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John Peirce Residence
11 East 51st Street, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
The residence at 11 East 51 Street was erected in 1904-06 for stone and building contractor John Peirce and was designed by noted architect John H. Duncan. At the time of its construction, Fifth Avenue just south of Central Park was the most prestigious residential area in the city and was known as Vanderbilt Row because of that family's intimate involvement in maintaining the elite character of the neighborhood.
Peirce was born in Frankfort, Maine where his father operated a granite quarry. Peirce succeeded to the family business in 1873 and soon came to control much of the granite industry in Maine. In the early 1880s he decided to move to New York City to oversee the operations of his New York and Maine Granite Paving Block Company and to expand the market for his firm's products. Peirce soon became one of the largest stone contractors in the country, earning the title of "Granite King."
By the 1890s Peirce had expanded the scope of his business to include general building contracting, and he later became involved in a number of large-scale civic infrastructure projects including the construction of New York City's first subway system. Many of the city's most iconic structures were erected with the assistance of Peirce "s firm.
At the apex of his professional and personal life at the turn of the twentieth century, Peirce decided to build a new home for his family in the city's most prestigious residential neighborhood. He commissioned architect John H. Duncan to design a residence along the newly-popular American basement plan, an innovation in row house layout that allowed a more scientific division of space on the interior and which lent itself to a number of exterior architectural styles including the Italian Renaissance used for the Peirce Residence.
The most striking feature of the house is the full rustication of the lower three floors. The upper floors are faced with smooth ashlar stone, with projecting cornices above the third and fifth stories. While generally austere in demeanor, a number of scuptural elements—including the projecting balcony at the second floor and the ornamental stone keystones and wreaths—display a plasticity more typically associated with the lavish Beaux-Arts style.
When completed, the Peirce Residence stood in the middle of a distinguished row of houses overlooking St. Patrick's Cathedral. Within a few years, however, the fortunes of both John Peirce and the neighborhood changed dramatically. Peirce's company went into receivership in 1909 and failed altogether in 1915. He lost his residence to foreclosure in 1914, at a time when many wealthy families were abandoning the neighborhood to commercial and apartment house development.
The building at 11 East 51st Street was subsequently occupied by the Gardner School for Girls and later by a series of businesses. In spite of the changes of use and in the character of the surrounding neighborhood, the Peirce Residence remains nearly perfectly intact and is a significant reminder of the area's history as a prestigious residential district.
DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS
Early History and the Development of "Vanderbilt Row"
Far removed from the center of population at the tip of the Manhattan, the area surrounding Fifth Avenue between 42nd Street and the southern end of Central Park remained rural in character well into the first half of the nineteenth century. Most of the territory was originally owned by the City of New York, which had been granted "all the waste, vacant, unpatented, and unappropriated lands" under the Dongan Charter of 1686.
The city maintained possession of these common lands—which once totaled over one-seventh of the acreage on Manhattan—for over a century, only occasionally selling off small parcels to raise funds for the municipality. The city's policy changed after the American War of Independence. In 1785 the Common Council commissioned surveyor Casimir Theodore Goerck to map out five-acre lots to be sold at auction.
A new street called Middle Road, now known as Fifth Avenue, was laid out to provide access to the parcels. A second survey of additional lots was undertaken by Goerck in 1796 and two new roads, now Park and Sixth Avenues, were created.4 Under the city's plan, half of the lots were to be sold outright while the other half were made available under long-term leases of 21 years. Many of the parcels were acquired by wealthy New Yorkers as speculative investments in anticipation of future growth in the area.
James Mason, one-time president of the Chemical National Bank, for example, acquired most of the lots on the east side of Middle Road in the East 50s in 1825. A number public or public-minded institutions also purchased or were granted large plots along the avenue; the Colored Orphan Asylum was located between 43rd and 44th Streets, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum on 50th S
The Mount Olive Fire Baptized Holiness Church
The Mount Olive Fire Baptized Holiness Church, with its distinctive facade combining elements of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, was constructed in 1897 for the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America was founded in the late 18th century by Irish and Scottish worshippers who were fleeing persecution at home for their refusal to take oaths of loyalty to the British government. As church membership in New York City grew, so did the need for a second geographical division that would serve congregants living in Manhattan north of Chambers Street. On June 11, 1830, the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America was organized, occupying a structure at 166 Waverly Place. In 1897, the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church constructed this house of worship at 304-308 West 122nd Street.
The selection of the Harlem site for the building is reflective of the increasing popularity of the neighborhood as a residential community, largely a result of the opening of elevated rail lines through northern Manhattan in the late 1870s and a proposed subway route in the late 1890s. In 1943, the Mount Olive Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas purchased the church and continues to worship there today, 45 years later. The Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas was founded in 1898 in Mountville, South Carolina, by a Methodist preacher, William Edward Fuller, Sr., after he received the "Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire" while praying alone in a corn field near his home. The one-story, beige brick building was designed in the Gothic- and Romanesque-Revival styles by architect James W. Cole.
Distinguishing features of the building include its symmetrical facade featuring pointed-arched window openings, terra-cotta ornament, stained-glass windows, crenellated brick corbelling at a prominently gabled roofline, and decorative pinnacles. James W. Cole designed numerous commercial and residential buildings throughout Manhattan, and examples of his work can be found in the Gansevoort Market, Greenwich Village, Mt. Morris Park, and Upper West Side / Central Park West Historic Districts. Among Cole's notable works is the Gothic Revival style Charles A. Vissani Residence at 143 West 95th Street, a designated New York City individual landmark, constructed in 1889.
History of Harlem
The Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan includes the area north of 110th Street to 155th Street, south of Washington Heights. The original village of Harlem was established in 1658 by Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant and named Nieuw Harlem after the Dutch city of Harlem. Throughout the Dutch, British, and colonial periods, rich farms were located in the region's flat eastern portion, while some of New York's most illustrious early families, such as the Delanceys, Bleeckers, Rikers, Beekmans, and Hamiltons maintained large estates in the western portion of the area. Like many large landowners, the Delanceys, Beekmans, and Rikers owned slaves, while no evidence has been found identifying either the Bleekers or the Hamiltons as slave owners.
The advent of new and better forms of transportation, as well as the rapidly increasing population of New York following the Civil War, brought about the transformation of Harlem into a middle and upper-middle class neighborhood. Although the New York and Harlem Railroad operated from lower Manhattan to Harlem beginning in 1837, service was unreliable and the trip was long. The impetus for new residential development in this area came with the arrival of three lines of elevated rail service which, by 1881, ran as far north as 129th Street and by 1886 extended farther north.
Beginning in the 1870s, Harlem was the site of a massive wave of speculative development that resulted in the construction of numerous new single-family rowhouses, tenements, and luxury apartment houses. Commercial concerns and religious, educational, and cultural institutions - such as the distinguished Harlem Opera House on West 125th Street - were established in Harlem to serve the expanding population. Those who relocated from downtown included recent immigrants from Great Britain and Germany.
Anticipated transportation improvements in the late 1890s, such as the proposed subway routes to west Harlem, ignited another wave of real estate speculation that led to highly-inflated market values. Between 1898 and 1904, when the Lenox Avenue subway opened at 145th Street, virtually all the vacant land in Harlem was developed. This tremendous increase in residential construction led to overbuilding. A general collapse of the real estate market hit Harlem in 1904-05 as loans were withheld and mortgages foreclosed; landlords dropped rents in an effort to attract tenants. Taking advantage of the deflated market and the housing surplus, a black businessman named Philip Payton and his Afro-American Realty Company, found
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