Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Seabury Tredwell House - 29 East 4th Street

photograph by "Tony" from the Wikipedia Takes Manhattan Project
East Fourth Street in 1832 saw the arrival of elegant red brick homes with marble trim as the street became part of the most fashionable residential section of the city, the Bond Street area.  That year Joseph Brewster built six upscale homes on the north side of East 4th Street, between Lafayette Place and Bowery.  He moved into one of them, at what was then No. 361.

Although the identify of the architect is unknown for certain, modern architectural historians recognize distinct similarities to the work of Menard Lafever.  While the exterior reflects the elements of the Federal style--the elegant, arched entrance with marble Gibbs surround, and the dormered attic floor, for instance), the interior transitioned to the newer Greek Revival style.  Here the costliest materials were used:  matching black-and-gold marble mantels in the parlor and dining rooms, exquisite plaster ceiling moldings, a richly carved entry hall newel post of acanthus leaves, and mahogany doors.  To maintain symmetry, so important in Greek Revival architecture, one such door in the parlor opened onto a brick wall, installed simply to balance a second door.

Mahogany pocket doors slide closed to separate the dining room and parlor.  Contemporary critics would have called the interior appointments "pure Greek."  photo via merchantshouse.org
The house was purchased for $18,000 (just over half a million dollars today) by Seabury Tredwell in 1835.  Comfortable after years of successful trade as a partner in Tredwell & Kissam, an importer of English marine hardware, he had retired that year at the age of 55 to live off his interest and investments.  

The Treadwell family was already large.  He and his wife, the former Eliza Parker (who was 17 years younger than he) had six children.  Moving in to help were four servants.  The same year the family moved in, another daughter, Sarah, was born.  Five years later, in 1840, the couples' eighth child, Gertrude was born in the second floor bedroom.

Like their wealthy neighbors, the, Tredwells filled the house with the best furnishings, patronizing the workshops of New York cabinetmakers such as Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks.  Outside their windows the elite of New York society rode by in sleek carriages on their way to the theaters just a few blocks away on the Bowery.  A New York newspaper, in 1835, extolled "The elegance and beauty of this section cannot be surpassed in the country."

The heat of New York City summers also brought odors and, often, diseases.  Wealthy families escaped to summer residences and the Tredwells' was a sprawling 850 acre estate estate in Rumson, New Jersey.  

Seabury Tredwell was, reportedly, a stern, religious father, the namesake of his uncle, the first American Episcopal Bishop.  The children grew up in an environment of class and refinement.  A piano offered entertainment in the evenings.  

Elizabeth was the first of the children to leave the house.  She was married to Effingham Nichols in 1845.  Three years later Mary Adelaide married hardware merchant Charles Richard.  Samuel Lenox Tredwell would be the only other of the children to marry.

Seabury Tredwell died on the evening of March 7, 1865 at the age of 84.  His funeral was held in the parlor four days later, on Saturday afternoon.  

While interior design fashions had changed, they had not arrived at what was now No. 29 East 4th Street.  There were no alterations made to the East 4th Street house during his lifetime.  After his death, the family cautiously updated the parlor with the addition of a few up-to-date Victorian upholstered pieces.  Otherwise, as Gertrude would later repeat again and again, it was left "as papa wanted it."

The family added a modern parlor set sometime after 1865.  photo via merchantshouse.org
Eliza Tredwell died in 1882 and by the turn of the century only Gertrude and her sisters were left in the house.  It would appear that the Tredwell fortune was by this time drying up.  In an October 1906 letter to the The New York Times G. Ellsworth chided the editor for an apparent expose of the sisters' finances.  

As one of the oldest subscribers to your paper, I beg to insert this paragraph to contradict and absolutely deny the erroneous statements set forth in the columns of the daily Times of Saturday last respecting the surviving daughters of the late Seabury Tredwell.   Suffice it to say, despite the assertions made to the contrary, they are only in comfortable circumstances, and are practical, thoroughly good loyal citizens of the substantial old type of character handed down from generations back.

In quick succession the parlor saw the funerals of Gertrude's sisters:  Sarah died in 1906.  A year later Phebe fell down the staircase to her death, and in 1909 Gertrude's last sister Julia died leaving her alone in the last elegant home in the neighborhood.

The city outside the marble-arched entrance to Gertrude's home was no longer the enclave of the privileged.  Commerce had taken over.  The lower floors of once-proud residences not demolished were transformed into shops and warehouses.   Their marble stoops were removed, the interiors gutted.  Where hansoms and cabriolets once transported the wealthy, trucks now clattered.

Gertrude, however, remained isolated in her time capsule, keeping everything preserved.   Nothing was discarded.  Dresses and combs, books and letters, everything was kept intact and in place exactly as things were in 1835.  Despite her finances running low until she was nearly destitute towards the end of her life, Gertrude fought against the progress beyond her curtained windows.
 
In 1933, just short of a century after her father purchased the house, Gertrude Tredwell died upstairs in the same bed in which she was born in 1840.  She was 93 years old.

Gertrude died in this bed in 1933.  photo via merchantshouse.org

A cousin, George Chapman purchased the Tredwell house, recognizing its importance and the need to preserve it.  He opened it as a private house museum in 1936, supporting the cause with his own funds.   

Unfortunately house museums in the Depression were not greatly popular; and he did not have the resources to maintain the aging structure.  When he died in 1962 its condition was perilous.  Water had seeped into the brickwork causing the facade to buckle outward.  The chimney tilted dangerously to one side.  Inside the carpeting and fabrics were faded and worn.

That year The Decorators Club of New York City adopted the house as a pet project.  Scalamandre reproduced the draperies including painstakingly hand-making the heavy tassels.  The "Pompeiian" patterned carpeting was reproduced from a swatch cut from the parlor.  Yet the structural problems were more than the Decorators Club could tackle.

New York University architect Joseph Roberto was consulted and he took on the project in a nearly single-handed effort to save the building. 

One night during the restoration the house was broken into.  The thieves roamed throughout the building searching for valuables they could quickly resell.  They passed by the Tredwell silverware, the 19th century oil paintings and the mahogany knife boxes on the sideboard.  Luckily for posterity, in their ignorance they stole the workers hand tools--the only things of value they recognized.

Over nine years of structural restoration brought the house back.  Roberto's wife Carolyn, an interior designer, worked with the Decorators Club to restore the furniture and interior accessories.  As evidence of Gertrude Tredwell's careful preservation of her family's things, a volunteer one day was going through clothing in an upstairs bedroom.  Putting her hand into an evening cape, she pulled from the pocket the program from a play that had taken place in the late 1800s.   Like almost everything in the house it laid protected from time, never having been touched since that last Tredwell sister nestled it into her pocket after the theater nearly a century earlier.

In 1971 Joe Roberto received The Victorian Society of America's Preservation Award for his work on the Merchant's House.  He was consulted again in 1987 when the house was again threatened, this time by the intended razing of the three houses, long since seriously altered, at Nos. 31, 33 and 35.  Because the Tredwell House and No. 31 shared a party wall there was a genuine possibility of collapse.  Through Roberto's direction, enough of No. 31's interior wall was left to buttress No. 29  so that the old house came down without any damage to the Tredwell home.

It is often suggested that Henry James based his novel Washington Square on Gertrude Tredwell.  Whether or not that is true, when the 1949 film version, The Heiress, was in process the filmmakers toured the East 4th Street house extensively as research for the interior sets.

Today the Merchant House Museum is widely regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of early 19th Century residences both inside and out.  From the grand wrought iron basket newels on the marble stoop to the gloves and parasols in the bedrooms upstairs, the Tredwell residence is a remarkable treasure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stationery and Shoes - Nos. 150-152 Duane Street

Designed and constructed simultaneously, No. 148 Duane Street (to the left) appears to be an extension of the corner building.
On September 19, 1859 workers were busy constructing a modern loft building for dry goods merchants James Benkhard and Benjamin H. Hutton at Nos. 142-144 Duane Street.  The Tribeca neighborhood was just seeing real commercial development, and the rest of the block was still lined with houses dating to the 1810s, several already converted for business.

Disaster struck when a wall of the new building collapsed.  Four years later, on December 7, 1863 Benkhard and Hutton were in court answering a law suit charging them with "negligence or imprudence in the matter of their improvements" and alleging damages of $2,075.88.  They were found guilty.

Undaunted, Benkhard & Hutton forged on.  Their drygoods business was successful enough that they purchased the damaged properties and within months of the verdict had demolished them and begun construction on two impressive loft structures.  Completed in 1865, they were the last word in commercial architectural fashion.

The corner building at Nos. 150-152 Duane Street was nearly indistinguishable from No. 148.  Above cast iron storefronts, the five story structures were faced in sandstone and combined the Italianate style with the newly-emerging French Second Empire.  Each floor was defined by a stone cornice and featured segmentally-arched windows separated by dignified pilasters and corner quoins.

The side of the building, facing West Broadway, was as impressive as the front.  Here the buff-colored stone became the trim, contrasting with ruddy red brick.  The architect created a three-part design by flanking the central section with two slightly more ornate three-bay pavilions.  Stone quoins defined the three sections.

James Benkhard died on April 21, 1865, the same year the building was completed.  Hutton filled it with other dry goods firms, including Lindsay, Chittick & Co., dealers in imported fabrics and fancy goods.

The Commercial & Financial Chronicle, November 17, 1866 (copyright expired)

One of Hutton's early tenants seems to have gone out of business early in 1870.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 24 offered "For Sale Cheap--A number of blue cloth window shades, walnut top counters, office desks, &c.; all in fine order."

William S. Mount opened his new business in the building on September 20, 1876.  A stark departure from the dry goods firms, he dealt in "Turkish Goods."  American relations with the Ottoman Empire had been shaky at best until a treaty was signed in 1862.  By now merchants like Mount were importing an array of exotic goods.  Listed in his opening announcement were "Turkish rugs, Persian Rugs, embroidered table covers, neck ties; embroidered chair covers jackets; embroidered cushion covers, slippers, and a variety of other articles."

The following decade would continue to see a more diverse list of tenants.  In 1882 S. Moorhouse & Co., importers and wholesalers of "staple and fancy" groceries, was in the building; and around 1884 Edwin C. Burt & Co., makers of ladies' and children's fine shoes moved in from No. 93 Thomas Street.   It was the first sign of the neighborhood's change from the dry goods to shoe district.

Burt had started his career in his father's leather shop in Hartford, Connecticut, but came to New York in 1848 with his brother, James, to sell shoes and boots to the Southern and Western markets.  The Civil War put an end to Southern trade; so he turned from selling to manufacturing high-quality shoes.

Edwin C. Burt died in 1884 at the age of 66.  His business continued, as did his legacy of bad labor relations. 

In 1875, with the financial depression still ongoing, Burt had reduced the salary of his cutters from $24 per 10-hour week to $21 (about $475 a week in today's dollars).  The men walked out.  Rather than negotiate, Burt simply replaced them and told a reporter that "he had had no difficulty in obtaining all the men he required."

Burt & Co.'s stylish button-up shoe featured a scallop design along the closure (copyright expired)

In a case of deja vu workers walked off the job in February 1889 when Edwin C. Burt & Co. reduced their wages by as much about 25 percent.  The New York Times reported on the stand-off on February 26, writing "The members of the firm said that competition compelled them to make reductions, but the men declare that Burt's shoes always fetch a higher figure in the market than any other shoes and that the firm's business is as good as ever."

In addition to its fine quality shoe, Edwin C. Burt & Co. was known for its clever trade cards which it distributed to its retailers.  The colorful, eye-catching cards warned customers to check for the firm's stamp inside the shoe to make sure they were the real thing.



The trade cards were individually imprinted with the retailers' names.  (copyrights expired)

By 1898 Edwin C. Burt & Co. had moved to No. 92-98 Centre Street.  It declared bankruptcy that year.

In the meantime, by 1892 the Whiting Paper had taken over essentially all of the upper portion of Nos. 150-152 Duane Street.  The ground floor was occupied by the United States Express Co.

Whiting Paper boasted being the second largest paper manufacturing firm in the world (the first being in Aberdeen, Scotland).   William Whiting had organized the firm in 1865, with its paper mill in Massachusetts.  It manufactured "all kind of find writing and envelope papers."

The firm also rented the top two floors of the building next door, at No. 148 Duane Street.  It shared that building with wine and liquor importers Julius Wile Brothers & Co.; perfume manufacturer Rice Brothers & Tiffany; and J. L. Alboez, "dealer in atomizers."  Along with Whiting Paper Co., the stock or materials used in manufacturing by all the tenants were highly flammable.


On December 5, 1897 at 8:16 p.m. fire broke out on the third floor of No. 148 Duane Street.   It spread rapidly throughout the building and spread to Nos. 150-152.  It took firefighters two and a half hours to control the blaze, after which No. 148 was declared "destroyed" and the roof of Nos. 150-152 was heavily damaged.  Whiting Paper Co. had lost everything in No. 148 and the contents next door were damaged by smoke.

Both buildings were repaired and Whiting Paper took over all four upper floors of No. 148--now completely filling both buildings above the ground floor.  United States Express Company remained at street level in Nos. 150-152 and Jules Wile Brothers & Co. moved back into its store next door.

Disaster repeated itself on May 5, 1900 when fire broke out on the fifth floor of No. 148.  Before what firefighters described as "a stubborn blaze" was extinguished Whiting suffered about $5,000 in losses while the liquor store incurred $2,000 water damage.

Walden's Stationery and Printer, February 25, 1907 (copyright expired)
Once again Whiting Paper remained.  The year after the fire the firm employed 373 men, 10 boys between 16 and 18 years old, 9 below 16 years of age, and 25 females.

In 1907 Whiting Paper added a warehouse on White Street in response to "the steadily increasing business."  With the bulk of its storage gone from Duane Street, space opened up here for other firms.   The first was the newly-formed D. J. Allen Co., wholesale boot and shoe dealers, which opened for business on December 1, 1907.

Hoffman-Corr was a departure from the usual manufacturers in the neighborhood.  The Evening World, June 27, 1911 (copyright expired)

After decades of doing business at the corner of Duane and West Broadway, in June 1912 Whiting Paper Co. announced it had leased five floors in a building under construction at Seventh Avenue at 14th Street.  With the paper company's removal, Nos. 150-152 was taken over by shoe concerns.

In 1914 T. R. Emerson Shoe Co. moved in.  The firm maintained stockrooms in upper floors while operating its retail store at ground level.  Here "fashionable designs of women's footwear" could be seen.

M. B. Martine, Inc. took over the second floor in 1921 where, according to the Boot and Shoe Recorder, "they have more commodious quarters for their office, sample room and factory."  The company manufactured shoe accessories including "over-gaiters, buckles, and other shoe ornaments."

The building continued to house shoe firms throughout most of the 20th century.  In 1942 it was home to the M. J. Saks Shoe Company.


As was the case with many Tribeca loft buildings, Nos. 150-152 was renovated to for residential use above the ground floor in 1990.  Throughout its more than 150 year life, the impressive structure has been little changed externally.  A modern renovation of the storefronts resulted in vast expanses of plate glass; yet the surviving cast iron elements present a clear indication of the original appearance.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Henry Illoway House - 1113 Madison Avenue


In 1853 Rabbi Bernard Illowy and his wife, the former Katherine Gitel Schiff, immigrated with their two children, Henry and Nettie, from Kolin, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) to the United States.

Bernard came from a long ling of religious scholars.  He was recognized for his exceptional oratory abilities, and many of his sermons and speeches were published.  He held a doctorate from the University of Budapest and was fluent in Italian, English, French and German, and was literate in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  But because of his opposition to the Habsburg Empire he was forced to leave his homeland.

The Illowy family was living in St. Louis when a second son, Jacob, was born.  As the eldest son, Henry was expected to become a rabbi, too.  He accompanied his father to principal U.S. cities where the rabbi preached.  But in 1864, at the age of 17, Henry changed his mind and announced he wanted to study medicine.

By then the family had relocated to Cincinnati, where Rabbi Illowy died in an accident in 1871.  Henry continued his studies, receiving his medical degree from the Miami Medical College of Cincinnati, and later studied in Berlin and Vienna.  By the time Henry and his siblings moved to New York in 1894, they had changed the spelling of their name to Illoway.

Henry was a specialist in children's diseases, but he never turned his back on religious scholarship.  He regularly wrote on biblical and talmudic subjects and was a member of the ancient Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel.

Jacob, who married Gertrude Kahn around 1890, went into business, becoming a partner in the LaMuriel Cigar factory on Avenue A.  Nettie eventually became a recognized artist of oil landscapes and seascapes.

James McNamara and his wife, Evelyn had lived in the 20-foot wide brownstone rowhouse at No. 1113 Madison Avenue since 1894.  Living with them was their son, Joseph, who was a Commissioner of Deeds.  The French Second Empire dwelling had been on the cutting edge of architectural fashion when built.  Three bays wide, the high stoop led to the parlor floor where, almost certainly, the windows stretched nearly floor to ceiling.

The elegant mansard level, however, drew the most attention.  Shingled in slate tiles, it sat above an exceptionally handsome bracketed cornice.  Two shallow, arched dormers were stylishly framed; and the roof was crowned with lacy iron cresting.


Henry Illoway, who never married, purchased the house from McNamara in March 1903.  His $12,000 mortgage, a third of a million dollars in today's money, points to the still-upscale residential nature of the avenue.   Nettie, also unmarried, moved in with him.

Illoway was well-known and respected in the medical community by now.  He was a member of the American Medical Association, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York County Medical Society, the Academy of Medicine of New York and the Society of Medical Jurisprudence.  He opened his office in the house as well. 

In 1907, the same year that Henry was elected president of the East Side Physicians' Association, his brother died.  Jacob's widow and their daughter, Mariam Ruth, moved into the Madison Avenue house with Henry and Nettie.

While the upper floors of the brownstone were now filled with the extended Illoway family, Henry converted most of the basement level to a free clinic for poor children.

On December 12, 1916 Gertrude announced Miriam's engagement to Richard Illowy, who had recently arrived in New York from Buenos Aires.  An Argentine native, he had been an importer of dyes until the outbreak of World War I.  He now intended to establish a new business in New York.

In reporting the engagement, The New York Times addressed what must have been on many readers' minds.  "There is only one letter difference between her name and that of her fiance."  What the article did not note was that the spelling "Illoway" was new to the family and Rabbi Bernard Illowy had never accepted the added "a."

It may have been the almost certain familial relationship that quickly undid the wedding plans.  Ten days later Gertrude announced that the engagement had been called off.  The New York Times simply wrote "No reason was given yesterday by Miss Illoway's relatives for the annulment."

Miriam remained in the house with her mother and uncle until May 1929 when she married Edward Jonas Phillips.  Phillips traced his American roots to the early 18th century and an ancestor, Moses Seixas, was the warden of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.

In October 1931 Henry Illoway decided to take his first winter vacation and went to Florida.  He had only just arrived when he became ill and he headed home, arriving in early November.  He had developed uremia and died in the Madison Avenue house on January 15, 1932.  He was 84 years old.  At his bedside were Gertrude, Miriam, and Nettie, who had come from her home in Washington.  His funeral was held in the house on January 17.

Illoway bequeathed his "large library of Hebrew works and a trust fund" to the Jewish Theological Seminary.  The bulk of his estate was divided among Gertrude, Mariam and Nettie.  He was specific in the use of the $5,000 he left to his brother's other child, Bernard.  It was to be used to "establish him as a physician or in any other honorable profession."

By now the Madison Avenue neighborhood had changed.  Private homes which had given way to apartment buildings now had shops appearing at street level.  In February 1934 the A. Schultze Company, Inc. purchased No. 1113 Madison Avenue from the Illoway estate.  Interior decorators, the firm had been located on Lexington Avenue for more than half a century.  Now on February 3 The New York Times announced the firm's plans "to remodel the building and make a two-story showroom of the ground floor."

The stoop was removed and a modern storefront installed over the basement and parlor levels.  There were now two apartments on each of the upper floors.

By mid-century A. Schultz was gone, replaced by Scott Service, described by a newspaper as having "a group of workmen who will take care of practically anything that needs cleaning or repairing."

When the white brick apartment building replaced the four properties at Nos. 1115 through 1121 in 1963, the former Illoway home became the last holdout on the block from the elegant post-Civil War row.

Throughout the next decades the retail space would be home to a variety of businesses.  In 1978 The Larder opened; a gourmet take-out shop that offered delicacies, some of which New York Magazine deemed "too expensive."   In 1990 a Beau Brummel branch opened in the space; followed by Kimara Ahnert in 2010.


The storefront today wears a polished granite facade that apparently attempts to match the original brownstone.  The architectural details of the upper floor openings have been shaved flat.  But the glorious mansard and cornice--right down to the slate shingles and cresting--magically survive as if preserved in amber.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Oscar Saenger House - No. 6 East 81st Street



Brothers William B. and Ambrose M. Parsons hired architects Thom & Wilson to design a row of 11 brownstone residences on East 81st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in 1883.  The high-stooped, neo-Grec homes were completed the following year.

No. 6, just steps from Central Park, was sold to wealthy meat packer Charles White.  The family's new home was four stories tall above the English basement, and its openings were enhanced with distinctive architrave surrounds which included scrolled base supports, Eastlake-style carvings on the brackets and transom panels, and tiered cornices.

Charles White died at the age of 78 on Friday, December 13, 1889.  His funeral was held in the house three days later.  By the turn of the century it appears that the White family was leasing the house; which had become home to William F. Wilson.  He died on June 22, 1903 at the age of 66.

In the meantime, vocal instructor Oscar Saenger and his family were living at No. 51 East 64th Street.  Born in Brooklyn to German-American parents in 1868, he had studied at the National Conservatory of Music of America and in 1891 became the baritone soloist for the New American Opera Company in Philadelphia.  The following year he married organist Nayan (known as Charlotte) Wells.

Saenger gave up the stage to devote himself to coaching.  His tutelage was just one segment of a student's education.  And the proper training for a singing career was both time consuming and expensive.

In 1910 he explained the process in The American History and Encyclopedia of Music.  "Preparation for an operatic career involves a weekly outlay for at least two vocal lessons, two opera class rehearsals, two language lessons, either French, German or Italian, a lesson in stage deportment, one lesson in musical theory and the cost of an accompanist or coach for from four to six hours' private practice."

He said "The pupil who provides wisely must count on spending $1,500 a year for at least two years, to cover the period of preparation."  That would amount to about $38,600 a year today.  Saenger's fees were, apparently, well worth the cost.  The American History and Encyclopedia of Music called him "the wizard of vocal teachers, whose students are to-day the favorites at the great opera houses here and in Europe.  Nothing more valuable than this master's treatment of his subject can be imagined."

In May 1911 Saenger purchased No. 6 East 81st Street from Charles White's daughter, Georgianna, for $75,000 (just under $2 million today).   By now the old brownstones in the Central Park neighborhood were decidedly out of style.  One by one they were being razed or remodeled into modern residences.

Within three months architects Marvin, Davis & Turton had drawn plans for updating the former White house.  The renovations, which would cost $15,000, included rearranging the floorplans and replacing stairs on the interior.  Outside, the stoop would be removed and the facade of the lowest two floors extended to the property line.  Above the extension, the plans called for a third-floor "sleeping porch."


Sleeping porches were important in the decades before air conditioning.  Entire families would move bedding onto the porches to escape the suffocating heat of summer.   But such a "porch" in the Saenger mansion would be highly unusual.  Not only would it be on the front of the house (they were normally hidden in the rear); but it would be a rarity in such a high-end home.  Few wealthy families required a sleeping porch because they closed their mansions and spent their summers in resorts like Newport or Bar Harbor.

But the Saenger family obviously intended to use their house year-round.  The architects were directed to transform the roof--normally disregarded by upscale families--to a garden and entertainment area.

Oddly enough, what appears as an elegant, full-width balcony was termed a "sleeping porch" by the architects.

The remake was somewhat surprising.  The lower two floors, clad in light stone, were modernly neo-Classical.  The entrance was now directly at sidewalk level and the second floor was dominated by three sets of handsome leaded glass French windows below transoms.  They were protected by Adams-style wrought iron railings and separated by Ionic columns and pilasters.  Directly above the hefty cornice at this level was the matching iron railing of the sleeping porch.  Rather startlingly, the renovations stopped here.  The stylish Edwardian transformation stopped short, giving way to the old 1884 facade.

Earlier in 1911 Charlotte celebrated Oscar's birthday.  On January 18, 1911 The Musical Courier reported "Mrs. Oscar Saenger gave a very unique entertainment on Sunday evening, January 8, to celebrate her husband's birthday.  First a dinner served twelve old friends...then later in the evening other friends were bidden.  A program consisting of a dramatic presentation written by their daughter was offered."  It was a foreboding of things to come.

Oscar Saenger's teaching studio was in the 81st Street house and the stream of operatic luminaries who came and went through its doors was impressive.  Many of his students went one to illustrious careers, including Leon E. Rains, the leading basso of the Royal Opera of Dresden; Joseph Regneas (who was so indebted to his coach that his professional name was Saegner spelled backwards); Joseph S. Bernstein; Florence Hinkle; Riccardo Martin; Berenice de Pasquali; and, Metropolitan Opera star Marie Rappold.

Marie Rappold quietly married Rudolf Berger of the Berlin Royal Opera Company (described by The New York Times as "the Kaiser's favorite tenor) on July 2, 1913.   While friends anticipated a wedding on July 3, the groom "objected to a formal wedding" and the couple sneaked away to be married a day early.

Instead of attending a wedding, the newlyweds' friends arrived at the Saenger house "where an informal reception in the gardens on the roof awaited the bride and bridegroom on their return from New Jersey," reported The Times.

The soprano told reporters that the hurried affair caused at least one near disaster.  In rushing to New Jersey, Berger had forgotten the ring.  A friend, Rudolf Witrofsky of Berlin came to the rescue.  "He was wearing a heavy gold band ring, and he suggested that I borrow the ring for the occasion," Marie explained.  "It was a little large, but I took the ring, and then the man married us."

In 1916 Oscar Saenger devised an ingenious marketing scheme to teach vocal lessons to the masses.  He teamed with the Victor Talking Machine Co. to produce a set of ten records, described as "a complete course in vocal training."  A separate set was offered for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass.  A Victrola advertisement noted "The Oscar Saenger Course in Vocal Training for any of the voices mentioned above, may be procured from any Victor dealer at $25--the cost of a one-hour lesson at the Saenger Studio in New York."

In 1917 Oscar Saenger posed with his own Victrola player between him and a student in the second floor studio here.  Note the small-paned leaded windows which survive.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.

The income from his private sessions and his Victor records was much needed.  The Saengers' daughter, who had taken the professional name of Khyla St. Albans, still had dreams of being a famous playwright and actress.  Oscar funded elaborate productions, none of which made his daughter a star.

The Saengers had a houseguest in the form of Swami Paramahansa Yogananda who established his headquarters here for a some time.  The mystic guri arrived from India in 1920 to introduce westerners to eastern meditation and philosophy.  He attracted a following among the opera set, including tenor Vladimir Rosing, soprano Amelita Gali-Curci, and aspiring singer Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch, daughter of Samuel Clemens.  And, obviously, Oscar Saenger.

As Charlotte and Khyla traveled in their expensive attempt to establish Khyla's career, Oscar was diagnosed with cancer in 1927.  Reportedly at the Swami's suggestion he was moved to the Washington Sanitarium in Washington, DC.   He died there on April 20, 1929 at the age of 60. His body was returned to the 81st Street house where Swami Yogananda performed the funeral services.

Music lovers nationwide were most likely shocked when, a month later, the details of Saenger's estate were publicized.  While the famous and beloved instructor had left generous bequests--like the $2,000 "equivalent of a year's salary, to 'my faithful secretary,' Lillian Suwalsky"--Khyla's dreams of acting fame had drained the family's finances.  The New York Times reported "The estate of Oscar Saenger...may be too small to carry out bequests."  It noted that Charlotte "may receive not more than $500."

Charlotte and Khyla left East 81st Street, which was sold for unpaid taxes.  Khyla never gave up; and eventually reinvented herself as an American born Russian ballerina with the name Zara Alexeyewa Khyva St. Albans.

The Depression years were not kind to the former Saenger house and in 1935 it was repossessed by the Bank for Savings.  It was vacant six years later when a builder purchased it "for remodeling into a ten-family house," according to The New York Times on October 20, 1941.  The announcement placed the cost of renovations, resulting in two apartments per floor, at $25,000.

Among the residents here in 1973 were 20-year old Linda Rubin and 35-year old Robert Antonelli.  The pair joined a daring scheme in September that year when they and three others climbed a drain pipe and broke a window to the second floor apartment of Peter Salm at No. 9 East 68th Street.  An heir to a Standard Oil Company fortune, Salm owned an impressive art collection.

Salm was gone during the weekend of September 22 and 23; giving the burglars plenty of time.  The heist, spurred by art dealer Jean Zimmerman, who owned the Gregoire Galleries on Madison Avenue, totaled 32 paintings.  The crooks did not enjoy their spoils long.  A week later police recovered seven of the paintings, valued at $200,000, and arrested all six persons involved.


In 1998 the Saenger residence was reconverted to a single family home.  The house with the colorful history and a split personality facade survives much as it looked when one of America's most notable operatic coaches made his mark on it in 1911.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Steve Best for suggesting this post

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Edmund P Shelby House - 116 West 74th St



In 1886 architects Thom & Wilson designed an ambitious row of 14 upscale homes on West 74th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues for Margaret Brennan.  Completed the following year, the houses presented an exotic potpourri.  While basically Renaissance Revival in style, they were generously splashed with Gothic, Queen Anne and Moorish elements.

Among the row was No. 116 which, like its neighbors, displayed a medley of historic styles.  At four stories above a high basement level and with 21 rooms, the 20-foot wide home was intended for a well-to-do family.

The rough-cut stone of the basement and parlor levels smacked of Romanesque Revival and starkly contrasted with the refined, fluted pilaster of the double windows and the highly unusual entrance.  Here engaged columns wrapped in Moorish arabesques supported a neo-Classical cornice and pediment with delicate carved draping.


Three openings in the planar-faced middle section featured carved half-bowls which almost doubtlessly sprouted decorative iron railings.   A sedate classical caryatid separated the central openings of the second floor, and two portrait panels of cavaliers decorated the third.  The keystone of the central opening was carved with a Rod of Asclepius, the single serpent entwined staff often used as the symbol of medicine (not to be confused with the double-snaked caduceus).  The two windows on either side were crowned with Moorish horseshoe arches. 

The engaged bowls originally held iron railings.  Note the interesting carved central panel that mimics shingles.  The transoms once glowed with colorful stained glass.

Above a projecting stone cornice the top floor was distinguished by recessed, arched windows.  Their deep hoods protected what, at first glance, appear to be shell carvings.  Closer inspection reveals they are flame-like sunbursts, a favorite Queen Anne motif.  Panels of Romanesque griffins and a neo-Classical garland peacefully coexist.

The house became home to William G. Crenshaw, Jr. and his wife, Mary.  William was a Southern transplant.  His grandfather, Jonathan Graves, had purchased a 3,000-acre plantation, Hawfield, in Virginia in 1847 for William's mother, Fannie Elizabeth, and his father.  Young William grew up in the 1790 house.

The Crenshaws were visible in Upper West Side society, attending, for instance, the "musical and literary entertainment" given by Elizabeth Kones of No. 153 West 70th Street on the evening of March 3, 1892.  The unusual program not only included the expected piano solo and singing; but a lecture by Miss Jessie H Bancraft on physical culture and "Delsarteanized" Swedish and German gymnastics.

By 1897 the Crenshaws had moved to Baltimore and were leasing the house to Captain Frederick Ford.  They sold it on 1900 to Fannie and Victor Cadieux for $30,000--about $875,000 today.  The terms of sale mentioned occupancy was "at completion of lease."

Captain Ford apparently not only left West 74th Street, but New York City in general.  An auction was held in the house in May of "all the rich furnishings and appointments."  The Stuart Art Gallery's advertisement gives an insight into the upscale nature of the house and the neighborhood.

This residence is superbly furnished in every detail and contains the very best to be found in an upper west side elite home.  The drawing-room contains many works of art, forming a choice selection of rare and costly bric-a-brac, gathered from all parts of Europe and from many of the art sales.  Roccoco drawing-room sets, Vernis-Martin cabinets, ivory miniatures and bronzes, marble statuary, superb clock sets.

A gallery of modern oil paintings by eminent artists of many of which Capt. Ford was justly proud.  Dining-room shows exquisite taste in selection of cut crystal and china...massively carved sideboard, table, chairs, cabinets, &c.

The ad went on to describe Persian and Turkish rugs, elegant bedroom furniture, a piano and mahogany tall case clock among other high-end items.

Fannie and Victor Cadieux would not hold the property long.  In 1903 they sold it to Dr. Edmund P. Shelby, who moved in in June.  Like William Crenshaw, the 36-year old bachelor had Southern roots.  He was born at Grassland, the Shelby ancestral home in Lexington, Kentucky.  He studied at Kentucky University, the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University and New York University.  By now he was widely respected in the medical community.

Three years before Shelby purchased the house, Gertrude Singleton married author John L. Mathews in Evanston, Illinois.  Gertrude was, herself, an author and would make a significant name for herself.

In 1917, two years after John L. Mathews died Gertrude married Edmund Shelby.  The couple's broad-minded socio-political views were reflected in their activities and in Gertrude's writings and lectures.  She was a founder of the International Society of Women Geographers, wrote heavily about "Negroid peoples," according to The New York Times later, and about the folklore of Africa and Dutch Guiana.  During World War I she was managing editor of The New Letter of the Woman's Council of National Defense.

In 1921 Edmund took a stand against Prohibition by adding his name to the newly-formed 1776 Society.  The New-York Tribune explained "The society is organized especially to promote interest in the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the enactment of laws encroaching upon the rights of the sovereign states to regulate and police their internal and domestic affairs."

Gertrude sometimes used fiction as a vehicle to expose racial discrimination and stereotypes.  Such was the case with her 1930 Po' Buckra.  The literary magazine America in Fiction described the "story of the penniless heiress to an unproductive plantation who marries a 'po' buckra,' who, unknown to her, has both Negro and Indian blood."

In 1931 the Shelbys moved to Venice, Florida, where Edmund became a member of the consulting staff of the Florida Medical Center.  Gertrude died there of a heart attacked in November 1936; and Edmund died in Lexington at the age of 76 in 1943.

In the meantime, while other former mansions on the block were converted to apartments or rooming houses during the Great Depression years, No. 116 continued as a private home.  It was not until 1971 (after being declared an unsafe building the year before) that it was converted to a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor level, and one apartment on each of the upper floors.


Sadly, all of the leaded and stained glass panels were lost when personality-free replacement windows were installed recently.  But on a happier note, the stoop, removed most likely in the 1971 renovation, has been recreated; rescuing Thom & Wilson's surprising doorway from floating in air.

photographs by the author

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Lost Claremont Inn - Riverside Dr and 124th Street

Horse drawn carriages and one motorcar await outside the Claremont Inn in 1901.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

The high knoll known as Strawberry Hill, in Bloomingdale, with its breathtaking views of the Hudson River was part of the extensive land holdings of Dutch farmer Adrian Hooglandt in the 18th century.  By the time he sold his vast property to Nicholas de Peyster in 1784 wealthy merchants and military officers were erecting lavish summer estates far north of New York City's crowded and sweltering conditions.  De Peyster erected his own summer residence at "114th Street and the river," according to historian Hopper Striker Mott in his 1908 The New York of Yesterday.

In 1796 de Peyster sold the Strawberry Hill section, located along the Hudson River bluff around what would become approximately 121st to 127th Streets.  It was purchased by Irish linen merchant George Pollock.

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1762, Pollock arrived in New York with two of his brothers, Carlisle and Hugh, shortly after 1780.   George partnered with Richard Yates to form Yates & Pollock.  The business relationship became a familial one when George married Yates's daughter, Catherine in Trinity Church on March 17, 1787.  In 1792 the couple had a child, St. Clair (sometimes spelled St. Claire), who was baptized in Trinity Church on November 11.

Gilbert Stuart painted portraits of the Pollocks in 1793.


Pollock was a respected member of the Chamber of Commerce and Valentine's Manual of 1855 remembered him as one of New York's "wealthiest residents" in 1795.  That year he was listed in the New York City Directory as doing business as 11 Whitehall Street.

George Pollock erected his summer estate, called Monte Alta, on the Strawberry Hill knoll.  But the family would not enjoy the elegant house and the breezy location for many years.

The house as it appeared in 1812.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On July 15, 1897 little five-year old St. Clair met tragedy.  The New-York Tribune described it decades later saying he "in satin breeches, silk hose and starched ruffles, took the air on the banks of the Hudson."  The article explained "evading the vigilance of his nurse, the boy ventured too near the edge of the cliff, fell over and was killed."

Rather than bury his child in Trinity churchyard, as might have been expected, George Pollock interred him on the ground of Monte Alta.  He erected an elegant marble marker topped with a classical urn.  On one side was inscribed:


Erected

To

the memory of

an amiable child

ST. CLAIRE POLLOCK

died 15 July, 1797, in the 5

year of his age

On October 21, 1799 Pollock conveyed Monte Alta to Gulian Verplanck, "excepting the plot 51-1/2 feet wide and 142-12 feet deep, containing the grave of their five year old child," according to New York Legislative Documents.    Verplanck died a month later, on November 30 and the property was transferred to his widow, Cornelia.

Pollock quickly changed his mind about retaining the grave site.  He wrote to Cornelia saying in part:

There is a small enclosure near your boundary fence which can be extended to join it, within which lie the remains of a favorite child, covered by a marble monument.  I had intended that space as the future cemetery of my family.  The surrounding grounds will fall into the hands of I know not who, whose better taste or prejudice might remove the monument and lay the enclosure open.

He conveyed the burial lot to Mrs. Verplanck on January 24, 1800, trusting her to maintain his son's grave.  Soon afterwards the Pollocks moved to Philadelphia, where Catherine died in 1805.

Beginning in 1803 the property changed hands at dizzying speed.  It was transferred to John B. Provoost, former City Recorder, who sold it to Joseph Alston the same year.  According to Hopper Striker Mott "From Alston the property passed in 1806 to John M. Pintard, subject to a purchase money mortgage, and on sale under foreclosure was bid in by Michael Hogan for $13,000."

Hogan's purchase price would equal more than a quarter million dollars today.  A famous navigator in his younger years, he was now "one of the most notable figures among the great merchants of his day," according to The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society in 1910.  The Journal pointed out "He divided his property, calling the southern portion Monte Alta and the upper part Claremont."  The name Claremont most likely paid homage to his native County Clare, Ireland.

Historians disagree about Hogan's residence here.  Like some, Mott believed he "built the mansion known as 'Claremont'" on the property.   But others insist that Hogan "had the house moved to its present location," according to The New York Times later.

According to The Times, "Here Hogan lived with an Indian princess, a scandalous matter to the local gossips."    Scandal or not, The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society wrote "During Michael Hogan's occupancy of Claremont, as a summer residence it was the scene of some of the most brilliant social festivities in the city."

Hogan's glittering entertainments would not last especially long.  Financial problems arose and he was essentially wiped out during the War of 1812.  He managed to maintain possession of Claremont, however, leasing it to a succession celebrated tenants.

In 1809 Lord Courtenay, Earl of Devon, moved in.  Wealthy but eccentric, he reportedly lived alone with only two servants--a manservant and a cook.  Interestingly, the next tenant was its former owner, Joseph Alston.  The future governor of South Carolina was married to Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodosia.  Described as "brilliant" and "beautiful," she disappeared along with all passengers aboard the sailing ship Patriot during a storm in January 1813.

Hogan leased the house in 1815 to Joseph Bonaparte, ex-king of Spain and brother of Napoleon.  He lived here two years.  Other celebrated tenants included Viscount Courtenay, later Earl of Devon, who reportedly kept an "almost princely household," and Francis James Jackson, who would become British Minister to the United States.

In 1821 Hogan was finally forced to liquidate Claremont, deeding it "for the benefit of creditors."  It was sold by trustees to Joel Post, an ancestor of famed architect George B. Post.  Joel Post died in 1835, and his sons sold the old mansion.

Within the decade the house was converted to a roadhouse known variously as the Claremont Inn or the Claremont Cottage.    The vintage house was Victorianized with verandas that girded the lower floors, affording vistas across the lawn and river.  The New York Times later described it as "an inn, one of the most fashionable in New York, where one could sip wine at $40 a bottle while watching the sun set behind the Palisades."


The inn as it appeared in 1899.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The quiet get-away for the well-to-do would change to a popular spot for a somewhat more democratic crowd in the years after the end of the Civil War.  In 1866 the State Legislature approved a bill to convert the Riverside precipice into Riverside Park; and in August 1872 the entire parcel that had been George Pollock's summer estate was "taken by condemnation proceedings by the City," as recorded in the New York Legislative Documents.

The city leased the inn to a succession of proprietors who continued to operate it as a restaurant and gathering spot.  It was a favorite place for luncheons and receptions.   On October 18, 1886, for instance, the New-York Tribune noted "J. A. Copleston, press agent for Wilson Barrett, entertained a small party of friends at luncheon at Claremont Cottage on the Riverside Drive, yesterday afternoon."

And on May 13, 1892 The New York Times reported "The fourth and last of the Claremont teas took place yesterday afternoon at the Claremont Cafe, at the head of Riverside Drive.  In spite of bad weather there was a large attendance of society notables and a good showing of fashionable gowns and turn-outs."
 

Celebrited guests included President McKinley, who had lunch here; and Admiral George Dewey who was guest of honor at a breakfast in 1899 after his victorious return from the Spanish American War.

The proprietor in 1912 was R. H. Gushee, who lived with his family in the upper floors.  There were about 200 patrons in the inn on the afternoon of July 20 when people sitting on the veranda noticed smoke.  Suddenly someone yelled "the prairie's afire!"

The New-York Tribune described the approaching blaze as "a genuine prairie fire...with whirling clouds of smoke, the leaping, snakelike flames and all the other trimmings of the real article."  Gushee, "seeing that he was in danger of losing all his patrons," sent word to the kitchen for help.  The newspaper reported "A moment later the cook, the chef, the underchefs, the bottle-washers and kitchen mechanics poured forth, armed with frying pans, broiling irons, mops and dish rags."

While the staff of the Claremont Inn beat the flames with their kitchen implements, the fire department was called.   Hoses were laid out along three blocks of Riverside Drive, and the "prairie fire" was finally extinguished before reaching the Inn.

Before long Gushee would have to address another threat to his business, Prohibition.   When he renewed his $20,500 per year lease he wisely had a clause inserted which "permitted him to abrogate the agreement if prohibition ever became effective."  And it did.

In July 1918 Gushee's gross bar business had amounted to $10,628, giving him a profit that month of $6,056.  The following July he was selling only lemonade and other soft drinks.  His gross take fell to $2,400.

When the city refused to lower his rent, he opted out of his lease, which was not due to expire until 1924.   The city doubtlessly regretted its decision.  When it could not fine another proprietor, the rent was reduced to $9,200 from Gushee's $20,500.  The new renter, F. R. Wood received "the exclusive right to dispense milk on the premises."

The Sun was bitingly sarcastic in reporting on the new five-year lease.  "Just imagine starting out in your car for a week end trip down East and when you get to Riverside Drive, just below 127th street, saying to whoever happens to be in the bus with you:

'Come on! Let's drop off in the Claremont for a couple of shots of milk and a lettuce sandwich.  I've had a big week and I need a milk or two to clear my old bean.'

"And you and your companion drain a couple of beakers of 100 percent, cow milk and emerge from the Claremont Inn with a new interest in life and a keener zest for the delights of a week end down East."

The newspaper longed for the times under Gushee's management when "you could get a misses' size highball for as little as 75 cents and a grilled pork chop for a mere $2."

Prohibition ended in 1933, the year before Mayor Fiorello La Guardia took office as mayor.  Among his first acts was a remodeling of the Claremont Inn coupled with his insistence that its traditionally high prices become affordable.  On May 1, 1935 The New York Times reported "The Claremont Inn on Riverside Drive...which Park Commissioner Robert Moses converted last year into a popular-priced restaurant reopened last night to a crowd of about 500 patrons.  The weather was too cool to open the outdoor terrace, so Fred Starr and his eleven-piece orchestra played on the new west veranda dance floor."

The renovations under Moses and La Guardia coupled the afternoon gathering place with a nightclub.  Lunch could be had for $1, "50 cents for tea dancing," and $1.50 for dinner.  There was no cover or minimum charge.  The restaurant stayed opened until 1 a.m. during the week and 1:30 on Saturday nights.  The Times noted "It can accommodate about 350 persons inside and about 1,000 on the terrace."

The Claremont Inn became a swinging night spot.  collection of the State Historical Society of Colorado

The Columbia Spectator gave the reopened Inn a tepid review, saying "The food is pretty good and the view is grand.  Despite the arrival of the industrial revolution in the form of Ford factories and whatnot on the other side, the Hudson is still a pleasant river to look on."

It was not the arrival of automobile plants spoiling the view that annoyed neighborhood residents.  It was those 1,000 patrons dancing to "an open-air jazz orchestra" in the wee hours of the mornings.  On October 11, 1938 a suit was filed in Supreme Court "to ban the further operation of Claremont Inn at Riverside Drive and 124th Street on the ground that it was a public nuisance interfering with sleep and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes by residents of the surrounding area."

A 1930s postcard depicted the outdoor entertainment section, an annoyance to the neighbors.

In addition to the Riverside-Claremont Restaurant, Inc. which leased the inn from the Park Department, Robert Moses was personally named in the action.   The neighbors listed "laughter, applause and boisterous talk by the patrons of the inn; the clanking of dishes, silverware and garbage cans after the inn is closed for business, and the racing motors and grating gears of motor cars, taxicabs and buses."

Justice Samuel Hofstadter imposed a curfew on the inn--11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Saturdays.  The restrictions ruined business and the Claremont Inn was closed.  When it reopened in May 1941, the Park Department's announcement described the former nightclub as "a cafe."

That arrangement lasted until about 1947, when the city abandoned hope for the old inn.  On July 18, 1949 The Times complained, "That once lovely landmark, Claremont Inn, is boarded up and neglected by the city fathers as it suffers fallen arches and other infirmities of age.  On the front door are a heavy chain and lock."  The article described chipping paint and grime-covered walls.  The crescent shaped drive, "a vestige of carriage days," was in disrepair and the once verdant lawns were weedy and blotched with bare patches.

The Parks Department explained that repairing the several building code violations would cost $100,000 or more.  To demolish the inn and replace it with an "overlook sitting park" would cost around $80,000.  The Times set forth a third possibility--turning over the historic property to a private organization like the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to be restored as a museum.

Astounding to modern readers, the problem was that "while the Claremont has grace and picturesqueness on its side, it is found wanting for a place in the nation's history."  The long list of associations including European nobility, a President, and a military hero was not enough for mid-20th century preservationists.

Around 6 a.m. on March 14, 1951 fire broke out in the "rotting" inn, as described by journalist Robert Alden of The Times.  Exactly one week later, on March 21, a second fire erupted.  There were several theories concerning the causes, but the Columbia Daily Spectator was frank when it reported "many believed [the fire] to have originated at the hands of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses."

On the site of the ruins a playground was erected.  A plaque placed by the Parks Department in 1952 is all that is left to remind visitors of the historic house.


But down the hill, surrounded by an iron fence, is the tomb of little St. Clair Pollock, still maintained by the city as his father had so hoped in 1799.

many thanks to reader Michael Diamond for requesting this post

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Elbridge T. Gerry Stable - 41 East 62nd Street


In 1914 the old brownstones to the right had been demolished for a modern structure.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

William H. Tillinghast and his wife, Phoebe, moved into a newly-completed, Queen Anne style home at No 26 East 64th Street in 1882.   Two blocks south, at No. 41 East 62nd Street, was their private stable.

The Tillinghasts' architecturally up-to-date house signaled changes to come in the blocks east of Central Park.  As millionaires moved north of 59th Street, the old post-Civil War brownstones were giving way to upscale residences.  Few, however, would compete with the massive brick and stone chateau of Elbridge T. Gerry.

The completed chateau was "simply comfortable."  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The millionaire lawyer was, perhaps, best known for founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  Construction of his immense mansion on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street commenced in 1892 and would continue for four years.  Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, it would be one of the largest and most lavish of Fifth Avenue residences.  Nevertheless, Gerry insisted it was "simply a comfortable modern home."

As the Gerry mansion took shape in April 1894. William Tillinghast sold his brownstone-fronted stable to S. Fischer Johnson.  The price was listed at "about $19,000."  That amount with be equal to about $547,000 today. 

Johnson soon purchased the 17-foot wide house directly next door at No. 39.  But his interest in the properties appear to have been purely in their lucrative possibilities.  On April 20, 1896 he bought two other houses along the row, Nos. 35 and 37.  On that very day he sold the old Tillinghast stable along with No. 39 to Elbridge T. Gerry.  Gerry paid $20,000 for the stable and $25,500 for the house--a total of $1.34 million in today's dollars.

Four weeks later architect Alfred Zucker filed plans for a "three story brick stable" with a "slate and tile roof" for Gerry.   The $50,000 projected cost, $1.47 million by today's standards, and more than equaled the price of a new home for most well-to-do families.

Zucker produced a sophisticated blend of neo-Tudor and Gothic Revival.  The centered carriage bay sat below an elliptically-arched Gothic drip molding.  The Tudor-inspired openings of the upper floors were framed in stone and the slate-tiled mansard was overwhelmed by a massive gable.  Here an oculus sat within a carved stone wreath.  Zucker returned to Gothic for the crowning detail--a carved heraldic shield which upheld a stone crocket.

The expansive upper floor would have been home to the most important of Gerry's stable staff--his coachmen and their families, for instance.  Although, on one hand, being provided with living quarters could be considered a perk of the job; on the other it was a concession to the wealthy employer.  Having one's carriage drivers living above the stable meant they were on call 24 hours per day and millionaires like Gerry did not need to worry about getting around whatever the hour.   Another down side for the families living here was the noise and the odors wafting upward.

The operation of a private stable like this one required a large staff--stable boys who changed the hay and cleaned the stalls, grooms who bathed, fed and otherwise maintained the horses, and workers who cleaned and repaired the many vehicles.  The Gerry carriage house would have been a bustling hive of activity.

Elbridge and Louisa Gerry remained in their Fifth Avenue mansion for the rest of their lives; Louisa dying first in March 1920.  By then horse-drawn vehicles were nearly gone from the streets of New York City.  The following year the Gerry stable was converted to a garage, with a "dwelling for one family" on the top floor.

It was probably Robert Livingston Gerry, the oldest son, who was responsible for the make-over.  His father was 83-years old at the time and most likely little interested in such projects.   The top floor apartment became home to Robert's chauffeur, Archibald Day.

Robert Gerry was married to Cornelia Averell Harriman, the daughter of railroad tycoon E. H. Harriman.  On Tuesday night, January 29, 1924 Cornelia and their nine-year old son were in the family's limousine as Day drove them through the rural roads near Beacon, New York.

Further up the road 22-year old Gaeto Denze's automobile had broken down in the roadway.  He and another man were attempting to fix it as the Gerry car approached from behind.  Day was unable to pass on the left because of an approaching truck.  Rather than stop and wait, he passed on the right.  Denze, perhaps trying to get out of the way of the truck, suddenly moved directly into the path of the Gerry limo and was struck.

Cornelia Gerry jumped from the car and helped to give first aid to the injured man.  She had Day put him into the limousine and take him to Highland Hospital.  His injuries, however, were severe.  He died of a fractured skull the following day.
 
Archibald Day was charged with homicide and paroled to Cornelia's custody.  She appeared as a witness in his defense on January 31.  She told the Coroner's Court that Day did not see Denza dart from behind the stalled car until it was too late.  "It was dark and we did not see any light," she said.

The Gerry garage in 1926 was hemmed in by taller structures.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1944 the Gerry family ceased using No. 41 as its garage and leased it the Central Synagogue Congregation for use as its Community House.   Exactly 10 years later the Gerry family commissioned J. B. Snook Sons to design a replacement.

photo via Google Street View

While the Landmarks Preservation Commission calls the project a remodeling; the gut renovation apparently left nothing of the original structure but party walls and foundation.  So sweeping was the project that the Department of Buildings deemed it a "new building."  Whichever, the architectural firm replaced the handsome carriage house with an extremely handsome neo-Federal residence.  It was briefly home to Robert L. Gerry's son, Elbridge T. Gerry, before being converted to offices in 1948.  Today is is home to the Gerry Foundation.