But a second or third alarm finds one or the other responding to it.”

Such was the case on the Fourth of July 1898 when, as reported in The Times, “The energies of the Fire Department were taxed to the utmost yesterday in answering the frequent calls to fires in all parts of the city, due generally to the careless handling of firecrackers or other explosives.”  The Lenox Livery Stable on East 75th Street was in flames and when the third alarm was sounded, Engine Company 56 responded.

In the 19th and early 20th century, getting to the fire was often as dangerous as fighting it.  Engine 56 would not make it to the Lenox Livery Stable that night.  Its horse-drawn truck sped through Central Park to the East Side.  “At Madison Avenue the engine got between two underground trolley cars and was overturned.  The driver was heavily thrown but not seriously hurt.”  Captain McNamara was seriously injured, including a broken left leg and was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital.  “The engine was disabled,” reported the newspaper.

McNamara recovered and returned to the job.  In 1905 he received the New York Daily News medal as the city’s most popular fire captain—receiving a landslide 800,000 votes compared to the second place 300,000.  The newspaper said “every man, woman, and child on the upper west side knew him and were fond of him, especially the children.”

A year later, William J. Sullivan was assigned to Engine Company 56.  On May 8 that year he and another firefighter, John J. Sheridan of Engine Company 39, were off duty and walking together along Third Avenue.  In the four-story building at No. 1224 was the bakery of John Storck, whose family lived in the apartment above.  Just before the firemen arrived, a breeze pushed a curtain into a burning gas jet, setting it on fire.

The blaze swept rapidly through the apartment, noticed by Sullivan and Sheridan from the street below.  They rushed into the building, saving at least six residents.  John Storck was asleep and Sullivan had to break into the locked door.  “Picking the aged man up, they dragged him into the hallway just as the flames broke through into the bedroom, and carried him downstairs into the street,” reported The Times.

Just as a fire engine pulled up, Mrs. Pollock, who lived on the third floor, implored Sheridan to “Save my baby!”  Sheridan ran back into the fire and smoke engulfed building.  On the third floor he found a fox terrier, which he grabbed up, then crawled through the smoke until he felt the body of an infant in a chair, wrapped in a blanket.  Just as the flames broke through the flooring, he “beat a retreat” to the street, cradling the baby and the dog.

Once on the sidewalk he realized that “my baby” was the fox terrier.  The infant he had rescued was a baby doll.  “That’s one on me,” Sheridan said.

In 1907 the City commissioned architect Edward L. Middleton to make “improvements” to Engine Company 56.  His updating was confined to the interior, leaving Le Brun’s façade untouched.

After 22 years in command of Engine Company 56, Michael J. McNamara retired on February 1, 1911, the longest serving captain in the Fire Department.  A dinner in his honor was held at Healy’s restaurant, attended by the Fire Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo and other City officials.

At the time of McNamara’s retirement, an idea had surfaced to alleviate the boredom of firefighters sitting in their station houses with little to do other than wait for an alarm.  By 1912 a “traveling library” was instituted by the City that provided books to the station houses.  That year a report noted that Engine Company 56 had gone through 383 volumes.

The motorizing of fire trucks did not necessarily alleviate the danger of the crowded Manhattan streets in responding to fires.  The call to a blaze at 94th Street the Riverside Drive on the night of June 29, 1926 ended tragically.   Engine Company 56’s truck was speeding along West 83rd Street, its bells sounding, as Henry Nolan drove his motorcycle south on West End Avenue.

“Nolan did not hear the clanging gong of the fire apparatus in time to avoid the accident,” reported The Times the following morning, “although both he and the driver of the truck made valiant efforts to avoid a collision.”

Firefighters were riding on the sides of the truck.  As the motorcycle hit the fire truck, it became entangled in it and was dragged almost to Riverside Drive before the apparatus could be stopped.  The jolt when the truck hit the curb as its driver, Fireman Mathew Moran, tried to avoid the collision, sent the six firemen hanging onto its sides flying onto the pavement.

Fireman William L. Moran died in Roosevelt Hospital of a fractured skull.   Three others also suffered fractured skulls; Joseph Cunningham’s face was so badly damaged that he was removed to Reconstruction Hospital; and the others received serious lacerations and injuries.  The motorcycle driver received a fractured skull, as well.

With World War raging in Europe in 1940, the United States sought to beef up its military.  Frustrated Army recruiters found that a large percentage of New York City men were unfit for service.  On November 26 four Army induction centers examined 415 men.  They reported “nearly one-fourth of the selective service men from New York City and its environs examined yesterday for induction into the Army were found to be physically incapable of military service.”

Among those examined was 27-year old firefighter Arthur Papp of Engine Company 56.  He was fit; but Fire Commissioner John J. McElligott fought his induction.  McElligott filed a claim “for occupational deferment” saying Papp “was more useful to the community now as a fireman than as a soldier.”

Colonel Arthur V. McDermott, the director of the New York City selective service, was little moved.  He explained to the press “that nobody—not even men in services as essential as those of the fire and police—would obtain blanket deferments of service.”  Papp’s case was submitted to the local board for consideration.

Their decision did not take long.  On November 28, just two days later, it announced that Fire Commissioner McElligott’s request “has been rejected.”

By 1944 Engine Company 56 added another function when a Fire Department surgeon, Dr. Harry M. Archer, was brought on staff.  The Company now did ambulance runs as well.

The 83rd Street station became Engine Company 74 when that company moved from its old home at No. 207 West 77th Street.  The everyday valor of firefighters was tragically displayed when the Company lost six of its men--Matthew Barnes, John Collins, Kenneth Kumpel, Robert Minara, Joseph Rivelli Jr. and Paul Ruback--in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.


Le Brun & Sons’ charismatic firehouse survives on an architecturally eclectic block; a snippet from a time when the Upper West Side was considered by some as a “great city” in itself.

many thanks to Sean Khorsandi for suggesting this post
photographs by the author 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The American Merchant Mariners' Memorial -- Battery Park



By the time the Second World War broke out, the Merchant Marine had cleaned up its act.  Notorious in the 19th and early 20th century for shanghaiing drunken sailors and for sometimes nearly insufferable conditions that included floggings, it now boasted an Academy run closely along the lines of the military.

Even before the United States entered the conflict, the Merchant Marine was pulled into action to transport supplies and fuel to the allies.  There were approximately 55,000 Merchant Mariners in 1940 and an aggressive recruiting effort resulted in swelled numbers.  Long-retired Mariners came back to service to help the war effort.  

According to American Merchant Marine at War, James A. Logan was one of the old salts.  At the age of 76 he returned to serve as cook aboard the SS Joshua Hendy.  And Thomas Cavely, who had been master on the Staten Island Ferry, took command of another Liberty ship.

Unlike the U.S. Navy, the Merchant Marine was able to accept sailors with physical defects—heart or sight problems, for instance—or who were either too young or too old for military service.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war, Merchant Marine service was both more important and more dangerous.  German submarines focused on the American tanker fleet, manned by the Merchant Marine, that brought essential fuel to England and Europe.

Among these tankers was the SS Muskogee.  On March 22, 1942 it was transporting oil to England.  Captain William Betts was in command of the ship and its crew of 34.  The ship was spotted by the Nazi U-boat U-123.  Captained by 28-year old Reinhard Hardegan, the submarine was tasked with stopping American oil deliveries.

A single torpedo found its mark.  As the SS Muskogee sunk, members of its crew clung to the sides of the ship.  One German crew member snapped photographs of the desperate Merchant Mariners.  Seven Americans, including Captain Betts, made it to a life boat.  Betts pleaded with Captain Hardegan to be brought aboard the U-123 as prisoners.

The German crew member snapped this shot of the SS Muskogee crew members, including Captain Betts, before leaving them adrift. George Betts Collection/Independence Seaport Museum Library

As his crewman snapped photos, Hardegan replied that there was no room aboard the submarine.  The life boat was left adrift and none of the Muskogee’s crew was ever seen again.

By the end of the war, hundreds of Merchant Marine ships had been sunk.  Six hundred and thirty-three Merchant Mariners had been taken prisoners of war and 6,600, including the crew of the SS Muskogee, had given their lives.

Over the subsequent years, the role of the Merchant Marine in the war was little remembered.  In 1976 the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, Inc. was organized to commemorate the thousands of merchant ships and mariners that contributed to American military service since the Revolutionary War.  A competition for the design of a memorial was held in 1988.  The commission was awarded to French-born sculptress Marisol Escobar.

Escobar had chosen the events of March 22, 1942 to exemplify the heroism and contribution of the American Merchant Marines.  Somewhat incredibly, the photographs taken by the German sailor that day had survived.  Using the photograph of the Muskogee’s crew members clinging to the sinking ship, she developed a sculptural grouping of four figures and a stylized bow.

Installed on an obsolete stone pier off Battery Park, it was dedicated on October 8, 1991.  Escobar’s powerful and moving grouping captures the last moments of the sailors’ lives.  With no hope of survival, one man still tries desperately to rescue his comrade in the water—their fingertips almost touching. 

The disquieting depiction is made more so with the ebb and flow of the tides.  At high tide the sailor in the water is almost completely submerged; only his forearm extending in frantic desperation above the waves.


Marisol Escobar’s potent work of art—a fitting tribute to wartime Merchant Mariners—is too-often overlooked because of its out-of-the-way location.  It is worthy of a side trip.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 1890 Brockholst Apartment -- No. 101 West 85th Street



As the Upper West Side developed, its individual personality quickly became evident.   Real estate operators formed the West Side Association to fight the extension of Manhattan’s grid plan of avenues and streets—they preferred that their own grid be tilted to align with Broadway.   Architects embellished mansions and rowhouses with gargoyles, stained glass, turrets and towers—in stark contrast to the formal styles preferred on the opposite side of Central Park.

And West Siders were much quicker to embrace another concept--apartment living.  Five years after the hulking Dakota flats opened in 1884, John G. Prague began designs for another, The Brockholst. 

The land around the corner of Columbus Avenue and 85th Street was once the country estate of the wealthy, respected Livingston family.   It was now owned by T. E. D. Powers who partnered with Prague to develop the plots.  The pair would build more than 230 residences in rapid-fire succession.  The Real Estate Record and Guide said in 1890 “They have created a neighborhood.” 

Their Brockholst, on the northwest corner of Columbus and 85th, was named for Brockholst Livingston, a Supreme Court Justice and brother-in-law of John Jay.  The building was completed by December 20, 1890 when the Real Estate Record and Building Guide praised it as “a truly noble building.”  The publication said “It is a fitting complement to the extensive and magnificent improvements with which Messrs. John G. Prague and T. E. D. Powers have embellished the West Side.”

West 85th Street was still unpaved in December 1890 when the Brockholst opened -- Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, copyright expired

Six stories tall, the Romanesque Revival pile of brooding brick and brownstone embodied the architectural taste of 1890s Upper West Siders.  The foyer doors at No. 101 West 85th Street were deeply recessed within a medieval arched entranceway, over which an unidentifiable yet nonetheless scary beast held watch.   Two three-story bays bowed away from the façade, one of which read The Brockholst in wacky 1890s lettering that danced across an intricately-carved band.  Rough-cut blocks, checkerboard stonework, and an irregular roofline interrupted by chimneys pretending to be clustered chimney pots combined in a romantic and massive structure.


Prague worked with Tiffany & Co. in decorating the lobby.  A massive carved limestone fireplace stood at northwest corner, its mantel reaching nearly to the ceiling.  That ceiling, designed by Prague, was of aluminum and executed by Tiffany.  The main staircase featured a bronze railing and marble steps.  From the lobby the barber shop, café, and dining room could be accessed.

The private dining room, decorated in white and gold and illuminated by stained glass skylights, was intended originally for residents and their guests.  The Record and Guide deemed the Wilton carpeted room “richly decorated.” 


Various views of the dining room revealed its high-end decor -- Buildings and Building Management, January 1914 (copyright expired)
Connected to this dining room, slightly hidden by portieres, was a restaurant, open to the public who entered on Columbus Avenue. The rooms were designed so that they could be combined into one large space for receptions and other events.  It would seem that Tiffany had its hand in the decoration of the restaurant as well; for the Record and Guide described fixtures as “a jar from which three lilies rise, and from these lilies branch out petals which form the electric lights.”

Tiffany fixtures lit the marble-floored lobby.  The elevator attendant awaits in the paneled cab -- Real Estate Record and Guide, December 20, 1890 (copyright expired)

The Brockholst was technically a residential hotel, rather than flats like the Dakota.  The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide explained it as “the latest type of hotel—that wherein the families occupy their suites of apartments—their homes, all the the year round, and are enabled to obtain their board in the building, if they so choose, or obtain it partly or wholly, outside the building.”

Unlike transient hotels, the suites included kitchens, so “occupants can make their own culinary arrangements, if they desire.”  The great attraction of the Brockholst and similar residence hotels was that the household could forego the problem of domestic help.  Maid and cleaning service was provided by the building.

Upstairs, suites ranged from one room and bath, costing $350 a year, to nine rooms and bath, costing $1,500.   The rent on a nine-room apartment would translate to about $3,400 a month today.  The hallways had expensive Wilton carpeting, the building was steam heated and the electric lighting was powered by dynamos in the basement.  (The unreliability of electricity prompted the installation of “combination of gas and electric lights.")

Fanciful lettering announces the building's name.
Less than one year after the Brockholst opened, it was sold.  The first hint appeared in the Record and Guide on October 24, 1891.  “John G. Prague, it is reported, has sold the ‘Brockholst’ apartment hotel…for about $477,000.”  The rumor had truth, although it would be weeks before negotiations were finalized.  Finally on December 13 The New York Times confirmed the completed sale, for $432,000.

“Now that the sale has occurred, dealers feel that the market has been strengthened thereby, and have become more hopeful than ever that the Winter season will be a prosperous one,” said the newspaper.

The buyer was Randolph Guggenheimer, a self-made millionaire and member of the legal firm Guggenheimer & Untermyer.   He continued providing the upscale residents of the Brockholst with superior services and conveniences. 

Among the residents were William J. Hancock, superintendant of the Eastern lines of Wells-Fargo Express Company, his wife and two children.  Their neighbors were all families of affluent businessmen.

The concept of a roadway through Central Park under consideration in 1892 prompted a vociferous backlash from New Yorkers—many of them of course, on the Upper West Side.  Two of these were little girls who lived in the Brockholst.  Mabel and Marion did not sign their surnames when they sent a letter of protest by messenger to the meeting of the Park Commissioners’ meeting on May 21.

“The letter told how they used the west side of the Park to play in every day, what a great blessing it was to them and to all their playmates, and how they hoped they would never be deprived of it,” reported The New York Times the following day.

In 1893 King’s Handbook of New York City called The Brockholst “superior.”  That year resident Thomas Lansing Masson became literary editor of Life magazine.  A poet and humorist, he was a regular contributor of humorous articles to various publications.  On Tuesday October 24 he married Fannie Zulette Goodrich in Hartford, Connecticut.  Newspapers announced that “The bridal couple will reside at 101 West Eighty-fifth Street after Jan. 1.”

German-born Samuel Van Praag was emblematic of the prosperous Brockholst residents.  He had been with the steamship agents Phelps Bros. & Co. for 16 years in January 1894, was a member of the Produce Exchange, and served on several committees.  The Evening World said he “was regarded as a remarkable well-informed man on marine matters.”

But for several years the 46-year old bachelor had suffered from a variety of medical problems.  Finally his illnesses forced him to resign.   His condition became too much for him and on the morning of June 1, 1894 he fired a shot from a 32-calibre revolver into his heart.  “Despondency, due to illness, is assigned as the cause,” said The Evening World that afternoon.

In 1899 Floyd B. Wilson moved from Brooklyn into the Brockholst.  Born in Watervliet, New York in 1845 his extensive education included studies at the Jonesville Academy, the University of Michigan and the Ohio Law School.   Wilson and his wife, the former Esther M. Cleveland, had two daughters—Pearl Cleveland Wilson, who was away at Vassar, and 10-year old Beryl Madeline.

The prosperous Floyd B. Wilson would live here for decades.  The Successful American, January 1900 (copyright expired)

Aside from his corporation law practice, which “has earned for him a reputation all over this country,” according to The Successful American in 1899, Wilson had had a wide-flung career.  He had been principal of the Euclid Avenue Seminary in Cleveland, lecturer on elocution and English literature at Racine College, poet of the University of Michigan, the author of the novel Uphill, and had translated the Spanish comedy La Coja y el Encojido.  Wilson had also written several articles for Harper’s and other magazines on travel “and metaphysical subjects.”

He was also president of the mining firms Santa Barbara Gold Placer Company and the Arizona Gold and Copper Company; vice-president of the Copper Hill Mining Company; and a director of the Santa Fe and Grand Canon Railway Company.

The precocious 15-year old Walter Jones lived in the building in 1902.  He joined a new organization connected with Public School No. 166 that year.  It was formed to encourage “self-activity” among its all-boy membership.  In October that year a journalist from The New York Times was taken with the model race car Walter had fashioned.

“Master Jones’s little toy is fashioned after such as the ‘White Ghost’ and other fliers, and there is nothing in the visible mechanism missing”

Walter may have been offended at the reporter’s calling his model a “little toy.”  He insisted “he was not yet satisfied with the interior mechanism, and was at work at home on a half-horse power machine that would really run when he got through with it.”

Another tragic death in the Brockholst occurred in 1904.  The young wife of 24-year old real estate dealer Frank T. Pressman had died the year before.   He brooded over his loss for a year.

In the apartment next door lived Pressman’s mother, a Mrs. Adams.  On March 31, 1904, he sold all his furniture explaining that he was about to embark on an extended trip o California.   Four days later he did not appear in the dining room for breakfast.  Concerned, his mother notified the superintendent.

“The skylight was broken open, and James Dillon, a hallboy, was lowered into the room,” reported The New York Times on April 3.  “He was almost overcome with the illuminating gas, but managed to open the windows and doors.”

Frank T.Pressman had committed suicide by inhaling gas.  Dr. A. Richard Stern deduced he had been dead “for several hours.”

There was apparently a glut of vacant apartments that year.  An advertisement in The Sun on November 8 offered “apartments of three, four, five and eight rooms and bath; maid service included; elevator attendance night and day; caterer in building; inspection invited.”

In 1914 Buildings and Buildings Management outlined the operation of the dining room which, while run by an independent restaurateur who provided his own linens and silverware, was closely supervised by the Brockholst management.  “Care is taken by the house that no cause for complaints as to menus, cuisine, or service crops up among the tenants and general supervision over the quality and nature of food supplies according to the season of the year is the rule.”

Residents were charged a flat rate of 40 cents for breakfast and luncheon and 75 cents for dinner.  Or, if the resident preferred, a weekly charge of $10 covered three meals a day.

The magazine mentioned the current rental rates.  “The Brockholst contains a great number of housekeeping apartments of six to eight rooms and kitchen, renting from $900 to $1000 a year.  There are some non-housekeeping apartments of three and four rooms, also, renting at $40 to $60 a month apiece.”

The building’s superintendent, William Featherstone, reiterated the attraction of the Brockholst since its inception. “The servant problem is such a mighty one nowadays that every family pays pretty close attention when you offer them a feature making them wholly independent of the maid, cook or serving-man.”

The airy fire escapes, emblazoned with the Brockholst "B" and panels of feathery design, were as much sculpture as necessity.
Perhaps the Brockholst’s most celebrated resident was the ousted Governor of the State of Yucatan, Mexico, Abel Ortiz Argumendo, and his family.   When he fled the revolution in 1915 he came to New York and took an apartment in the Brockholst in April.

Almost immediately the circumstances of his fleeing and the amount of cash he brought with him were an issue.  He explained that the “revolution” was actually “bandits and other parties” set on taking over the Yucatan.  So “I decided to remove the Governorship to Havana, Cuba, until there was a legal President in Mexico.”

He told Supreme Court Justice Shearn on August 27, 1915 that he left the country with “State funds amounting to about $300,000 in United States gold.”  (The Government of Mexico put the amount closer to $450,000.)  But that was only for the good of the country, he insisted.  “I was responsible for these funds, and I did not intend to leave them behind for the robbers.”


In 1918 Arnold Krakauer lived in the Brockhorst with his wife, Minnie Jacobs Krakauer.   The couple had been married since 1892 and Krakauer worked for Harry S. Stevens at the Polo Grounds.

Stevens was, as described by the New-York Tribune, “the well known purveyor of double-jointed peanuts and hot frankfurters at the Polo Grounds and caterer to the metropolitan racetracks.”    Stevens’ company would continue to serve hot dogs and peanuts at Shea Stadium, Churchill Downs, Fenway Park and other sports venues until 1994 when it was taken over by Aramark Concessions.

The happy home life of the Krakauers began to fall apart in October 1918 when, according to Arnold, Harry M. Stevens and Minnie were intimate in the Brockholst apartment.  The affair continued for a full year—always in the Krakauer’s bedroom--and then in May 1920 there was an encounter at No. 302 Central Park West. 

The wronged Arnold Krakauer sued his wife for divorce in September 1920; then sued his boss for alienation of affections.  The New-York Tribune’s headline on September 5 announced “Harry Stevens Sued As Home Wrecker.”

At the time of the Krauaker-Stevens scandal, Henry H. Lloyd was still in residence and would stay on for some time.   Also in the building were Harriet Beecher, the daughter of Henry Ward Beecher, and her daughter Margaret Beecher White who taught Christian Science.

In 1932 78-year old Amelie von Ende died.  The Polish-born concern pianist and writer had been well known in musical circles.  She contributed to several magazines on German and French literature and on music, and often shared the concert stage with her German violinist husband.

By the time of Amelie’s death the Brockholst had been eclipsed by modern apartment buildings.  When it was sold to an investing syndicate headed by Milton R. Leader in 1950 there were 41 apartments and six stores in the building.  Within six years the number of apartments had risen to 52 as the sprawling larger apartments were broken up.

In 2009 an ambitious renovation and restoration effort was initiated which upgraded the apartments and turned attention to the careworn façade.   Artist Sergio Rossetti Morosini was commissioned to restore the endangered brownstone sculptures. 


Carvings, like this crouching winged lioness, were given careful attention.
The Brockholst emerged with its wonderful carvings and fanciful elements intact; allowing us to imagine the well-heeled residents of the 1890s who passed through the oaken double doors.

Some of the stained glass transoms survive.

photographs by the author