Saturday, February 24, 2018

Engine Company No. 1 - 165 West 29th Street



Under a century of soot and grim, much of the beige brick and limestone facade survives.
By the second half of the 19th century, the block of 29th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, had already become commercial.  Around 1856 Frederick William Nitschke opened his piano factory at No. 165.  But within the decade the building would be replaced by the fire house of Fire Patrol No. 3.

The New York Fire Patrol operated much like the volunteer fire companies throughout the city.  It fought fires with similar equipment and its members wore uniforms.  But their purpose was slightly different.  In 1803 a group of volunteers formed the Mutual Assistance and Bag Corporation, the purpose of which was to protect and salvage the contents of structures from water damage.  Thirty-six years later the New York Board of Fire Underwriters was established.  The group added fire fighting to its methods of preventing losses and insuring property.  Funded by the insurance companies, the Fire Patrol was established.

Fire Patrol No. 3 was here as early as 1869.  It responded to blazes in the area, like the one that destroyed four buildings on West 27th Street on January 27, 1870.  Filled mostly with wood-working factories, the structures became an inferno.  The situation was made worse when an exterior wall collapsed, spooking the patrol company's horses.  The New York Herald reported that they "became frightened and started off at a rapid gait, knocking down several persons, who received slight bruises."

The loosely-organized network of volunteer fire companies was disbanded in 1865 when the State Senate established the professional New York City Fire Department.  In 1873 the city took over the firehouse of Fire Patrol No. 3 for use by the newly-reorganized Engine Company No. 1.

The company would face challenges in the industrial neighborhood it served.  Factory workers in the early years after the Civil War endured harsh conditions and long hours.  Shop owners were little concerned with fire safety.

A block away from the fire station was the seven-story brick factory of West, Bradley & Cary, makers of corset and suspenders, at Nos. 227 to 233 West 29th Street.   After a small fire broke out on February 19, 1877 the owners were informed of the danger to its employees.  The New York Times later reported "On the 2d of March, 1878, another slight fire occurred, and the precautions already suggested were again brought to the notice of West, Bradley, & Cary."  Another small fire occurred on October 19, 1878.  The Times said "These fires did not do much damage, but it was a common remark in engine-houses in the neighborhood that if a fire broke out while the hands were at work in the suspender factory, it would be difficult to save them."  The newspaper added the building had "for a long time been looked upon as a death-trap."

And fire did break out again.  At 8:15 on the night of March 21, 1879.   Despite the late hour, there were 110 workers in the building, 95 of whom were women.  The fire broke out below street level, in the boiler room, and rushed upward, trapping many on the upper floors.  When Engine Company No. 1 arrived, firefighters chopped open a locked street door, releasing panicked women inside.   Meanwhile, girls and women on the top floors were jumping from windows onto the roofs of adjoining buildings.

By 10:00 the factory was a smoldering ruins.  One fire fighter, William Birmingham, was killed in a tragic accident when a line of hose became detached and fell four stories, crushing him.  Otherwise, although there were injuries, the quick response and heroic efforts of the men resulted in no other fatalities.

Even after the change to a professional fire department, fire fighters sometimes held on to the rowdy personalities for which the volunteers had been famous.  One was Fireman Henry De Tour.  He was fired from his job with Engine Company No. 1 on January 14, 1880 "on charges of intoxication and absence without leave."

In 1879 architect Napoleon Le Brun had been appointed the official architect for the New York City Fire Department.  His job entailed not only designing new station houses, but updating and improving old ones.  In April 1881 his firm, Napoleon Le Brun & Son,  turned its attention to Engine Company No. 1.  The company moved to No. 118 West 33rd Street while renovations were done.

The plans called for an extension to the rear, "new staircases, new floors and rebuilt walls," which included an updated facade.  The renovations cost the city $10,000, or more than a quarter of a million dollars today.

Le Brun's renovations included a vermiculated stone base with handsome Corinthian pilasters on either side of the truck bay. original source unknown
In 1890 the captain of Engine Company No. 1 was Edward F. Croker, nephew of Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker.   He would go on to become one of the FDNY's most memorable chiefs, famous for his eloquent oratory.  He would say, for example, after four men were killed in February 1908, "Firemen are going to get killed.  When they join the department they face that fact.  When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished.  What he does after that is all in the line or work."

But in June 1890 he was dealing with discipline problems.  He was summoned to the office of Fire Chief Hugh Bronner to explain the multiple charges he had filed against one of his men.  When a reporter from The New York Times tried to get to the bottom of the story, Croker refused to name names.  But he did admit the situation was troubling.   "The trouble he regarded as fairly serious.  It was due to comparatively recent occurrences, but beyond that he would not make any statement," said the newspaper on July 30.

The problematic fire fighter was Fireman 1st Grade James Bohen.  Croker filed several complaints against the seemingly uncontrollable man.   When Croker confronted him for drinking on the job on July 19, Bohen responded "Suppose I was drunk, what is that to you?  You did not see me.  You cannot make a charge against me, as I have every man in the house as a witness."

The next day a fire alarm rang out in the station house.  While the other fire fighters rushed to the apparatus, Bohen remained in his bed upstairs, presumably too drunk or hungover to function.  And just two days later, on July 22, he was "absent from his company without permission from proper authority for 26 minutes, between the hours of 8.34 and 9.00 P.M."

It came to a head on August 2, 1890 when Bohen was tried before the Fire Commissioners for "being so much under the influence of liquor, drug or compound as to be unable to perform his duty in proper manner," was found guilty, and dismissed from the Department.

Bravery, not insubordination, was the hallmark of Engine Company No. 1, however.  When the men responded to a massive factory fire on West 24th Street on December 28, 1894, William Weise emerged a true hero.  Two firemen, including Battalion Chief John J. Bresnan, were killed, 10 were injured, and one owed his life to Weise.

William Hennessy was on an upper floor when he sprained his ankle.  Surrounded by flames and unable to escape, he lost consciousness.  The following day The Evening World reported "Perceiving his plight, William Weise, of Engine Company 1, rushed up a ladder to the third floor and carried the injured fireman down to the street on his back."

Seven months later the men would fight a "fierce blaze," as described by The New York Times, in a most unexpected location.  The newspaper reported on July 16, 1895 that the fire was "in their own quarters at 165 West Twenty-ninth Street."  It started in the cellar around 11:00 that morning and "swept upward through the hose tower, and through the roof.  The firemen were quick to act and worked hard to save their apparatus and horses."  Nevertheless, other fire companies had to come to their assistance to save the fire house.

Heavy fire equipment pulled by galloping steeds were both fast and dangerous.  Newspaper regularly reported on collisions between fire trucks and other vehicles, or of unwary pedestrians being struck.  The men of Engine Company No. 1 narrowly escaped serious injury on August 11, 1903.

The company was responding to a fire at No. 303 Eighth Avenue.  "The tender was following in the wake of the engine and going at a good rate of speed," reported The Times.  "The driver of the tender...made a big turn into Eighth Avenue.  He did not have room to make the swing according to his first calculation, however, and quickly swung his horses to the left when he saw that he would strike the sidewalk."

The six men on the vehicle jumped for their lives an is "careened, and then turned over, sliding along the gutter on its side."   All the men escaped the accident unscathed, and, almost unbelievably, none of the horses was injured.

In 1906 the men of Engine Company No. 1 once again had to temporarily relocate as renovations were done to their station house.  Somewhat ironically, they shared quarters with Fire Patrol No. 3 at No. 104 West 30th Street for a year.

By now Alexander Stevens was the chief architect of the Fire Department.  As Napoleon Le Brun had done in 1881, he made substantial renovations.  The New-York Tribune, on May 15, 1906, reported "The building is to be enlarged, new steel and concrete floors and staircases laid and the interior completely renovated.  A new facade of ornamental brick trimmed with Indiana limestone will be erected.  A bronze tablet over the new entrance will be inscribed with the names of both [Edward F.] Croker and [Hugh] Bonner, the one as department chief and the other as deputy commissioner."

Stevens's $24,000 worth of renovations erased Le Brun's handsome facade; but made the building more functional in light of modern fire fighting equipment and techniques.   The notable ornament of the restrained beige brick front appeared in the tall windows of second floor, framed in limestone and topped with heavy scrolled keystones.  The bronze panel described by the Tribune was flanked by proportionate French-inspired iron guards within the other openings.

Back in their remodeled house, the men of Engine Company No. 1 continued to face death fighting fires nearby.  An especially terrifying incident occured on December 21, 1922 at a fire at No. 450 Sixth Avenue.

Lt. Patrick Wynne and some of his crew were on the sixth floor.  Heavy iron window shutters commonly provided security to factories, but on that night they also caused the hot gases inside to build up.   When one firefighter opened a shutter, a violent back draft resulted.

"The firemen were hurled across the room and down the stairs, many of them rolling and tumbling, with their hair blazing and the flames scorching their bodies and faces, as far as the third floor landing," reported The New York Herald.   Two policemen were on the second floor landing and they grabbed two of the men and carried them to the street, while fire fighters rushed up the stairs.

'They found the firemen lying on the stairs and on the floor of the sixth floor rooms, with the woodwork burning all about them, their clothing and hair on fire, and one, Fireman Peter McCaffrey...with his eyes almost burned out."

On September 10, 1945 the Fire Department announced that Engine Company No. 1 would get a new home.  But this time the 1860s fire house on West 29th Street would not be renovated.  Instead plans were announced for a new building at 142-146 West 31st Street.

The bronze plaque, installed in 1906, survives, as does one of the Beaux Arts window guards.
By now the West 29th Street block sat within Manhattan's Fur District, surrounded by early 20th century loft buildings.  The rest of the century was unkind to the historic structure and today the ground floor of Alexander Stevens's fire house is nearly obliterated.  A layer of dirt has turned the beige brick and white limestone the color of a field mouse; but a certain architecture grace survives.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 23, 2018

The 1892 Louis Kessel House - 21 East 93rd Street



Four years after developer Philip Braender hired William Graul to design a group of speculative row houses on the south side of East 93rd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, he brought the architect back to the same block.

In 1891 construction began on four four-story houses on the north side, at Nos. 15 through 21.  Completed the following year, they were designed basically as two mirror-image pairs.  Each home, nevertheless, was given its own unique elements.

The four houses were designed as matching pairs. Subtle individuality was expressed in the arched openings of No. 19 and the tiny triangular pediment over the angled bay of No. 21 (right).

The eastern-most, No. 21, featured carved Renaissance Revival panels beneath the parlor and bay windows.  A miniature, engaged column supported the angled bay, the elaborately carved base of which morphed into more formal, classical temple-like design.  The stair hall window of the second floor wore a sumptuously-carved bib of vines and flowers.


On June 18, 1892 Braender advertised "17, 19, 21 East 93d st, near 5th av--Beautiful four-story private houses; low prices; cabinet trim throughout; butler's pantry extension; strictly private neighborhood; must be examined to be appreciated."   The reason he did not include No. 15 in the offering was because he had already moved his family into that house.

No. 21 became the home of Louis Kesssel and his family.  The senior partner in the banking firm Louis Kessel & Brother, he and his wife, Josephine had one daughter, Tessie.  The family routinely summered at Long Branch, New Jersey.

While the Kessels' comfortable wealth and the enviable location of their home just steps away from the mansions of Fifth Avenue were not enough to gain them admittance into the highest strata of Manhattan society; their movements were still noticed by society columnists.   Such was the case in January 1897 when Tessie's engagement announcement shared space on the same pages that told of the lavish upcoming ball in the newly-completed Henry Sloan mansion.

Tessie's marriage to George J. August took place in the fashionable Delmonico's restaurant on January 20.  Her parents remained in the 93rd Street house for two more years, selling it in January 1899 for $33,000 (around $930,000 today) to real estate dealer Harris Levy.

Despite his advanced age, Levy had just married his third wife.  Described by The New York Times as "elderly and wealthy," his bride was portrayed as "a young woman."   But Levy's hopes of domestic bliss had not clouded his candid awareness that the intentions of his more youthful mate may not have been entirely romantic.

Before the wedding, in November 1898, he went to the office of his lawyer, Moses H. Grossman and had a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up.   It provided his fiancée, Leah, with $1,000 at the time of the wedding, gave her ownership of all the household furnishings, and another $1,000 on his death.  She signed the contract, thereby giving up any other claims to his substantial estate.

The New York Times said "The wedding ceremony took place with gay festivities accompanying."  Things started off well enough.  The Levis had one live-in servant girl and Leah later said "He gave me twelve dollars a week for eatables for the table.  The amount that was paid the servant girl was ten dollars a month."  The two summered in upscale resorts like Saratoga.

But then their domestic bliss soured.  According to Leah, Levy became jealous, calling her a "tramp" when she would go out and not return quickly enough.  And his frequent temper outbursts worsened after she sued on December 13, 1901 to negate the pre-nuptial agreement.  Her complaint said "the prospective bride did not understand what she was doing when she relinquished her rights to her husband's property, also that Mr. Levy knowingly and fraudulently concealed from her the contents of the agreement."

In one especially terrifying incident, he picked up a table knife and threatened "If you don't get out of my house, I will put a knife into you."  According to Leah, "the [servant] girl was afraid and she took me by the body and she pushed me in a near-by room."

Recognizing that the servant's loyalties were with Leah, Levi fired her.  Leah stayed in the house for about two weeks, until finally her husband took away all the keys and ordered her out of the house.  She sued for divorce in October 1903 "alleging cruel and inhuman treatment."  The New York Times added "She also says that her husband was stingy in money matters."

The next residents were far less dramatic.  Ehler Osterhold and his wife, the former Augusta Iden, had one daughter, Marie.   Census records show two servants living in the house with the family.  By 1914 the change from carriages to automobiles was well underway and Ehler purchased a shiny new Cadillac.

The following year Marie graduated from the exclusive Miss Spence's School and Augusta's focus turned to the introduction of her daughter to society.   On March 3, 1916 she gave what The New York Times deemed "a small dance" in the St. Regis Hotel  for Augusta.   The newspaper reported "Mrs. Osterholt and Miss Osterholt received in the Louis XVI reception room, and the dancing was in the marble ballroom.  A seated supper was served at 12:30 o'clock in the Oak Room."  The article estimated the number of guests at between 150 and 200.

Unlike most debutantes, Marie would not marry for another seven years.  Her understated wedding to Edward S. Gregory, who had served in World War I as a captain in the 55th Infantry, took place in the 93rd Street house on June 2, 1923.

Augusta's sisters Emma and Marie had never married.  In August 1932 Emma's funeral was held in the house; and six years later, in February 1938, the funeral of Marie was held here.  The final funeral to be conducted in the drawing room was that of Ehler Osterholt, who died at the age of 84 on January 2, 1944.

Augusta sold the home she had shared with him for decades and in 1945 it was converted to nine apartments--two per floor except for the parlor floor, which was a single apartment.   A 1982 alteration resulted in three apartments.

Other than replacement windows and the accompanying loss of stained glass panels, little has changed to the outward appearance of No. 21 since the Kessel family moved in in 1892.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Church of the Holy Cross - 333 West 42nd Street




In 1850 Pope Pius IX created the Archdiocese of New York City, elevating Irish-born Bishop John J. Hughes to archbishop.   The 53-year old Hughes was as hard-edged as he was holy.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was rampant in the first half of the 19th century.  It was Hughes who had led the Ancient Order of Hibernians and armed parishioners against a mob determined to burn St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street in 1844.  In a letter to Mayor James Harper he threatened "Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow."

Now, two years later Hughes intended to show New Yorkers that the Catholic Church was here to stay.  Early in February 1852 he appealed for the construction of "eight or ten new Catholic churches," including the new St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

The first to be organized was the Church of the Holy Cross.  The Rev. Joseph A. Lutz was given the job of creating the new parish.  He obtained the use of a building on West 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues as a temporary chapel while funds for a permanent building were raised.

The site was all but godless.  Sitting in the midst of what would become known as Hell's Kitchen within a few decades, it was surrounded by ramshackle shanties, mostly constructed of wood.  The district's residents were impoverished and for the most part lawless.  Charles H. Farnham, in an article in Schribner's Monthly in 1879 wrote in part, "Large rats stared at us from the beams, sewer vomited filth and the water and the air were unendurably loathesome.  This is known as 'Hell's kitchen.'  It may seem incredible that any freeman should choose such a place for his abode; yet where could a criminal find more congenial gloom?"

Despite its surroundings, sufficient money for a building was raised.  The Evening World commented later, "Although the congregation was a poor one the new building was designed on a substantial plan and the corner-stone laid the same year."    The dedication was held on December 17, 1854.  Within the year Rev. Patrick McCarthy was appointed the new pastor.

At around 2:00 on the afternoon of June 18, 1867 a terrific storm blew across Manhattan.  The following morning The New York Herald reported "During the prevalence of the thunder storm yesterday afternoon the steeple of the Church of the Holy Cross, on Forty-second street...was struck by lightning and very much shattered.  Large particles of the brick and wood work here hurled around, but fortunately no person was injured.  It will be found necessary to take down the remaining portions of the steeple without delay."  Indeed, The New York Times informed pedestrians that the north side of 42nd Street was closed, "as the steeple is still in a very shakey and dangerous condition."

Repairs were initiated, but engineers soon realized that the structure had been severely compromised.  "The reformation was commenced," said The New York Herald, "but it was speedily discovered that an entire reconstruction would be most advantageous, and, in the end, most economical."

Old St. Patrick's Cathedral had been devastated by a fire a year earlier and architect Henry Engelbert was brought in to reconstruct the venerable structure.  Now he was commissioned to design the new Church of the Holy Cross.   The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted on March 28, 1868 that construction costs for the structure were projected at $90,000.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on on May 31, 1868.  The New York Herald reported "The ceremonies were attended by an immense concourse of persons.  The windows, housetops, trees and other eminences in the neighborhood were crowded."

Construction was completed the following year and the dedication took place on May 7, 1870.   The Times described the architecture as "of the renaissance order, and the building is surmounted by a lofty dome, which gives it a most imposing appearance."   The Evening World disagreed regarding the style, calling it "Byzantine," adding "the material of which it is built is pressed Philadelphia brick with trimmings of Belleville stone and polished bluestone."

In fact, neither was correct, at least by today's terminology.  Engelbert married Romanesque Revival with Gothic Revival.  The dome which The Times deemed "imposing" was nearly lost behind the triangle gable of the central section and the pyramid-topped towers on either end.   The red-brick structure sat above a broad stone staircase that elevated the church from the gritty sidewalk.

Inside were "spacious galleries."  The church could accommodate 1,800 worshipers.  In the year since the plans had been filed the cost had risen to "not far from $100,000," according to The Times, or around $1.8 million in today's dollars.  Considering their own meager conditions, the parishioners of the Church of the Holy Cross must have been awe-stricken when they first entered.



Like many Victorian priests, Rev. Patrick McCarthy shepherded his flock by invoking the fear of God.  In his sermon on the first day of Lent in 1871 he urged his congregation to "consider the number and enormity of our offenses against God, the violence of our passions and the many dangers and temptations to which we are exposed."   And he warned "But, alas! A carnal and effeminate life has now become so common in this country that many Catholics are but too ready to imitate the lives and example of the unprincipled and irreligious men by whom they are surrounded."

After more than two decades as pastor, McCarthy died in August 1877.  His funeral on Thursday the 9th required a large police presence due to the number of mourners.  The New York Herald reported that the "immense crowd" had filled 42nd Street more than an hour before the funeral and the "press around the gates became so great that the church had to be opened at nine o'clock though the funeral ceremonies were not to begin until half-past ten."

"The large building became so densely thronged in a few minutes that the assistance of the police had to be obtained to assist in thinning the numbers of the crowd who blocked up the aisles.  Even after a large number of persons had been removed the heat was almost unbearable."

Even at the time of Rev. McCarthy's funeral the building had not been consecrated.  Catholic tradition demanded that the entire debt ($92,000 at the time) had to be paid off beforehand.   By 1885 it was apparent that the money had almost been raised and, in preparation for the consecration, substantial redecoration was initiated.   On December 27 The New York Times reported "The next Catholic church to be consecrated will be the Church of the Holy Cross" and said "The work of enlarging and improving the edifice has been going on for the last four months."

A rear extension designed by architect Lawrence J. O'Connor enlarged the sanctuary by 25 feet.  The article explained "on either side of the new sanctuary there are large and commodious sacristies.  The sanctuary is to be semicircular in form, it will contain three altars of white Vermont marble, and the pavement will be of encaustic tile."  Stained glass windows executed by Mayer & Co. of Munich, Germany were set into the dome.  Other new windows included the central "Exaltation of the Cross," and four which depicting the Evangelists.

Just a week before the ceremony work was still underway.  On March 13, 1886 The Record & Guide reported "The Church of the Holy Cross...is having a mural decoration prepare which simulates mosaic.  The ground in flowing continuous forms is warm but delicate in color.  The arch marked by a purple band expands on the walls into a boarder, and is interrupted by the colossal figures on the side of St. Peter, and on the other of St. Paul.  This treatment is new and its ultimate effect when in place may be looked for with interest."

Eleven days later The Times ran the headline "FREE FROM DEBT" and announced that Archbishop Corrigan had celebrated the ceremony of the consecration of the Church of the Holy Cross at 7:00 on the night before, March 21.


The members of the congregation of Holy Cross were, for the most part, Irish-born.  The parish had a branch of the Irish National League which met in the basement of the church.  At a meeting here on June 13, 1886, for instance, General Martin T. McMahon and Colonel John O'Beirne spoke "on the fitness of the Irish people for self-government."

It was not surprising, therefore, that another Irish-born priest, Rev Charles McCready, took Rev. McCarthy's place.  Born in Ireland in 1837, he had been assistant pastor at St. Stephen's Church under Rev. Edward McGlynn until his appointment at Holy Cross.  When he arrived the church operated the Holy Cross Academy for girls under the charge of the Sisters of Charity, the St. Vincent's Industrial School, and a girl's parochial school.  He enhanced the church's educational efforts by erecting the Holy Cross School, completed in 1890 which could accommodate 1,000 pupils.

In the meantime, Rev. McCready's close friend, Rev. McGlynn, was involved in serious drama.  Outspoken and liberal-minded, he pronounced opinions some of which ran counter to Catholic dogma--that public schools were "quite adequate," for instance.  Archbishop Corrigan ordered him to correct his behavior; but he pressed on.  Finally, in January 1887 he "was driven from the pastorate of St. Stephen's Church and excommunicated as a result," as described by The Evening World.

McGlynn had been loved by his congregation and they lamented his fate.  So when word got out that he was to celebrate Christmas mass in the Church of the Holy Cross in 1894, elation spread.  A week earlier Rev. McGlynn had reached out to Archbishop Corrigan.  The two men, once bitter antagonists, reconciled and McGlynn was given permission to say mass publicly.  Rev. McCready invited his friend to do so at Holy Cross.

More than 4,000 people arrived for Christmas mass.  The Evening World reported "The Holy Cross Church was not built to accommodate more than half that number, but this morning, at 4.30 o'clock, not only had every pew an occupant, but the aisles were packed, as was the gallery, and every inch of space close up to the altar rails almost was black with humanity."

According to the newspaper many of the worshipers had camped out overnight in the church to guarantee a seat, "and when they saw him come out from the sacristy, they felt like shouting, and would have done so, but for the occasion.  As it was, a murmur that was half sob, half exultant cry, was plainly heard."

On October 5, 1902 Monsignor John M. Farley headed the golden jubilee ceremonies here.  What might have been just another celebratory mass became anything but when, afterward, his secretary, Father Hayes, handed him a sealed packet which had arrived by special delivery from the Apostolic Delegation in Washington.  He broke the seal and read the contents, showing no reaction.  He went to the vestry where he knelt before a small altar and prayed for 20 minutes.

Afterward he joined the guests of the church who were enjoying dinner in the School Hall.  There he revealed that the packet contained a Papal bull notifying him that he had been appointed Archbishop of New York.

When the United State entered World War I, assistant pastor Rev. Aloysius C. Dineen left Holy Cross to volunteer.  On October 3 1917, he was commissioned a chaplain in the United States Army.  But it was another Irish priest whose service in the war would be forever linked to the Church of the Holy Cross.

Father Francis Patrick Duffy had been Army chaplain during the Spanish-American War.  In 1916, while pastor of Our Savior Catholic Church in the Bronx, he was made chaplain of the 165th National Guard Unit of the 42nd Division (formerly the 69th Infantry Regiment).  Now Duffy went to war with "The Fighting 69th."

He became the most highly decorated chaplain in U.S. Army history--earning the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S. and the Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre from the French Government.

photo from the collection of the U S. Army Chaplain Center and School
Following the war, in 1921, he became pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross.  Under his pastorate Holy Cross became understandably popular with servicemen and veterans.  Duffy celebrated an annual mass for the 69th Regiment, held on the anniversary of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry during which the Regiment lost more than 200 men.  The event was an emotional and imposing one, with the men forming at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue and 26th Street and marching in formation to the church.

On April 2, 1925 a case of "jewelry" that arrived in New York on the steamship Homeric was held by Customs until Rev. Duffy cleared things up.   The "jewelry," he explained, was in fact 5,000 rosaries
"each blessed by the Pope, which he had brought back from Rome for the men with whom he served in France," reported The Evening World.  "Every man in the regiment, regardless of faith or creed, will receive a rosary, although many of the men were Jews or Protestants."  The carton was released duty-free.

Father Duffy's Church, as Holy Cross was popularly known, still sat within a rough neighborhood.  By now tenements and factories surrounded it and to the east the bawdy Times Square district had developed.   Duffy realized that many of his parishioners worked night shifts, in factories and theaters, making it impossible for them to attend the mandatory Sunday mass.  In January 1932 he received special permission from the Vatican to hold mass at 2:15 a.m. on Sunday mornings for night workers.

The dome and lantern are visible in this 1931 photograph.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Father Francis Duffy died on June 26, 1932 at the age of 61.  He had been ill for three months.  He was replaced as pastor by Police Department Chaplain Rev. Joseph A. McCaffrey.  Like Duffy, he had been a chaplain overseas during the war.

On April 22, 1943 McCaffrey, now a monsignor, officiated at the dedication of the Victory Chapel in the basement of the church.  The Times reported "He dedicated the new chapel for the offering of special prayers for men in the service and for their use while on leave."  With World War II raging, he included in his sermon a "special plea for peace with final victory."

The Victory Chapel original source unknown
On November 15, 1944 Mgr. McCaffrey reported that the crucifix from the Victory Chapel was missing.  It was valued at about $100.  Then a plate representing the 12th station of the cross was gone from the main church.  A replacement crucifix more than two feet tall and worth $400 was put in the Victory Chapel.  That disappeared on November 29 along with a set of bells used for mass.  Police were most puzzled as to how the large crucifix could have been spirited out of the chapel unnoticed.

The crucifix was found later in a Harlem pawn shop where it had been sold for $2.  It was a clue that led detectives to 21-year old Vivian De Munn, who was arrested on February 12, 1945.  "The woman claimed to have been living in subways for several months, after being drive from the home of an aunt, a Harlem resident, with whom she had quarreled," reported The Times.

Despite Mgr. McCaffrey's lobbying that would eventually result in the clean-up of the Times Square pornographic theaters and seedy shops, the 42nd block was still grim in 1992 when Rev. Peter Colapietro became pastor.  Directly across the street now was the Port Authority Bus Terminal where homeless slept and addicts, prostitutes and alcoholics loitered.

Called by some newspapers the "saloon priest," he had been a bartender before entering the priesthood.   The charismatic pastor, like his predecessors, was beloved by his congregation.   His cool street smarts helped him deal with sometimes alarming situations.

The Catholic periodical Our Sunday Visitor reported in 1994 about an incident involving actor Mickey Rourke.  His marriage to actress and model Carré Otis was on the rocks and he believed she had been sexually assaulted.  Armed with a pistol, Rourke was on his way to shoot the suspected rapist and kill himself.  He had already composed a suicide note when he walked into Holy Cross.

Rourke told Our Sunday Visitor "I didn't know this man, Father Peter.  I just walked in his church...and met the right priest."  He said that Fr. Colapietro "took away my gun and had me leave the note with St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes."

During mass one Sunday morning a man hurled a beer bottle towards Fr. Colapietro.  It smashed on the steps leading to the altar, damaging the marble.  In 2007 a $6 million restoration of the church began.   During the earlier planning period, Fr. Colapietro insisted that the gouge inflicted by the beer bottle remain.

Rev. Peter Colapietro was transferred to an East Side church in 2013.  Today the congregation of the Church of the Holy Cross, once nearly entirely of Irish descent, is heavily Hispanic.  Masses are held in both English and Spanish.   The church operates a food kitchen in the neighborhood which, as it was in 1852, still has more than its share of poor and hungry.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The 1845 63 Barrow Street



In 1845 Catherine Cruger erected two houses, Nos. 61 and 63 Barrow Street, behind her store at the southeast corner of Bedford Street.  Unlike the earlier, Federal style homes along the block, they reflected the newer Greek Revival style.  Rather than a dormered attic, they had a full-height third floor.  While intended for a middle-class family, they boasted the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows expected in the residences of more affluent homeowners.  Nevertheless, the modest personality of the homes were expressed in its simple brownstone lintels and sills.

In the 1850's No. 63 was being leased by the Taft family.  Catharine A. Taft was a teacher in the Girls' Department of Primary School No. 18 on Waverley Place near Bank Street.  And by the early 1860's the William Henry Baldwin family lived at No. 63 Barrow Street.  Born on New Year's Eve 1824, Baldwin was married to the former Mary S. Stevenson.  The couple had seven children.

At the time the Baldwins moved into the Barrow Street house, the East Coast was plagued with a deadly disease, scarlatina, better known as scarlet fever.  The epidemic was so widespread that on April 1, 1868 Dr. Shrady, editor of the New York Medical Record, noted that the Metropolitan Health Board's latest report did not even bother to count the cases.  "Nothing is said of the great number of cases of scarlet fever, as it is so common a thing that nothing is thought of it."

In the spring of 1864 the Baldwins' three year old son, Harry Lincoln, contracted the disease.  It became complicated with diphtheria and he died in the house on May 8.   Perhaps due to the infectious nature of the disease, his funeral was rapidly held the next day, just past noon, in the parlor.

The Civil War had already been raging for three years at the time.  On March 3, 1863 Congress had enacted The Enrollment Act, sometimes called the Draft Act.   All male citizens eligible for military service were required to enroll.  Their names then were included in the highly unpopular draft lotteries.  On March 17, 1865 William H. Baldwin, Jr.'s name was one of those drawn to fight in the South.

By the time the Baldwin's youngest daughter, Emily Frances, died on June 29, 1869, they had moved to No. 291 West 4th Street.  Two years earlier, the owner (possibly still Catherine Cruger) sold all three of the properties.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on February 12, 1867 offered:

For Sale--Two Three Story Basement Cellar Philadelphia brick Houses, 61 and 63 Barrow street; $5000 each.  Corner store adjoining, $7,500--less if sold together.  Terms easy.

The price for the houses would be equivalent to about $82,600 today.  The new owners of No. 63 Barrow Street rented rooms, but stopped short of operating a boarding house.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on December 10, 1871 offered "Furnished rooms, for housekeeping, for gentleman and wife; also small Room, for one or two gentlemen, at $2.50 per week."


The difference in accommodations were reflected in the rent.  The $2.50 per week for that small room would be around $50 today.  But an apparently more spartan "furnished sleeping room" was available for a bargain $8 per month in 1873.  The advertisements through the years were nearly identical, with only the prices slightly changing.  A bedroom and adjoining room was offered "to gentlemen or for light housekeeping" in 1874 and "also a Room to a gentleman for $2 per week."  That advertisement noted that gas was included in the rent.

As the century drew to a close, No. 63 was home to a career woman, Elizabeth A. Lahey.  She had taken a job in John Van Orden's ladies' undergarment firm in 1882 at the age of just 14 years old.  In 1890 when the forewoman, Miss Hemme, was married, Elizabeth was promoted to assistant forewoman and "special fitter."  She was promoted again in 1893 when her employer's wife, Margaret, became too ill to work.

Elizabeth was dragged into the especially ugly divorce proceedings between the Van Ordens in 1896. and was called to the stand on May 16.  Her testimony made it unclear which of the two was more at fault.

She said in part that Margaret "never had anything but bad to say about him, stating he abused her, and very often she expressed herself as though she hated him, [and] his brother Jim she called a dirty loafer.  One Monday morning she came to me and said that Mr. Van Orden had been to a vile place the night before and on disreputable business; she expressed this in a very shameful way and too low for me to repeat."

"She would come down to the workroom and talk to me by the hour about Mr. Van Orden and sometimes would tell me the most indecent things about him...While she was around I have never heard Mr. Van Orden speak to or about Mrs. Van Orden in any but a respectful manner, and invariably considerate of others."

On December 1, 1909 Elizabeth transferred title to No. 63 Barrow Street to Fanny H. von Schmid.   Fanny's purchase was an investment and she immediately leased the house to Margaret Demuth.  Fanny retained possession for nearly two decades, selling it in July 1921 to artist Estella Case.

Case was followed in the house by Edward J. Condlon and his wife, the former Rosalie M. Freeman.  A financial reporter for The New York Times since 1927, he had started his career with the New York Commercial, later working for The Boston Evening Transcript, the Chicago Journal of Commerce and The United Press.

Condlon was not all business.  He was a member of the board of governors of the New York Financial Writers Association and, according to The Times, "He was one of the leading performers in the association's annual theatrical productions in 1938, 1939 1940 and 1941."

In July 1944 Condlon became ill and he died in the New York Hospital on August 5.  It is not clear how long Rosalie Condlon remained in the house; but it as sold to Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Bagster-Collins "of Cornwall, Connecticut" in December 1959.  In reporting on the sale The New York Times noted "They will occupy it."


The intimate proportions of the house--just 17 feet wide--are possibly what saved the charming brick house from being divided into apartments.  Still a single-family home, its brownstone trim has been painted white and understated ironwork replaces the original railings and fencing.  Nevertheless, Catherine Cruger's investment property looks much as it did nearly 175 years ago.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pitiable Neglect - The West 96th Street Substation 11


Sadly some of the carved limestone ornamentation has been stripped off.

At a meeting of the West End Association on Tuesday, November 12, 1901 several representatives reported on the status of issues that concerned or affected Upper West Side residents.  On the list were the still-delayed paving of 72nd Street, the completion of the tiny Empire Park at Broadway and 63rd Street, and the "endeavor to improve the Circle at 8th av and 59th st, with a view to insuring the safety of the public using the same."

One of the most pressing problems was public transportation.  The Upper West Side's population had multiplied several times in recent decades and residents faced problems getting around.  The West End Association's Subway Special Committee reported on their meeting with the contractor for the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Co.  "He promised to complete portions now open before opening between 71st and 80th st, and satisfied the committee that he is doing all in his power to push work."

The Rapid Transit Subway Construction Co. was founded in 1900 by August Belmont, Jr. and Andrew Onderdonk.  It would later be renamed the Interborough Rapid Transit, or the IRT.   Creating tunnels, laying track, manufacturing the trains, and constructing stations was a massive undertaking.  In addition, the subterranean tracks would need electricity to power the trains along.

Powerhouses and substations with colossal generators had to be constructed.  The substations, which transformed the electric current generated at the main power plants, were generally located near passenger stations.   They were subsequently designed to meld into the residential or business blocks.  On October 23, 1904 The Sun noted "The substation buildings from which the electric current is served to the third rail are architecturally beautiful.  One of them might be taken almost for the home of a wealthy citizen whose fancy turned toward the heavy and impressive."

A year after the West Side Association meeting the subway was nearing 96th Street.  Even as the massive main power plant was still being constructed, plans were laid for the substation just west of Broadway on 96th Street.  On October 11, 1902 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that plans had been filed for "a 3-sty electric power station for the West Side branch of the subway, to be built at Nos. 264 and 266 West 96th Street, at a cost of $55,000."  That price tag would amount to more than $1.5 million today.

The architectural firm of Van Vleck & Hunter had received the commission to design Substation 11.  They produced a handsome Beaux Arts structure faced in limestone.  The carved ornamentation, dormered mansard roof. and two-story metal-framed bays created a striking structure that could hold its own among handsome civic buildings like firehouses and libraries.

photo from The Street Railway Journal, October 8, 1904
Despite its Parisian-inspired facade, the interior of Substation 11 was a no-nonsense cavernous space of gigantic transformers, switchboards and "rotaries."

photo from The Street Railway Journal, October 8, 1904

The new IRT subway solved the problem of transportation on the Upper West Side.  At least temporarily.  As the district continued to grow, so did passenger complaints.  An article in the Record & Guide entitled "Subway Deficiencies" on February 3, 1906 sounds remarkably modern.  It said in part, "The delays are constant, and are sometimes prolonged almost beyond endurance.  Instead of traveling to the City Hall in less than twenty minutes, the residents of the upper West Side and Harlem find that it frequently takes them forty minutes, and many of them believe that they can average much better time on the Ninth avenue elevated expresses."

Passengers would be frustrated until the opening of the Eighth Avenue subway line on Central Park West alleviated much of the congestion.

The 1906 dilemma exemplified the never-ending challenges facing the subway.  Subsequently, constant improvements in technology and efficiency would eventually result in both the main power plant and Substation 11 becoming obsolete.

On June 12, 1940 the Interborough Rapid Transit was acquired by the city to be merged into the Metropolitan Transit Authority.  IRT properties, including the 96th Street substation, were transferred to the city.  No longer needed, it would eventually become abandoned.

In June 1991 the city's Division of Real Property attempted to sell the property.  In an unusual offering, it joined with the owners of two adjacent properties--No. 268 where the Salvation Army operated a thrift store, and No. 270 partially occupied by NAACP offices.  "The properties have more value as an assemblage than they do individually," explained planning director Margo Moehring to a New York Times reporter.  The minimum bid for the package was $6.2 million.

It was a valiant effort; or so it seemed.  But when there were no bids, Substation 11 was boarded up and essentially forgotten.  Weather and vandalism took their toll.  The first of the public complaints began around 2003 when multiple calls to the Department of Buildings reported a dangerous, unlit sidewalk shed which had been in place for years.


The concerns worsened as time passed.  In the summer of 2014 there were reports that the plywood over the windows was missing and pigeons were roosting inside; and in October 2015 journalist Emily Frost reported on the "growing homeless encampment" that had formed under the sidewalk shed.

In June 2017 a local resident complained "the entrance door is wide open" and voiced concerns that the building's proximity to elementary school P.S. 75 made it "unsafe for children who are curious and may try to go into the property."


Around that time rumors circulated that Substation 11 was to be converted to housing.  In the meantime Van Vleck & Hunter's once imposing Beaux Arts structure continues to decay.  Although its striking limestone carvings and mansard roof speak of its former industrial elegance, it has become a neighborhood eyesore.

photographs by the author

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Lost "Waddell Castle" - Fifth Avenue and 37th Street


Alexander Jackson Davis created this rendering in 1844.  The romantic Gothic villa sat in the countryside at the time. Fifth Avenue Old and New, 1924

William Coventry Henry Waddell was born at No. 53 Wall Street on May 28, 1802 to ship master Captain Henry Waddell and Eliza Martin Daubeney (William added the "Henry" to his name, for some reason, later in life).   His education was interrupted at the age of 18 when his father died and he entered business as a clerk.

Waddell's acumen led to his becoming secretary of the Pacific Insurance Company in 1827.  But his career would truly take off when Andrew Jackson appointed Martin Van Buren as Secretary of State two years later.  Waddell was intimate friends with Lucas Elmendorf, who in turn was a close friend of Van Buren.  Elmendorf managed to procure the position of Financial Agent within the State Department for Waddell--a position that earned him the third highest salary within the Department.

He was in charge of the finances of the State Department, but perhaps more importantly was the confidential messenger between the Department and the President.  The 28-year old Waddell and the 62-year old President formed a close bond.  Historian John W. Jordan, in his 1911 Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania remarked "The entire confidence which the President seemed to give to his young friend let to many long informal talks, and laid the basis for the continuing friendship which never failed to manifest itself whenever opportunity occurred."

William Coventry Henry Waddell -- original source unknown

One such opportunity was the vacancy of the United States Marshalship of New York in 1831.  Waddell went directly to the President's office and asked for the job (one of the most lucrative positions in the Government), which he was granted.  

Waddell and his wife, the former Julia Ann Cobb, had a daughter, Susan Alice.  The family, along with Waddell's widowed mother, Eliza, moved into the former mansion of Benjamin De Forest at No. 27 Bond Street.  Following Eliza's death in 1835, they relocated to Parsippany, New Jersey, where Julia had grown up.  She died there on June 20, 1841.

The following year Waddell married Charlotte Augusta Southwick, whose former husband, William McMurray, had died in 1839, just a few months after their marriage.  Waddell commissioned architect Alexander Jackson Davis to design a "suburban villa" in Manhattan on land he and Charlotte had chosen north of the city, part of the former Robert Murray country estate, known as Murray Hill.  Located between what would now be Fifth and Sixth Avenues, between 37th and 38th Streets, the site was described by the Real Estate Record & Guide decades later: "The avenue was little more than a common road, with old farm fences visible on every side."

The Gothic Revival mansion was similar to the country villa Davis had designed in 1838 for New York Mayor William Paulding, the Knoll (known today as Lyndhurst) near Tarrytown, New York.   Its crenelated octagonal towers, pointed Gothic arches, square-headed drip moldings, and leaded glass oriels created a charming and romantic site for New Yorkers taking a country drive.

A contemporary visitor wrote "The Grounds...were beautifully shaded with oaks and elms, many of which were a century old.  Large green houses, extensive grape arbors, acre of fruit trees and well cultivated gardens made the place a favorite point for strangers to visit; and the castle with its lofty towers overlooking the Hudson, and with its heavy en-garniture of ivy and roses, was known far and wide as the most stately mansion between the Harlem and the Sea."

The picturesque architecture did not diminish the grandeur of the mansion.  A sweeping stone staircase led to the entrance.  Large common rooms led off the reception hall.   Here, according to historian Henry Collins Brown in 1918, "occurred a succession of brilliant entertainments."

The ground floor held the "public" areas--such as the drawing room, dining room, and library.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

And John W. Jordan stressed, "But this residence, while admired and famed for it beauty and environment, will be chiefly remembered, if remembered at all, for the fact that Mrs. Coventry Waddell there established and long maintained a unique center which has been repeatedly characterized as the first American Salon."

In his 1924 book Fifth Avenue Old and New, 1824-1924, Henry Collins Brown noted "This quaint, gothic-looking structure was in its day, the centre of social life in high society.  Thackery speaks of his experiences there which seem to have been unusually pleasant."

If William M. Thackery found his experiences unusually pleasant, it was due to his hostess, Charlotte.  She was described by The New York World in 1891 as "a woman of the very highest cultivation and of the most charming manner.  The younger society leaders of today know her only by tradition as it were, but the chapter in which her triumphs are recorded, is one of the very brightest in the social history of the metropolis."

Charlotte Augusta Southwick Waddell from the collection of the New York Public Library

Chauncey M. Depew lamented upon her death in 1891 "The one thing which New York lacks to make it a metropolis is some house with a hostess of refinement and culture, where for one evening in the week, all that is eminent in literature, journalism, the law, pulpit, medicine, science and art in its various forms of expression, with pencil, brush, chisel, voice, the instrument or on the stage, could meet on an equal footing under her hospitable roof.  Mr. Coventry Waddell did that in her time; no one does it now."

Before the era of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and Mamie Fish, Charlotte Waddell held sway as the queen of Manhattan society.  John W. Jordan wrote "No record is to be found which treats of the social history of New York City in the nineteenth century as a whole, and which does not pay its tribute to this Salon and its hostess."

Waddell's pride in his new home was evidenced when he had it included in the background of his family portrait in 1852 by Mary Pillsbury Weston.  Pictured with William and Charlotte are their three children, William, Anne and Ida; while Susan Alice, his daughter with Julia, reclines on the grass.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The Waddells may have had second thoughts about the remote location.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on June 9 might have referred to the mansion. "To Let or For Sale--A new two story brick Cottage House."  The ad boasted the "handsome garden and shrubbery in front, walks flagged and curbed, brick cistern, &c. &c.  The house is finished in the best manner, with marble mantels, stained glass skylight, blinds or shutters to each window, &c. &c. and admirably adapted to the use of a small family.  Apply to W. C. H. Waddell, 16 Wall st."  On the other hand, the "Cottage House" in the ad may have an investment property, a client's home, or even the Parisipanny residence.

If there were any concerns they were soon dismissed as the house became a center of social activity.  The couple were also highly visible in Newport society.  When Charlotte made her appearance at "the last great ball of the season" in 1848, she stole the show.  On September 2 The New York Herald reported:

Mrs. Coventry Waddel, of New York, a very agacante beauty made her appearance as the Belle of 1848, in a magnificent dress of rose colored satin...This elegant costume set off to advantage the truly English complexion of this charming lady, who looked even fairer and more blooming than ever.  One of the most elegant costumes, and the lady herself presented the most exquisite complexion in the room.  The grain de beauté near her lips, is a very great attraction to other lips.

The Waddell mansion would create New York City history of sorts during a fancy dress ball in 1846.  A year earlier the Municipal Police Act created what would be the New York City Police Department.   Prominent attorney James G. Gerard embarked on a lobbying effort to create military-type uniforms which would signify rank, based loosely on the London model.  Henry Collins Brown explained that at the time the officers "were dressed for the most part like tatterdemalions."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Faced with opposition, Gerard took a bold step.  He arrived at the Waddell mansion for Charlotte's ball "in a costume that illustrated his idea--blue coat, brass buttons, helmet and club," said Brown.  "So convincing was his demonstration that the Common Council shortly afterwards adopted the idea, which is substantially the uniform worn today."

The days of salons and balls would come to an abrupt end when William Coventry Waddell was wiped out in the Financial Panic of 1857.  While some newspapers diplomatically said he "suffered reversals," The New York Times was more pointed, saying the depression "reduced him to poverty."

John W. Jordan explained that "he never financially recovered.  Murray Hill was sold and not long after torn down to furnish the site of the present Brick Church."

The Brick Church survived until 1937.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1986 the 30-story mixed use skyscraper known as 420 Fifth Avenue was erected on the site of the Waddell mansion.
photo via structurae

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The 1922 I. Townsend Burden House - 115 E 70th Street



At the turn of the last century massive fortunes from silver, gold and copper were being made in the Far West.  Yet finding suitable husbands for their daughters was a challenge for the wives of those new millionaires.   East Coast socialites saw the girls as nouveau riche and uncultured. 

Dennis Sheedy was one of the wealthiest men in Denver, Colorado.  His wife prepared well in advance, sending her two daughters, Florence and Marie, to cultured convent schools and taking them on extensive trips to Europe.  Starting ib 1910, as the girls reached marriageable ages, the family spent extended periods in New York City. 

Marie caught the eye of millionaire Robert L. Livingston and the sweethearts were married in Denver on February 15, 1911.   Among the guests was the 36-year old bachelor, Isaiah Townsend Burden, Jr.

The Burden family had been involved in iron manufacturing since Henry Burden founded the Burden Iron Works in Troy, New York.   After Henry's death in 1871, the enormous operation was run by Isaiah's uncle, James A. Burden, and father, I. Townsend Burden, Sr.

I. Townsend Burden, Jr. was one of the most eligible bachelors in the country.  An example of his family's prodigious wealth took place in 1870.  When newly-elected President Ulysses S. Grant was to visit their Newport mansion, Fairlawn, on Bellevue Avenue, Burden, Sr. had architect Richard Morris Hunt add a ballroom to the house for the occasion.

Soon after the wedding of Robert and Marie, newspapers spread the word that I. Townsend Burden, Jr. had proposed to Florence and the wedding was to take place soon.  All involved parties flew into damage control (society engagements were not properly announced by gossip columns, but by the prospective brides' families).

Florence sent out telegrams to the periodicals saying "There is not a word of truth in the report that I am engaged to I Townsend Burden, Jr., of New York."  She expressed her family's "appreciation of Mr. Burden's courtesy in coming so far to attend my sister Marie's wedding," and even hinted "Indeed, I have good reason to believe that Mr. Burden left his heart in the East."

Burden chimed in saying "I am more than sorry that Miss Sheedy has been embarrassed by the report...She and I are the best of friends, but there is no foundation for a report that we are engaged."  And his mother insisted she had never heard of the rumor until reading it in the paper.

Protests aside, the couple was married in the Sheedy mansion in Denver on June 17.  The problem of Florence's being Catholic and her groom's being Protestant was set to rest by a four-word telegram from the Vatican.  "Holy Father blesses marriage."   The wedding gifts for two of the richest young people in the country reflected their social positions.  Three armed detectives had stood 24-hour guard for a week prior to the wedding.

The Sheedy's gave the couple a $10,000 touring car and a check for $100,000, and a $50,000 string of pearls to the bride.  The Burdens provided a silver table service valued at $35,000 (more than $875,000 today).  Other gifts included a solid gold ink stand from Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, an onyx and gold clock with matching candlesticks from George Gould, and a solid gold after-dinner coffee set, four solid gold candlesticks from D. W. Cutting, and two solid silver compotiers from Mrs. William W. Sloan.

At the time of the wedding the block of East 70th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, had changed from one of middle-class brownstone houses and stables, to a fashionable residential enclave.  It was perhaps best exemplified a decade later when millionaire Thomas W. Lamont erected his double-wide mansion at No. 107 East 70th Street

In April 1921 Burden purchased the two old brownstones at Nos. 113 and 115, just steps away from the Lamont house, from I. N. Phelps Stokes.  He paid a staggering $100,000 for the properties--nearly $1.4 million in today's dollars.  The New-York Tribune announced "Mr. Burden is to alter the houses into a single dwelling for his own occupancy."

But the Burdens changed their minds and demolished the old buildings.  On July 15 architect P. J. Murray filed plans for a "four-story home" to cost $75,000.   But, again, the Burdens seem to have rethought things.  When the house was completed on June 20, 1922, it had morphed to six stories.

Murray placed the brick-faced structure on a limestone base, visually grounding the tall building.  Additionally, by placing a heavy stone cornice between the fourth and fifth floors, he tricked the eye and to see a four-story house with attic floors rather than an awkwardly tall structure.

Murray's personal take on the neo-French classic style was highly appreciated by architecture critic Augusta Owen Patterson.  Writing in American Homes of To-Day in 1924, she gushed "Its success is determined largely by the perfection of its line and the exquisiteness of its ornament.  Its charm is the charm of symmetry and well considered spaces.  Its precision results in elegance.  Its reserve suggests all that one has ever known of the ritualism of French social custom."

The Burden mansion was a tempting target for "the Old Dutch House man," in 1927.  House burglar Adolph Gisterer, alias William Hauck, had been a thorn in the sides of police since the 1890s.  Police Inspector Coughlin told reporters that "in his long career [Gisterer] had stolen thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry and clothing from homes of well to do persons."

In 1922 he was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of burglarizing 20 homes.  Not long after his release the Burdens came home to find their bedrooms ransacked and clothing amounting to about $3,000 today missing.   On January 22, 1927 he was caught trying to climb through a small side window at Fifth Avenue and 71st Street.  He was subsequently charged not only with the Burden burglary; but a similar robbery of the home of T. J. Steinway at No. 128 East 64th Street a week earlier.


The Burdens' summers were spent, mostly, at Fairlawn, which I. Townsend had inherited from his father in 1913.  The Great Depression did not significantly affect their lifestyles, but the couple spent more time away from East 70th Street.  And on November 3, 1932 The Times announced that Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Pulitizer will return from Europe next week and will be at the Savoy-Plaza until going to their new home at 115 East Seventieth Street."  Four days earlier it had been announced the the Burdens had leased the mansion to the publisher.

The lease was a hint at things to come.  The title of the mansion was in Florence's name; so she was the owner of record when architect R. Barfort King was commissioned to transform it to apartments.  For some reason, while he preserved Murray's handsome facade, he fiddled with the top floor, changing the the neo-French classic dormers to copper-framed modern versions.

The modifications resulted in one sprawling apartment each on the ground and second floors, and two each on the floors above.  An advertisement promised that the apartments offered "the unique advantage of a Private House Neighborhood and Modern Living at the best.  The Suites have really Large Rooms, Woodburning Fireplaces and Completely Equipped Kitchens, Modern Bathrooms and unusual convenience and comfort." It added "Heated by Coal."

Floorplans of the top two floors were included in the brochure published by the Van Dam Management Co.

Among the tenants here in 1946 was theatrical producer and director Herman Shumlin.  By now he had produced and directed legendary Broadway hits like The Corn is Green, The Children's Hour, The Little Foxes, and Watch on the Rhine (he had also directed the 1943 motion picture version of Watch on the Rhine).  But Shumlin's long-standing political views placed him directly in the sights of Congress's Committee on Un-American Activities that year.

The Committee was founded in 1938 "to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties."   A hysteria developed which resulted in nothing short of an Inquisition.

In March 1946 Shumlin was summoned to testify before the Committee as "a member of the executive board of the Joint Anti-Fasciest Refugee Committee."   The terrifying tactics of the group was apparent when Shumlin appeared on Thursday, April 4.

When asked to give his name and address, he said "May I have my lawyer present?"  He was told, "Give your name and address first."  Shumlin gave his name and business address.  When he was pressed for his residential address, he responded "May I have counsel present?"  The Chairman gave a disturbing response.  "I will advise you, Mr. Shumlin, if during the course of the examination there should arise any legal question that necessitates your getting legal advise before you answer it."

By 1952 Dr. Alfred V. Weisenthal and his wife lived in the building.  Born in Vienna in 1915, he was the Chief of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.  Following his wife's death, he remained here until his own death in August 1961.

The former mansion had seen better days by the turn of the century.  Much of the interior detailing had been lost in favor of stark modernity.   That mattered little when the house was gutted by a fire in 2006.

A pre-fire photo reveals that little was left of the Burdens' grand home.  photo via corcoran group

Reed Krakoff, the former executive creative director of Coach brand, had purchased the mansion a year earlier for $17 million.  Krakoff and his wife, Delphine, a French-born interior designer, had just embarked on a renovation to return the house to a single-family home.

photos via Curbed New York

The Krakoffs forged on, installing 18th century mantels and antique floorboards imported from Europe.   The couple sold the renovated mansion in 2014 for a jaw-dropping $51 million.

photographs by the author