The Painters of 108 through 114 Waverly Place
108, 110, 112, and 114 Waverly Place are a curious collection of houses. They are all that remain of nine houses built in 1826 for city comptroller Thomas R. Mercein. What were originally federal style houses have all been extensively altered throughout the years, resulting in a diverse spread of architectural styles. Maybe this eclecticism is what drew creative minds to the row, or maybe it was the cheap rents. By 1891, most of the elites had left the area, moving uptown, and artists began to move into the village, tempted by the charming character and low prices.
Everett Shinn was the first artist to move in, purchasing 112 Waverly Place around the turn of the 20th century. Shinn worked as a newspaper illustrator, creating artwork for New York newspapers and magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly and McClure’s. He is most well known as a member of the Ashcan school, a group of urban realist painters, many of them newspaper illustrators. Ashcan artists, including Shinn, adopted a journalistic approach to their art, depicting the squalid conditions of the poor living in the neighborhood. However, Shinn held a particular fondness for portraying the parks of the city, stating Washington Square Park was his favorite to paint. Shinn’s wife, Florence, was also an artist, creating children’s illustrations for magazines and books, like Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and The Autobiography of a Tomboy.
In 1907, in the New-York Tribune reported that Shinn planned to construct a single-story studio in the rear, which cost nearly $27,000 when adjusted for inflation. However, as Shinn’s interest in theater and playwriting intensified, the purpose of the studio changed. In 1912, Shinn had a stage installed converting the cottage studio into a 55 seat theater for his newly founded theater group, the Waverly Street Players. The playwriting legacy of 112 Waverly continued when Lorraine Hansberry moved in in the early 1960s (Village Preservation unveiled a plaque marking Hansberry’s presence here in 2018). She purchased the house with her earnings from her celebrated play, A Raisin in the Sun, which she had written while living in a much more modest apartment further west on Bleecker Street.
Two houses over from 112 Waverly Place is the imperious facade of 108 Waverly Place. In the early 1900s, the house was made into a carriage house and stable. The architect added a rough cut brick and a crenelated cornice to the exterior, creating an imposing castle-like look. Notable residents of 108 Waverly Place include Richard Harding Davis and Marshall W. Stearns, but it was also the home of lesser known artist, Harriet W. Titlow.
In 1917, Titlow moved her studio to the sun-drenched roof space on the third floor. That year she exhibited her work in the Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue at 46th Street, under the auspices of the Society of Independent Artists (the exhibition was notable for rejecting Duchamp’s urinal piece, Fountain). She was also a member of New York Society of Women Artists (NYSWA), an art society founded by in 1925 by feminists who’d been involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and which provided support and opportunities to female professional artists.
114 Wavely Place is the most famous house in the group. For a chunk of its recent existence, the house was painted an eye catching pink. In 1893, the first artist to inhabit 114 Waverly was illustrator Frederick Marschall, who served on the faculty of The Sharp Art School. Twenty seven years later, the second artist, Murray Percival Bewley moved into the space. Bewley was a high society portrait artist and a bit of nomad, living in Denver, Chicago, and Philadelphia, before settling down in New York. He commissioned architect WIlliam Sanger to refashion the house into a fabulous artist studio. The studio building that he constructed was coated with stucco and boasted elements that evoked the romantic allure of Italy. These included ornamental pseudo-balconies, arched openings, and off-set studio windows fitted with French doors. Additionally, the structure featured a spacious studio window that added to its grandeur. Bewley was only in the space for four years, leaving New York for Florence, then traveling to Paris, before returning back to his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
The next person to occupy this space was debutante Elizabeth Consuelo de Cravioto, who was determined to continue her art studies after a year of finishing school in Paris. In support, her mother gave her the studio at 114 Waverly. Soon, Cravioto was married to Magill Smith of New Orleans and left the studio space.
In 1943, the artist Jacob Getlar Smith had established both his residence and workspace in the building. Smith was known for his muscular and robust style, which was particularly well-suited to his works commissioned by the WPA/Federal Art Project. His artwork often featured men hired by the government’s work relief program as subjects, reflecting his interest in the social and political concerns of his era. Smith’s ability to find beauty in the ordinary is evident in his works, which showcase his exceptional talent for recognizing the extraordinary in the mundane. The artist once explained himself, saying “The artist should be a seeing-eye dog for a myopic civilization.”
At 108 through114 Waverly Place, creativity exudes from the exterior and interior of these houses. Both artists and architects have left their mark on Waverly Place, creating memorable works that have stood the test of time.