A spooky Gothic mansion in Upper Manhattan

If only New York didn’t tear down the William A. Wheelock House—a glorious, eclectic confection of Victorian porches, bay windows, lace-like ironwork, and a bow-shaped mansard roof crowning off a central tower.

But because this Addams Family–esque mansion and its grounds reminiscent of Grey Gardens near Riverside Drive and 158th Street bit the dust in the 1940s, this post will be a memorial to what could have been the most perfect place to celebrate Halloween in Manhattan.

William A. Wheelock graduated from New York University in the 1840s and become a successful merchant who made enough money to retire at age 37, according to the New-York Tribune.

He moved his family to the wilds of Upper Manhattan, where painter and Birds of America author James Audubon owned acres of pristine forested land far from the urban center in today’s West 150s.

After Audubon died, Wheelock—by all accounts a decent, philanthropic-minded guy—helped Audubon’s wife, Minnie, handle her dwindling finances.

 That necessitated selling off some of her land, typically to wealthy city residents who wanted to build great homes far from the city.

Wheelock himself bought a parcel of property in 1870.

He then built his family this house on the north side of 158th Street, according to the Audubon Park Historic District website.

This painting by Gustave Wolff, “Approaching the Wheelock Mansion,” gives an idea just how remote the area was in the late 19th century.

But of course, the city would begin encroaching on the neighborhood in due time.

Change came not long after the turn of the century—after William Wheelock’s death in 1905.

Paved roads, subway access, and the northern extension of Broadway would all bring development to Audubon’s former property and encroach upon the Wheelock House.

 

The mansion managed to survive into the 1930s, a relic of another era. Berenice Abbott found it such a curiosity, she took photos of it while working for the Federal Art Project in 1938.

In 1940, the city purchased the property outright and called in the bulldozers not long afterward. Today this quiet sliver of northern Manhattan hosts a storage building and nondescript apartments—the elms, tulip trees, hills, and streams of Audubon’s land long gone.

[First, second, and fifth photos: Berenice Abbott; third photo: Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill, by James Renner; fourth image: Wichita Art Museum; sixth photo: Ephemeral New York]

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12 Responses to “A spooky Gothic mansion in Upper Manhattan”

  1. Zoe Says:

    Wow. It’s too bad it wasn’t incorporated. I’m glad Berenice Abbott took those photos!

    It reminds me of the Lockwood Matthews Mansion (Museum now) in Norwalk CT. (1 hr on Metro North from NYC). It almost met the wrecking ball – but was finally saved w/ a lot of effort. It sat derelict for years & could be seen from a distance from the road – looking like a Hollywood style haunted house. I can’t recall if we called it ‘haunted’. I’ll check the architect later.

    Lol – age “37”! Maybe one of our real estate historian commenters could weigh in (if Ephemeral is tired of questions): What could (can?) a robber baron type afford now on the island of Manhattan? My old East First Street tenement building of tiny studio apartments is full of doctors & lawyers & people in finance now; when it used to be full of starving musicians & artists & elderly people.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Glad you mentioned the Lockwood Matthews mansion Zoe—I’m going up there to give a talk about the Gilded Age on 11/12. Can’t wait to see the place!

    • Zoe Says:

      Ephemeral I am going to try to make this talk of yours in Norwalk. (I can’t say for sure yet). Will you have books to sign? Or perhaps I should order one beforehand. And probably most importantly – will you have time if not a proper book signing?

      I’ll check the museum website – but if you have a moment please tell us what time the talk begins. It would be fun to meet some of your other commenters there as well! (One hour from Manhattan on the train & then a taxi or Uber – so I hope some commenters go).

    • Zoé Says:

      I hope your talk in Norwalk went really well Ephemeral & that you had a great time seeing the mansion/museum. I think they had before & after renovation photos up once. Perhaps you saw those.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    As for renting or buying in Manhattan, it is very very hard, and much competition. But less expensive gems can be found if you’re willing to live in less trendy neighborhoods.

  4. Dymoon Says:

    loved the pictures in this post…

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    That’s the work of the wonderful Berenice Abbott!

  6. Lady G. Says:

    That totally resembles 1313 Mockingbird Lane! The Munster’s Mansion. That should’ve been historically preserved.

    • Zoe Says:

      Lol – I love that you remembered the exact address Lady G. (Despite that I am like the *Marilyn* character in my family – I did not remember it).

      Clicking on the hyperlink in your comment for the address brought me to an address in Texas. I hope they have fun w/ that on Halloween.

      • Zoe Says:

        *The hyperlink which showed up in your comment sent to my email/iPhone – Lady G. I see the address link doesn’t show up here.

  7. Lady G. Says:

    Hi Zoe, I was just trying to post the picture, if you google the full address, you’ll see tons of pictures of the house. In the blog the full image shows up, rather than just the link.

  8. David H Lippman Says:

    The city has a nasty habit of wrecking its good stuff….like Penn Station.

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