544 W. 110th St. (aka Cathedral Parkway) was erected in 1928/29 as the headquarters of the Explorers Club. In June, 1928, the New York Times reported, "The Explorers' Club, composed of 495 members scattered over the world, mustered about forty of its membership yesterday afternoon to view the laying of the cornerstone for a new $500,000 clubhouse at 544 Cathedral Parkway. George G. Heye, President of the club, sealed the stone, with Felix Riesenberg, Secretary of the building committee, and Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Vice President of the club, assisting. The nine-story building will be ready for occupancy in November and will house a museum for trophies and the club's $100,000 library. A lecture hall and modern club facilities also will be provided."
The building opened in April, 1929, when the New York Times reported, "The new ten-story building of the Explorers' Club of New York, 544 Cathedral Parkway, east of Broadway, was opened yesterday for the inspection of members and their friends... The building, the cornerstone of which was laid June 16, 1928, occupies a plot 50 by 70 feet, and cost $500,000. The architect was Charles E. Birge. The new home of the club was made possible through the gifts and efforts of the late Commodore James B. Ford of the Larchmont Yacht Club, and the late William E. Harmon. The building contains an auditorium with stage and motion picture equipment. It also houses the James B. Ford Library, said to be the largest collection of books on exploration in existence. There are two lounges with open fireplaces. There are sixty guest rooms arranged singly and in suites..."
But the Explorers did not stay long on 110th St. In June, 1932, the New York Times reported, "The Explorers' Club formally took over its new quarters yesterday in the Majestic Apartments, Central Park West and Seventy-second Street, and practically completed the task of moving from its old home at 544 Cathedral Parkway, which it had occupied for four years... The eight-story Cathedral Parkway building, which proved unprofitable, will be leased to some other organization or sold."
Indeed, in October, 1932, the building was sold in foreclosure to the Liberdar Holding Corp. (NYT, 25 Oct. 1932). It then became the Union Residence Club until 1934, when the Manhattan Life Insurance Co. sold it to the Forfar (or Forpar) Realty Co. (NYT, 4 Dec. 1934): "Plans for altering the structure were filed recently, at which time it was reported that the building was to be taken over by a new lessee." In Jan. 1935 the Times reported, "The eight-story Explorers' Club at 544 Cathedral Parkway was leased for ten years by the Forpar Realty Corporation through Joseph J. Schlesinger, broker, to Jack Skydell, hotel operator. The contract includes furniture, fixtures and equipment. Plans have been prepared by Thompson, Holmes & Converse, architects, for additional rooms and club facilities by converting the auditorium, projection room and mezzanine, second and third floors. The building was erected in 1928 at a cost of about $500,000. It contains a theatre and library. The Explorers' Club has new quarters in the Majestic Hotel, on Central Park West. The lessors recently bought the Cathedral Parkway house from the Manhattan Life Insurance Company."
The Manhattan telephone directory indicates that the building became the Hotel Harmony in 1935. The new owners apparently named the hotel after the wealthy real estate developer, William E. Harmon. The "late William E. Harmon" was mentioned in 1929 as one of the donors who contributed to the original funding for the Explorers' Club.
When William E. Harmon (1862-1928) died, his obituary in the New York Times,
16 July 1928, read in part:
"William Elmer Harmon of 120 East Seventy-fifth Street, retired real estate operator,
who established and endowed the Harmon Foundation for philanthropic purposes, died
yesterday morning at his Summer home in Southport, Conn., after several years of
failing health. He was 66 years old.
Mr. Harmon was one of the first men to appreciate the opportunities for suburban realty development in the United States, especially when lots were offered for sale on the installment plan. He had originally intended to be a physician, but his course in the Louisville School of Medicine was interrupted in 1881 by his father's financial reverses. Needing ready money, he became a salesman for a nursery company in Ohio, and quickly learned that he had a gift for selling.
Wanting to give this talent the widest possible scope, he reasoned thus, as he told an interviewer years after:
'The surest way is to hit upon something that everybody wants, make it possible for everybody to buy it and then let everybody know that I have it for sale. But what does everybody want? "Land," was my answer. That is what everybody would like to own.
'It wasn't easy to buy land in those days. The first payments were always so high that a man with little money could not meet them. So most folks went on wanting land, but they didn't buy any. I worked out a plan by which even the smallest wage-earner could buy a building lot. All the purchaser needed was one dollar to pay in cash and a few cents to pay each week. It was simply the installment plan applied to real estate, and I was sure it would work. I went to Cincinnati, where I had a brother, Clifford B. Harmon, and an uncle, Charles E. Wood. I told them of my new idea, and they liked it.
'My brother had a thousand dollars, my uncle had a thousand and I had a thousand. I had already decided upon the best tract to buy, so we pooled our money and bought it. Then we laid it out in lots, built wooden sidewalks and had the necessary papers prepared.'
One advertisement in a Cincinnati newspaper brought enough buyers to sell out the entire property. With the success of the idea thus proved, the firm of Wood, Harmon & Co. expanded rapidly, putting offices in Pittsburgh, Boston and various other Eastern cities. It was in Boston that Mr. Harmon interested capitalists, who invested $50,000 then and millions later, backing the establishment of the firm's first New York office in 1898. In the years just after 1900 more than $4,000,000 was spent for building sites in Brooklyn that were sold on small partial payments. The great expansion of population following the subway extensions proved the wisdom of Harmon's choice of territory. Developments of a similar character were carried out in thirty-six other cities east of the Mississippi River.
In his philanthropy, as in his business, Mr. Harmon always looked to the future. He wanted his money to do good constructively. The Harmon Foundation early set aside a fund for making loans to college students. It also has an endowment for establishing playgrounds and recreation fields in growing cities.
Other activities of the Foundation include a bureau of occupational service for college students, a scholarship for Boy Scouts, a pension fund for nurses and other health workers, rural clinics and district nursing among negroes in South Carolina and a child development fund.
In 1925 Mr. Harmon gave $50,000 to the Religious Motion Picture Foundation, Inc., to provide motion pictures of high character to add to the interest of church services. He made many gifts to his birthplace, Lebanon, Ohio, and established, in memory of his mother, the Mollie Harmon Home for Gentlefolk."
The website for the Lincoln Highway National Museum & Archives shows a photograph of William E. Harmon and a $100 scholarship certificate issued to Howard Oliphant, Jr. by the Harmon Foundation in Jan. 1930.
A photograph of William E. Harmon with his children is found on a history page on the Granville, Ohio, Historical Society website.
544 W. 110th St. remained the Hotel Harmony from 1935 until 1965/66. In May, 1964, the New York Times reported, "The Harmony Hotel at 542-44 West 110th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, has been purchased by a client of Benjamin Massey, lawyer. The nine-story, 100-room hotel was sold by the estate of Jack Skydell for cash above mortgages of $266,127. The lawyers for the seller were Rosenberg, Stone & Notkins. The title was insured by the City Title Insurance Company."
Copyright © 2011 Walter Grutchfield