Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday doin's

Driving across the the George Washington Bridge, looking towards the West Side of Manhattan and Riverside Park. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 27, 2012. It was a lovely weekend in New York; warm and sunny, little humidity and a very quiet town. There were moments on East End Avenue in the middle of the day when nary a car passed by. That is amazing for New York.

On Saturday I went over to the West Side to have a meeting with JH. JH and I see very little of each other although we are in frequent communication. He lives and works on the far West Side and I on the East.

Sometimes on weekends we’ll meet up to discuss what we are doing, and Saturday we did it during a walk along Riverside Drive in the 80s. JH lives in that neighborhood and knows I am fascinated by the abundance of late 19th, early 20th century architecture in his neighborhood, as is he.

Saturday we walked up to 89th and Riverside where the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Monument is and where across the street is one of the few remaining separate standing houses in Manhattan.

Across from the monument is the Isaac L. Rice house at 346 West 89th Street on the corner of Riverside. Built in 1903, Mr. Rice, who had emigrated here from Germany with his parents when he was six years old, was a lawyer and a private investor. He bought the property the same year the monument went up, for $225,000 (or many many millions in today’s currency). The brick and marble residence was called the Villa Julia (after Mrs. Rice) and was more than large enough to accommodate the six Rice children.

Isaac Rice was an exceptionally astute businessman – one of his major investments, The Electric Boat Company – built the first submergible boats for the US Military. During World War I, Electric Boat built 85 Navy submarines and 722 submarines chasers, and later became General Dynamics. Besides his business and legal interests, Rice, who had studied music before becoming a lawyer, published books on music as well as a famous intellectual periodical called Forum. He was also a champion chess player and presented for competition several trophies. In 1895, he discovered a variation of what is known in chess as the Kieseritzky gambit which then became known as the Rice Gambit. Coincidentally or not, there are two public chess boards residing across the Drive from the Villa Julia.

The Rices sold their house only four years after moving in, evidently because business took them to Europe so often. Of their six children, a daughter Marion became the first woman to graduate in chemical engineering at MIT and also received a Masters in geology at Columbia. Marion Rice Hart was also an aviatrix and made seven solo flights across the Atlantic, and wrote three books about her life including “Who Called that Lady a Skipper” about a voyage she made on a ketch. Today the house belongs to the Yeshiva Ketana although when they tried to sell it in 1980, the New York Landmarks commission made it a landmark so the property cannot be developed.
Isaac Rice house, c. 1920.
Approaching the Isaac Rice house from the west side of 88th and Riverside Drive.
The western facade of the house is almost invisible from across the street.
A closer look.
The house is currently home to Yeshiva Ketana of Manhattan.
The northern view of the house.
The porte cochere on the north side of the house. Rice's children are most likely the subjects of the sculpture.
Looking west towards the Soldier' and Sailors' Memorial across Riverside Drive.
When Solomon Schinasi bought the house in 1907 he made a number of alterations. C. P. H. Gilbert (not to be confused with Cass Gilbert) oversaw the initial renovations (which included an extension at the southeast corner and a semicircular bay) and was brought in again in 1912 to design a new marble wall around the property. Gilbert mimicked the balustrades of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial directly across the street, as seen below.
The balustrades of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial.
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial as seen from 87th Street and Riverside.
Rice built himself a chess room as he was an avid fan of the game. The American Chess Bulletin paid tribute to Rice upon his death for inventing the Rice Gambit.
Coincidentally (or not), across the street from the Rice mansion are 2 chess tables within the plaza just south of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial.
Hudson River. 3:00 PM. Interesting side note: Julia Rice (of Villa Julia) was very sensitive to the city noise, especially the loud horns and whistles coming from the tugboats on the Hudson. In 1905 she campaigned to regulate the whistle blowing (the whistles were used to summon crews), and by 1906 "Unnecessary tooting" became a violation of the navigation laws. Soon after, she organized the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise and targeted "unnecessary" noises in the vicinity of hospitals. Today's quiet zones around hospitals exist due in large part to Julia Rice.
JH went back on Sunday to show the house on a sunny day.
Across the street from the Isaac Rice mansion stands the very elegant 173 Riverside Drive. Babe Ruth must have liked its Gothic style ornamentation as he moved here from 335 West 88th Street. One block south at 160 Riverside Drive is where Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The New York Times (known as "the conscience of the theater") lived from 1928-1969.
335 West 88th Street, where beginning in 1929, Babe Ruth lived, before moving to 173 Riverside Drive.
William Randolph Hearst and his wife Millicent, and his children, as well as his father-in-law and his sister-in-law, occupied the entire top five floors of this building (The Clarendon) on the southeast corner of 86th Street and Riverside Drive in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
The top floor with the mansard roof was added in 1913 (when Hearst bought the whole building) so that he could add the 100-foot gallery on the roof, detailed like a Gothic chapel for display of his collection of tapestries, suits of armor, and stained glass.

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