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Stretches Of The Avenue

( Originally Published 1918 )



Stretches of the Avenue—The Days of Squatter Kings—Seneca Village—" Millionaire's Row "—The Avenue Gates—The Soul of Central Park—Some Palaces of the Stretch—The Obelisk and the Metropolitan Museum—Northward Through Harlem.

HERE and there in the Island, far to the north, may be found an unblasted rock on the top of which is perched an unpainted shanty with a crude chimney spout from which smoke issues voluminously. A quarter of a century ago there were thousands of such shanties along the upper West Side. From the lofty iron height of the El. Road one could survey them stretching all the way from the Sixties to One Hundred and Sixteenth. On the summits the Lords of the Manors smoked their clay pipes in bland disregard of the world and its rent-collectors, and the family goats gambolled ; in the valleys the truck gardens waxed green and smiled luxuriously as if conscious of the enormous square-foot value of the land that they were pre-empting. But King Dynamite came, and the steam drill came, and the air clanged with the driving of many rivets, and the Mountaro Men, and their goats, and their wives, and their unwashed offspring, and their Lares and Penates went forth into the wilderness—no one knows just where. The days of Squatter Sovereignty had passed.

But the Mountain men and women within the memory were the hardy, obstinate, unyielding survivors, the last to cling to the strongholds in a region that once seemed impregnable. Before Central Park was laid out Fifty-ninth Street was the dividing line. Below, rich brown-stone; above, along the country road which was then Fifth Avenue, a waste, squalid yet in its way picturesque, that extended almost to Mount Morris Park. " Here lived," " Fifth Avenue " tells us, " over five thousand as poverty-stricken and disreputable people as could be seen anywhere. The squatters' settlements in the Park were surrounded by swamps, and overgrown with briers, vines, and thickets. The soil that covered the rocky surface was unfit for cultivation. Here and there were stone quarries and stagnant pools. In this wilderness lived the squatters, in little shanties and huts made of boards picked up along the river fronts and often pieced out with sheets of tin, obtained by flattening cans. Some occupants paid ten dollars and twenty-five dollars rent, but the majority paid nothing. Three stone buildings, two brick buildings, eighty-five or ninety frame houses, one rope-walk and about two hundred shanties, barns, stables, piggeries, and bone-factories, appear in a census made just before Central Park was begun. Some of the shanties were dug-outs, and most had dirt floors. In this manner lived, in a state of loose morality, Americans, Germans, Irish, Negroes, and Indians. Some were honest and some were not; many were roughs and crooks. Much of their food was refuse, which they procured in the lower portion of the city, and carried along Fifth Avenue to their homes in small carts drawn by dogs. The mongrel dogs were a remarkable feature of squatter life, and it is said that the Park area contained no less than one hundred thousand ` curs of low degree,' which, with cows, pigs, cats, goats, geese, and chickens, roamed at will, and lived upon the refuse, which was everywhere. In the neighbourhood of these squatter settlements, of which the largest was Seneca Village, near Seventy-ninth Street, the swamps had become cesspools and the air was odoriferous and sickening."

Those hovels of yesterday have made way for the beautiful Park and the superb mansions that have earned for the eastern stretch of Fifth Avenue overlooking the Park the title of " Millionaire's Row." There is one impression of the " Row " which one is bound to take away whether the point of observation be the top of a passing omnibus or the sidewalk adjoining the stone wall guarding the boundaries of the Park. That is of a mysterious unreality, due, perhaps to the shades being always lowered and the curtains tightly drawn. In considerable excitement an immaculately garbed little old gentleman was one day seen to descend hurriedly from the Imperiale of the snorting monster by which he had designed to travel down to Washington Square. On the sidewalk, flourishing his cane, he pointed in the direction of a stately palace of white marble. " It is incredible," he kept repeating, " but I certainly saw some one come out of that house. I am the original New Yorker, and I know the thing has never happened before."

As the great lane beyond Fifty-ninth Street is known as " Millionaire's Row," it could have no more appropriate guarding outpost than the Metropolitan Club, more generally called the " Millionaire's Club." The organization was founded in 1891 by members of the Union Club, and the present white marble club-house, at the north-east corner of Sixtieth Street, on land formerly owned by the Duchess of Marlborough, was erected in 1903. The gate to the Park diagonally across from the club, at Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, is the Scholars' Gate. The other gates along the stretch of the Avenue are the Students' Gate, at Sixty-fourth Street, the Children's Gate, at Seventy-second Street, the Miners' Gate, at Seventy-ninth Street, the Engineers' Gate, at Ninetieth Street, the 'Wood-man's Gate, at Ninety-sixth Street, and the Girls' Gate, at One Hundred and Second Street.

" Park life with us," writes Miss Henderson, "has perhaps become obsolete ; our national breathlessness cannot brook this paradox of pastoral musings within sight and sound and smell of the busy lure of money making. Within its gates we pass into a new element; and this element is antipathetic to the one-sided development imposed by city life. Instead of resting us, it presents a problem, and the last thing for which we now have time is abstract thought. And so we prefer the dazzling, twinkling, clashing, clamoring, death-dealing, sinking, eruptive, insistent Broadway, where every blink of the eye catches a new impression, where the brain becomes a passive, palpitating receptacle for ideas which are shot into it through all the senses ; and where, between ` stepping lively ' and ` watching your step,' a feat of contradictoriness only equalled in its exaction by the absorbing exercise of slapping with one hand and rubbing with the other, independent thought becomes an extinct function."

Perhaps. These may be the doubts of the grown-ups and the sophisticated. Meditate thus cantering along the bridle-path or lolling back in the tonneau of the motor-car that has come to replace the stately, absurd horse-drawn equip-age of yesterday. Survey with ennui. Brood over unpatriotic comparisons. Paraphrase Laurence Sterne to the extent of mumbling how " they order this matter much better in Hyde Park or in the Bois de Boulogne." Quote Mr. Henry James about " the blistered sentiers of asphalt, the rock bound caverns, the huge iron bridges spanning little muddy lakes, the whole, crowded, cockneyfied place." In that way jaundiced happiness lies. But the soul of Central Park is not for you. Once upon a time there was a Central Park. The approaches to it were along sedate avenues or by restful side streets. When the Park was reached there were donkeys to ride, and donkey-boys, highly amusing in their cynicism and worldly knowledge, in attendance. The " rock-work " caverns were in fancy of an amazing vastness, and the abode of goblins, elves, gnomes, enchanted knights, persecuted princesses —all the creatures of delightful Fairyland. A certain dark, winding, apparently endless tunnel was the Valley of the Shadow of Death of John Bunyan's allegory. On the sward before the entrance Christian grappled with Apollyon: "And Apollyon, espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian's sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, I am sure. of thee now. And with that he had almost pressed him to death; so that Christian began to despair of life. But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make an end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, 0 mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again, saying, Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more."

" And Christian saw him no more ! " With the thrill that those words bring the years fall away and again a boy's eyes are wide in wonder at the mystery of the world. Then the lake. It was not muddy to the gaze of youth. Instead, it was of a crystal clearness that sparkled in the summer sunshine, and the ride in the swan-boats was a joyous adventure, just as it was a little later to the little girls who owed it to the knightly bounty of Mr. Cortlandt Van Bibber. And what was better than the hours in the Menagerie, when the antics of the monkeys provoked side-splitting laughter, and to stand steady close before the cage when the lions stretched and roared was to feel the thrill of a young Tartarin? " Now, this is something like a hunt! " Times change, and conditions change, and aspects change, but it is we who change most of all, and Romance is still there, given the eyes of youth with which to see it.

But back to our sheep and to the Avenue. At the south-east corner of Sixty-second Street is the Knickerbocker Club, which moved there a few years ago from the home it held so long at the Avenue and Thirty-second Street, but before it is reached are passed the residences of Mrs. J. A. Bostwick (800), Mrs. Fitch Gilbert (801), William Emlen Roosevelt (804), and William Lan-man Bull (805). On Sixty-second Street, near the Knickerbocker, is the house of the late Joseph H. Choate. Continuing along the Avenue to Sixty-eighth Street the residences are: Mrs. Hamilton Fish (810), Francis L. Loring (811), George G. McMurty (813), Robert L. Gerry (816), Clifford V. Brokaw (825), Henry Mortimer Brooks (826), William Guggenheim (833), Frank Jay Gould (834), Frederick Lewisohn (835), Mrs. Isadore Wormser (836), Mrs. William Watts Sherman (838), Vincent Astor (840), Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer, southeast corner of Sixty-sixth (No. 3 East Sixty-sixth is the former home of General Grant), Miss Elizabeth Kean (844), George Barney Schley (845), the late Colonel Oliver H. Payne (852), George Grant Mason (854), Perry Belmont (855), Judge Elbert H. Gary (856), George J. Gould (857), and Thomas F. Ryan (858).

At this point begins what prior to 1840 was the farm of Robert Lenox, extending on to what is now Seventy-third Street. The uncle of Robert Lenox was a British commissary during the Revolution. The farm, which is worth at the present day perhaps ten million dollars, was bought in the twenties of the last century for forty thousand dollars. Under the various sections of his will which bear the dates of 1829, 1832, and 1839, Lenox, or " Lennox " as it was then spelled, devised his farm, then comprising about thirty acres, to his only son, James, with his stock of horses, cattle, and farming utensils, during the term of his life and after his death, to James's heirs forever. The will reads: " My motive for so leaving this property is a firm persuasion that it may, at no distant date, be the site of a village, and as it cost me more than its present worth, from circumstances known to my family, I will to cherish that belief that it may be realized to them. At all events, I want the experiment made by keeping the property from being sold." Under a clause in the will dated 1832, however, he with drew the restriction covering the sale of the farm, but, nevertheless, urged his son not to sell it, as he was still of the firm conviction that some day there would be a village near by, and the property would appreciate. It was the son James Lenox who erected the Lenox Library, which was a conspicuous mark on the upper Avenue until it was merged with the Astor in the formation of the present Public Library. The Lenox Library antedated by some years the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who died in 1893, and whose Memorial, the work of Daniel Chester French, is on the edge of the opposite Park.

The site of the old Library is now occupied by the house of Mr. Henry C. Frick, one of the great show residences of the Avenue and the city. Beautiful as it unquestionably is, the veriest lay-man is conscious of the fact that, for the full effect, a longer approach is needed. A broad garden separates the house, which is eighteenth-century English, from the sidewalk. The gallery, the low wing at the upper corner, with lunettes in sculpture by Sherry Fry, Phillip Martiny, Charles Keck, and Attilio Piccirilli, contains pictures by Titian, Paul Veronese, Velasquez, Murillo, Van Dyck, Franz Hals, Rembrant, Daubigny, Corot, Diaz, Manet, Millet, Rousseau, Troyon, Constable, Gainsborough, Lawrence, Raeburn, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, and Whistler. The chief artistic feature of the interior decorations of the house, which, with the land upon which it is placed, cost, in round figures, five millions of dollars, is the famous series of Fragonard Panels, in the drawing-room. Painted originally for the there amie of Louis the Fifteenth, they are known as the Du Barry Panels, despite the fact that the fair lady did not find them quite satisfactory and the artist placed them in his own home on the shores of the Mediterranean.

But before the Frick residence is reached there are the houses of Harry Payne Whitney (871) at the north-east corner of Sixty-eighth Street, Mrs. Joseph Stickney (874), Henry J. Topping (875), Frances Burton Harrison (876), Mrs. Ogden Mills (878), Mrs. E. H. Harriman (880), and Mrs. William E. S. Griswold (883). Just beyond are Mrs. Abercrombie Burden (898), James A. Burden (900), John W. Sterling (912), Samuel Thorne (914), Nicholas F. Palmer (922), George Henry Warren (924), Mrs. Herbert Leslie Terrell (925), John Wood-ruff Simpson (926), Simeon B. Chapin (930), Mortimer L. Schiff (932), Lamon V. Harkness (933), Alfred M. Hoyt (934), and Edwin Gould (936). Then, at Seventy-sixth Street, is the Temple Beth-El, which was completed in 1891, and which represents the first German-Jewish congregation in this country, dating back to 1826. The dwelling houses that come next belong to Mrs. Samuel W. Bridgham (954), and J. Horace Harding (955). Then, at the northeast corner of Seventy-seventh . Street, is the famous house of Senator W. A. Clark, reputed to have been built at a cost of fifteen million dollars. Beyond, Charles F. Dietrich (963), Mrs. George H. Butler (964), Jacob H. Schiff (965), William V. Lawrence (969), the James B. Duke house with its simple lines at the Seventy-eighth Street corner, Payne Whitney (972), Isaac D. Fletcher (977), Howard C. Brokaw (984), Irving Brokaw (985), William J. Curtis (986), Walter Lewisohn (987), Hugh A. Murray (988), Nicholas F. Brady (989), Frank W. Woolworth (990), D. Craw-ford 'Clark (991), E. D. Faulkner (992), Mrs. Hugo Reisinger (993)—there is an apartment house at 998 where the rents are so high that it is popularly known as the "Millionaires Apartments "—Mrs. Henry G. Timmerman (1007), Angier B. Duke (1009), J. Francis A. Clark (1013), Senator George B. Peabody Wetmore (1015), Mrs. W. M. Kingland (1026), and George Crawford Clark (1027).

This part of the Avenue faces the Obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle, a present to the United States from the Khedive of Egypt, brought to this country in 1877, and erected here in 1880; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the latter on the site of what was once the Deer Park. The Museum had its origin in a meeting of the art committee of the Union League Club in November, 1869. Among the founders were William Cullen Bryant, president of the Century Association, Daniel Huntington, president of the National Academy of Design, Dr. Barnard, president of Columbia, Richard M. Hunt, president of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and Dr. Henry W. Bellows. Andrew H. Green, the " Father of Greater New York," who was one of those representing the city, was the first to suggest placing the Museum in the Park. For a time the collection was kept in a house rented for the purpose in West Fourteenth Street. The first wing of the present building was opened in 1880.

To continue the list of the private residences of the Avenue. Jonathan Thorne (1028), Louis Gordon Hammersley (1030), Countess Annie Leary (1032), George C. Smith (1033), Herbert D. Robbins (1034), James B. Clews (1039), Lloyd Warren (1041), Mrs. James Hedges (1044) , R. F. Hopkins (1045), Michael Dricer (1046), George Leary (1053), William H. Erhart (1055), James Speyer (1058), Henry Phipps (1063), Abraham Stein (1068), Dr. James H. Lancashire (1069), Mrs. Herbert T. Parsons (1071), W. W. Fuller (1072), J. H. Hanan (1073), Benjamin Duke (1076), Malcolm D. Whitman (1080), McLane Van Ingen (1081), A. M. Huntington (1083) .

In the block between Ninetieth and Ninety-first Streets, on land where once the squatter gloried, is the home of the Iron Master, perhaps of all the residences in the long line of the Avenue the one most observed by the stranger within our gates. " So well have the architect and the landscape gardener co-operated," is the comment of " Fifth Avenue," " that this mansion and its surroundings have already the dignity and picturesqueness which age alone can give, although the building is of comparatively recent date. It is the only house on all Fifth Avenue which looks as if it might have been transplanted from old England." The Carnegie house is almost the outpost to the north of "Millionaire's Row." Two blocks beyond, after the I. Townsend Burden house, and the Warburg house, and the Willard D. Straight house have been passed, we are once more in the region of unprepossessing chaos. Between Ninety-third Street and the end of the Park there is a riot of hideous signboards, and vacant lots, and lots that though occupied, are unadorned. The only relief in the unpleasant picture is the Mount Sinai Hospital at One Hundredth Street. In name at least the Avenue marches on, its Mount suspended for a space where Morris Park rises to the summit of the Snag Berg, or Snake Hill, where, in the days of the Revolution, a Continental battery commanded the valley of the Harlem, only to be whisked away, when the enemy came, a Hessian battery and was installed in its place. But where the stretch of magnificence breaks, although it continues to be Fifth Avenue in name, it ceases to be Fifth Avenue in spirit.



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