Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 1820 Boddy House -- No. 105 Mercer Street

photo by Alice Lum
Three decades after the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War, the residential edge of New York City had pushed northward, engulfing the fields and farmland that in nearly another two centuries would be known as SoHo.  Among the new streets was relatively east-west-running Mercer Street, named in honor of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, who died from wounds he received in the Battle of Princeton.

In 1819 construction began on a two-and-a-half story brick house at No. 105 Mercer Street.  Completed in 1820 it shared the Federal style elements of many of its neighbors—Flemish bond brickwork, prim dormers within the pitched roof, and a shallow brownstone stoop above an English basement.  The builder distinguished No. 105 with especially fine details.  The carved brownstone lintels of the openings and entrance altered plain panels with decorative vermiculated blocks.  An extremely finely-leaded fanlight over the door radiated delicate spokes within an intricately carved frame.  Fluted Ionic columns flanked the paneled door.

Along with the delicate molding and lacy iron fan light, close inspection reveals carved rosette panels on the underside of the arch -- photo by Alice Lum

While the house was by no means a mansion, these features elevated it beyond one intended merely for a working class family.  Mary Boddy, who was the original owner, was listed as a “seamstress.”  More likely she was a dressmaker, unless she were married to a successful merchant or craftsman.  There were numerous seamstresses at the time.  Needlework was among the most common professions for women and seamstresses most often worked at home or for a dressmaker, earning scant wages.

Dressmakers, on the other hand, were experienced and accomplished.  They were responsible for producing (and often designing) an entire garment and the best dressmakers were paid handsomely.  Only a dressmaker could afford to purchase and maintain a handsome home like No. 105 Mercer Street.
photo by Alice Lum

The neighborhood would enjoy its respectable nature for three decades before its homeowners moved northward.  In the 1850s commerce had caught up to the district; but not in an especially good way.  It not only became the center of entertainment; but many houses became boarding houses, often with shady character.  Greene, Mercer and Crosby Streets during this period constituted New York’s most notorious red light district.

Current writers continuously brand No. 105 Mercer Street as one of these brothels.  Reports of police raids and arrests do not mention the address.  However the suicide of a young woman who lived here in 1853 may support the theory.  The lives of prostitutes more often than not ended tragically; often in suicide. 

On Sunday June 14, 1853 the 19-year woman old left No. 105 Mercer with a friend, Grace Howard.  They walked to the drug store at No. 125 Greenwich Street where she purchased “an ounce of laudanum and a shilling’s worth of vitriol,” according to The New York Times a few days later.

Disconsolate, she had “declared that she would destroy herself on more than one occasion.”  She returned to the Mercer Street house where she drank the poison.  Someone rushed to the home of a nearby physician, Dr. Chalmers, but he was not home.  “Another physician was applied to,” said The Times, “who sent two powders to be taken in warm water.  The powders were of no service, and the poor girl died shortly after.”

The newspaper’s reluctance to give the girl’s name—in view of the suggestion that No. 105 was a disorderly house—was summed up in the final line of the article.  “The deceased…has highly respectable connections residing in the City.”

The dangerous and sordid character of the neighborhood was evident in February 1863.  Two doors away, the house at No. 101 Mercer Street had been converted to a saloon, as had the neighboring house at No. 99.  Edward Dodge lived at No. 105 and on Friday night, February 6, at around 8:30 or 9:00 he heard pistol shots coming from the rear yards.

Immediately after, Dodge heard the rapping of a policeman’s club on the sidewalk—the signal for additional help.  Two days later he told a jury “I went into the street and followed the officer in No. 99 where I saw deceased lying dead in the bar-room.”

The “deceased” was a deserter from the Union Army named Reid.  He had been tracked to the saloon at No. 101 Mercer by Clark W. Beach, a detective and Inspector of the Recruiting Department; along with Police Officer Brady.  When they attempted to arrest Reid, he “started to run through the hall toward the back door,” according to Beach’s testimony. 

Reid jumped the fence into the yard of No. 99 and was shot three times by the policeman.  Reid stumbled into the backdoor of the bar and pleaded with Philip Loew, the bartender “Philip, help me, I am shot.”  Loew testified “I handed him a glass of water, but before he could drink it he fell to the floor, and soon afterwards expired.”

The owner of both houses at No. 105 and No. 103 was Gustave Herter.  In July 1864, the year after the shooting of Reid, he began work on enlarging the basement areas of both properties.  “As is usual in such cases, an excavation was made under or near the sidewalk,” reported The New York Times on June 23 a year later.

At around 1:00 a.m. on July 13, 1864 Amos M. Butler was walking alone along the sidewalk and fell into the construction hole.  Court papers would explain that he “was found in one of these excavations nearly suffocated, and survived only a few hours after being taken out.”  A year later Herter was in court defending himself against the $5,000 law suit filed by Butler’s widow, charging him with neglect.

Mrs. Butler alleged that “there having been placed there no sufficient and proper guards, he fell into the excavation, and was, by the fall, so badly injured that he died in a few hours afterward.”  Herter’s lawyer argued that Butler was simply drunk.

He told the jury that “the excavation was well and sufficiently protected, and that none but a very negligent or reckless person could have fallen into it.”  He added that “at the time of the accident, deceased was grossly intoxicated, and that his death was caused by his reeling and stumbling through the guards which had been placed there.”

The Times reported that “Much effort was made by the defence [sic] to show that deceased was a habitual drunkard, and especially on the night in question that he was grossly intoxicated, and not capable of taking care of himself.” 

The low character of the neighborhood was finally transformed by the 1870s.  Metal ware manufacturer Cassidy & Sons had taken over both No. 103 and No. 105 Mercer Street by 1875.  The company apparently dealt in affordable household items, for on March 1 of that year it advertised in The Sun for “a first-class spelter caster.”  Spelter was an inexpensive alternative to bronze or silver.

The roof was raised to a full floor.  The dark scar is evidence of a missing cornice -- photo by Alice Lum

It may have been Henry Scheib who raised the attic to a full floor, as evidenced by the change from Flemish bond to regular bond brickwork.  For some reason the paneled lentils were carefully copied and the exact proportions of the openings below reproduced.  (It is possible that two of the lintels are the originals from the parlor level.)

Scheib advertised as a “Printer, Stationer and Lithographer” and the 1891 History and Commerce of New York said “This gentleman is an expert…making a leading specialty of mercantile printing and account books to order and has been established in the business here since 1890.  His business premises are thoroughly equipped and well stocked in all departments.”

The show window that replaced the parlor openings displayed “stationery of every imaginable description, including all the most recent novelties of home and foreign production, and the assortments are always full, complete and choice.”

Henry Sheib’s stationery store would not last another year here, however.  In 1892 the former house was headquarters for Erdody and Gerhardt, furriers.  Mercer Street had become, by now, the center of the fur trade.  The firm not only manufactured its furs on premises, but sold them here as well.  On January 13, 1892 a fire on the first floor resulted in its loss of $1,200 in merchandise (about $30,000 today); and $300 damage to the building.

Fur dealers continued to make No. 105 their home for years.  In 1896 G. Margulies was in the building, employing three men; and in August 1898 H. Judenfreind & Son, “manufacturers of furs and fur trimmings” moved here from Great Jones Street.

For nine years starting in 1901 A. Halpern & Co., manufacturers of “hats and caps” operated from the building.  Its five employees each worked an average of 59 hours a week.  Then, in 1909, No. 105 Mercer Street was headquarters for the contracting company of C. J. Degurle.  The Plumbers Trade Journal commented that year “C. J. Degurle…is very busy with several alteration jobs.  He is doing work on the new bridge tunnel connections for the Bradley Contracting Company.”
In 1934 No. 105 had a large shop window.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
The SoHo district suffered more than half a century of neglect.  Small businesses and factories continued to use the buildings; many of which were abused and suffered decay.  Change came again beginning in the 1960s when artists discovered the old lofts.  In 1965 a 23-year old jewelry designer stumbled across the vacant, dilapidated No. 105 Mercer Street.  There were no windows on the upper floors and inside chunks of plaster littered the floors.  She rented the house for $150 per month after the landlord installed utilities, a toilet and a sink.

The designer stayed on for five years before marrying and moving on.  In 1980 the building was converted to an “Artists-Conjunctive” dwelling.  Technically a single-family home; the Department of Buildings called it “Joint living work quarters of and for artists.”  The Department stressed “At least one (1) occupant shall be an artist certified  by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs.”

The former shop window had been renovated to a more residential opening -- photo by Alice Lum

Considering its varied past and many uses, the survival of the building’s Federal details is nothing short of miraculous.  Dwarfed by the large cast iron and brick loft buildings around it, it is an unexpected relic of a nearly forgotten period in SoHo history.

photo by Alice Lum

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Lost St. Leo's Church -- No. 12 East 28th Street

A mansarded house nestles up to the church building.  The vacant lot with the picket fence would become the site of the House of Repose for the Stranger Dead.   photo Nickerson's Illustrated Church, Musical and School Directory (copyright expired)
Father Thomas J. Ducey was accustomed to rubbing shoulders with the upper class.  Born in Ireland in 1843, he came to the United States at the age of five.  His mother found employment as the housekeeper for the wealthy bachelor James T. Brady (not to be confused with “Diamond Jim” Brady). 

Just three years after the family arrived, both Ducey’s parents died.  The millionaire adopted the orphaned boy and the eight-year-old’s life took a remarkable change, of course.  Historian Lately Thomas mentions in his 1967 book Delmonico’s, A Century of Splendor, “This early association had given Ducey a tenuous connection with the world of wealthy, and as a priest he had devoted himself to the spiritual welfare of that class.”

In fact, Brady had hoped that Ducey would follow him in the legal profession; but as the New-York Tribune later explained, “the call to the priesthood persisted.”  But even after he was ordained, Ducey lived in Brady mansion and when the lawyer died in 1869, the priest inherited a fortune.

In 1880 the Fifth Avenue neighborhood around East 28th Street was lined with the mansions of some of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens.  Just six blocks to the north sat the staid brownstone homes of William and John Jacob Astor.  What the neighborhood did not have was a Catholic church. 

That year Cardinal McCloskey appointed Father Ducey pastor of a newly-founded parish—St. Leo’s.  On December 12, 1880 The Sun remarked that “its wealthy parish” was a “neighborhood that has long needed” a Catholic sanctuary.  The newspaper estimated the Catholic population in the parish to be about 10,000.

It was the perfect setting for the moneyed priest.   He was well-connected with the city’s richest Catholics, was personal friends with the Delmonico family, and maintained a country estate in St. James, Long Island.  The New York Times estimated that the cost of the new church structure, including the site, would cost “something over $100,000” (more than $2 million today), but “owing largely to the energy and popularity of the Rev. Thomas J. Ducey, who was appointed Pastor its success has been more than assured.”

The cornerstone was laid on August 15, 1880 at Nos. 11 and 13 East 28th Street.  The Sun reported the following day that “The floor of the uncompleted church was thronged and the street outside was blockaded by men and women.”  A month later the New-York Tribune advised that “A pretty little edifice is being erected for St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church.”  By anyone else’s estimation, this would be anything but a “pretty little edifice.”

Architect Lawrence. J. O’Connor had designed a Gothic Revival structure of rough-cut brownstone.  Fifty-feet wide and 100 feet long, its strictly symmetrical central mass was offset by a soaring octagonal tower with stone bandcourses and a sharp conical cap.  An immense pointed-arch stained glass window dominated the fa├žade.  The spacious sanctuary would contain 100 pews to accommodate the estimated 2,500 parishioners, according to The New York Times.

In the 19th century it was common for parish women to hold bazaars and fairs to raise money for the building funds.  While other churches sold baked goods and hand-made doilies; the articles sold at the St. Leo’s Church Fair during December 1880 were a bit more upper crust.  The Sun, on December 12 noted “The display of articles for sale at the fair is remarkable handsome, and very valuable objects are to be raffled for.  Among these are $1,000 in gold, and a fine brougham and $1,200 team of bay horses, with handsome harness.  A richly mounted sword is offered to that officer of the city militia who obtains the most votes.”

On April 24, 1881 The New York Times anticipated the dedication of the new building.  “By next Sunday the church will be almost entirely completed.”  The newspaper said “The ceremonies at the dedication of St. Leo’s Church…will be very imposing…The cards for admission are being rapidly secured, it being arranged that the number shall be limited to the seating capacity of the church.”

The Times described the interiors of the structure that seven months earlier the New-York Tribune had deemed “a pretty little edifice.”  “It is handsomely finished inside, the chancel in inlaid stone and the nave in plain.  The ceilings are elaborately frescoed.  The altar is one of the handsomest in the City, and was the gift of a gentleman of the congregation.”  The magnificent white marble altar had been executed by Theiss & Janssen.  The firm, located at No. 413 East 25th Street, engaged some of the premier stone carving craftsmen of the day.

A turn-of-the-century postcard showed the magnificent frescoes and stained glass.

Father Ducey received four “splendid sets of vestments” from a “lady of the congregation” according to The Times.  The priest would be well arrayed—the cost was estimated to be about $40,000.

Among the major contributors to the building fund were the Delmonico brothers, owners of the fashionable Delmonico’s restaurants.  At the funeral of Lorenzo Delmonico on September 7, 1881, just five months after St. Leo’s opened, Father Ducey noted that he had contributed $5,000 to the church.

Father Ducey would often be found in Delmonico’s and he earned the nickname of the “apostle to the genteel.”  According to Lately Thomas, diocesan authorities would sometimes raise their eyebrows at the jokes inspired by the pastor, such as “Why is St. Leo’s like a certain theater on Fourteenth Street?”  Answer:  “Because it has a tony pastor.”

A year after the church was dedicated The Sun reported that “the parish has grown and prospered to such an extent that another priest has been found necessary…which makes three priests who are now regularly stationed” at St. Leo’s. 

In the meantime, finishing touches were still being done.  “The interior…is being frescoed and decorated throughout,” reported The Sun.  “A new organ, of large size, is being placed in position in the loft, over the front entrance.”

Like other wealthy New Yorkers, Father Thomas Ducey enjoyed his summers away from the city.  As a rule, the more fashionable churches closed during the summer months as their congregants shuttered their mansions and escaped to Newport or country estates.  On May 22, 1883, the day before Father Ducey left for Europe, the men of St. Leo’s enjoyed “a pleasant gathering” at Delmonico’s in honor of the priest.

The New York Times reported that “St. Leo’s is to-day one of the strongest Catholic churches in the country, and Judge Daly, in presenting to Father Ducey a handsome purse of money to cover the expenses of his trip abroad, gave him the credit of putting the church on its present substantial basis.”

The charismatic priest gave over $100,000 of his own money to St. Leo's Church -- King's Notable New Yorkers 1896-1899 (copyright expired)

A year later the high-profile priest narrowly evaded personal scandal.  On May 23, 1884 a Deputy Sheriff was stationed outside the home of banker John C. Eno at No. 46 Park Avenue.  Eno was accused by Anson Phelps Stokes of embezzlement from the Second National Bank.  Servants reported that the banker was sick in bed.  The Times said the following morning that “During the evening a number of persons of both sexes, apparently friends of the family, entered and left the house.  Father Doucey [sic], of St. Leo’s Church, was also seen to enter and leave the house twice during the evening.”  When Ducey left the house at 10:30, he told the Deputy that Eno was not at home.

The following day, after a warrant for Eno’s arrest had been issued, officers entered the house to arrest him.  “Every nook and corner and room and closet in the house was carefully searched, and at the end of half an hour the deputies looked at one another in blank amazement.  John C. Eno was not in the house”

Suspicion that Father Ducey had abetted Eno’s escape were strengthened when the priest himself disappeared.  Canadian authorities were notified and Detective John Fahey, of Montreal, became suspicious of a man “accompanied by a gentleman bearing the appearance of a Catholic priest.”  Eno had taken the alias of McCluskey and Robert Pinkerton of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency told reporters that he was “of the opinion that Father Ducey has been the active agent in furthering Eno’s escape.”   He attributed “his successful flight to the skillful plans of the priest after the house had been searched.”

Through Detective Fahey’s work, Eno was arrested and Father Ducey returned to New York.  His popularity and reputation were enough for the some to excuse him.  “The Rev. Father Ducey, who is brought into this unfortunate predicament, is well known in this city as an able and learned priest, whose ministrations have been unusually successful,” said a reporter for The Times on June 1, 1884.  Rather than depicting Ducey as abetting an escaped criminal; the newspaper described him as a loyal ally.  “Since Mr. Eno got into trouble Father Ducey has been a firm friend to him, visiting him often during the time when his house was being watched by the Deputy Sheriffs.”

The editor of The New York Times was less charitable than his reporter.  On the same day that the story ran, an editorial complained “The Rev. Father Ducey, of St. Leo’s Church, appears to have aided him in his flight and accompanied him to administer comfort and consolation in his exile…it is a fine business for a minister of the church which professes to exercise a special rigor upon offenders against the criminal law.”

Father Ducey had restored his slightly-tarnished character by 1892 when The Evening World praised his stance against what the newspaper termed “dives.”  The priest told a World reporter “Such nests of crime spread moral contagion in the community.  In the neighborhoods where they exist they must be constant instructors in vice to the young.  If the young are corrupted what hope have we for the future?  Corrupt children cannot be the founders of pure families, and if families are corrupt, what hope is there for Church or State?”

A different view of the interior shows elaborate stencil-work and another exquisite window.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWNYT1UH&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915

By now the neighborhood around St. Leo’s had changed.  William W. Astor’s mansion had been demolished to make way for the Waldorf Hotel and Fifth Avenue’s millionaires were moving northward.  As the wealthy congregation dwindled, church finances suffered.  In April 1892 Father Ducey informed the quartet choir that its services were no longer needed.  According to The Sun on April 2, “he told the quartet that the reason he intended to dispense with their services was that the church was compelled to reduce expenses and could not afford to pay $5,000 a year for its music.”

By 1906 the condition had worsened.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted on September 15 that year “The whole neighborhood has become one of hotels and apartment houses.”  But despite a bank foreclosure and sale of church property to satisfy a mortgage earlier that year, the periodical felt that rumors of “the passing of St. Leo’s Church” were “deemed by well-informed persons to be premature.”

Indeed the rumors were premature and, in fact, the following year St. Leo’s purchased the adjoining lot.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported “it is said that it will be used as a site for a new building to be used for church purposes.”  The “church purposes” would be unique.

Father Ducey recognized a need for a temporary resting place for the bodies of businessmen, tourists and other out-of-towners who unexpectedly died while in the city.  He founded the House of Repose for the Stranger Dead, described by the New-York Tribune as being “open for the temporary home of the dead of any race or creed pending the arrival of relatives of friends.”  Father Ducey instructed “The chapel for the repose of the dead must be used to carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a resting place for the dead who die in hotels and may need the kindly charity of Christian consideration before interment, Catholics and Protestants alike.  Its use must be limited to the dead who die in the district between 23d and 59th streets and Broadway to Fourth avenue.”

By the time the French nuns arrived, St. Leo's had lost its pointed spire and the street was lined with apartment houses and hotels.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1908 a group of 14 French nuns arrived at St. Leo’s Church.  They made up the only branch of the Society of Marie Reparatrice in America.  While 12 of the nuns were teaching parish children, two prayed at the altar rail.  There was never a time of the day when two of the devoted nuns were not at prayer.  “Their prayers are never for definite, concrete things not even for the success of their mission and settlement work or the repose of the souls of the dead,” explained The New York Times a few years later.  “They pray always that mankind may be saved from the burden of its sins; that reparation may be made for the world’s evil; that men and women may become better and gentler and more spiritual, and life a holier thing.”

The same year Father Thomas Ducey showed the first symptoms of intestinal disorders.  A year later, on August 22, 1909 he died at his 15-acre country estate.  The body was returned to Manhattan for the elaborate funeral at St. Leo’s Church.  The New-York Tribune remembered his high-class ways.  “Beloved by men and women of note, of culture and of wealth, a favorite guest at dinners, brilliant, witty, an art critic and raconteur of rare attainments, he was liked equally by those in and out of his own religion.”

Father Ducey’s will left nearly his entire estate, about $1.5 million today, to St. Leo’s Church for which he had “labored like a slave in every way for its usefulness.”  The will instructed that all the priest’s silverware be melted “and made into a chalice ciborium for holy mass.”

The drastic change in the neighborhood was reflected in a New-York Tribune article on May 17, 1914.  “One of the most picturesque spots in the city, located in the centre of the shop and club district, within a few steps of seething, skyscraping office buildings, big hotels, the clang of cable cars, the whiz of motors and the eddying gayety of Fifth av., is old St. Leo’s Church, in East 28th st., so long famous under the pastorage of the late Father Ducey.”

“This church, since Father Ducey’s death, has become the chosen sanctuary for harassed men and women, many of them evidently of wealthy and position, who steal away to this quiet spot as refuge from their various woes, their social duties, their physical ills and their hearts torn by the various troubles that come to all those whose lot is cast among the active conflicts of life, no matter what their situation”

The article reflected on the sisters of the Society of Marie Reparatrice, called “The Blue Nuns” because of their picturesque robin’s egg blue habits.  “The Sisters give that impression of refinement and culture which we associate with women in the social world.  They have culture, manner and charm in no small degree.”  In 1910 the sisters were given the church and in 1914 the former rectory was converted to a convent.

The church was the scene of a surprising series of crimes in September 1915.  Mrs. Catherine Northrup, alias Mrs. Randolph Fitzhugh, of Virginia, checked into the Holland House with luggage containing a significant wardrobe.  Within the next two weeks a flurry of robberies had been reported from within St. Leo’s Church.

Detective Beadle finally cracked the cast on September 23 after becoming suspicious and trailing the woman.  Catherine Northrup would enter St. Leo’s, sit behind a female worshiper, and when the congregation knelt in prayer would reach over the pew and remove money from the woman’s purse.

She then returned to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed back.  Detective Beadle followed her movements all day on September 22 when she repeated the process four times.  The New-York Tribune reported two days later, “She appeared at St. Leo’s again yesterday morning, Beadle said, and when she left the church the fourth time went to the Holland House, changed from the light costume to a dark one, and went to the church one more.  Each time she sat in a different part of the building.”

“The woman, who is also known as the ‘church robber,’” said the newspaper, “was held in $1,000 bail by Magistrate Cobb in Yorkville Court after she had pleaded not guilty.”

As the 28th Street neighborhood continued to change throughout the 20th century, the handsome brownstone church remained.  Although its sharp spire was lost early in the century, the St. Leo’s survived virtually intact until 1986 when it was demolished for a 13-floor hotel at the rear of the plot.  The site of the church is now an open plaza for the Madison Belvedere Apartments.

photograph by the author

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The James Cox Brady Mansion - No. 10 East 76th Street

In 1881 construction began on a row of ten four-story brownstone-fronted houses on East 76th Street off Central Park.  Stretching from No. 10 through 28, they were designed by architect John G. Prague for speculative developer William Noble.  Completed a year later, they reflected the high-tone flavor of the neighborhood where already the mansions of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens were rising along nearby Fifth Avenue.

By the early 1890s No. 10 would be home to the Charles Cleveland Dodge family.  A member of the extended Phelps and Dodge families who had made their immense fortunes in copper mining, Charles had distinguished himself during the Civil War as one of the youngest Brigadier Generals in American military history.  Now he was a partner in the Phelps Dodge Co. and President of the New York and Boston Cape Cod Canal Co.

On February 23, 1892 the house was the scene of a significant society wedding.  Daughter Ethel Cleveland Dodge was married to William Cary Sanger of Brooklyn.  The large wedding party included some of society’s most prominent names—among the bridesmaids were Edith Morgan, Helen Stokes, Juliana Cutting, and Lelia Alexander. 

The New York Times reported on the event saying “The ceremony took place under a large bunch of Easter lilies suspended from the ceiling.  To reach this spot, the bride and groom walked between the fourteen bridesmaids who formed an aisle.  The seven on one side wore pink gowns and those on the other wore white.”

In January 1895 the house was sold for $48,000 (about $1.3 million today) to Michael Coleman.  Coleman almost immediately turned it over to the recently-widowed William S. Scarborough.  The 82-year old retired lawyer was living in Connecticut; yet upon the death of his wife that year he moved to New York City.   As a young lawyer in Cincinnati, Scarborough had given help to another young attorney, Rutherford B. Hayes.  Later, the New-York Tribune would remember “When Hayes became President, he offered Mr. Scarborough a mission to the Sandwich Islands.”

Scarborough lived here for just under five years.  The elderly man died in the house on East 76th Street in November 1900.  Private services were held in the parlor on November 28 before the funeral in Connecticut two days later. 

Among William Scarborough’s five sons was Charles, described by The Evening World as “a prominent clubman and paper merchant.”  Around the time his father moved into the house on East 76th Street, Charles was being seen with Mrs. Anna V. Gibbs.  Now Mrs. Gibbs moved into the Scarborough house.

Charles R. Scarborough, himself, lived further south at No. 234 West 42nd Street.  He was in business with his brother at No. 27 Beekman Street. And if friends and neighbors saw Charles come and go from No. 10 East 76th Street, they thought little of it.  Mrs. Gibbs was a respectable widow and Charles had a reputation as a well-bred businessman. 

But since June 6, 1895 the pair had a close-held secret that only Anna’s two sisters and three of Charles’ brothers knew about.  

On October 16, 1902 The Evening World spilled the beans.  “To the doubter who thinks woman is not capable of keeping a secret reference can be made to Mrs. Charles R. Scarborough, who for seven years has given her friends the impression that her name was Mrs. Anna V. Gibbs.”

The newspaper hinted that the secret marriage had to do with the will of Anna’s former husband.  “The story most frequently told deals of a will in which it is stipulated that the beneficiary must not remarry.”  But if clarification was to be had, it was not coming from Charles nor Anna at the moment.  The wealthy paper merchant “has stepped out of the city until his friends recover from the shock of the announcement,” said The Evening World, adding “Mrs. Scarborough is a partial invalid and will not see visitors at her home, No. 10 East Seventy-sixth street.”

By the time of Charles and Anna’s shocking revelation the neighborhood was quickly changing.  The brownstones, while only two decades old, were architecturally out of fashion.  Moneyed buyers snatched up the Victorian homes to either raze or transform into modern mansions.

Dora and Alfred Schiffer had lived next door at No. 12 since 1898.  Now, in 1903, they purchased No. 10 and three years later, on March 31, 1906, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide announced their intentions of melding the two structures into one lavish mansion.  The periodical stated that architects Schwartz & Gross would design five-story “brick and stone front and rear extension” to the two buildings along with redesigning the floorplan at a cost of $100,000. 

Apparently the Schiffers rethought their grand scheme.  Scaling down, they focused on No. 10 and a year later remodeling along the designs of Schwartz & Gross began.  The old brownstone reemerged in 1908 as a grand Beaux Arts mansion that held its own with its exclusive neighbors.

Four floors of limestone rose to a slate-covered mansard.  French doors and multi-paned windows on the second through fourth floors created a refined presence on the block.  Tragically, Alfred Schiffer died without seeing his home completed.  And Dora never moved in.  She sold the completed mansion to financier James Cox Brady.

The young banker had graduated from Yale University just two years earlier, the same year he went into business with his well-known father, Anthony N. Brady.  In 1905 he had married Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of Judge Andrew Hamilton. 

The young and wealthy newlyweds moved into the new mansion in 1908 and things for the couple seemed idyllic.  Then, on March 3, 1912 Elizabeth boarded a New York, New Haven & Hartford express train.  She would not return home.  The train crashed and Elizabeth Brady was among the fatalities.

Society was surprised two years later when, on October 15, 1914, Brady married Lady Victoria May Pery, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Limerick.  The New York Times remarked “Outside of the relatives and a few intimate friends of Mr. Brady and Lady Pery the couple’s engagement had been kept secret, and the announcement of the wedding…came as a surprise to most of their friends.”

They were married at Sea Verge, the summer estate of Brady’s brother, Nicholas in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey.  Because of the war, the original wedding plans which called for the ceremony to be held at the bride’s family’s Dromore Castle were scraped.  Newspapers made note of the difference in ages—Brady was 32 and his new wife was 20.

The Bradys divided their time between the East 76th Street house and what The New York Times called their “elaborate Summer home known as Hamilton Farms” near Gladstone, New Jersey. “It is one of the show places of the Somerset Hills,” the newspaper would later say.  Shortly after the wedding he purchased the yacht Atlantic and the late Alfred W. Vanderbilt’s stable of coach and harness horses.  He also purchased No. 12 East 76th Street, next door, from Dora Schiffer that same year.

As time passed, James Cox Brady was not only co-executor of his father’s $70 million estate; but was a trustee and director in nearly a dozen firms, including the Chrysler Corporation and Central Union Trust Company of New York.

But tragedy would also end Brady’s second marriage.  Just two years after the wedding Victoria contracted influenza and died.   A widower for the second time, James Cox Brady lived on in the 76th Street mansion with his children and staff.

Then on October 3, 1920 word was received from London that Brady had married again.  

In 1913 The Times had launched a contest to find “the typical American girl of today.”  Hundreds of photographs poured into the newspaper and a jury of seven artists selected one to publish on the front page of the December 7, 1913 edition.  The winner was 18-year old Helen McMahon from Long Island.

Now the former American Girl of Today had been married in Westminster Cathedral to one of America’s wealthiest men.  Unlike Brady’s former wives, she was neither titled nor rich.  “Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. McMahon, are both dead and she has been living with her brother, J. T. McMahon, and sister, Florence, in Twentieth Street, Flushing," reported The Times.

The newlyweds arrived in New York on November 14, 1920 on the Cunader Imperator.  The passenger list included Countess Jacques de Lesseps, sculptor Jo Davidson, and Theresa Oelrichs (who was sick throughout the voyage).  But it was Brady and his wife who had the Imperial Suite on the liner.  The New York Times noted “Mr. Brady and his bride had the biggest declaration of dutiable articles on the Imperator, amounting to nearly $17,000.”  The new Mrs. Brady was undoubtedly preparing for her new life in society—the dutiable purchases would amount to about $185,000 today.  And as she departed the ship reporters made note that she “wore a long fur coat with toque to match.”

Helen Brady took up the role as mother and socialite and in 1924 the debutante entertainments for Jane Hamilton Brady stretched on for months.  They climaxed on December 26 when the Bradys hosted “one of the largest of the holiday dances at Pierre’s.”  Prior to the dance a dinner for 50 guests was held in the mansion.

Three years later Jane’s marriage to Frederick Strong Moseley Jr. of Boston was one of the years prominent social events.  The wedding took place at the Hamilton Farms estate on June 23, 1927, and was conducted by the Bishop of Trenton.  Among the high-powered guests were Mr. and Mrs. Walter P. Chrysler, the Alexander Van Rensselaers and Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Merrill, Jr.

Only five months later James Cox Brady was dead.  He had become ill the first week of November and his condition worsened to pneumonia.  He died in the 76th Street house at the age of 45 at around 2:00 in the afternoon of November 10.  “His passing was so sudden that one of the children, Miss Ruth Brady, who was visiting a relative in Albany, was able to reach the bedside only a few minutes before the end,” reported a newspaper.

Prior to the funeral two days later dozens of friends and former associates paid their respects.  “Four rooms of the house were banked high with hundreds of floral designs,” reported The Times the following day.  Brady’s bronze coffin was transported to the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue and 84th Street where more than 2,500 mourners awaited.  Following the procession into the church, along with the family, were Governor Al Smith, Major General William N. Haskell, and 96 nuns from Villa Marie Convent in Trenton, founded by Brady.

The service was conducted by Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, assisted by a delegation of fifty priests, including the Bishop of Trenton; Bishop John J. Dunn of the Diocese of New York; and clerics as far away as Boston.  “The funeral cortege consisted of more than a hundred automobiles and was headed by a motorcycle police escort en route to the Grand Central Station,” said The Times.  A special funeral train carrying 1,500 persons, including the Cardinal, took the body to Albany.  “Three truckloads of flowers were also taken on the train.”

Helen McMahon Brady shared the more-than $20 million estate with her husband’s three daughters and son.  Among the real estate he left Helen were the two houses on East 76th Street and Hamilton Farm.  She remained in No. 10 and a year later in November announced the engagement of Ruth Brady to the Hon. Michael Simon Scott, son of the Viscountess Encombe and brother of the Earl of Eldon.

In 1946 the Brady family sold the house.  It was the end of the line for the distinguished mansion as a private home.  Later that year it was converted to two apartments per floor, with a doctor’s office at ground level.  In the mid 1950s it housed an art gallery.

From the street, however, the Brady mansion is little changed—a handsome relic on a (mostly) beautifully preserved block.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 18, 2014

Remnants of Elegance -- No. 264 Fifth Avenue

Although sorely abused and barely recognizable as a former mansion, the massive scale of the house is staggering.

By the decade prior to the outbreak of civil, war brownstone mansions had crept far north of Washington Square.  At the southwest corner of 29th Street stood a massive house that rose four stories above a high English basement. Its 30-foot width was about one-and-a-half times that of the normal residential lot, and stretched 100 feet down West 29th Street.  A broad stone stoop would have risen to the parlor floor, and the hipped roof was interrupted by circular French dormers which announced this mansion was of the latest architectural fashion.

According to The New York Times about a century later, the house “at one time was the home of A. T. Stewart.”  The immensely wealthy merchant could definitely have afforded such accommodations.  His personal fortune in 1855 was estimated to be $2.25 millionAlthough he lived in the fashionable Depau Row in the 1840s it is quite possible he moved into this Fifth Avenue mansion prior to building his white marble palace five blocks north in 1870—directly across from the William Backhouse Astor house.

Alexander Stewart and his wife, the former Cornelia Mitchel Clinch, would have entertained lavishly in the immense brownstone mansion at No. 264 Fifth Avenue.  In 1869 his yearly income made him one of the 20 richest men in history.  His fortune by now would translate to about $90 billion by today's standards.

Stewart’s limitless wealth came from his dry goods business, the A. T. Stewart & Co.  He essentially invented the concept of the department store, recognized the value of customer service rather than overcharging the buyer, and developed in 1876 the idea of mail order business.

But even as the finishing touches to Stewart’s new block-wide marble mansion were being completed in 1870; Fifth Avenue was under siege.  Hotels rose around Madison Square just three blocks below No. 264, high-end retailers were creeping into the residential neighborhood, and 23rd Street was destined to be New York’s entertainment district in just over a decade.

By 1878 commerce had made its way north to 29th Street.  No. 264, once the scene of brilliant balls and refined receptions, was converted to lavish apartments on the upper floors; just one or two per floor.  Called the Knickerbocker Flats they were mostly occupied by wealthy bachelors.  At street level was an upscale jewelry store, Howard & Co.  On reporting on the store’s March 26, 1878 opening The New York Times said “Their stock, which is composed of gold and silver watches, jewelry, and bric-a-brac, made a glittering display.”  A year earlier the newspaper had offhandedly mentioned “It would be absurd to expect that the cheaper kinds should be kept at a store which is frequented only by the wealthy.”

The renovations to the mansion can be seen in this turn-of-the-century photograph by Robert L. Bracklow.  A handsome cast iron store front has replaced the basement and parlor levels; but the carved window surrounds and cast iron balcony remain intact.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWQY5TB0&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=631

The newspaper emphasized that fact in describing some of the “bric-a-brac” now offered, including “a handsome cabinet which once belonged to Charles Jacques, the artist.  Upon an antique cushion was a large silver helmet and visor, which was made in the sixteenth century by Giocami Cellini for Francis I…A wealth of bronzes, statuettes, clocks, and vases was displayed upon tables running down the centre of the room.”

Howard & Co. would stay in the former mansion for decades and its clientele consisted of the wealthiest of New York’s carriage trade.  A few days before Christmas in 1899 Howard & Co. advertised “A remarkable large Marquise shape pink diamond with a superb Canary Diamond Drop.  Exquisite contrasting colors.  Set together as Brooch or pendant.”  The gentleman who purchased that piece of jewelry for some lucky lady’s Christmas present would pay $18,000.  Or, if that was not extravagant enough, he might choose the pearl necklace advertised on the same page of The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review.  Howard & Co. promised that “every pearl is perfectly round, free from imperfections, all the same color and that the best, is most difficult to obtain, especially if of any large size.”  The necklace was priced at $36,000—about $976,000 today.

In the meantime, the suites upstairs were taken by moneyed residents.  One was S. S. Sondheim who shared the third floor with P. A. Fachiri.  He left the apartment for the summer of 1882; possibly headed to a fashionable resort.  The temporary vacancy ended in a messy matter when Sondheim entrusted his furniture and other property with Captain Thomas Collum.  The Victorian term “captain” in this instance is what we would call a “superintendant” today. 

With Sondheim out of town, Collum helped himself to the man’s wardrobe and personal effects.  As his trial approached on May 30, 1886, The New York Times reported that his defense was “the articles in the trunk which was found were given to him, he said, by Mr. Sondheim” and that he was a “victim of persecution.”

Sondheim returned to his apartment despite the affair and the Knickerbocker Flats got a new super, John Cave (who as part of his employment received the entire fifth floor where he lived with his father and mother).  Other tenants in the building in 1885 were Mrs. A. M. Roberts, who occupied the entire second floor; and G. W. Ulshoefer and J. S. Inglis on the fourth.

On June 21, 1885 at around 3 a.m. fire broke out in the workrooms of Mathesius Brothers & Co., manufacturers of “artistic furniture and interior decorations” next door at No. 262 Fifth Avenue.  The Times described that building as “a five-story brownstone structure, one door south of Twenty-ninth-street, and was formerly a private dwelling.”  Mathesius Brothers occupied the entire building and “It was filled with fine furniture and tapestry.”

By 4:00 the top three floors of the building were engulfed and “Through an open window in the southerly wall of the building at No. 264 Fifth-avenue, on the southwest corner of Twenty-ninth-street, the flames entered that building.”  The terrorized residents watched as fire fighters worked to keep the blaze from destroying their homes.

When the fire was extinguished, Howard & Co. sustained no damage and Mrs. Roberts, one floor above, had just “a trifling loss.”  Others were not so lucky.  Water damage to the Fachiri and Sondheim apartments was about $500, the same amount suffered by John Cave and his family; but Inglis and Ulshoefer lost a combined $2,000 in property, nearly $47,000 in today’s money.

The necessary repairs were made on No. 264 to restore the handsome apartments.  Among the upscale tenants in 1893 was L. Vaughn Clark, whom The New York Times said “comes from St. Louis, but he is well known in business and club circles here, being a member of the Union Club, New-York Yacht Club, and the Racquet Club.”  On April 11 that year his engagement to Edith Draper was announced by the young woman’s widowed mother, Victorine Wetmore Draper.  “Both Miss Draper and Mr. Clark are familiar figures in fashionable drawing rooms,” noted The Times.

While the well-dressed residents came and went, liveried doormen at Howard & Co. welcomed Livingstons, Vanderbilts and Belmonts.  Only families with names and fortunes like theirs could afford to shop here.  On November 3, 1899, for instance, Howard & Co. advertised in the New-York Tribune that it had for sale an “absolutely perfect oriental pear shape drop” pearl.  “Weight over 85 grains.”  The jeweler priced the single pearl at $27,000.

As the turn of the century came and went the high-end retailers inched further up Fifth Avenue, following the northern flow of the residential district.  In 1905 Tiffany & Co. opened its opulent headquarters between 36th and 37th Streets; joined by the nearby stores of Gorham, Dreicer & Co., Alvin silversmiths and others; all within one or two blocks of one another and all completed within a year.

But Howard & Co. stayed on south of 34th Street at No. 264.  It was perhaps a bad business decision.  The financial depression of 1907 forced the company to borrow heavily and in 1908 a trustee was appointed to handle its affairs.  In December 1909, Joseph P. Howard died and his son, Montague Howard, took over the business.  But the end of the line for Howard & Co. was on the horizon.  On January 7, 1914 The New York Times reported “The climax came during the recent holiday season, it was said, when a great falling of sales from the average maintained in other years was experienced.  The reduced earnings of the last month, it was said, had convinced the officers of the corporation that it would be fruitless to continue the business longer.”

With the loss of the elegant jewelry store, the retail space at No. 264 became a bit less glamorous.  It was taken over by the ticket office of the Southern Railway.  In the meantime, however, the spacious apartments upstairs continued to be leased to well-to-do residents.  In 1917 attorney Henry Nickman shared a floor with wealthy merchant Edward J. Milliken.

Milliken was a partner in the firm of Stuart, Milliken & Co., wholesale jobbers and dealers in hosiery and lingerie.  In 1919 Milliken’s respectable bachelor pad would become less so when it was publicized as a pivotal point in the divorce case of his partner Harry P. Stuart.  Stuart, who was 46 years old, was married to 26-year old Rose Edith Stuart. 

Rose had little complaint about her marriage.  She told the judge that Stuart “lavished presents upon her, including an expensive motor car, and that he allowed her $100 a month for ‘pin money,’ besides paying all her bills and the household expenses,” said The Evening World on July 28, 1919.  But then another woman came into the picture.

The unnamed woman was married to a soldier who was off fighting the war in 1917.  According to her, she was seduced by Stuart.  “I lived happy with my first husband for two years until Stuart came along, followed me all over town, pestering the life out of me, telling me what a rich man he was, that I would run away and get a divorce from my husband, and that he would pay for it.”

Rose Stuart had little compassion for the woman’s sad story of victimization.  She told of the many times her husband invited the women to their home without her consent and “while I would be in another room or with my back turned I would see them caressing each other.  In fact, I caught her openly with her arms around my husband.”

Rose turned the other woman’s indiscretions into a breach of patriotism.  “Such was this woman’s conduct while her husband was in France as an officer, fighting for his country, and he is still in France, in the belief that, here in this wonderful land of liberty he left a loving and true little wife, when, instead, she proved to be not only unfaithful but disloyal to her country.”

Unbeknownst to Rose, the pair had gone to Reading, Pennsylvania, where Stuart paid for a hotel, a lawyer and the divorce.  But her strong suspicions prompted her to hire a private investigator; who was led directly to No. 264 Fifth Avenue.

“On July 17 I had my husband shadowed from the time he left my house in the morning until we forced our way into Milliken’s bachelor apartment located at No. 264 Fifth Avenue, New York.  This was apartment No. 5 and consisted of one bedroom, a sitting room, and a bathroom.  It was 10:30 at night.  My husband was there with the co-respondent alone.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence based on testimonies from both women, The Evening World reported “Mr. Stuart denies all his wife’s charges.”

By mid-century the once proud neighborhood showed little evidence of its former glory.  In 1946 No. 264 was home to businesses like the Costume Jewelry Supply House which promised to “double your investment with these $25, $50, $100 to $500 bargain assortments.”  Cleopatra Pearls offered “an unusual opportunity to start business with small capital.”

The opulent interiors where Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens were once entertained had long ago been gutted.  When T. Victor Searing purchased the property that same year, it was described as a “five-story store and loft building.”

Only the French dormers survive to provide passersby a hint of the structure's former glory.

Another half century was no kinder to the old structure.  Today only the wonderful circular dormers hint that this was once a grand residence.  All the architectural elements have been stripped away and the brownstone has been painted the color of hot chocolate.  Nevertheless, it is one of the last residential vestiges of this stretch of Fifth Avenue for blocks; a fascinating and abused relic.

photographs by the author