Saturday, October 25, 2014

The 1911 Chemists' Club -- No. 52 E. 41st Street

photo by Historic Districts Council
As the first decade of the 20th century faded, the brownstone homes between Fifth and Madison Avenues had begun falling.  Tall commercial structure replaced the residences as homeowners escaped northward ahead of the tide of business.

In January 1910 architects York & Sawyer filed plans for a building that would be a bit different.  The New-York Tribune explained that the proposed “ten story clubhouse and office building” would be erected “for the Chemists’ Club, of which Dr. Morris Loeb is president, at Nos. 50 and 54 East 41st street.” 

Private men's clubs had evolved from strictly social clubs to include more specific organizations.  There were athletic clubs like the New York Yacht and the Links; political clubs; clubs for alumni of various universities; erudite clubs like the Century or Grolier; and professional clubs for members with occupations ranging from acting to the legal and engineering trades.

The neighborhood was not totally unexpected for a professional club; the United Engineering Societies Building was completed in 1907 at No. 29 West 39th Street three years earlier.  Within a month of the filing of the plans, The New York Times remarked on the rapid development of the 41st Street block. 

“In the centre of the block, on the south side of East Forty-first Street there has recently been finished a six-story office building.  Adjoining it to the west, at Nos. 40, 42, and 44, a twelve-story office building, exclusively for doctors and dentists, is about to be erected, while to the east, at 50 to 54, the new ten-story Chemists’ Club is in process of erection.  Both of these new buildings will cost about $200,000.”  The cost of the new clubhouse would translate to about $4.75 million today.

The Chemists’ Club was, in 1910, just 12 years old; having spun off from the American Chemical Society in 1898.  Its president, Professor of Chemistry Morris Loeb of New York University, was the major force behind the construction of a permanent home for the club.  Born into the wealthy New York banking family, he not only pushed hard for his vision, but financed much of it.

The New-York Tribune reported on what readers could expect.  “It is to be an artistic structure of white marble, in the style of the French Renaissance of the Louis XVI period, finished with Ionic pilasters and balconies at the second story and similar decorative balconies at the top story.” 

The Club would take up the lower five floors, leaving the upper floors for laboratories.  On the main floor was a large auditorium with balcony for lectures and meetings.  Social rooms and a dining room were on the second floor.  The New-York Tribune noted “The fourth and fifth floors will be devoted to living and sleeping rooms for the members, below which will be the library and museum.”

By the time the building opened on March 17, 1911 two stories had been added and the construction cost had risen to $500,000.  The three-day ceremonies began with Morris Loeb handing the key to Dr. Russell W. More, the new club president.  Unlike the ceremonial openings of other buildings and clubs, the remarks that day were less general.  “A special address was delivered by Prof. Jaques Loeb of the Rockefeller Institute on the ‘Physiological Developments and Recent Experiments in the Mechanism of Life,’ which he is now carrying on at the institute,” reported The New York Times.

The newspaper noted “One of the special features of the building is the board room, which has been fashioned to represent a laboratory in the days of alchemy.”  That reproduction space included a “vaulted roof, flag-stoned floor, iron-bound chest, high writing desk—even the fireplace with strange black pots and alembics upon it, and, overhead, just outside the door, a winding stone stairway just like those by which the wizards of the black arts used to steal away from prying eyes to juggle with fire and crucibles, transmute base metals to gold, conjure up devils, and otherwise qualify for execution at the hands of the public hangman.”

Over the conference table where the directors met hung a huge stuffed salamander, “held in high esteem by the alchemists of bygone times,” said The Times.  Actually, it was not a salamander.  One of the members explained to the paper “We couldn’t find a salamander anywhere, though we searched high and low, so we had to get the next best thing—an alligator.”

Morris Loeb received a private laboratory on an upper floor.  This was partly a response to his generous contributions to the building fund.  In 1907, when the clubhouse was first proposed, he donated $50,000.  He later added another $25,000 to the fund.

On Saturday, March 18, a dinner was held for the members and a classical concert on Sunday brought the opening ceremonies to a close.

The New York Times, on March 10, explained the need for the additional floors.  Calling the building “absolutely unique in the world,” the newspaper said additional laboratories had been included to be leased by outside chemists who could not afford their own space.  “There are no less than three laboratories, fitted out with all sorts of apparatus, and open to any chemist who presents proper credentials and satisfies those in charge of the place that he is what he represents himself to be.  As soon as he has done this, he may hire one of the laboratories by the week or month and set to work immediately to conduct any experiments he pleases, even a most secret nature, since nobody will disturb him once he has taken possession.”

The Club itself now engulfed six floors.  “Above are offices occupied by chemists of all descriptions—bacteriological chemists, analytical chemists, chemical engineers, and others with all sorts of impressive titles and letters after their names.”

The Chemical Museum “will rank ahead of anything of its kind in this country,” predicted The Times.  “It is the aim of those interested in it to have on file typical samples of every chemical that may be of interest.”   The club’s library was already nearly unsurpassed in the country, containing chemistry books and periodicals.  Chemists nation-wide shipped donations to the library.

The Chemists’ Club Building would see lectures and meetings on a vast range of scientific topics.  On April 6, 1912 the American Peat Society held a meeting here to discuss the problems of waste lands and peat swamps.  One of the topics of the meeting was the proposal to drain the New Jersey “Drowned Lands” and turning them into farmland.

Morris Loeb had been reelected President of the club that year.  On September 2, 1912 he and his wife hosted a reception in the clubhouse for hundreds of chemists attending the 8th International Congress of Applied Chemistry.  Scientists from as far away as Japan, China and South Africa mingled with American and European chemists. 

That night Professor Loeb no doubt basked in the success of the building he had so long envisioned and worked for.  It would be the last grand function he would attend in the Chemists’ Club.

In 1912 New York and the country at large suffered the terror of a typhoid epidemic.  On September 21 Loeb developed signs of typhoid fever.  After suffering only a little more than a week, complications of pneumonia set in and his condition rapidly declined.  Eighteen days after falling ill, Morris Loeb died on October 8 at his country home in Seabright, New Jersey.

In reporting on his many significant scientific and philanthropic contributions, The New York Times said “Among the monuments to his memory is the fine new home of the Chemists’ Club, at 50 East Forty-first Street, which was built and equipped primarily through his efforts and his generosity.”

In 1913 the Chemists’ Club opened its library—by now considered to be the largest chemical library in the country—to the public.  It was an unselfish and unusual move for a private club.  Although the library was reserved for members only on weekends and Mondays; on all other days non-members could make use of the vast collection.  “In addition a Department of Research has been established which will be open to the public on the payment of fees,” reported The Times on February 27.

The club would also see the presence of the world’s most esteemed scientists; as was the case on September 22, 1915 when Thomas A. Edison was guest of honor at a dinner here.  That year began, as well, discussions on various topics sparked by World War I which would last for years.  On October 8 I. F. Stone, President of the National Aniline and Chemical Company, predicted that at the end of the war benzol would be used instead of gasoline to power automobiles.  The war had necessitated the need for alternate fuels and Stone pointed out that “careful experiments for automobile purposes show that benzol has a motive power about 25 per cent greater than gasoline” and he predicted that the cost would be significantly lower.

A year later, on September 25, 1916, an afternoon session of the American Chemical Society announced that alcohol derived from sawdust—a common industrial waste product—made an efficient and inexpensive fuel for automobiles.  “There is no longer any question of commercial success in the manufacture of alcohol for automobiles,” said chemical engineer Arthur D. Little.  “Experiments have shown that alcohol can be manufactured for sale as low as 25 cents a gallon, and at that price it will undoubtedly be preferable to gasoline.

“Alcohol is cleaner than gasoline for use in internal combustion engines, and it will not explode or easily catch fire, and it will develop practically as much horse power as gasoline.”

It appears that the nation was paid more heed to John Rockefeller than to Arthur D. Little, however.

As the United States joined in what had been a purely European conflict, anti-German tensions at home developed.  On April 1, 1918 the New-York Tribune announced that “’The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry’ to-day will publish an article demanding that alien enemy German members be thrown out of the Chemists’ Club, 50 East Forty-fifth [sic] Street.”

The Club stood behind its members, disregarding what could have been negative public opinion.  A spokesman responded “To my knowledge no enemy aliens are members of the club, but if the writer of that article can prove that there are, the club would feel indebted for such information and would promptly expel any members whose Americanism was not 100 per cent.”

Under pressure--or in an effort to prevent problems--almost a month to the day afterward the club distributed a communication and questionnaire to its members.  The notice announced new rules:

That the German language shall not be used in conversation in the club.
That all disloyal criticism of the United States government of the Allies must be avoided in the club.
That any member, resident or non-resident, whether an American citizen or not, whose sympathies favor the enemies of this country, is requested to resign.

The Chemists’ Club continued to be unafraid of standing up against the mainstream.  On July 1, 1921 the President of the club, Dr. John B. Teeple, and American Chemical Society Director Charles H. Herty, spoke out against the Volstead Act.  Not only did they assert that “vast business enterprises, involving millions in revenue and certain necessaries of modern life, are threatened with disruption by Federal and state legislation restricting the production of alcohol;” but Teeple went so far as to say that the Anti-Saloon League “has been guilty of misrepresentation of facts in attempts to force prohibition legislation.”

The club’s and the society’s efforts, of course, were unsuccessful and Prohibition became law.  Nevertheless when a conference of industrial alcohol manufacturers was held, it convened in the Chemists’ Club auditorium.  The conference included Prohibition enforcers and manufacturers of legal alcohol (such as for medical purposes).  According to Brigadier General Lincoln C. Andrews, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of prohibition enforcement, who had called the meeting, he sought “to win the cooperation rather than to arouse the resentment of legitimate manufacturers of alcohol.” 

The New York Times said “He admitted that the Government’s policy in liquor law enforcement in the past had at times embarrassed them and he desired to avoid this in [the] future.”

Meetings regarding warfare had, during the First World War, centered mostly on fuels and chemical components of ammunition.  When World War II erupted, the topics repeatedly focused on chemical warfare.  For years the devastating effects of the enemies’ use of agents like mustard gas, sneeze and nausea gas were discussed at the Chemists’ Club lectures and meetings.

In the 1970s the Chemists’ Club sold its neo-Classical home.  Renovated as a boutique hotel, it reopened as the Dylan Hotel.  York & Sawyer’s handsome and refined façade remains intact, carefully preserved and restored.

non-credited photos taken by the author

Friday, October 24, 2014

Village Charm -- No. 243 West 4th Street

In the 1920s Greenwich Village was the center of New York’s bohemian life.   For more than a decade artists, musicians, poets and writers had been lured to its winding, quaint streets.  Along with the colorful denizens came subterranean tearooms, wine cafes and picturesque restaurants.   And by the ‘20s upper or middle-class residents from uptown (known as “slummers” by the locals) flocked to these haunts for daring evenings out.

Dante Gerelli and his wife lived in the handsome Italianate rowhouse at No. 49 Charles Street, on the corner of West 4th Street.   Rather than convert the basement level to a restaurant, as so many enterprising property owners were doing, the 36-year old Italian commissioned Vincent M. Cajano to design a two-story extension behind the house.  The architect’s office was nearby at No. 239 Bleecker Street and he focused much of his work in the Village.

Completed in 1927, it was a charming sandy-colored brick structure with a decidedly Mediterranean flavor.  Cajano used rough-textured brick to give the building an aged, rustic feel.  Arched windows above the two entrances—one for the residence upstairs and one into the restaurant—were graced with delightful iron Juliette balconies.  A matching balcony stretched the width of the centered triple window between them.   The Southern Italian motif was continued in the false roof of clay tiles that projected from the parapet and in the heavy wooden doors with beaten iron strap hinges.

The new building took the place of two small dwelling houses, No. 241 having been the home of W. H. Crawford in the 1880s.  In order to imply age, Cajano may have gone out of his way to make his two story structure appear to be a converted carriage house.

The little restaurant building looked, in 1933, little different than it does today.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
While Dante and his wife lived in the large house on Charles Street, Anthony Gerella (building documents may have misspelled his surname) was living above the restaurant.  The Gerellis were here until January 1937, when Dante sold the property to neighbor Joseph Barile, who lived at No. 59 Charles Street.

The little building continued to serve as a restaurant at ground level and apartment above for decades.  In 1951 when Leo Tagalos married Jean House, a New Orleans native, the couple moved in upstairs.

Then in 1969 the quaint little building was converted to two duplex apartments.  That arrangement would be short-lived, and just three years later it was renovated into a single family home.  The charismatic little building is little changed since 1927.  And, as Vincent Cajano intended, it looks for all the world as if it has sat on West 4th Street for half a century longer.

photos by the author

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Rosenbaum Mansion - No. 5 East 73rd Street

In 1865 the Bonesteel family’s house at No. 5 East 73rd Street was in turmoil.  Just across Fifth Avenue Central Park was under construction, shattering the quiet home life that living this far north should have provided.  The blasts used to clear the land no doubt splintered Victorian nerves within the household.

Wilhelmina Bonesteel was teaching in the Primary Department of School No. 53 on 79th Street, between Second and Third Avenues when, on December 5, 1865, her brother Teunis, was drafted into the army.

By the late 1880s when Manhattan’s wealthy had already begun inching northward along the park, the Bonesteel house was one of the oldest in the neighborhood.  It seems that 1889 was a difficult one for many homeowners and on December 21 that year the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported “Still another foreclosure sale was No. 5 East 73rd Street…on which over $50,000 is due and which was disposed of to A. S. Rosenbaum at $51,250.”  The winning bid for the dated home would amount to about $1.25 million today.

Albert S. Rosenbaum was a former tobacco merchant who had retired and gone into the hotel business.  He was proprietor of the Hotel Albert, at No. 42 East 11th Street; and the Hotel Stephen just steps away at No. 48 East 11th Street.  The 58-year old had arrived in America from Cassel, Germany when he was 18 years old.

It was 1849, the Gold Rush was at its peak, and the enterprising young man saw opportunity.  Rather than settling on New York’s Lower East Side with other German immigrants, he set off for California.  The New York Times later said “by dint of great business tact, shrewdness, and industry [he] rapidly accumulated money, which he invested advantageously in San Francisco real estate.”

Armed with a handsome fortune, Rosenbaum returned to New York to run his tobacco company.  He became a Director of the Manhattan Loan and Trust Company, along with other financial institutions, and was highly involved in surface railroad companies like the Third Avenue Surface Railroad Company.

Rosenbaum and his wife had a son and four grown daughters.  One of them would live here only about a year.  On November 12, 1891 at 6:30 in the evening “over a hundred friends of Mr. and Mrs. Albert S. Rosenbaum assembled in the large reception room at Delmonico’s, Fifth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street, to witness the marriage of their daughter, Annie Sophie Rosenbaum, to Solomon Kalten Lichtenstein, a young lawyer of this city,” said The Times.  The large assemblage testified to Rosenbaum’s social position and included names like McCreery, Schwab, and Rothschild.
The wealthy hotel man would not enjoy the 73rd Street house for many years.  At 3:30 on the morning of February 18, 1894 he suffered a fatal heart attack.  In reporting his death, The New York Times mentioned “Mr. Rosenbaum was sixty-three years old, and was one of the wealthiest Hebrews in this country.”

By the turn of the century things along the 73rd Street block were changing.  As Fifth Avenue filled with lavish mansions, the old-fashioned brownstones on the side streets were rapidly being razed or remodeled into high-end residences.  In 1901 powerful publisher Joseph Pulitzer demolished five rowhouses abutting the Rosenbaum house and began construction on his massive McKim, Mead & White-designed palazzo.  The architects included a service alley between the properties.  It would be as advantageous to the Rosenbaums as to Pulitzer.

That same year, most likely prompted by Pulitzer’s improvements next door, the Rosenbaum family razed No. 5.  Architects Buchman & Fox prepared plans for a magnificent five-story Beaux Arts mansion.  What the house lacked in width (at just 21 feet), it made up for in elegant design.  As a result of Pulitzer’s service alley, the house was a rare free-standing structure.

Each level of the French-inspired design vied amiably for attention.  The grand portico with its dramatic arched pediment was supported by blue-toned marble columns.  Directly above a stone balcony bowed out from the façade.  Above the three floors of rusticated stone ornate brackets supported a projecting cornice, and a copper clad mansard capped it all.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported the cost at $35,000—about $930,000 today.

The house was completed in January 1902.  The family had constructed the mansion as an investment rather than a home and quickly leased it to Ailene Hostetter “for a term of years.” 

Ailene’s husband, Theodore, was being treated in a sanitarium on Park Avenue.  A pharmaceutical manufacturer, Hostetter augmented to his millions by gambling.  The Los Angeles Herald said he had “the reputation of being the boldest plunger New York has ever seen.”

Originally from Pittsburg, “Tod” Hostetter was described by another gambler, David Johnson.  He said Hostetter had “all kinds of money and the instincts of a sport.  He would bet on anything from a dog fight to a boiler explosion, and he bet them as high as the cat’s back.”

Ailene Hostetter settled into No. 5 East 73rd Street as her husband’s condition deteriorated.  He died in August that year, leaving his widow to deal with claims of over $1 million in gambling debts.

By 1906 the mansion was occupied by a much less controversial family.  On April 12, 1904 the 26-year old William Armistead Moale Burden, son of I. Townsend Burden, was married in St. Thomas’s Church.  The prominence and wealth of his family would have made the Fifth Avenue wedding an important event; but his choice of brides made it socially momentous.  Florence Vanderbilt Twombly was the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Hamilton McKay Twombly and the granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt.

“Both the bride and bridegroom were exceeding popular in the younger set in society,” said The New York Times.  Unlike some society matches, the marriage of the athletic Burden (he was Captain of the Varsity football team at Harvard) and Florence Twombly was based on true romance.  After Ailene Hostetter moved out of No. 5, the newlyweds moved in.

Tragedy struck the young couple when, on Tuesday, February 6, 1905 their new-born daughter died of pneumonia.  Following the appropriate period of mourning, they resumed their social lives and on November 14, 1906 The New York Times reported that they had returned to the East 73rd Street mansion for the winter season.

On the afternoon of December 9, 1908 Florence gave birth to a baby boy in the house.  It was a welcomed spark of joy in the Burdens’ tragic lives.  For about a year William Burden had suffered a disease which, according to The New York Times, “baffles physicians in diagnosing.”  On October 1, 1907 he retired from the Stock Exchange firm of James D. Smith & Co. citing his health as the reason.

When Burden suffered his first attack, which resulted in high fever, he traveled to Europe to recuperate.  While there he had a relapse.  William and Florence returned to New York where the attacks recurred repeatedly.

Only weeks after the baby’s birth, his condition took “an alarming form and forced him to keep to his bed,” reported The Times.  His frustrated doctors tried unsuccessfully to diagnose the problem.  “The only name they can give it is chronic recurrent fever,” said the newspaper.  “They have not yet been able to ascertain its cause or to devise a treatment for it.”  At 11:00 in the morning on February 2, 1909 the 31-year old millionaire died in the 73rd Street mansion.

Florence and her two sons, William and Shirley, continued to live in the mansion.  Three years later on July 6, 1912 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide mentioned that the A. S. Rosenbaum estate had renewed the lease “to Mrs. F. A. V. Twombly” for “a term of years.”

In June 1920 Florence purchased the magnificent Jonathan Thorne mansion at No. 1028 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 84th Street, putting the title in William Jr's name.  After nearly two decades of renting the Rosenbaum house, the Burdens moved on.

Taking their place was the family of William Whalen.  Whalen was nearly killed the following year when he was traveling in a two-car train on the Second Avenue El.  A steel subway train had been parked overnight at the Fisk Avenue Station in Queens and had just been switched to the main track as rush hour approached.   The motorman of Whalen’s wooden train, George Kessler, did not see the tail lights of the motionless subway train and crashed into it.  “The first car of the moving train was demolished,” reported the New-York Tribune on November 10, 1921.  Kessler was in that car and was listed among “the most severely injured.”

The Rosenbaum Estate would retain ownership of the mansion until October 1930 when it was sold to W. Barton Baldwin for $135,000 (nearly $1.8 million today).  Baldwin had been living at No. 33 East 65th Street.  The purchase came just in time for daughter Lelia’s wedding reception.

The wedding of Lelia and Francis H. Tomes took place in St. Bartholomew’s Church on June 16, 1931.  The New York Times said the church “was a garden of Spring flowers.”  The newspaper described the elaborate floral decorations saying “pink rambler roses trailing over trellises concealed the side walls, and the windows were banked with the bright blossoms.  White Spring flowers were massed in the chancel against a background of lofty ferns, and clusters of white stock, snapdragons, sweet peas and feathery asparagus ferns had been fastened to the ends of alternate pews along the main aisle, making a white and green floral lane through which the bridal party passed”

Following the ceremony the reception was held in the 73rd Street house where “an orchestra of Markels played.”

It would all play out again five years later when, on March 23, 1936, the Baldwins announced daughter Ruth’s engagement to George C. Sharp.  The couple was married on April 30 in St. James Church.

The New York Times lamented on July 2, 1940 “Another fine old East Side residence shortly will become an apartment house as the result of the sale of the five-story building at 5 East Seventy-third Street, once the home of W. Barton Baldwin.”  The newspaper reported that the property was valued at $102,000 and “contains an automatic elevator and other special appointments.”

Within the year the conversion was completed; resulting in a doctor’s office on the first floor, two apartments on floors two through five, and a penthouse, unseen from the street.  To modernize the building, a glass block entrance was added.  Happily, sometime after 1981, it was removed.

Buchman & Fox’s eye-catching mansion survives nearly intact.  It remains a high-end multi-family residence and still holds its own with the palatial Pulitzer mansion next door.

photo by the author

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Orchid -- No. 170 West 78th Street

In 1890 not only was the Upper West Side developing as sewers were laid and mass transit extended to the area; but apartment living was becoming more widely acceptable.  On the east side of Central Park apartment buildings would be known by their addresses; on the west side they more often took names, like The Dakota, The Wyoming and The Chatsworth.

Construction began that year on one more:  The Orchid.  Owner-developer Lorton Horton was busy in the area, having erected a multi-use structure containing a store, apartments and stables two years earlier at No. 371 Amsterdam Avenue.  He chose architect Frank A. Rooke for the project.

Now Horton sought the architect’s talents again.  He owned the adjoining property encompassing Nos. 373 and 375 Amsterdam Avenue and rounding the corner to No. 170 West 78th Street.  For this site Higgs & Rooke would produce a massive Romanesque Revival block of tan brick, stone and pressed metal.  Stores lined the street level along Amsterdam Avenue and a grand entrance for the “French flats” faced 78th Street.

New York architects, especially on the Upper West Side, were taking note of the city’s Dutch roots at the time.  Flemish Revival churches, schools and houses cropped up as quaint reminders of Manhattan’s beginnings.  Higgs & Rooke gave their nod to the movement with centered Dutch stepped gables on both elevations. 
A monumental arch sitting on clustered columns provided the 78th street entrance.  Exquisite carvings filled the spandrels and the address was handsomely carved into the stone.

The pressed metal bay windows, too, strayed from the Romanesque with swags and other floral motifs and unusual hefty beaded engaged columns at the third floor.  But the residential entranceway within the rough-cut stone base, there was purely medieval.  The deep-set, sturdy stone arch sat on clustered columns.  Exquisite snarled carving filled the spandrels and the street number was beautifully incised into the keystone.

Beaded, thin columns, festoons and ribbons made up the pressed metal decorations.
The Orchid filled with respectable middle and upper-middle class families, like the widowed Mrs. George Wesley Spencer and her daughter, Evelyn Grace; Edwin H. Hammer who was the New York agent for Keasbey & Mattison, makers of Bromo-Caffeine; and Dr. Robert W. Eastman; all of whom were among the initial residents.

On October 27, 1891 Mrs. Spencer’s apartment was the scene of Evelyn’s wedding reception.  Earlier that day she had married William Henry Blaine, a relative of the Secretary of State, James G. Blaine.  The Sun noted that “Miss Spencer wore at her throat a blazing diamond pendant, a present from the bridegroom.”

As privileged children of society neared their teen years they would need to learn to dance.  Debutante balls and cotillions were in their futures; and every well-heeled member of society would be expected to perform adequately at society’s many dinner dances each season.  On November 26, 1893 The New York Times mentioned “As the season lengthens the dancing classes increase in number, much to the satisfaction of the juvenile members of society.”  The newspaper noted that “Mills Lillian Barry of 170 West Seventy-eighth Street has arranged to give a series of dances in Hodgson’s Assembly Rooms” on Fifth Avenue to groom youngsters in dancing.

Dutch gables coexist with Romanesque elements in the hefty design.

Along with Dr. Good, several other physicians made The Orchid their home, such as Dr. Robert W. Eastman, and Dr. Philip R. Moale who was in the building by 1895. 

Dr. Good was still in the building at the turn of the century and after midnight on May 20, 1900 he received a frantic knock on his door.  Mrs. Ellen Wessels lived nearby at No. 2183 Broadway and pleaded for his help.  Her brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Smith Collins, who also lived at the Broadway address, was in trouble.

The Times explained “Dr. Collins had been ill for several weeks and had been in the habit of taking drugs to ease his pain and induce sleep.”  Around 10:30 that evening he had taken “a quantity of chloral.”  Mrs. Collins awoke to find her husband struggling to breathe and in distress.  The New-York Tribune reported “Dr. Good made every effort to counteract the effect of the poison, but failed to do so, and Dr. Collins died at 3:20 o’clock.”

Another doctor, named Swift, lived in The Orchid in 1903.  It was in his apartment on Friday November 27 that year that The Pathological Society held its meeting, according to The National Journal of Homoeopathic Medicine.

The attraction of the building to physicians was pointed out in its advertisements.  Most apartments contained seven rooms “all light” and rented in 1905 from $720 to $840 a year—approximately $1500 to $1800 a month in today’s dollars.  But the first floor apartments were larger, having two additional rooms.  An advertisement in The Sun on September 22, 1905 noted that these apartments were “extra large, suitable for dentist or doctor; rent $1,000.”

Among the tenants not involved in the medical field was stock broker Thomas M. Daly whose offices were at No. 32 Pine Street.  In 1903 the couple engaged the services of two servant girls, Annie Williams and her sister Frances.  The girls worked for a while, then gave their notice.  Shortly after they left, Mrs. Daly noticed things missing—specifically $2,000 worth of jewelry.

She notified police and detectives and Inspector McClusky began an investigation.  Before long he discovered that other women in the neighborhood had been robbed.  Based on the description of the two sisters “it was easy to trace the women to their home,” said The New York Times on December 27.

The police raided the Williams girls’ apartment at No. 201 East 97th Street.  “Two trunks full of silverware, bric-a-brac, and costly furs, worth, in all, according to the police, over $10,000, were taken from the rooms occupied by the prisoners and sent to Police headquarters to await identification.”

Around the same time Dr. Daniel T. Millspaugh moved in.  He would stay in The Orchid into the 1920s.  The doctor ran his medical practice from here and operated the Riverlawn Sanitarium in Paterson, New Jersey.  Millspaugh’s advertisements for the facility promised “care and treatment of all Forms of Nervous and mild Mental Cases.  Alcoholic and Drug Addiction—selected Cases Only.”  Riverlawn offered “All Approved Forms of Treatment Used.  Baths, Massage, Electricity.”

The Orchid continued to attract white-collar occupants as World War I approached.  G. W. Sterling was Freight Traffic Manager of Pier 19 on the North River; Albert J. McCullagh was an “investigator,” and Thomas F. Dooley was a civil servant, earning $1,800 a year as an “attendant” in Supreme Court, 1st District.  (Dooley’s salary in 1918 would equate to about $26,000 today.)

Although they were not considered wealthy, the residents were well-off enough that, like the Dalys, most had domestic help.  Carrie Strauss was working as a servant in one of the apartments in 1918 when, it appears, the family was preparing to leave for the summer.  She placed an advertisement in Gleanings in Bee Culture in April that year seeking “a position for the summer with a bee-keeper by a farmer’s daughter.”

Scandal visited  The Orchid in 1921 when Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Macgowan sued her husband, Claude, for failing to pay her $25 a week alimony.  Claude H. Macgowan had been manager of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  Their troubles started when he began seeing Elizabeth Stevens.

Mary Macgowan told Justice Delehanty on April 21, 1921 that her husband left her “more than two years ago, and was at one time living with Elizabeth Stevens” at No. 170 West 78th Street.  “A boy, David, was with the couple, Mrs. Macgowan,” reported The Times.  “Mrs. Macgowan says her husband lived at that address until Dec. 23, last.”

As if Claude Macgowan’s cohabitating with Elizabeth Stevens was not shocking enough, he kidnapped his children and brought them to The Orchid.  “Mrs. Macgowan further alleges that her husband spirited her two children, Claudia and Ursala, from a convent on Staten Island and took them to the apartment occupied by the other woman.”

Despite Macgowan’s affair with “the other woman,” residents of The Orchid were mostly highly respectable.  In 1922 Margaret Baker Morison, who was a 1907 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, was teaching English at Miss Chapin’s School.  That same year resident Mary G. Earl was working as a psychologist with the Department of Hygiene.

In 1968 a renovation resulted in two apartments on the first floor and three each on the upper stories.  The building, which had long ago lost its charismatic name, appeared in the 1977 film The Goodbye Girl.  Richard Dryfuss, as Elliot, and Marsha Mason, playing the part of Paula, shared an apartment here in the Neil Simon hit.

Higgs & Rooke’s eccentric structure retains most of its architectural charm.  Garish store fronts replace the originals on the avenue and the façade is inexcusably grimy and the metal elements rusting.  Yet it survives as a wonderful relic of a time when the West Side was flexing its muscle as Manhattan’s newest neighborhood.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kleeberg Mansion -- No. 3 Riverside Drive

In 1919, two decades after the fact, The Northeastern Reporter explained the rise of a string of lavish mansions at the foot of Riverside Drive, all designed separately by a single architect.

“In 1896 one John S. Sutphen was the owner of the entire block between Seventy-Second and Seventy-Third streets fronting on Riverside Drive.  He formed a general plan to improve and develop the land, and filed in the office of the register a map dividing it into lots.”  The first sale, according to the Reporter was in June, 1896, including a plot “to one Kleeberg.”

Philip Kleeberg’s deed included restrictions similar to the others.  Kleeberg, “his heirs and assigns, shall, within two years from the date hereof, cause to be erected and fully completed upon said lot, a first-class building, adapted for and which shall be used only as a private residence for one family, and which shall conform to the plans made of being made by C. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”

At the time developers intended that Riverside Drive would rival or surpass Fifth Avenue with palatial dwellings.  Its superb views from above the Hudson River and the manicured Riverside Park were its answer to Fifth Avenue’s Central Park.  Sutphen may have been friendly with the mansion architect Gilbert; or perhaps he chose him to do the work simply because he knew and trusted his well-earned reputation.

Philip Kleeberg and his wife, Maria, wasted little time in setting the gears in motion.  Within four months, on October 3, 1896, The American Architect and Building News announced Kleeberg’s plans to build a “four-story brick dwelling to cost $55,000, on Riverside Drive, near 73d St.”  Including the price of the land, $145,000 according to The New York Times, the outlay would be more in the neighborhood of $5 million today.

The Kleebergs were relatively young and the aggressive businessman’s fortune came from a variety of enterprises.  Originally involved in the wholesale lace business, he was by now also President of the Frog Mountain Ore Company, Vice-President of the Colonial Oil Company, and held directorships in the New York Petroleum Company, the William Radam Microbe Killer Company, the Alabama and Georgia Iron Company, and the Empire Steel and Iron Company.  Years later he would invent a calculator and in 1916 become President of the National Calculator Company.

Construction of No. 3 Riverside Drive took two years and as it neared completion, The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide gave a hint at the high-end details when it reported that the Hernsheim Architectural Iron Works was at work on a “bronze vestibule gate for the handsome dwelling No. 3 Riverside Drive, Chas. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”  Construction was completed in 1898 and the Kleebergs, who had lived at No. 56 East 73rd Street, now defected in a nearly straight line across the park. 

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert had produced a sumptuous confection in a frothy style so nebulous as to put architectural historians at odds.  The AIA Guide to New York City calls it “freely interpreted Dutch Renaissance;” while the Landmarks Preservation Commission argues it is “French Renaissance Revival.”  Late 19th century American architects were not wont to concern themselves with historical purity; and elements of both styles can be detected in Gilbert’s design.

American Architect and Architecture (copyright expired)

The architect set the entrance to the side, allowing for a spacious parlor looking onto the park.  The mansion’s bow-fronted façade stopped at three floors, allowing Gilbert to provide a “terrace” at the fourth floor accessed by a long square-columned gallery to the side.  The elaborate stone gables, ornamented with spiky finials and florid s-shaped brackets, culminated in deeply-carved shells.  In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek gesture, Gilbert perched a stone cherub holding a bowl of fruit at the pinnacle.

High above it all a stone cherub (one has been lost) surveys Riverside Drive.  The "terrace" would be the scene of tragedy.

The Kleebergs’s marriage may have been a bit shaky.  The title to the new mansion was put in Maria’s name, as was expected.  And the family, including three sons, moved in and outside appearances were maintained.  However Philip reportedly acquired a second home on the Upper West Side for his own use. 

Gradually the row of houses around No. 3 was constructed.  By September 7, 1901 the Record & Guide reported “three lots of the plot have been sold, one to Philip Kleeberg, one to Colonel W.L. Trenholm, and one to Mrs. Prentiss, all of which have been improved.”

For years nothing other than the expected entertainments and social functions at No. 3 was the norm.  Then, six years later after moving in, a heart wrenching tragedy would occur.  The Kleebergs participated in the routines of wealthy New Yorkers.  Philip and Maria spent the first two months of the summer of 1903 in Europe and upon their return she left for “the country.”  Society women at the time would summer in resorts or estates like Newport and Bar Harbor, while their working husbands would join them on the weekends.

On August 18 the 48-year old socialite returned to New York, a bit early in the season.  Six days later she hosted a dinner party “and a number of Mr. and Mrs. Kleeberg’s relative and friends were present,” said The Sun on August 24.  Following dinner the party took a drive along Riverside Park, then returned to the terrace of the mansion where they sat and chatted.

At one point Maria Kleeberg excused herself, saying she was going to the bathroom.  When she did not return, her sister became concerned and followed.  The Sun reported “She opened the door just as Mrs. Kleeberg put a bottle to her lips.  Mrs. Sands knocked the bottle, which was filled with carbolic acid, to the floor.”

In doing so, Maria’s sister was badly burned on the hands.  She rushed downstairs and instructed the servants to find a doctor.  Three doctors were sent for, but none of them was at home.

Notoriety was one thing the wealthy desperately attempted to avoid; so it was only through desperation that an ambulance was called for from Roosevelt Hospital.  It caused precisely the attention the family was attempting to avoid.

“The arrival of the ambulance caused great excitement in the neighborhood.  One of the rumors which were circulated had it that some one had been murdered in the Kleeberg house.  At one time there were at least 300 persons in front of the house,” said The Sun.

By the time the ambulance had arrived, Maria Kleeberg was dead.  The police, attracted by the ambulance call and the crowd, attempted to investigate.  In an attempt to avoid even worse publicity and scandal, the doors were barred against the police.  No information was given out until Detective Culhane refused to allow the body to be removed until he was let in.

Forced to face reporters, Philip Kleeberg insisted there was no reason why his wife should have committed suicide.  His only explanation was that she may have had “a fit of the blues.”

Kleeberg soon transferred the title to his son, 21-year old Gordon S. P. Kleeberg.  The young homeowner was possibly a difficult man to work for.  On February 23, 1906 he placed an ad in the New-York Tribune seeking a coachman.  “Good, careful driver; competent; painstaking.”  He asked for the “best written and personal references.”  Later that year another advertisement was placed, for the same position.  Then on September 21, 1906 yet another advertisement appeared.  “Coachman—Thorough horseman; care of horses, carriages, and harness; strictly sober, honest, willing and obliging.”  It would seem that young Kleeberg had unusually bad luck in finding a coachman; or he was simply too difficult to work for.

In the meantime the home life of William Guggenheim, known as “The Smelting King,” had become rocky.  Born into the fabulously wealthy mining family, his domestic differences with his wife, Aimee, became such that the couple separated.  In 1908 he purchased No. 3 Riverside Drive.  But he barely had time to unpack his bags.

On May 3, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported that Guggenheim had sold the house to “a Mr. Hopkins, who will occupy it.”  The development of the block was reflected in the asking price--$200,000, or about $4.75 million today.  The Tribune said that a negotiated price of $165,000 was said to be the actual sale price.  In commenting on the sale, the newspaper said “The house is one of the finest in the lower part of the drive.”

It was not uncommon in the first decades of the 20th century for wealthy purchasers of real estate to play a cat-and-mouse game with the press regarding their identities.  A little over a month later, on June 14, the New-York Tribune said “The new owner is said to be a woman, who by the purchase obtains control of half the block.”

Finally, on July 16, 1910, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide ended the speculation, naming Mrs. Angie M. Booth as the buyer.  “Mrs. Booth is the owner of the adjoining property on the north, including the southeast corner of 73d st.”

Angie Booth was the wife of Henry P. Booth, and in a surprising turn of events, she resold the property prior to 1915—to William Guggenheim.  Angie Booth would live to regret it.  Rather than move back into the mansion, Guggenheim initially ran it as a boarding house; then rented it to Dr. William H. Wellington Knipe at $4,000 a year for the first year, and $5,000 a year for the next four years.  It was a hefty rental price; but Knipe had income-producing plans for the property.

Dr. Knipe was “one of the first physicians in New York to become interested in twilight sleep,” said The Sun on January 22, 1916.  “Twilight sleep” was a procedure used on women going into labor that was intended to reduce the pain of childbirth.  The Guggenheim mansion became Dr. Knipe’s “twilight sleep sanitarium.”

Angie Booth, who lived next door to the house, and Mary T.Sutphen whose own mansion was at the corner of Riverside Drive and 72nd Street, were outraged.  They filed suit to close down the sanitarium.

Recalling the restrictions in the original Kleeberg deed, their lawyer explained “The plaintiffs contend that the block is restricted to residential purposes and barred from trade and business.”  His female clients were a bit more pointed, calling the sanitarium “a menace to the peace and quiet of the neighboring landowners,” and “obnoxious and offensive.”

The Sun said that Knipe felt his neighbors were “needlessly alarmed” and “said he had talked with many of his neighbors and they told him they preferred the proposed sanitarium to the ‘exclusive’ boarding house formerly conducted here.”  One of these was Lydia Prentiss.

The wealthy woman, who lived at No. 1 Riverside Drive, was placed in an uncomfortable position when her neighbors knocked on her door, asking her to join them as a plaintiff.  The stalwart socialite held her ground, however, telling the press she “didn’t think women should lend themselves to opposing the development of any treatment that would alleviate or diminish the pains of childbirth.”  It most likely put an end to Lydia Prentiss’s invitations to tea at either the Sutphen or Booth residences.

Although the courts ruled in Dr. Knipe’s favor; things returned to normal on lower Riverside Drive.  Eventually William Guggenheim moved back in and used the mansion as his private dwelling, restoring peace among the neighbors.  Highly educated and erudite, he was the author of several publications, many of them patriotic.  Among them were Our Republic Triumphant; Peace by Victory at Last, but with a Warning; A Greater America; and What Price Government.  His ardent patriotism was evidenced in 1940 when Italy declared war against Great Britain and France.  In 1920 he had been decorated with the Commendatore dell’ Ordine della Corona d’Italia by the Italian Government.  Now he renounced and returned the title, saying that the declaration of war came as “a profound shock.”

He remained in the Riverside Drive mansion until his death at the age of 72 on June 27, 1941.  The house became the property of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings, which leased it to General Boleslaw Wieniawa-D’Lugoszewski and his wife and daughter.  The Polish Ambassador to Italy at the outbreak of war in 1939, he had also been the aide to Marshal Pilsudski, dictator of Poland.

The 60-year old diplomat was subject to what the Polish Consul General referred to as “dizzy spells.”  On the evening of July 1, 1942, the general received word that he had been appointed as Envoy to Cuba.  Shortly afterward, wearing his pajamas and bedroom slippers, he went to the roof “to get a little fresh air,” according to Sylvyn Strakacz, the Police Consul General.  Moments later he fell to his death.

Despite the Consul’s assertions that the fall was the result of recurrent dizziness; The New York Times said “Police of the West Sixty-eighth Street Station, who helped remove the general to the hospital were uncertain whether the death was an accident or suicide.”

Like William Guggenheim, Gordon Kleeberg could not stay away from No. 3 Riverside Drive.  On New Year’s Day, 1944 The New York Times reported “One of the finest town houses on the West Side figured in the news yesterday when Lieut. Col. Gordon S. P. Kleeberg purchased the building at 3 Riverside Drive which was erected by his father in 1896.”

Although the newspaper got the architect’s name wrong, citing Cass Gilbert rather than C. P. H. Gilbert; it correctly described the interiors.  “Among its features still in a good state of preservation are a marble stairway, solid cherrywood floors and bronze grill entrance doors.”  The article said “Colonel Kleeberg intends to remodel the building into small apartments after the war and occupy the terrace suite.”

As promised, in 1951 the 37-foot wide mansion was divided into two apartments per floor.  Happily, much of C. P. H. Gilbert’s interior detailing was preserved.  In 1995 it was purchased by real estate developer Regina Kislin for $10 million.  She and her husband, photographer Anatoly Siyagine, embarked on a long restoration project to bring the house back to a private home.

Much of the interior detailing survives.
Included in the renovation were modern touches that Maria Kleeberg would have found shocking—an indoor pool, sauna and gym, for instance.  Seventeen years later she put the 18-room house on the market for $40 million.  Real estate listings noted “six bedrooms, eight and a half bathrooms, a two-room staff suite, four terraces, and an elevator.”  When no buyers appeared, Kislin reduced the price to $30 million in September 2014.  

The magnificent Gilbert-designed mansion survives as a stunning reminder of the first days of the development of Riverside Drive when developers lured millionaires from the east side of Central Park.

uncredited photographs taken by the author