Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America Newsletter | Fall 2002
By Evie T. Joselow
For its efforts to restore a unique Harlem property, a social service agency received a 2002 Metropolitan Chapter Preservation Award.
The Nicholas C. and Agnes Benziger house, one of Harlem’s last free-standing mansions, owned by Broadway Housing Development Fund, stands in a garden on a corner lot. The original owner, Nicholas Benziger, a successful manufacturer, publisher and importer of Catholic devotional items. He paid a premium price of $32,000 for the site of his new house in 1890. The Benzigers promised to build a first-class residence at 345 Edgecombe Avenue worthy of the other large mansions in this fashionable neighborhood known for its “bracing air and picturesque scenery.” The pramincnt German-born architect William Schickel was selected to design the house. His other notable surviving works include the Century Building (1881) on thc north side of Union Square, the New York Public Library’s Ottendorfer Branch (1883-1883) at 135 Second Avenue and its next-door neighbor, thc Stuyvesant Polyclinic (1883-1884).
The two-and-a-half story Benziger residence features an ecclectic array of central-European details. Mostly medieval in origin, these include a prominently flared clay-tile mansard roof, numerous gabled dormer windows
and richly colored brickwork.
In the 1920s, undcr new owners, the house was converted into a hospital. After World War II, it was used as a nursery school and then as a transient hotel. Broadway Housing Development Fund, a non-profit organization that provides permanent housing for formerly homeless adults, acquired the property in 1989 and began to raise money for improvements. A combination of private and public finds resulted in the restoration of the clay-tile roof, the reconstruction of the copper dormers and other significant structural repairs. Having received landmark designation in 1999, the house will be protected, its elegant appearance a testament to the owner’s unwavering efforts to restore this architectural treasure.