173-175 Riverside Drive

View of 173-175 Riverside Drive from south; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

173-175 Riverside Drive

by Tom Miller

In the late 19th century, Riverside Drive became lined with imposing mansions.  The blockfront between 89th and 90th Streets held the magnificent homes of Cyrus Clark and Elizabeth Scriven-Clark (Elizabeth later married Henry Codman Potter, and her home became known as the Potter mansion).  But as taste in domestic living changed in the first decades of the 20th century, high-end apartment buildings replaced the brick and stone palaces.  In 1925, the Clark and the Potter homes were demolished by the newly formed 175 Riverside Drive Corporation, of which Anthony Campagna was president.  Architect J. E. R. Carpenter was commissioned to design a luxury 14-story apartment building on the site.

Face in limestone and completed in 1926, 173 and 175 Riverside Drive were, in fact, two structures pretending to be one.  In its September 1926 issue, Architecture and Building explained, “The building is actually in two units, separate by fire walls, but the structure is continuous.”  Because of the oddly shaped plot, the southern building (173 Riverside Drive, entered on 89th Street) was slightly smaller, with four apartments per floor.  The northern building, 175 Riverside Drive, was entered on 90th Street and held six apartments per floor.  “In each portion,” said Architecture and Building, “there are duplex apartments arranged one in each alternate story.”  Residents enjoyed an interior courtyard “laid out as a formal garden with concrete walks and grass plots with attractive planting,” said the article.

Samuel Raisler and his wife, the former Belle Kutz, were among the earliest residents of 173 Riverside Drive.  Born in Austria, Raisler came to New York as a young boy.  At the age of 17, he was hired by the American Radiator Company.  In 1913, he founded the Raisler Sprinkler Company, which sold and installed automatic sprinklers.  Prominent in Jewish charities, he was a member of the Businessmen’s Council of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies, a trustee of the West End Synagogue, and a director of the Convalescent Home for Crippled Children.

Anna Uslovsky and her husband were also early residents of 173 Riverside Drive.  In 1929, Anna was diagnosed with erysipelas, a horribly painful condition known as St. Anthony’s Fire because of the intense, fiery rash that accompanies it.  Her condition became so intense that she was admitted to Bellevue Hospital on September 9.  Tragically, the pain became too much to bear.  On September 16, The Northwich Sun reported, “Mrs. Anna Uslovsky, forty-four years old, was killed early Sunday when she jumped from a second-story window in Bellevue Hospital in New York.”

Abraham Lincoln Erlanger…Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1859, he was called the “little Napoleon of the theater.”

Perhaps the most colorful resident of 175 Riverside Drive at the time was Abraham Lincoln Erlanger.  Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1859, he was called the “little Napoleon of the theater.”  On March 14, 1930, the Chicago Sentinel said, “Mr. Erlanger, for many years associated with Marc Klaw, had amassed a fortune of $75,000,000 during the thirty-odd years he was in the theatrical business.”  He owned more theatrical properties than anyone else in America and, according to the newspaper, was “the wealthiest man in the industry.”  The article said, “his home at 175 Riverside drive houses an extensive collection of Napoleonic relics, mementoes, books and autographs.”

Sharing the apartment with him was Charlotte Fixel-Erlanger.  But despite Erlanger’s regularly introducing her as his wife and their having been together since 1920, they were not officially married.  It all boiled over in court after his death on March 7, 1930.  Diplomatically side-stepping the uncomfortable situation, his obituary in The Sentinel mentioned only, “He is survived by his brother, Mitchell L. Erlanger…and two sisters.”  On April 2, the Hamilton Daily News reported, “Bitterness…is expected to mark the contest of the will of Abraham L. Erlanger, theatrical manager, and producer, by Mrs. Charlotte Fixel-Erlanger, who claims a share of his estate as his common-law wife.”  Her case was made more difficult by the will.  When he signed it in October 1927, “he referred to himself as unmarried,” said the article.

Not all the residents achieved affluence through respectable professions.  Living here in 1936 was Martin Krompier, described by the Salt Lake Tribune as a “lieutenant” of mob boss Dutch Schultz.  Life for gangland figures often ended quickly and violently.  On October 23, 1936, the Associated Press reported, that Dutch Schultz “and two of his henchmen were shot down by two unknown assailants in a Park street chop house tonight.”  Not long afterward, Martin (aka Martie) Krompier and another lieutenant, Samuel Gold, were in a barber shop near Seventh Avenue and 47th Street where they were ambushed and shot several times.

Early in 1939, a reader asked the St. Louis Sporting News for the home addresses of various professional baseball players.  It responded on March 9, listing “Babe Ruth, 173 Riverside Drive” among other players and addresses.  Ruth and his wife Claire Merritt Hodgson had only recently moved into their 11-room apartment. 


Image credit Architecture and Building magazine. September 1926

Park Slope Crash Site of United Flight 826

Image in Public Domain via Wikipedia.com, ca. 1960

Former Resident Diahann Carroll

Image in Public Domain via Wikipedia.com, ca. 1976

The couple had married on April 17, 1929, just three months after the death of Ruth’s first wife.  Claire was a model and actress.  Sharing the apartment were Ruth’s adopted daughter Ruth, from his first marriage, and Claire’s daughter Julia, from her first marriage.   

Two years before leasing the Riverside Drive apartment, the New York Yankees legend had retired from baseball.  Nonetheless, on July 4, 1939, he spoke on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium in front of a sellout crowd.  The following week, he attended the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

On January 9, 1941, the St. Louis Sporting News reported, “Mrs. George H. Ruth, wife of the former home-run king, slipped and fell New Year’s Day, at her home, 173 Riverside Drive in New York city, and was rushed to the French Hospital, suffering from a concussion of the brain.”  Despite the scare, Claire recovered relatively quickly and was released several days later.  The following year, the Ruth’s moved to 110 Riverside Drive.

During the Great Depression, almost all the duplex apartments were divided into smaller spaces.  Nevertheless, the upscale tenor of 173 and 175 Riverside Drive never faltered.  On June 17, 1948, for instance, The County Review of Riverhead, New York, announced, “Mrs. B. P. Phillipson and her mother, Mrs. Adler, who reside at 175 Riverside Drive, Manhattan, arrived last week for the summer, opening their place on Main St.”

Advertising executive John Mansfield Jenks and his family lived at 175 Riverside Drive by the late 1950s.  In the fall of 1960, Stephen M. Jenks enrolled in the University of Chicago.  After finals that semester, the freshman boarded a United Airlines DC-8 jetliner on December 16 to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.  As it approached Idlewild Airport (today’s John F. Kennedy International Airport), the plane collided with a TWA Super Constellation that was descending toward LaGuardia Airport.  The DC-8 crashed in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the TWA plane plummeted onto Miller Field in Staten Island.  All 128 aboard the two planes and six people on the ground were killed.

Actress-singer Diahann Carroll moved into apartment 11-D at 173 Riverside Drive in 1965.  She sublet it from another resident, attorney Lawrence Eno, who had lived in another apartment since 1949.  Carroll’s new home had nine rooms and four bathrooms.  She signed an agreement with Eno “in which he would have the right to use the unit after she moved out and would retain the right to buy it at the same price she paid if the building ever became a cooperative,” reported Newsday.  Three years later, when the building became a cooperative, she paid $32,180 for the space.  The famous entertainer would regret signing that piece of paper.

The DC-8 crashed in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the TWA plane plummeted onto Miller Field in Staten Island.

The Roland Van Zandt family lived at 173 Riverside Drive and maintained a summer estate in Shandaken, Ulster County, New York.  The family was at the country place on August 5, 1968, when Van Zandt phoned the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department, reporting that their 16-year-old daughter Leona had not been seen for several hours.  Two deputies and several bloodhounds were dispatched to the estate, and shortly before 5:00, her body was found in a wooded area near the home.  An autopsy later showed the cause of death was “asphyxia and aspiration of vomitus.”

Another mystery surrounded a summer estate in 1974.  On April 17, The Berkshire Eagle printed a photograph of flames consuming the large barn in New Lebanon, New York, belonging to Arnold Neiman, of 173 Riverside Drive.  The barn was destroyed, and the fire was deemed to be “of suspicious origin.”  Three years later, on March 18, 1977, the newspaper reported on “the second major blaze to hit this community in less than two weeks.”  One of the arsonists’ targets this time was the Neimans’ main house.  What the article termed “speedy action by the Lebanon Valley Protective Associated” saved the residence, although a nearby shed was destroyed. 

Living in the penthouse of 175 Riverside Drive by the early 1990s were Stanley Abercrombie and Paul Vieyra.  Writing in The New York Times on August 21, 1994, Tracie Rozhon called the views from their private terrace “one of the most magnificent” among Manhattan penthouses.  “The building’s parapet is a limestone balustrade with Gothic cutouts,” she explained, “Through them, even a seated visitor can see the Hudson River.  Looking north, the visitor sees as if laid out on a painter’s canvas, the sensuous curve of Riverside Drive all the way up to the George Washington Bridge.”

In the summer of 1994, Diahann Carroll put her apartment on the market for $1.5 million.  Unfortunately, Lawrence Eno, who was now 80 years old, had not forgotten their nearly three-decades-old agreement.  In court on August 29, a state judge ruled in Eno’s favor, refusing to nullify the contract that set his price at $32,000.

By the early 2000s, the penthouse of 173 Riverside Drive was owned by British playwright Peter Shaffer.  He had received Tony Awards for Equus and Amadeus and was knighted.  Following his death in June 2016 at the age of 90, his estate sold the five-bedroom apartment for $6.6 million.

The Gothic-inspired details of the handsome back-to-back buildings continue to give them a palpable sense of dignity and poise.

Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com

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