Queen Anne Moderne
by Tom Miller
In June 1885 Thomas J. Tobin sold four vacant lots to Thomas S. Ormiston and his father-in-law, William H. McCormack “for improvement,” as reported by The Record & Guide. An attorney, Ormiston was married to McCormack’s daughter, Annie.
The men hired the esteemed architect C. P. H. Gilbert, who worked with William J. Monogue, to design four upscale houses on the site. One of them, 224 West 72nd Street, was intended for Ormiston and his family. He and Annie had two daughters, Clare and Frances.
Completed the following year, the brownstone-faced house rose four stories above a high English basement. For years it would be the scene of glittering entertainments. On December 10, 1894, for instance, The Evening Telegram reported, “Mrs. T. S. Ormiston, of No. 244 West Seventy-second street, gives a large reception this afternoon, which will be followed by a dinner party this evening.”
Clarke had graduated from medical school in 1895, but his significant income came as much from real estate holdings as his medical practice.
The Ormistons summered in Bernardsville, New Jersey. In addition to the town house, they owned a private stable, or carriage house, at 342 West 70th Street. The West 72nd Street house appraised in 1900 at $60,000—around $1.9 million today.
After nearly two decades in the house, the Ormistons offered it for sale in October 1907, describing it as having “14 rooms, 2 baths” and “interior rich and substantial; hardwood floors throughout.” It was purchased by Dr. Walter James Clarke and his wife, the former Anne Knight.
Clarke had graduated from medical school in 1895, but his significant income came as much from real estate holdings as his medical practice. He was president and director of the Orleans Real Estate Co. (Anne was its secretary and a director), and he owned the Orleans Hotel at the corner of Columbus Avenue and West 80th Street.
The couple were still living in the house in 1917, but by then the once exclusive block had significantly changed. Shops and apartments were replacing the private homes. While they retained possession of the property, by the early 1920’s it was being operated as a rooming house.
That all changed in 1935 when Dr. Clarke hired the architectural firm of Minogue & Palmer to remodel the old house into a mixed-use building. The façade was stripped off, the stoop removed, and the building pulled forward to the property line. Depression Era economy most likely was responsible for the all-brick façade above the two-story commercial space. The tepid Art Moderne design featured herringbone spandrel panels of brown brick between the soaring beige brick piers.
The ground floor was initially home to a grocery store. Another retail shop was directly above. There were two apartments each on the upper floors where casements set within multi-paned windows gave the building a sort of industrial feel.
Depression Era economy most likely was responsible for the all-brick façade above the two-story commercial space. The tepid Art Moderne design featured herringbone spandrel panels of brown brick between the soaring beige brick piers.
In 1939 the second-floor space was home to the Hawaiian Teachers, Ltd., a musical school, and by 1955 the photographers’ supply store of Fischer & Harris, Inc. had replaced the grocery.
Another renovation completed in 1959 did away with the second story commercial space and replaced it with apartments. For years in the 1980’s the ground floor store was home to New Video which rented taped motion pictures for home viewing. It was replaced by the turn of the 21st century by the Joseph Pharmacy. Today the space is home to The Pet Market, a pet food and supply store.
Minogue & Palmer’s multi-paned upper floor windows—all-important to their Modern design—have been replaced. But overall, the appearance of the building is little changed since its 1935 transformation from a high-end rowhouse.
Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com
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