248 West 105th Street

View of 248 West 105th Street, 2733-2737 Broadway from north east; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

The Elizabeth

by Tom Miller

In 1898 real estate developer Andrew J. Kerwin, Jr. hired the architectural firm of S. B. Ogden & Co. to design an upscale apartment building on the southwest corner of the Boulevard (soon to become Broadway) and West 105th Street.  The six-story building, completed the following year, was faced in tan Roman brick above a limestone base.  Overall Renaissance Revival in style, the architects splashed it with neo-Georgian splayed lintels.  There were three stores on the Boulevard, while the residential entrance—framed in lush Renaissance style carvings of vines and birds below a row of shells—was placed on the side street.

Called the Elizabeth, it held three apartments of either seven or eight rooms per floor.  Rents ranged from $850 to $960 per month—equal to about $2,450 per month on the higher end today.

Among the early tenants were newlyweds Dr. Floyd Bonesteel Ennist and his wife, the former Isabella Wynkoop.  The couple was married on January 26, 1898.  Ennist was a specialist in the new field of electrotherapeutics and was on the staff of various hospitals.  At the turn of the century, he was appointed a Medical Inspector in the Department of Health for the city.  The Ennists had no children, and around 1905 a nephew, Robert G. Ennist, moved in with them.  In May 1907 Robert qualified for a civil service job with the city as a stenographer and typewriter (“typewriter” referred both to the machine and its operator at the time).

“Exquisitely furnished eight-room corner apartment; complete in every detail for fine housekeeping…” 

The Ennists would be long-term residents of the Elizabeth.  Isabella became ill around 1912 and died on November 4, 1913, at the age of 47.  Her funeral was held in the apartment three days later.  Dr. Ennist remained in the apartment until his death 15 years later, on January 3, 1928.

In the meantime, the Broadway stores made grocery shopping easy for the residents’ cooks.  At the turn of the century, a butcher store was at 2733 Broadway and Frank Kuhne’s fruit shop was in 2737.  Kuhne, who would operate from the address for years, found himself in trouble during World War I when an inspector from the Federal Food  Board accused him of overcharging.  On November 6, the Los Angeles Evening Herald reported he had been charged “with having sold oranges at more than 100 per cent profit.”  Kuhne denied the charges, saying that “nearly all of his business was credit business” and he provided bills as evidence that his prices were not excessive.  The article said, “Some of his bills indicated that he had sold oranges at three for a quarter.”  The inspector had accused him of selling them for 50 cents.

One Elizabeth resident sought to sublet their apartment for the winter season of 1913-14.  The ad described “Exquisitely furnished eight-room corner apartment; complete in every detail for fine housekeeping,” and touted that the building had an “elevator boy.”

Apartment Houses of the Metropolis

Image Courtesy Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, ca. 1908

The residents continued to be affluent professionals into the 1920s.  Typical was Henry Allen Smith and his wife Emma.  Born in Hudson, New York in 1850, Smith found a job with the Farmers’ Bank there when he was 14 years old.   He retired as a vice-president of the National Bank of Commerce in 1913.

By 1921 the butcher store in 2733 Broadway had been replaced by Stein’s Fur Shop.  In 1954 the space formerly home to Frank Kuhne’s fruit store was leased to the Associated Food Market.  By then things had changed in the upper floors.

In 1942 the sprawling apartments had been divided, and were divided again in 1954.  Where there were originally three apartments per floor there were now six.  The tenor of the residents changed at the same time, at least in the viewpoint of the Federal Government.

During Senate hearings on Communist Activities, FBI agent John J. Huber was questioned about the James Connolly Branch of the Communist Party, the headquarters of which was at 2744 Broadway.  Huber produced a list of the members, on which was the name of Hertz Bourgin-Gordon, who lived in the Elizabeth.  It is possible Bourgin-Goudon was familiar with Soviet-born Loren R. Graham, a struggling Columbia University student who moved into the building in 1958.  Graham later told Bill Keller of The New York Times, “I lived at 248 West 105th Street, a few blocks from real poverty.  For someone coming from the Soviet Union, being plunged into the Upper West Side in 1958 was not the most effective way of shedding that ideology.”

“…For someone coming from the Soviet Union, being plunged into the Upper West Side in 1958 was not the most effective way of shedding that ideology.” 

At Columbia, Graham met an exchange student from the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Yakovlev and they became friends.  Keller wrote, “Together they scoured upper Broadway for cheap meals, or met for long conversations about the state of the world.”  Yakovlev, a historian, was 34 years old and had spent five years as a functionary at the Soviet Central Committee headquarters.  Yakovlev would eventually defect, and Graham would become a professor of the history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The turn of the century saw eateries in the Broadway spaces.  In 2022 Calcutta Café operated from 2235 and next door Carne steakhouse opened at 2737.  Eric Asimov, food critic of The New York Times, described Carne shortly after it opened in March as “a grown-up place for a well-made cocktail, a thick steak and a good bottle of wine.”  Six years later, its owners transformed Carne into Toast, “a most casual spot,” according to Florence Fabricant on January 23, 2008.

Other than replacement windows and 20th century fire escapes, the Elizabeth is little changed since the first well-heeled residents moved in in 1899.

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


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