Monday, January 9, 2012

West 104th Street - My Block

The great imposition on this rock, the bestowed conformity on this island, the declaration that would give order to the chaos, the Commissioners Plan of 1811, right or wrong, gave us a grid of right angles which I suppose is better than wrong angles.  Since the island was tamed and it's evolution dictated, streets began to open where there had only been stone markers before. Those stone markers holding the promise of future order and West 104th street.

  This is a map from 1867.  The shapes on this map are obviously houses. These are wood fame houses, stone or brick structures would be indicated with a reddish color. The house and piece of property labeled M.T. Brennan became the home of Isidor and Ida Straus, who were lost on the Titanic.  The Straus's purchased the"old country home" and land in 1884.  Matthew T. Brennan, a volunteer fireman who became a city official and allied himself with William M. (Boss) Tweed. When investigations began to expose the Tweed Ring in 1871, it was said that Brennan, Who had become Sheriff, had collected $150,000 in fees for escorting 5,627 prisoners to prison, when in fact there had not been more than 340 prisoners. ''Who Would Not be a Sheriff?'' The New York Times headlined. The 1866 house, which was one of the last of the country homes to be built on the upper west side, contained the first cast iron bathtub in the United States. The house was torn down the year after the Titanic sunk and was replaced by 924 West End Avenue.

Mr. Straus made the once summer home a full time residence.  One of the earliest telephone subscribers in the old village of Bloomingdale, Mr. Straus had to get downtown, to the store that by 1896 he owned, Macy's.  In 1870 he had taken over the china department, by 1888 he had been made a partner. The newly opened Ninth Avenue Elevated was the quickest way (with it's average speed of just over 4 miles per hour) to get downtown. His driver would take him over to the station at 104th and 9th (Columbus) Avenue in the morning and then would pick him up in evening.

This is the 104th Street Station again, but looking north. These pictures were taken in 1940 just before demolition began. Up ahead is Morningside Park. Note the wooden platforms and the old style railroad signal.

 This map again from 1867. Although the streets appear on the maps, west 104th street did not open officially until 1884.  The house with the name "W.P. Dixon" above it is on the site of 895 West End Avenue (at 104th street for those of you from out of neighborhood). Indicated on the map is a semi-circular driveway leading in from West End Avenue. To the west of the house is a pond. Mr. Dixon was a landowner in this area. He owned a tract of land along 110th street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The simple wooden houses he built for a working class community was referred to as "Dixonville".  The name on the right, on what would be west 103rd street, Furniss, is the name of the landowner who owned "The Colonial White House" on Riverside between 99th and 100th streets.

Block numbers 1890 and 1891, grew up on the former, live on the latter.  This is a map from 1897 and there are some familiar shapes beginning to take root. The Dixon house is gone and a row of 20 foot wide townhouses have sprung up along West End Avenue on both blocks, including the side streets. In the upper left corner of block 1890, that dotted line where 315 Riverside Drive  (again at 104th street for those of you from out of neighborhood) will be is a stream that ran from the pond down to the Hudson. This neighborhood was covered with streams, some still existing. The basement of P.S. 145 on Amsterdam and 105th street used to flood every spring.  And have you ever wondered why you hear rushing water coming from below the street on the west side of Broadway and 108th?
On the lower left corner of block 1891 is stone, not brick, house owned by a family named Bacon. That is the site of 320 Riverside Drive. The lower left corner of block 1890 is the mansion that was the original 310 Riverside Drive.

This is a map from 1916. The Bacon House is still there on 104th and Riverside but stone and brick get the same color now. The brownstones that repalced the Dixon house have been replaced by the recently constructed "Mentone" or 895 West End Avenue. The original 310 Riverside still stands across from the newly built "Clearfield" or 305 Riverside Drive. Just south of the "Clearfield" is the original 300 Riverside Drive, the Foster mansion. 

This is the Foster mansion.

This is the original 310 Riverside Drive.

This is 1879 and the retaining wall is being constructed with Manhattan Schist, the bedrock on which we can build such tall buildings on this island. The rock was probably cut on site and I am guessing but the break there in the wall is for the staircase at 103rd street, but the caption for this photo is "looking north at 104th street and Riverside Drive".

Looking west on 104th street in 1922.  The building on the right, a private home, is on the site of the current 900 West End Avenue. The big building in the picture is none other than 905 West End Avenue. It must be a Monday or Thursday as there are no parked cars on the north side of the street.

 315 - 318 west 104th street in 1913. These are on the north side of the street and were designed by Martin V.B. Ferdon. The row on the south side were designed by Clarence True. Clarence True is considered to be one of the Godfathers of the upper westside.   Clarence True was an architect who was also a developer. He built 100's of speculative houses on the upper westside. He started in the office of Richard Upjohn, who designed (amongst other famous New York City landmarks) the 1846 Trinity Church on Wall Street. When Clarence True had an office, he employed a young William Van Alen who went on to design the Chrysler Building. You can draw a line from Richard Upjohn to William Van Alen. Pretty cool.

This looking north on the Riverside Drive service road from 104th street. The house on the right is part of the Bacon house. All of these would be demolished very soon in order to add the current 320 Riverside Drive to the cityscape.  Was it worth the visual cost?  "We will be judged not by what we have built . . . but what we have destroyed".