Posts Tagged ‘Upper West Side mansions’

The many lives of Riverside Drive’s River Mansion

November 12, 2018

Sometimes you come across a house in New York City that you just sense has a good backstory.

The red-brick house at 337 Riverside Drive is such a place—and its fortunes reflect more than a century of changes on a winding street that began as the West Side’s answer to Upper Fifth Avenue.

Built in 1902 along with its restrained neighbor to the east on 106th Street, it’s an “opulent Beaux-Arts brick and limestone mansarded mansion,” reported the AIA Guide to New York City.

The curves above the bay windows give it something of an Art Nouveau feel too.

The name inscribed above the front door, “River Mansion,” is perfectly fitting; the oversized home sits on a corner high point beside Riverside Park with enchanting Hudson River views.

Of course, the first occupant of such a spectacular place couldn’t be any old titan of industry.

It was purchased in 1903 by Julia Marlowe, a famous Shakespearean actress whose life at the time had all the trappings of modern day celebrity: divorce, talk of a nervous breakdown, and loneliness.

Marlowe—known for taking long walks in Central Park to practice her lines—probably didn’t spend much time here though, writes author Daniel J. Wakin in his book, The Man With the Sawed-Off Leg and Other Tales of a New York City Block.

She was on the road a lot, and in 1906 she sold River Mansion to the wife of businessman Lothar Faber, whose Greenpoint pencil factory is now a residence.

The Fabers already lived on Riverside Drive, and in a few years they left River House, which took on a succession of short-term owners.

By the time the Depression hit, River House had been converted to a rooming house, wrote Wakin, one tinged by tragic stories.

A fourth-floor apartment was the home of a doctor who committed suicide by jumping out the window. An Italian-born painter also had a room here; he made a meager living and died poor and alone in Bellevue Hospital of a brain tumor.

“As the neighborhood continued to decline, River Mansion changed hands several more times in the 1940s,” wrote Wakin, adding that a woman named Mrs. Dickmann ran a boardinghouse here in the 1950s.

River House’s bounce back started in the 1970s. It was part of a newly created historic district, and the house went back to being a single-family residence; a music school operated here.

In 1978, Seagrum heir Edgar Bronfman, Jr., bought River Mansion and turned it into his family home. He’s since moved out, but the house remains a personal residence.

The Riverside Drive of the early 1900s (seen above at left) is no longer. But Riverside Drive once again thrives today—and River Mansion still stands.

The facade and structure don’t appear to have changed very much. And as a treat, the original cast-iron fence from Julia Marlowe’s time continues to encircle the place, according to the Riverside-West 105th Street Historic District Designation Report.

[Fifth photo: University of Cincinnati; sixth image: NYPL]

The doctor’s summer home on West 94th Street

June 4, 2018

Today, the rich and distinguished summer in the Hamptons. In the mid-1800s, they summered on the Upper West Side.

The “delightful palazzo” above was the summer mansion of Dr. Valentine Mott, the most prominent physician in 19th century New York—a pioneer of heart surgery who at the age of 75 helped Civil War battlefield hospitals implement anesthesia.

His year-round residence was on fashionable Gramercy Park. But when summer hit, he hightailed it to today’s West 94th Street and the former Bloomingdale Road.

Built in 1855, the country house “was at almost the farthest reach for summer residences away from the city,” according to Old New York in Early Photographs.

Today, the house would be smack in the middle of Broadway. Back then, this was the country; the Upper West Side as we know it today was a collection of estates and small villages in the mid-1800s, like Harsenville and Strycker’s Bay.

Dr. Mott died here in 1865—but his summer house lives on in a photo taken by French-born New York photographer Victor Prevost the year the house was built.

[Top photo: New-York Historical Society; second photo: Wikipedia

A country mansion once on the Upper West Side

July 30, 2012

Picture today’s Upper West Side as it was in the late 18th century, when it was known as the rural village of Bloomingdale and filled with acres of meadows, streams, and wildflowers.

And towering over the landscape on a hill near Columbus Avenue and 91st street was the Apthorp Mansion (below, how it looked in 1790, according to a 1907 drawing).

Constructed in 1764 by wealthy Loyalist Charles Apthorp, the mansion, called Elmwood for its gorgeous trees, was conceded to be “the finest house on the island,” writes Peter Salwen in Upper West Side Story.

A newspaper ad for the property from 1780, reprinted in Upper West Side Story, reveals its loveliness:

“…about 300 acres of choice rich land, chiefly meadow, in good order, on which are two very fine orchards of the best fruit. . . . An exceedingly good house, elegantly furnished, commanding beautiful prospects of the East and North-Rivers, on the latter of which the estate is bounded.”

The house survived the Revolutionary War (it was in the middle of a battleground, after all) and Apthorp was charged with treason. After his 1797 death, his 10 children divided and sold off the land.

In the 19th century, some of the grounds became a popular picnic area called Elm Park. Finally the house itself met its end in 1891 (above), torn down to make way for 91st Street, as the village of Bloomingdale became part of the modern city.

The mansion is commemorated by the beautiful circa-1909 apartment building the Apthorp, on Broadway between 78th and 79th Streets.