Staten Island Savings Bank is a tall single-story structure filling the triangular plot across Water Street from Tappen Park and Edgewater Village Hall.
According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, “The bank is a fine example of Beaux Arts classicism. It presents two well-defined facades replete with classical symmetry, recognizable Renaissance motifs such as the rusticated wall and arched windows framed within pilasters, and ideal proportions. More importantly, the subtle insertion of the circular colonnaded portico between the acutely angled facades, thus creating the main entrance, is a masterful means of turning an otherwise difficult acute angle into a positive element. A precedent for this treatment had been established by Sir John Soane in his design for the Bank of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century which may be the source for Aldrich’s design.”
Edgewater Village Hall is, in the words of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, “a superb example of Victorian architecture.” When built, the structure housed courts and other civic functions of the Village of Edgewater – long before Staten Island became part of New York City.
The windows and doors are exceptional. The paired ground-floor windows and doors have semicircular transoms under keystone arches. The second-story dormers are cut into the cornice line, and project out from the facade. Stained-glass transoms top the double-hung sashes.
Tappen Park, the building’s setting, was originally Washington Square. It was renamed in honor of World War I veteran James Tappen in 1934.
Edgewater Village Hall Vital Statistics
Location: 111 Canal Street at Tappen Park, Stapleton, S.I.
387 St. Paul’s Avenue is the “poster child” of Staten Island’s historic houses. The exuberant Queen Anne style, sunny palette, and impeccable maintenance make it a much-photographed home in the St. Paul’s Avenue / Stapleton Heights Historic District.
According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report, “This exceptional Queen Anne-style house was built by brewery baron George Bechtel as a wedding present for his daughter Anna Bechtel Weiderer (1867-1899), whose husband, Leonard Weiderer, owned a glass factory in Stapleton. George Bechtel’s home, a large Greek Revival house fronting on Van Duzer Street (demolished), was located on a spacious lot that extended to the rear of this property allowing Bechtel to create a family enclave with merged gardens. The Weiderer house was constructed by the Stapleton builder Henry Spruck who in the early 1900s published a pamphlet illustrating the building which he credited to the architectural firm of Kafka & Lindenmeyr. Given the date of the house, it must have been the work of the firm’s founder Hugo Kafka, Sr. (1843-1915). Born in Prague, Kafka was educated at the Polytechnikum in Zurich, where he studied under Gottfried Semper. In 1874, he immigrated to Philadelphia to work with Herman Schwarzmann on the Centennial Exposition of 1876. In 1878 Kafka moved his architectural practice to New York. He had numerous commissions for apartment buildings and houses and also designed the Joseph Loth Silk Ribbon factory (1885-86, a designated New York City Landmark) at 1818-1838 Amsterdam Avenue, and Saint Peter’s German Evangelical Reformed Church, now the Free Magyar Reformed Church, Kreischerville, Staten Island (1883, a designated New York City Landmark), a work with which Bechtel would have undoubtedly been familiar.
“Kafka’s design for the Weiderer House is distinguished by its complex massing and its interplay of geometric forms and light and shadow. There is a turreted corner tower, curved bays, recessed porches set off by round openings, a variety of intersecting hipped and gabled roofs, and exuberant detailing, Resting on a base of massive stone boulders, the walls are clad with shingles cut in a variety of shapes and laid in horizontal bands. Multi-pane windows are arranged in differing configurations and most contain stained glass. This large mansion has twenty-four rooms, twenty-four stained-glass windows, and six fireplaces. The Weiderers lived at 387 St. Paul’s Avenue for only a few years. Leonard died in 1891, and his widow moved to Germany and remarried in 1894; she died in 1899 at age 31. George Bechtel had died in 1889, so the house passed to his widow Eva who had taken charge of the family brewery to protect the interests of her thirteen year old son. She continued to occupy the Van Duzer Street House.
“Around 1899, Anna’s sister, Agnes Bechtel Wagner, moved to this house where she resided until the late 1920s. Today, it remains remarkably intact and has recently been restored. It was the
subject of a public hearing by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980.”
The owners kindly permitted me to take photos of the rear of the home.
My only grumble: I wish the wires were underground!
387 St. Paul’s Avenue Vital Statistics
Location: 387 St. Paul’s Avenue at Occident Avenue.
By Wikipedia’s account, the name St. George was derived not from the dragon-slaying saint, but from George Law, a developer who acquired rights to the waterfront at bargain prices. According to island historians Charles Leng and William T. Davis, it was only after another prominent businessman, Erastus Wiman, promised to “canonize” him in the town’s name that Law agreed to relinquish the land rights for a ferry terminal.
Within walking distance of that terminal, you’ll find magnificent homes in the St. George/New Brighton Historic District (designated 1994) unlike any you’ll see anywhere else in New York City. Most are from the second half of the 1800s, many are exceptional examples of the Shingle Style, a New England invention.
A word of caution for visitors: The neighborhood is hilly – be prepared for a workout. Also be prepared (think camera) for some great vistas!
Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s most famous and prolific architects,* but New York City has only three projects to remember him by – and two were transplanted from the Midwest.
The landmark Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue (between 88th and 89th Streets) is instantly recognizable for its helical shape – decades ahead of its time when completed in 1959. Just a few blocks away, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Frank Lloyd Wright Room (gallery 745 on the first floor of the American Wing) preserves the living room from a 1914 home originally built in Wayzata, Minnesota for Frances W. Little. But you’ll have to trek to Staten Island to see the third project: The “Crimson Beech,” aka the William and Catherine Cass House, on Lighthouse Hill. [Note: This is a private home, please respect their privacy. You can see and photograph the front of the house from the road, but don’t trespass or expect a tour.] The house was actually prefabricated in the Midwest and shipped to Staten Island; it was completed in 1959, shortly after Wright’s death.
Visiting Crimson Beech by public transit is challenging. Weekdays: From the ferry terminal on Staten Island, take Staten Island Railway to Great Kills; transfer to the S54 bus toward West New Brighton – get off where the bus turns from Arthur Kill Road onto Richmond Road (about 10 minute ride). On weekends, take the S74 bus from the ferry terminal instead of the rail/bus combo (the S54 does not run on weekends). From the intersection of Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Road, walk uphill on Arthur Kill Road to Edinboro Road. This is a steep, winding route with no sidewalks and narrow shoulders – exercise caution. Oh, a little extra challenge: Edinboro Road has no street sign. Look on the right for a white sign for La Tourette Golf Course, turn right (east) there and follow the road (keep to the right) until it comes out on Rigby Avenue; turn right 1 block to Manor Court; on Manor Court, Crimson Beech will be the second house on the right, #48.**
*In 1991 the American Institute of Architects declared Frank Lloyd Wright “the greatest American architect of all time.” In his 70-year career he designed 1,000 structures and completed 500. And what other architect has a song? (Simon and Garfunkle’s “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.”)
**If you’ve made it all the way to Crimson Beech, you deserve a bonus: Go back up to Edinboro Road and walk east about a block to see the Staten Island Lighthouse (aka Richmond Light, aka Staten Island Range Lighthouse).
You’ll find historical societies in all five boroughs of New York; as you’ll see, they are architecturally interesting in themselves, and are valuable resources for learning more about the boroughs’ history.
Here are some capsule reviews of each, with contact info. Be sure to get current visitor and exhibit information – some sites have very limited hours of operation.
New York Historical Society
The New York Historical Society is both the oldest and among the youngest museums in New York. It was founded in 1804, but the building was renovated and reopened in November 2011. It now includes state-of-the-art interactive displays on three exhibit floors and a spectacular multimedia show – “New York Story” – which by itself is almost worth the price of admission. (The 18-minute show screens every half hour.) The Society is also young in its approach to history – it has a sense of humor that pops up and keeps the exhibits fresh. Where else would you find a “Beer Here” exhibit?
The permanent collection is displayed on the fourth floor (which has its own mezzanine); changing exhibits are on the first and second floors; a children’s museum, library and classrooms are on the lower level. The first floor also contains the auditorium, gift/book shop and cafe. New York Historical Society goes to great lengths to make its collection accessible to all – mobility, sight and hearing impairments are all accommodated.
The New York Historical Society museum and library covers all of New York City – unlike the other societies, which focus on single boroughs. Consequently, there’s some overlap between this museum and the Museum of the City of New York on Fifth Avenue.
Note that the Society’s library closes earlier than its museum – 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday (closed Sunday).
Address: 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), New York, NY 10024
The Museum of Bronx History operates out of the Valentine-Varian House, a fieldstone farmhouse built in 1758. The Society also maintains a separate archive/library and the nearby Poe House (see below). In addition, the society operates tours.
Address: The Valentine-Varian House/Museum of Bronx History, 3266 Bainbridge Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10467
This is where Edgar Allan Poe spent his last years; where his wife died and where he wrote some of his most memorable works. The docent gives an excellent talk about Poe, his life and times; there’s also an informative video shown in an upstairs bedroom. In the adjacent park, the Parks Department operates an educational center.
And if you need another reason to visit, the immediate neighborhood is rich in architectural treasures – including Kingsbridge Armory, two blocks west.
Address: 2640 Grand Concourse (at East Kingsbridge Road), The Bronx, NY 10458
Founded as the Long Island Historical Society in 1863; changed its name to Brooklyn Historical Society in 1985. The building is still going through restoration – the main floor gallery is the current (as of September 2012) project; most other areas, inside and out, are stunningly beautiful. In addition to the exhibit galleries, the Society houses an impressive research library.
Address: 128 Pierrepont Street (at Clinton Street), Brooklyn, NY 11201
The Queens Historical Society operates out of Kingsland Homestead in Flushing, next to the historic Bowne House (currently closed for restoration). It’s a small operation, open only a few hours on just three days a week. But they do have a good selection of publications – books and pamphlets – about other historic sites in Queens. And, it’s a part of the Flushing “Freedom Mile” walking tour that includes 10 other significant buildings. (Kingsland Homestead was a part of the “Underground Railroad.”)
Address: Weeping Beech Park, 143-35 37th Avenue, Flushing, NY 11354
Historic Richmond Town is a score of restored/reconstructed homes, farms, businesses, schools and churches, dating from the 1700s and 1800s. It’s quite rural compared to the rest of the city and very popular for school outings. There are several themed tours – consider this an all-day trip – or several trips!
If you’re very ambitious, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home (see “The Wright Stuff” gallery.) and a lighthouse at the top of the hill overlooking Historic Richmond Town, and a beautiful church and cemetery across the street.
Address: Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10306