For situations where corner towers might provide an authoritative exclamatory emphasis, such as at the crossing of St. Nicholas Avenue and West 145th Street, the less costly expedient of a rounded corner was often used to excellent effect. Even without Theodore E. Thompson's drugstore and flats on the north-west corner rising to the occasion, much as occurred downtown, or in Paris, the round corners of the grander Westminster, planned by Charles Buke in 1895, the Majestic and Sadivian Arms gave this intersection deliberate distinction.
The Westminster, a turreted bastion-like apartment marked the entrance to the fashionable section of St. Nicholas Avenue at West 145th Street. Designed by Theodore E. Thompson and completed in 1893, it was ajoined by a contemporary 5 house row to the north, on St. Niholas Avenue and backed by a group of 10 houses on Edgecombe Avenue. In 1915, on Edgecombe, Judge and Mrs. John P. Cohalan resided at number 706. At 263 lived Mr. and Mrs. Maximillian D. Berlitz of the Berlitz School of Languages fame .
In 1956 all these buildings gave way to the Bowery Savings Bank Apartments, a 13-storey structure designed by York & Sawyer. Long home to song stylist Miss Dinah Washington and home for a short span for singer Sarah Vaghan, according to the New York Times, the Bowery Building was Harlem's first "unsubsidised housing since 1938 with the first new bank here in fotyy-eight years..."
Stamped sheet metal cornices and parapets were originally painted stone-color to be indistinguishable from masonry. Today frequently black or green, they detract from rather than enhance architectural compositions.
The Albertina, from 1896, a drugstore and flats has lost its impressive stamped tin parapet. To the north stands Schwartz & Gross' neo-Georgian Harvard Court built in 1906.
Retained by mason-builder Hugh Reynolds, in 1891, architects Thayer & Robinson designed a row of five houses, numbers 713 to 721 at the southwest corner of 146th Street. Here they devised a prominent corner tower like no other ever built. Buff-colored brick trimmed with agitated courses of red brick, they almost reach an A-B-A-B-A symmetry, until the corner house, which is, as historian Christopher Gray describes it, " a hot-air balloon of masonry."
The bulbous corner, two-thirds round, rises to what may originally have been a conical roof, later altered, or perhaps a top-floor observatory.
First adapted into the exclusive Heights Club, by 1897, and converted within two years into the respected Barnard School for Boys by William Livingston Hazen, as Thaddeus Wilkerson's photograph from 1909 shows, number 721 apparently never did have a conical, or any other conventional kind of roof. From about 1920 through 1964 it was occupied by one of the area's first speakeasies, the Silver Dollar Cafe.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the area above Harlem's central plain became known as Harlem Heights. Attracted by rich soil, cool breezes, panoramic views, sport and country pursuits some of New York’s wealthiest British families established estates here as comparable to English examples as they were able to produce. General John Maunsell, Dr. Samuel Bradhurst, wholesale druggist and shipping magnate Jacob Schiefflin, and Lieutenant Colonel Roger Morris, each established pleasant and much-admired country seats covering from 20 to one hundred and thirty acres. Salubriously positioned with prospects toward the Harlem and Hudson Rivers, they were retreats as varied and delightful as any in the United States. So favorably situated, comprising the ‘Hamptons’ of their era, the Morris’s Mount Morris, at 161stStreet, the Schiefflins’ Rocca Hall, at 144th Street, Alexander Hamilton’s the Grange at, 143rd Street and the Bradhurst’s Pinehurst, at 147th Street, must have seemed poised to endure for centuries. But by 1900 most, along with neighboring estates had vanished.
Ca. 1885: Koch's New Mount St. Vincents Hotel, originally Dr. Samuel Bradhurst estate called Pinehurst.
By the late 1840s, in acknowledgment of the first President of the United States' martial exploits here, residents like Dr. Samuel Bradhurst's son, Maunsell Bradhurst, signed correspondence and otherwise began to identify the district we now know as Hamilton Heights as Washington Heights. Quite slowly the area began to urbanize, as it did the Bradhurst and other members of the gentry started to sale land. The dispersal of Bradhurst-owned lots increased after the Civil War, fueled, in part, by proposals of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park to abandon the winding Bloomingdale Road and layout the "Boulevard," today known as Broadway. The closing of this road, which sliced diagonally to the northeast, from what is now Broadway and 140"' Street toward St. Nicholas Avenue and 146th Street, created a long uninterrupted block between 145th and 146"' Streets well suited to residential development.
Ca, 1887: Rudimentary stables at Koch's New Mount St. Vincents Hotel are indicative of its role as a roadhouse catering to sports who raced their Thoroughbred steeds from Central Park along St. Nicholas Avenue.
Created in 1866, St. Nicholas Avenue was extended three years later, to 150"' Street. Conceived to improve access to Central Park, it became a popular route for sports and their trotting horses heading to the Harlem Speedway and Jerome Park, where the American Jockey Club built a racecourse seating eight thousand spectators. In 1873 Henry and Anna T. Nicoll purchased several large tracts from the Bradhurst, which they subsequently divided into smaller parcels in anticipation of a new "elevated" railway on Eighth Avenue with service to 155th Street by 1879. With elevated railroads serving Second, Third, and Eighth Avenues by 1880, what had once been an oasis of estates and farmhouses, gave way to speculative construction, including long rows of single-family houses and multiple dwellings of varying quality, Locally the most impressive residential buildings were the villas and free-standing mansions built along St. Nicholas Place with its double row of arching elm trees. Households here were the region's most affluent, enjoying the quite pleasures of the New York Tennis Club, its successor the Heights Club and the Athenaeum, another private association devoted to dances, lectures and other social amusements.
West of Pinehurst, around 1842, Mary Elizabeth Bradhurst Field and her husband Hickson Field built this elegant villa where Broadway and 150th Street would one day cross.
Ca. 1845: Elizabeth Bradhurst Field and her husband Hickson Field, Esq.
The New York Tennis Club courts behind Theodore Minot Clark's remarkable houses at 727-731 St. Nicholas Avenue.
In 1885, William Thompson filed building applications for 17 large private houses on the posh part of St. Nicholas Avenue, working either in partnership with Nathan Hobart, a Leonard Street dry goods merchant, or perhaps as a nominee for him.
The earliest speculative residences constructed on the street that was West Harlem’s finest address were designed by Boston architect Theodore Minot Clark. A former associate of influential Henry Hobson Richardson, Clark was a key designer of Trinity Church. Later heading the architecture department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he also edited the prominent journal Architecture & Building.
Built for merchant Nathan Hobart’s occupancy, the impressive four-story northwest corner house was demolished by 1906, to be replaced by 723-727 St. Nicholas Avenue, a six-story Colonial Revival style apartment building, designed by Lorenz F. J. Weiher. Before it was unceremoniously swept away, the grand former 729 St. Nicholas Avenue was not after all ever inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Hobart their two sons and four daughters. Instead, they lived next door, at 731, while their intended residence, boasting one of only two elevators private Harlem house, became a private club. First it served as the New York Tennis Club, and then as the elegant Heights Club.
As it turned out, erected between 146th and 147th Streets, only three of the envisioned houses were actually built. Two survive, at 729 and 731 St. Nicholas Avenue. The imposing facades were the most original and satisfying in all Harlem. Each residence featured picturesque massing, including the iconic domed or conical Norman turret, and tall, distended chimneys. Like the lost freestanding dwelling that once occupied the corner at 146thStreet, the two bow-fronted row houses which survive celebrate their definitive medieval vernacular architecture transferred to the city. Faced with rugged Manhattan schist, excavated from their foundations, articulated like Norman originals, with red brick, they are further distinguished by unglazed yellow terra cotta ornament and imbricated wood shingles. “In the catalog of New York City private house architecture, they could be masterpieces of an educated mind — or awkward works of folk art.” , was Christopher Gray’s effusive assessment in the Times.
Late in the 1890's the astonishing Hobart houses on St. Nicholas Avenue became even more extraordinary with the addition of a sensuously graceful new bronze railed stoop at number 331.
Frederick P. Dinkelberg's houses with iron s-scrolled bracketed parapets at numbers 401-409 West 147th Street.
Paul Franklyn Higgs' Italian Renaissance style for wealthy William Haigh built in 1890 at 412 West 147th Street.
Completed in 1893, architect Arthur Bates Jennings' seven-house row including numbers 718-730 St. Nicholas Avenue combine all of the elaboration and swager he habitualy displayed on the fifty-foot frontages of tycoon's mansions, on these twenty-foot houses built on speculation.
1909: St. Nicholas Avenue and Place looking north from West 148th Street showing Frederick P. Dinkelberg's numbers 757-775 St. Nicholas Avenue from 1896. The round tower at the center of Thaddeus Wilkerson's photograph anounces houses designed by Frank Wennemer, including 819-814 St. Nicholas Avenue and 11-19 St. Nicholas Place. The three houses on the east side of St.Nicholas Avenue are part of Paul Higgs' row comprising numbers 760-766 from 1895. Further north stands John P. Leo's dormered Purling Apartments at 768-770 from 1902 and Henri Fouchaux's Arundel Court at 772-778 from 1905.
Brick and brownstone tenements by W. H. Boylan from 1899, 783-789 were the most humble type of housing provided in this swell neighborhood. Yet 789 is significant as the home of Norman Rockwell and his family, from 1900 through 1902.
The engaged tower and bow window of Clarance True's 842 and 844 St. Nicholas Avenue, from 1894, correspond to the gifted designer's singular group of eight individualy treated speculative houses on St. Nicholas Place. Skillfully they reflect the ensemble to the north, built the same year from designs by John C. Bunre. More conventional, this swelled front brownstone group cost $25,000 each. African American engineer Leroy Frederick Florant, who studied at Howard and Columbia Universities, lived at 848 while working on the Manhattan Project from 1944-1946.
Clarance True's 842 and 844 St. Nicholas Avenue.
Frederick P. Dinkelberg's rythmic row, streching from 148th to 149th Streets, 757-775 St. Nicolas Avenue, unified by robust bowed fronts is subtly differentiated through contrasted materials and finely crafted detailing, including stone carving by Nugent & Doxey. The ten imposing five storey houses were built by local developer William Broadbelt, who like the family of Norman Rockwell was a parishioner of St. Luke'sEpiscopal Church where he led the vestry and Norman sang in the boy choir.
Splendidly detailed with bronze capitaled granite Ionic columns, 400 West 149th Street was home from the late 1920's onward, to Caribbean native and dentist, Dr. Charles Ford. A founder of the United Mutual Life Insurance Co. Ford became a wealthy property owner.
A remarkable entrepreneurial success Rose Morgan, though lesbian, married boxing great Joe Louis. Early in the 1940's she opened Rose Meta's House of Beauty, a pioneering day-spa-beauty salon catering to black women, on three floors of 401 West 148th Street, which was also known as 757 St. Nicholas Avenue. Late in the 1940's it caused a scandal when Miss Morgan was discoverd with singer Marion Bruce here in a situation of compromising intimatey
In 1943, famed stride pianist Charles Luckeyth Roberts, seen above, hat in hand, seated next to Willie 'The Lion' Smith, acquired number 753 St. Nicholas Avenue which had earlier been the Moonlight Bar and Grill. He opperated a nightclub here until 1947, before moving on to the ground floor of 773, which from 1935 to 1940 had served as the Poosenpahtuck Night Club. Robert's "Lucky's Renddezvous" was a gay-friendly club with a stellar clientelle. Clifton Webb, Lena Hornr, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorne and Billie Holliday all came here. One attraction was the waiters, classically trained artist who sang arias and ballads while delivering drinks. Evolving into the Pink Angel and the St. Nicks Pub, Harlem's oldest continuous jazz venue only recently closed.
Looking south at the towered row houses designed by Frank Wennemer, including 819-814 St. Nicholas Avenue and 11-19 St. Nicholas Place and W. H. Boylan's tenements from 1899, including 783 -789 St. Nicholas Avenue Number 789 is significant as the home of Norman Rockwell and his family, from 1900 through 1902.
Neville & Bagge's 828-834 St. Nicholas Avenue, also known as 31-37 St. Nicholas Place, were built in 1896. Written late in life, in his memoir Norman Rockwell recalls his family living here with his coal dealer grand father John William Rockwell from 1902 to 1903.
Number 464 St. Nicholas Avenue extends all the way through the blook to Edgecombe Avenue, incoperating numbers 313-317. Completed in 1901 the St. Nicholas Court Apartments were designed by prolific Henri Fouchaux boasting the areas most flamboyant cornice above an Ionic colonnade. Origionally this sheet metal projection would have been painted to match this stonwork. The entire complex cost $230,000. Durring the 1920's St. Nicholas Court was home to writer Arna Bontemps.
Henri Fouchaux's Arundel Court at 772-778 St. Nicholas Avenue, from 1905, by masking the newly mandated light-court with an arch and recessing fire escapes in subordinate archways, assumes a far more monumental presence than it might have otherwise. Operatic impresario Oscar Hammerstein was an early resident.
Featuring a canted square corner tower, 881-887 St. Nicholas Avenue and 411-425 West 154th Street, were designed as rental houses by James Stroud for retired City Comptroller 'Honest John' Kelly. Completed in 1885, this group with fanciful porches and roof tops was among the most semi-suburban in the area. By 1920, the towered corner house was replaced by a restrained neo-Classical six-storey brick apartment house by Rosario Candella, who was to gain fame devising luxury housing for the rich quite unlike this modest structure.
Community Hospital at 8 St. Nicholas Place.
Built originally as two imposing residences for prosperous merchants, the picturesque Queen Anne style John W. Fink house, on the left, started as number 8. Jacob P. Baiter’s residence next door, on the right, was number 6. Designed by Richard S. Rosenstock, the Fink house was completed in 1885. Despite an abundance of vacant lots still available in 1892 when Baiter commisioned Theodore G. Stein to design his house, it was optomistacally given the form of a conventional townhouse. A yeast manufacturer, Baiter had an elevator, employed eight live-in servants and had patronized the Linspar Decorating Company.
In his great novel The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington's anti-hero George A. Minafer puzzles over the quandary that faced many as to the proper way to build in the absence of zoning codes,
"Well, for instance, that house----well, it was built like a townhouse. It was like a housemeant for a street in the city, What kind of a house was that for people of any taste to build out here in the country?"
Minifer's love interest trys to explain how her father and others feel that soon houses being built in the city towards this very allotment, will merge it with the teaming metropolis only further confuse him. On St. Nicholas Place, the two magnate's houses were joined together in 1912, by Dr. Henry Lloyd as a private clinic. By 1927 Dr. Lloyd's Sanitorium was re-established as the interracial Peoples Hospital. Langston Hughes’ mother was a paitent here, as was local photographer Thaddeus Wilkerson, who died at People's Hospital in 1943.
1890: St. Nicholas Place.
The picturesque Queen Anne style John W. Fink house built in 1885 to designs by Richard S. Rosenstock incoperates a terra-cotta griffin on the crest of the roof's jerkin headed gable.
1885: The John W. Fink house from Edgecombe Avenue where stacked slate slabs await being set as sidewalk pavements.