Posts Tagged ‘Herald Square Hotel’

A Beaux-Arts facade on 31st Street has a secret

January 16, 2013

LifeheadquartersOnce-fashionable 31st Street is a good place to hunt for hidden architectural gems. And number 19, just west of Fifth Avenue, is a striking example.

Look past the Herald Square Hotel sign, and its Beaux-Arts beauty comes to light: a limestone and red brick building with enormous arched front windows.

They frame a cherub holding a pen, surrounded by symbols of the arts: musical instruments, paintbrushes, and a pad. The words “wit” and “humor” appear on a banner.

So what’s it all about? The clue lies under the third-floor front windows. Beneath each window is the word “Life”—for the magazine that once was headquartered here.

When Life moved into the building, designed in 1895 by architects Carrere and Hastings (the same guys who designed the New York Public Library), it was a different publication from the 20th century version.

Lifeheadquarterscherub

Life was a general-interest humor magazine, similar to rivals Puck and the New Yorker, and they published a fairly impressive group of literary and artistic talents, including Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl illustrations that debuted in the 1890s.

The cherub was sculpted by Philip Martiny. “Winged Life” is its name, and it symbolized a magazine that in the 1930s was turned into a photo weekly and then shut down in 2000.

The strange story of the recluse of Herald Square

January 9, 2013

IdamayfieldwoodIf Ida Mayfield Wood were around today, she would be a candidate for Hoarders.

A Southern belle who hit the city in the 1850s, Ida ran in elite circles, marrying congressman and Daily News publisher Benjamin Wood, brother of Mayor Fernando Wood.

After her husband (below) died in 1900, Ida grew increasingly paranoid about money. She’d always been shrewd with cash, but the Panic of 1907, which caused a run on banks, pushed her to the edge.

So later that year, Ida, her daughter Emma, and Ida’s sister Mary all moved into a very modest two-room suite of a 34th Street (below in 1921) residence called the Herald Square Hotel.

From 1907 to the late 1920s, the three elderly women lived as recluses in squalor. They never left their suite; hotel staff fetched food (evaporated milk, coffee, crackers, bacon, eggs, and an occasional fish), as well as Cuban cigars, according to a New Yorker piece published in the 1950s.

West34thstreetbroadway1921

By 1931, Emma and Mary had died. Ida, feeble and emaciated, was discovered living in her filthy suite, crammed with “an accumulation of old newspapers, cracker boxes, balls of used string, old wrapping paper, and several large trunks,” reported the New Yorker.

Oh, and more than a million dollars in cash and securities, plus $75,000 worth of jewelry—huge sums in that dark Depression year.

Her story made headlines in 1931 because a nephew applied for guardianship over her. By the time she died in 1932 at age 93, dozens of relatives had come out of the woodwork, hoping for an inheritance.Benjaminwood

Then, as a judge tried to verify her descendants, he uncovered something incredible: Ida Mayfield Wood, who claimed to be a rich Southern belle, was really Ellen Walsh, the poor daughter of Irish immigrants from Massachusetts.

Not only was she a hoarder and recluse—she was a fraud who’d gone to elaborate lengths to invent her identity, her husband and social circle in the dark.


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