Audubon House: 1852
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An elderly broker's fondness for young women friends flamed into a jealous frenzy the secret love borne him by a faithful housemaid. He was found beaten to death with a claw-hammer in his expensively furnished Riverside Drive apartment yesterday.
Head bashed and face battered beyond recognition, Douglas Sheridan, 68, and a widower, was slumped in the bathtub when detectives, summoned by telephone, entered the delicately tinted chamber...Official interest last night centered around Mrs. Catherine Phelan, 52, and an employee in the Sheridan household at 800 Riverside Drive for twenty years.
Kanawah Court (614 West 157th Street)
Continuing down the street, stop a few paces past the Grinnell’s back door, and examine Kanawah Court, which sits across the street. Built in 1910 at a cost of $150,000, it is architect Joseph C. Cocker’s second contribution to Audubon Park. He also designed the first apartment building to appear in this neighborhood, the "Lafayette," which you'll see farther along on your walk.
Like the Vauxhall and Rhinecleff Court, the Kanawah has a recessed entry, in this instance, elevated several steps from the street. The courtyard divides the symmetrical façade into two sections. Echoing that pattern on a smaller scale, a recessed fire escape then divides each of those two sections into symmetrical halves. Tan brick upper floors rise from a smooth limestone base. Notice the beveled quoins at the second floor windows and beveled corner pilasters that rise from floors two through five. Stepped lintels on the sixth floor windows complement the stepped parapet above, while the central beveled piers at the roofline elaborate the decorative stone lintels on the windows at the third, fourth and fifth storey windows.
The origin of the name Kanawah (also spelled Kan-a-wah and Kanawha) is uncertain, though it may refer to the Kanawah River, in West Virginia, a Native American name that means "place of the white stones." Underlining the profitable real estate speculation that marked the subway boom, builders Kuhn and Lawson completed Kanawah Court in August 1910 at a cost of $150,000 and sold it four months later for $260,000.
The Sensational Grinnell Murder: 1933
Before you move on to examine the Riviera, pause here a moment, on the spot where police detectives found an important piece of evidence in a sensational 1933 murder case that hit front pages all over the nation. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve, 1933, Catherine Phelan, a housekeeper here at the Grinnell, murdered her employer, Douglas Sheridan, a sixty-eight-year-old widowed stockbroker with an eye for younger women, bludgeoning him over the head with a tack hammer while he was in the shower. After she had hidden her bloodied clothes and his pajamas on a window ledge just above where you are standing, she threw the hammer out of the dining room window and then called the police, attempting to cast suspicion on guests who had visited Mr. Sheridan earlier in the evening. Specks of blood on her glasses gave her away, however, as did the tack hammer which the police found here in the shubbery.
Mrs. Phelan stood trial for the murder the following October. During the trial, evidence emerged that Phelan, who had served the Sheridan household for twenty-eight years, had been enamored of Mr. Sheridan and had good reason to believe he returned her regards: she was the main beneficiary of his will. Allowing that it was a crime of passion, the jury found her guilty of murder in the second degree. In early December, the judge sentenced her to twenty years in Auburn State prison. Newspapers reported that when the fifty-two-year-old Mrs. Phelan heard her sentence, she sneered at the judge and replied, “Thank you for this Christmas present, your honor.”
(Full trial transcript here.)
Catherine Phelan under Arrest
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Funded by the Audubon Park Alliance