57 Park Terrace West: The Houdini Connection

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Houdini and his youngest brother Doctor Leopold Weiss.
Houdini and his youngest brother Doctor Leopold Weiss.

On the evening of October 6, 1962, Dr. Leopold Weiss, the estranged brother of Harry Houdini, stood on the parapet of his northern Manhattan apartment building. He inhaled one last breath of cool autumn air then plunged to his death.

57 Park Terrace West  photographed in 2015.
57 Park Terrace West photographed in 2015.

57 Park Terrace West sits on a tree-lined street one half block north of Isham Park in the Inwood section of the borough. Charles Kreymborg designed the six-story art deco structure, which occupies the northwest corner of Park Terrace West and 215th Street, in 1937.

57 Park Terrace West entrance photographed in 2015.
57 Park Terrace West entrance photographed in 2015.

The Kreymborg & Son architectural firm built dozens of apartment houses in Inwood and Washington Heights.  Another of their buildings, The Embassy, now stands around the block on 50 Park Terrace East.

57 Park Terrace West lobby.
57 Park Terrace West lobby.

Today, upon entering the newly renovated building, decades after the death of Leopold Weiss, co-op residents pass through a terrazzo-floored lobby decorated with Art Deco murals. The same lobby Dr. Weiss walked across every day after tending to the infirm.

Leopold Weiss in 1907.
Leopold Weiss in 1907.

An 1899 graduate of Bellevue Hospital, Weiss became one of New York’s first radiologists. A brilliant mind who lived in the otherworldly shadow of the greatest showmen the world has ever known.  The pioneering x-ray technician was the magician’s youngest brother. At times the relationship, the good times, but mostly the bad, must have consumed the respected scientist.

Houdini (center) and his brothers Leopold, Hardeen, Bill and Nat, circa 1914.
Houdini (center) and his brothers Leopold, Hardeen, Bill and Nathan, circa 1914.

Siblings Leopold and Harry enjoyed a close relationship in their early days.  Their bond was so dear that  Houdini allowed Leopold to join him on tour, referring to his younger brother as “Doc” from the stage.  Ultimately, the two would have a falling out after “Doc” became the center of a family scandal.  In an incredible show of poor taste Leopold married Sadie, the wife of he and Harry’s brother, Nathan, shortly after their divorce.  Sadly, Leopold and Harry were still estranged at the time of Houdini’s death in 1926.

Leopold Weiss obituary, New York Times, October 7, 1962.
Leopold Weiss obituary, New York Times, October 7, 1962.

Weiss retired in 1949 after his eyesight began to fail.  Some speculated the damage was the result of exposure to radiation emitted from his x-ray devices. The morning of October 7, 1962 the New York Times offered the kind concession that he was killed when he “jumped or fell” off his Inwood rooftop.

Harry and Bess Houdini in 1913 photo.
Harry and Bess Houdini in 1913 photo.

Weiss was not the only relative of the legendary illusionist to live out his final days in Inwood.  For decades after Houdini’s death, his widow, Bess, lived in a two family home at 67 Payson Avenue. She died on February 11, 1943.

Harry Houdini Hinson obituary, New York Times, February 18,1934
Harry Houdini Hinson obituary, New York Times, February 18,1934

Houdini’s twenty-year-old nephew, Harry Houdini Hinson was killed in a sledding accident in Inwood Hill Park in 1934.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Bess live on the top floor when she came from California for her visit . Ed Saint stay at a hotel, my grandparents live on the bottom floor, she bought the house after she sold the other house when Harry died in 1927.

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