As an historian and preservationist it seemed only right 25 years ago that I should work to support the proposal to move and restore the Hamilton Grange. One knew that as soon as African Americans had come to dominate the local population, that authorities had seen such an action as synonymous with rescuing this great landmark and moving it to a White neighborhood. There was nothing whatever that was ambiguous about earlier suggestions to place it in Central, Riverside and Fort Tryon Parks. The defence of West Harlem's heritage by stalwart blacks preventing these untoward actions had been highly admirable. But with a chance to move the Grange mere blocks, onto land that had once comprised Hamilton's property, what could be wrong with that? The still rueful answer is, plenty!
My friends and I were all enlisted in the effort to turn around community resistance to the move. So arduously we worked, year in and out. Carolyn Kent, who had started the community board's landmarks commitee was especially dedicated. And, Ron Melichar, Yuien Chinn, Sophie Johnson, we with others, did it. Patiently pleading that Hamilton's and his architect's intentions were more important than all our living memories, we secured a nearly unanimous board agreement to the move. A vote a year earlier, was almost evenly divided, with only a margin of two in favor. Our success derived mostly from the compulsion of the promise that the restoration would bring back the place that Hamilton had known.
One feels such a naive, punked fool. In the end, a conspiracy of newcomers to the neighborhood, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service, architects Skidmore, Owens & Merrill and Congressman Charles B. Rangel, throughly perverted all our efforts. Insisting that the house be repositioned facing north, on West 141st Street, as opposed to being oriented south-east, as it was when it was built, they compromised the renovation of the Grange with all the paternalistic condescension and dismissiveness that bigotry and elitism can bring to bear.
When he acquired 16 acres in 1799 from Dr. Samuel Bradhurst, Alexander Hamilton was embarking on the formation of his own private paradise, building the only home he ever owned. Ultimately extending over 32 acres, from what is now Hamilton Place on the west, to Hamilton Terrace on the east, and from 140'" to 147th Streets, the property commanded sweeping dramatic views over the Harlem River and plain. Near 143rdStreet, the former Secretary of the United States Treasury erected a Federal style twelve-room villa, with large Tuscan columned porches, designed by the city’s leading architect John McComb, Jr. Called the Grange, it was an allusion to his elite, if distaff, ancestry, recalling his grandfather's ancestral seat in Ayrshire, Scotland. Keeping slaves as servant’s though he opposed slavery, born illegitimate and poor, but marrying the heiress daughter of one of the new nation’s richest men, Hamilton’s Grange was a testament to the notion of America as the ‘land of opportunity.’
Characterized by Hamilton as "a sweet asylum from care and pain." stylistically his country house epitomized his era’s ironic dichotomy, simultaneously embracing divergent tastes for both sublime simplicity and elegant grandeur. This sensibility was derived as much from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as it was from the teachings of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Both the French queen’s rustic model-farm, the hameau, and the Petit Trianon, whose park the farm lent rural authenticity, could be said to be inspirations for the Grange. Despite artfully weathered facades, imitative of centuries-old Norman farm buildings at the queen’s farm, inside, The Goût grec, or ‘Greek taste’ of antiquity prevailed. Characteristic of Trianon inside and out, the chaste, refined style that celebrated subtle proportional geometric relationships was definitive of the Grange as well.
1792: Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull. Even as an orphaned bastard in the Caribbean, viewed as gifted and far-sighted, young Alexander Hamilton's talents were apparent. They earned him passage to New York, the Colonial American hub. Here he rapidly came to General George Washington's attention, both as a courageous officer of artillery, a far-ranging planner and a writer and thinker of distinction. A principal contributor to the Constitution, founder of the first National Bank, and the New York Post, in 1804 Hamilton, who professed to oppose dueling, was killed fighting a duel with the United State's second Vice President, Arron Burr.
1787: Elizabeth Hamilton, painted by Earl Randolph, was born in Albany, New York, the daughter of Philip Schuyler, an American Revolutionary War general, and Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler was the sister of Angelica Schuyler Church. The Rensselaers of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck were one of the richest and most politically influential families in the state of New York.
Besides the natural cliff which formed 'Hamilton's Terrace', the Grange grounds most notable feature was a romantic grove of 13 sweet gum trees. Planted as saplings taken from Washington's Mount Vernon estate, the trees represented the original 13 states, flourishing together. As early as 1889 when the threatened house was moved by St. Luke's Episcopal Church, several of the trees had already died.
The five-pointed star-shaped leaves of a Liquidambar styraciflua, commonly called the American sweetgum.
In 1889 the Hamilton Grange was moved from 143rd street close to 141st Street to serve as a worship place while St. Luke's Church was being built.
Like so many Churches building new edifices St. Luke's left until a later time much of the planned stone carving and the corner's soaring ten-storey square tower. Montgomery Schuyler in the 1896Architectural Record, profusely praised the church, noting that the uncarved ornament contributed to the impressive severity of the design, but that the finished building ''suffers from the absence of the tower designed for it.''
St. Luke's Episcopal Church's leadership relocating from Greenwich Village desired to be, "far enough north to be sure of peace for at least a good long term of years.'' Built on the northeast corner of 141st Street and Convent Avenue, at the edge of a high plateau it sat amidst an emerging stock of sizable row houses.
In1891 emminent architect Robert H. Robertson designed an ambitious archaded, red-tinged brownstone church, with a red tile roof. The new St. Luke's opened the next year. Replaced the Hamilton Grange, which had been moved next door to serve as a temporary place to worship became the parish house.
Ca. 1925: The front porch moved to the side and its parapets lost the Grange endured. In 1889, St. Luke's church had held its first uptown service house in Alexander Hamilton's Grange which had been moved from 143rd Street and Convent Avenue to make way for more row houses. The vestry was struggling for cash and seriously considered building only a basement on the steeply sloping 141st Street site. Once William Rockefeller completed the subdued apartments abutting to its north, the Grange assumed the appearance of what some described as, 'The ham in the ham sandwich...'
Two years ago, after a 25 year process the Hamilton Grange was moved a second time, from Convent Avenue near 141st Street, to St. Nicholas Park. Disregarding assurances to the community it was turned 90 degrees to face 141st Street.
Carefully calked, sanded and painted, the compact and cubic Grange explores such ideals of the ancient architecture as purposefully as Washington did with his banqueting room at Mount Vernon or Jefferson at Monticello. A cube-shaped ante-room opens on an apsidal threshold into matching octagonal reception rooms. Discreetly decorated with repetitive geometric patterns, with formalized reliefs and plasterwork, it is a remarkably cohesive house. Indeed, created in quick order from a relatively rapidly conceived design, the Grange has far greater finesse as to its plan layout and articulation than Mount Vernon or Monticello.
John McComb, Jr.'s twin piazzas at the Grange were accessed via the triple-hung sash of twin octagonal reception rooms.
A fanlight within a rectangular transom at both doors, was an architectural inovation at the Grange which forecast the Greek Revival.
Neither of these other houses for instance boasted a complete set of seat furniture, in the latest French fashion, produced ensuite, by a single cabinet maker. Philadelphia craftsman Adam Haines’ mahogany chairs are arguably fine enough that they would not have been rejected at Versailles. And the mirrored doors of Hamilton’s banqueting room, equipped with Greek taste Sheffield-plate wine coolers presented by Washington, most likely derived from Charleston’s Nathaniel Russell house, have Versailles as their ultimate source. Just as at original in France, addressing opposing windows, these mirrors within muntins, mimic French doors to visually transform the rooms they adorn into a freestanding pavilions in a garden. No matter that the Galerie de Glace is rectangular, the Russell house music room is an oval and the Grange dining room is octagonal, the delightful illusion at work at each, is delightful.
In lieu of costly carving, cast composition husk garlands imported from Philidelphia, enrich the entry archway into the Grange reception rooms.
The Grange drawingroom is outfitted with Philadelphia craftsman Adam Haines’ remarkable Louis XVI mahogany suite of seat furniture.
One of a pair of Sheffield-plate 'Greek taste' wine coolers presented to the Hamiltons by President Washington,whom Hamilton had served as adjutant during the Revolution.
With Versailles as their ultimate source opposing windows, mirrored French doors visually transform the Grange diningroom into a freestanding octagonal pavilion in a garden. The effect is not unlike that at the Russell house's oval music room in Charlston, pictured below.
Why Alexander Hamilton, who abjured dueling and who had lost his beloved son Philip to a contest defending his father’s honor, accepted Aaron Burr’s challenge is still unexplained today. The immediate consequence was that he left his widow and their orphaned children, nearly destitute. Even taking the extreme expedient of taking a job as the warden of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, Elizabeth Hamilton was finally forced to part with the Grange in the 1830’s. The estate’s environs retained a rural character until the mid-1880’s when a cable car railway began operating on Tenth (now Amsterdam) Avenue between West 125th and 155th Streets. During this period, William H. De Forest, a silk importer-turned-real estate speculator and art collector, acquired much of the former Hamilton property which had been aquired for $312,500 by his associate the builder Anthony Mowbray in 1879. In 1886 De Forest created a 20 year restrictive deed covenant limiting future construction to "brick or stone dwelling houses at least two stories in height." The exception, along 10th Avenue, provided for both ‘French flats’, elevator-less apartment buildings and commercial storefronts. Bordering the railway these flats acted as a kind of enclave barricade.
In order to spur development in accordance with his intention to provide for an exceptional garden suburb, De Forest's son, William De Forest, Jr., commissioned several ‘model’ row house groups himself. Numbers 311-339 Convent Avenue are a good example of the positive response De Forest’s model engendered. Designed by Adolph Hoak and completed in 1890, this Renaissance Revival group featured the same picturesque eclecticism, heavily indebted to 17thcentury Dutch buildings, promoted by William Eden Nesfield and Richard Norman Shaw in England. The suggestion of half timbering is also a feature of the Queen Anne mode they had introduced in the 1860’s.
First occupied by the family of lawyer Richard Leeland Sweezy, number 329 typifies the houses in the ensemble designed by Hoak. A group of photographs documenting the Sweezy house around 1909, record all sorts of vanished conventions associated with late-19th-century upper-Middle Class life. Outdoors, both the oval grass plots and tied-back organdy curtains below curtains of lace, only visible to passersby, from the street, impress one. Inside, wall-to-wall Brussels carpets, stencil-decorated ceilings, polished mahogany woodwork, plush portieres, built-in sideboards, hoses from the chandelier, to fuel gas table lamps, use of the first-floor-front bedroom as a family library-sitting room, all indicate common place amenities now mostly forgotten.
Georgian Revival, number 473 West 141st Street was designed by local architect Jonn Hauser for developer Patrick McNulty. Part of the area's last speculative row house group, 453-475, it was completed in 1906.
Neville & Bagge's French flat at 477 and 476 West 142nd and 143rd Streets on Amsterdam Avenue. Completed in 1897, the design of the carved ornament is usually elegant .
Painted stone-color even galvanized tin cornices and cast-iorn piers were meant to contribute to architectural expression of French flats.
1914: Our Lady of Lourdes School at 468 West 143rd Street.
Clarance True's French flat at 477 West 143rd Street at Amsterdam Avenue librally employed terra-cotta ornament. Small concentrations of carved stone were used at the entrance to create a favorable impression.
1908: Two time New York City Health Commissioner Ernest J. Lederle who first lived at 471 West 143rd Street founded the Lederle Laboratories in 1906, which is today a division of the American Cyanamid Company.
The house first owned by two time New York City Health Commissioner, Ernest J. Lederle who founded the Lederle Laboratories in 1906 was designed by Clarence True. Current owners reflect on how the gifted designer did, a lot of buildings on the Upper West Side in the 1870's, 80's and 90's and developed a floor plan where instead of the traditional high stoop and straight run of stairs, which gave you a long narrow parlor, his stairs were configured in a horseshoe so that both the front and the back rooms had the span, the full width of the house.'
As for Lederle, he had decided to buy 471 West 143rd Street, for $15,000, once he was earning $5,0000 a year. Because his wife had money he was able to develop his lab as well and belong to both the Centry Association, the Harlem and Heights Clubs.
Horace E. Hartwell's house group including 420 West 143rd Street and 322-328 Convent Avenue, dates to the mid 1890's.
The principal row houses on the West 144th Street block were built in the late 1880's by silk merchant William H. De Forest Sr., his son, William Jr.; and Anthony Mowbray, his father’s business associate and a builder. Highly diverse, the houses here include numbers 452-466 and numbers 453-467, two groups designed by William E. Mowbray, Anthony Mowbray's son. Another row on the south side of the street comprises numbers 468-474, designed by Harvey Page which also includes a French flat at the corner on Amsterdam Avenue.
Intended to be unfenced with a 15-foot setback behind front yards, all of the these houses were given details other developers usually ignored. These included the rear facades, which were usually common brick, but here introduce terra-cotta plaques and other ornaments on the rear walls facing back gardens, to make them more interesting.
In 1890, The Real Estate Record and Guidenoted that ''it has evidently been a point with the improvers of Hamilton Grange that the old-time plain brownstone front should not find a place in the locality.'' The journal described Romanesque, Moorish and colonial interiors in cherry, oak and mahogany, with stair-hall domes of stained glass.
Initial buyers included James Sinclair, a veteran stone supplier who bought 461 West 144th Street; he had worked on many Fifth Avenue mansions, as well as on the Washington Arch at Washington Square. William H. De Forest Jr. took 453 West 144th, and Anthony Mowbray took number 458. According to scholar Christopher Gray, by the 1920's, many lodging houses occured on this block. At number 461, the 1925 census recorded Alice Cunneen, 39, and her daughter Dorothy, 19, a college student, along with nine lodgers with occupations like interior decorator, stenographer and translator. Other houses served teachers.
William Kaupe, a Hamburg American Line executive acquired the step-gabled house at 459 West 144thStreet. Fence-less, vine clad and awning hung, in 1904 it was portrayed by Mrs. Kaupe’s brother, renowned photographer L. H. Dreyer. Prospers German Americans, the Kaupes typified the inhabitants of these unusually individualized speculative houses, which so successfully evoke those built by 17th-century burghers in Holland.
Christmas 1908: The celebrating family of William Kaupe photographed by Mrs. Kaupe's brother, L. H. Dreyer.
The long vine clad house at 466 West 144th Street was recently owned by, painstakingly restored, and sold by, Dan Houser the co-founder of Rockstar Games, known for the highly addictive and violent video game, Grand Theft Auto. Leaving Harlem Houser acquired the Brooklyn Heights house where Truman Capote penned his classic "Breakfast At Tiffany's" .
When black migration reached the area in the 1930's, many white owners tried unsuccessfully to bar the newcomers. In the 1940's, Eleanor Roosevelt took tea with Judge Hubert T. Delaney, a prominent African American Judge, at his house at 467 West 144th Street.
Harvey Page's Romanesque Revival style brick and brownstone row, 468-474 West 144th Street, also includes a carefully detailed French flat at the corner on Amsterdam Avenue
Henry Andersen designed this ornate French flat to juxtapose Roman brickwork with intricate stone-colored glazed terra-cotta detailing.
Henry Andersen's French flat at 1770 Amsterdam Avenue from 1897, notably included a diminutive but dignified branch of the Hamilton Bank. Charmingly, dispensed with numerals on the clock were replaced by H A M I L T O N B A N K.
Everything must change? ... to be continued...