Thursday, September 15, 1994


Stuyvesant Square Walking Tour, Part I/2/3

Stuyvesant Square Walking Tour, Part I by Wally Dobelis, 8/31/94

The areas that we live in are important parts of New York City's history. Stuyvesant Square area, 15th to 18th Sts, 2nd to 3rd Aves, was designated a Historic District in 1975. Herewith some of its past, and a partial walking tour.

The Dutch West India Company early in the 1600s laid out 6 farms or "bouweries" in Manhattan, the first being up to E. 12th Street. Director-general Peter Stuyvesant (whom we can also thank for securing St. Martin in 1644 for future use by American tourists, at the cost of his leg; alas, he also surrendered New Netherlands to the Brits in 1664) purchased it, plus the free pasturage North of it, in 1651. His great-grandson Petrus lived on this part, the Petersfield farm, with the farmhouse on the present 16th St. East of 1st Ave. On his death in 1805, son Peter Gerard Stuyvesant (PGS) inherited this farm.

Urbanization started in 1807-11 with the laying out of the grid system of streets. 2nd Ave from 1st St. to 29th was opened in 1815. 3rd Ave was opened in 1814. In 1828 PGS deeded land for 10th through 22nd Sts to NYC, and in 1836 he donated Stuyvesant Square to the city. It was laid out, with the West St. named Rutherford Place after his wife Helen, and the East (now Nathan Perlman) named Livingston after his mother Margaret. This donation of a public space was an unusual gesture. He gave the land for St. George's Church in 1846. Its rector, Rev. Gerald Tyng, was one of New York's most fashionable preachers. The land surrounding the park was quickly developed. Some of the rest of Petersfield was divided in 200 lots (now Stuy Town) and sold for $200,000 in 1825.

PGS, 2nd wealthiest NYer (after J.J. Astor), drowned at Niagara Falls in 1847, and left the land to nephews Gerard Stuyvesant (GS) and Hamilton Fish (then Governor, NYS) and grand-nephew Stuyvesant Rutherford, whose name had to be changed to Rutherford Stuyvesant (RS). By 1850 the neighborhood was relatively settled. Friends Meeting House and Seminary came in in 1860. The Lying-In Hospital (now Rutherford House), Beth Israel and New York Infirmary were in place by the end of the century.

Let's walk West on 18th St., from 2nd Ave. We will see private residences built mostly in two 1850's styles and their variations: Greek Revival, with angular features, modest versions of the grandiose triangular pediments and Doric columns adapted for government buildings by the young republic; also, the more relaxed Italianate, with rounded features, cornices supported by brackets, and high entrances.Don't look for the patrician Georgian and Federal (Adam) styles - NYC has few surviving XVIII C.buildings.

Nos 228-34 E. 18th were built c. 1850 by Lewis Rutherford, father of RS, as rentals, in Greek Revival style (angular features), with Italianate (rounded) stoop railings. One roof cornice with scrolled brackets and molded panels survives. Nos 228-32 have been combined into one building, with basement entrances.

For Nos 220-26, RS in 1869 stipulated quality and uniform construction for the 18-foot Italianate houses with curved doorway features, high stoops, yet square lintels (transoms), designed by Julius Boeckel. The distinguished No. 218 (1856, by contractor John Foster, for own use) was the model. It has massive newel posts flanking the stoop, slender pilasters (attached columns) in the doorway supporting a heavy pediment with a foliate keystone, and two slim fluted Corinthian columns inside.

Nos.214-6, (oldest in the district, 1842 for Wm. E. Dodge, copper magnate), are late Greek Revival (square features, classic elements) with graceful doorways, narrow pediments on scrolled brackets crowning the entrances. Paneled Corinthian pilasters are at No. 216 and an Italianate opening at No. 214. The bracketed roof cornices with paneled fascia are also Italianate (curved).No. 212 was similar.

Nos 206-10 (c. 1850, local builders) are Italianate, with a high stoop.

Now we'll walk on 3rd Ave. to 17th St, and turn East. On the North side, Nos 205-7 (c.1850 for Robert Voorhees; sculptor Chester Beach had 207 until 1956) are composite Greek Revival (ironwork, plain window lintels), with Italianate elements (window sills, bracketed roof cornice). Tripartite window is a later alteration. No. 209 (also Voorhees, recently Huber) is a Romanesque Revival, with corbels supporting the window sills and the freeze forming the roof cornice.
Nos 211-19 (c.1854, local builders) are of a modified Anglo-Italianate variant, with curved lower lintels, flat facades and low stoops. No 221 (1850, James Levy) has additional Greek Revival elements. Nos 223-5 (1883 as St. George Residence, now Hotel 17, by George Osborne, stoneworks owner), has marvelous French Renaissance ornaments of figures and foliage.

Nos 231-5 (large part 1877 by E.T.Littell, small- 1883 by C.C.Haight for St. John the Baptist House, now Hazeldon Foundation, bought by Helen Folsom from RS), a Victorian Gothic with a medieval feeling. Delightful roof gables. The Italianate No. 237 was built by RS' father. Nos.239-43 (1852-3, Thos. Morton) are Anglo-Italianate (flat facade, arched windows, low stoops). The beautiful No.243
was sold to Henry Derby in 1859 for $28,000, double the price of any house in the district.

No. 245 (1883), an interesting French Renaissance construction, was by Richard Morris Hunt, a celebrated architect who designed residences in NYC and Newport, RI.The owner, Sidney Webster, Pres. Pierce's private secretary, married Hamilton Fish's daughter and practiced law in NYC.

On the South 17th St side, the playful No 206-8 and the more somber 210-12 neo-Renaissance apartment buildings were built in 1902 and 1903. No 214 is a modest survivor of five 1850 houses on the site, built by James Foster.

Nos 216-22 (1851-3, James Foster, bought from GS) are Anglo-Italianate, with round arched windows and doors which decrease in size, some casement, some made to simulate casement, with wide groowed center uprights (muntins).

Our walk will continue on Rutherford, with visits to the Park, St. George's, Friends, then on 16th and 15th Sts, soon. There's still Gramercy, Irving, Broadway and Chelsea to look at, some day. Much of this good information comes to you courtesy of the Landmarks Commission and J. Taylor, the indomitable preservationist.

Stuyvesant Square Walking Tour, Part II by Wally Dobelis 9/16/94

This will continue our walking tour of the Historic District. After visiting East 18th and 17th Sts between 2nd and 3rd Aves (see TV 9/22/94), we continue on Rutherford Place, West side of the Park.

Nos. 1-3, built by Thos Morton and David Morehead in 1854, have been altered. No. 1 has a new red brick facade, with wide casement windows and a new entrance on 17th St. The Italianate Nos. 2-3 had the front walls extended and low entrances built, with a relief of cherubs and garlands at No. 2.

No. 4, the Byzantine style brownstone St. George's Chapel (archs. M.L.and H.G.Emery, 1911-12) is in keeping with the Church, though more lavish. Corinthian pilasters and paired columns flank the entrance. A relief in the arched tympanum above the frieze depicts St. George and the dragon. The tripartite composition above the door is exuberant with traditional motifs, with trefoiled arches surrounding a pair of stained glass windows, a stone quatrefoil above and blind niches on each side. Observe the flanking shafts and their turrets with finials, the Greek cross in the gable and the ornamental cornice with stepped corbels supporting it.

St. George's Church itself (archs. Leopold Eidlitz and Otto Blesch, 1846, opened 1848, completed 1856) is in Early Romanesque Revival style. The butressed twin towers on each side of the entrance once were topped by openwork masonry spires, to a total height of 245 ft. The spires were weakened by a arson fire in 1865, and had to be removed. The church rises prominently above its surroundings, as planned originally. The flat brownstone face is topped by a traceried rose window, above a triple-arched entrance and five stained-glass windows. The steep center gable cornice has carved ornaments above it and is supported by arched corbels. The side walls continue the pattern of high buttreses, separating tall arched windows. At the West end a semi-circular apse terminates the building.

The interior is wide open, with nave and aisles of equal height. This suited its first rector, Dr. Stephen Higginson Tyng, a leader of the evangelical section of the Episcopal Church, whose sermons attracted a huge following. He was a major abolitionist, and the 1865 fire is reputed to have been set by a "copperhead" conspiracy. The old smaller church was on Beekman and Cliff Sts, and had been until 1811 a chapel of Trinity Church. A site on Union Square was chosen for the new St. George's and abandoned when Peter Gerard Stuyvesant (PGS), the developer of our eponymous Square, offered free land on the West side of the Park. The need to sell the old church to raise funds for the new construction precipitated legal issues between the two congregations. St. George's finally accepted a settlement of $25,000 and agreed that, if it ceased to be a Protestant Episcopal Church, it would give the new building back to Trinity.

Turning the corner, at 209 the setback former Rectory or (Henry Hill) Pierce House, at 209, (also Eidlitz, 1850s) is a more romantic, intimate Romanesque Revival, with a symmetrical lines, repeated gable pattern, rounded and segmented arched windows and a setback round-arched porch with flanking colonettes. A wing connects it to the Chantry, a small chapel. Pierce was a lawyer who served for many years on the St. George's vestry.

No 203-5 East 16th St is the St. George Memorial House, or Parish House (Leopold Eidlitz, 1888). It, and the Chapel, were financed by John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), the banker who founded many of the US railroads and also US Steel, first billion-dollar corporation in the world. He was a vestryman and senior warden of the church. He acquired the 16th St. property in 1886 from Rutherford Stuyvesant (RS). This archetypal capitalist was surprisingly liberal in the endorsement of preachers for St. George's, as well as in forcing the congregation to accept the Afro-American Henry F. Burleigh as the leading baritone in the choir, acording to Dr. Thomas Pike, rector of the parish, which also encompasses Calvary, a church on E. 22nd and Park. Dr. Pike, a fine painter, is also a highly involved community activist, a former Yonkers Commissioner of Human Rights and a current NYC Landmarks Commissioner.

The Parish House, a Romanesque Revival, is quite picturesque, with its assymetrical masses of rough-hewn stones and varied roof lines. The entrance tower has a round arch opening surrounded by a butressed pointed-arch frame. Interspersed rows of rounded, square and arched windows with trefoils and colonnettes add interest. It was sold 20-odd years ago.

The 6-story Late Romanesque Revival at No. 201, (also 167 3rd Ave., arch. Geo. H. Griebel, 1890), is the only commercial building in the Historic District.
Horizontal stone bands
and a 3rd floor window cornice divide the building horizontally in three parts, and the triple window bays segment it vertically. The roof cornice is dentiled (teeth-like ornaments), with arched corbels supporting it.

Next door, 171 3rd Ave, a tiny modest (1845-7 for John Pickersgill, merchant) Greek Revival building has the plain square lintels carved with ogee arches to give it the appearance of the then more fashionable Gothic Revival style.

Returing to East 16th, the row of elegant brick Anglo-Italianate (arched windows and lintels, corbeled sills, English basement) houses at Nos. 206-220 were built by the ubiquitous Robert Vorhees in 1852 and sold for $11,000 each to such owners as publisher George Putnam and importer Walter Webb. Nos. 208-210 (named Rainsford House, after Wm. S., the St. George's rector, and Finestein House since 1970) were much altered in 1901, with Tudor (ribbed arch entrance) and Flemish (roof line with curved gables and stone coping) elements. Note stone keys between frames of upper windows, arched 2nd story window with cartouches (scroll-like tablets), fluted Ionic pilasters (attached pillars) and elongated volutes (a spiral ornament); panels with cross and quatrefoil motifs; military lancet windows, with bowmen's slots, at end gables. No. 220, until 1925 owned by the Stuyvesant family, was replaced by Friends Seminary in 1963-5 (archs. Chapman, Evans & Delahanty). The school has expanded also into No. 216 (Kelly House).

An aside: for a simple clue to the Greek and Italianate style references, remember this: the Greeks did not know how to set stones or bricks in a vault or arch to make an entranceway or a room. That is why they had to build porticos, with closely-spaced columns and wide capitols, close enough to each other to be topped by a stone lintel or beam, in what we know as "post and beam" construction. (To support the roof of a wide building they had to have interior columns and tricky tie-beam, rafter and king-beam constructions.) In a later age, Romans ("Italianate") invented the vault and arch construction, which reduced the number of supports and made wide entrances, wide houses and aqueducts possible.

More about Friends Meeting House, the Park and E 15th St. next week.

Stuyvesant Square Walking Tour, Part III (Concl.) by Wally Dobelis 9/16/94

After visiting E. 18th, 17th and 16th Sts, including St. George's, we have now reached Friends Meeting House and Friends Seminary, 16th St and Rutherford Place . Built by Chas Bunting in 1860, it is a group of mixed Federal/Greek Revival style structures, with the broken-bed pedimented gables facing the street. There was a evangelical schism in the Quaker movement, and the downtown NY congregation at Hester St. split in 1828. The Hicksites (anti-Slavery, anti-technology) came to build on Stuyvesant Square, while the Orthodox constructed their meeting house at 28 Gramercy Park South (1859, presently the Brotherhood Synagogue). You should attend a Friends meeting. It is silent, and then a discussion starts. Congregants speak from the floor. It is very democratic. The school is one of the top-notch private (K-12) schools in the city. Richard Eldridge, the principal, a Quaker from Philadelphia, keeps the school rolling, and Ann Sullivan, the placement officer, is building the school's standing with the top colleges of the nation.

The setback Meeting and the T-shaped old Seminary buildings have also pedimented porches with Tuscan columns and gabled roofs with simple cornices supported by wooden fascia boards. Note bisected lunette windows below each gable, and pedimented door enframement at the 16th St entrance.

And now we come to the Stuyvesant Square Park, named for the donor of the land (1836), Peter Gerard Stuyvesant (PGS), great-great grandson of the original peg-legged director-general of New Netherland, who can be seen in the statue by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1936) in the West park. This will one day be balanced out by a statue of Antonin Dvorak at the edge of the East park, across from the house where he composed his New World Symphony a hundred years ago, just as soon as the American Dvorak Association can raise the necessary endowment funds for maintenance. You can write to me for information.

The free-standing (without lateral supports) fences around the two parks, one on each side of 2nd Ave., are in Federal style, cast in 1847 (West fence renovated in recent years), and consist of 120 units each, 10 ft wide, 7 ft high, with 16 finial-capped pickets, held in place by horizontal bars adorned by egg-and-dart moldings.The bar at the base, spiked with finials, is supported by iron plates with a cast diamond pattern. The side fasces-like (tied bundles) uprights also have finials. The principal East and West 12-foot double gates and small side gates are supported by cage posts, and form a low arch when closed. On each side a roundel ornament of four lotus forms is supported by balls and vertical bars. More roundels, squares with cornices topped by spiked finials and crowns formed by arched flats top the gateposts. The small North and South gates echo the same features, but are square-topped.

The fence was erected in 1848 and the fountains soon followed. These are the only original features left after the re-landscaping of 1936 by the Parks Dept, then under the command of the imperious Commissioner Robert Moses, who was responsible for 658 new and 119 renovated playgrounds during his 1934-60 reign (also for Orchard Beach, East River Park, Downing Stadium, FDR Drive, BQE, Triboro Bridge, Brooklyn Heights Promenade - the list of public works under his 10 concurrent commissionerships goes on and on; someday I'll do a piece). He had playgrounds included in the design, which was successfully resisted by the hospitals who wanted peace and quiet. They invoked PGS's terms of deed, and so the South sides of the both parks still remain covered with pavement and not with grass. Evidence of Moses' revenge, to this day?

Keeping the parks in flowers and maintained are the particular chosen tasks of the 27-year old Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, SPNA. If you should like to contribute to the neighborhood's well-being, think of membership. Send the dues ($15/yr) with your address and phone numbers to SPNA, 201 E 17 St. Let me mention some members of the SPNA: Carol Schachter, the hard-working co-President, Rosalee Isaly, past president for 12 years, Barbara Harry, Secretary, and Ceil Sagnous, Treasurer, who never rests. And we must keep the memory of the late wonderful Dr. Olive Huber, whose Treasurer's Reports were the best parts of our annual meetings. One of these days a small Olive Huber Memorial Garden will be dedicated on the South side of St. George's Church, E. 16th St., as a cooperative effort of Dr. Pike and the SPNA.

To finish our tour, let's look on the South side of 15th St. No. 236 has Greek Revival roof cornice, with medillions and a fascia board, rusticated basement and plain stone lintels. It was occupied by bookseller Mahlon Day.

No. 238 is Italianate, with segmental-arched windows and doorway, replaced in top floors by plain lintels. The doorway is also a replacement. It was owned by Lewis L. Squires, shipchandler.

Nos 240-42 are Italianate, with cap-molded lintels. Note that the original door enframements are now windows. The basement entrances are replacements. Original owners were David B. Keeler, lime merchant (240), and Theodore Crane, tea merchant.

Three brownstones at Nos. 306-310 remain, of the original six. Erected in 1854 by local builders, they retain many original Italianate features, notably the segmental-arched windows, high stoops and a bracketed cornice at 306.

Wally Dobelis is the other co-President of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association (the not-so-hard-working one, he claims). He also wants to put in a special word of appreciation for the historians at Landmarks Preservation Commission and Parks Department, informed, dedicated and motivated people - unfortunately, also decimated, due to budget shrinkages.

The earliest residences at 214-216 E. 18th St. (1842-3), are Greek Revival, the gable facing out, the paneled pilasters (attached half-pillars) surrounding the doorway. Above the pilasters, there is the full entablature (the bottom layers being architrave with freeze, the triangle being the cornice).

The ornate Italianate style became prevalent in the 1850s, with bold lintels (bars above window or door) and pediments (the triangle above the door - think of the broken pediments of the Georgian residences outside NYC - here we have very little that predates 1800), early - 308-10 E. 15, Anglo-Italianate (no stoop) at 206, 212-216 E 16, late 220-226 E. 18.

Neo-Renaissance apartment houses are 223-5 E. 17 (1883), and 206-8 and 210-12 E. 17.

Back to architecture. 231-35 E. 17th (1877 and 1883) are Victorian Gothic (one by Emlen T. Lytell, the other by Charles Coolidge Haight), and picturesque, with nice arches.

208-10 E. 16 St., Rainsford House has Flemish and Tudeor elements such as quatrefoils, arched entrances and picturesque gables.

The Stuyvesant Square Park itself is a magnificent creation. The statue of Peter Stuyvesant by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (a name to conjure with) from the 1930's, should soon have a companion in the East park, Antonin Dvorak.

So, neighbors, please note that you are living where history has been made. I shall write a separate piece about St. George's, Friends and the Park.

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