530 West 215th Street at Park Terrace East
Since moving into the neighborhood more than a decade ago, neighbors, some who’ve lived in the area for years, have asked, “What’s the deal with the beautiful bricked up building next door to the Northeastern Academy School?”
Curiosity about the history of this forgotten old building, in part, led to the creation of this very website.
When I launched MyInwood.net, I could never have anticipated that I was sowing the seeds of a field of dreams.
What began as a modest post that was sparse on both facts and images, blossomed into something truly beautiful as descendants of the original occupants, independently of one another, began sending in old photos, stories, documents and even century-old sketches of the building .
Not only was the history of 530 West 215th Street uncovered, but a family was reunited.
What follows is a remarkable tale straight out of Inwood…
If the architecture looks institutional in style, it should. Built by architect James O’Connor in 1912 , the home served as the private residence of William Hurst, his wife, Minnie, and their ten children.
A noted architect, O’Connor graduated from Columbia University in 1898 where he earned the degree of Bachelor of Science in Architecture. The native New Yorker also studied in Paris at the Ecole de Beaux Arts before returning to the States to form his own architectural firm. During a later partnership with James F. Delaney, the two would design convents, schools and public housing projects including the Morrisania Housing project in the Bronx, the convent and hospital building for St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village as well as the Tuberculosis and Cancer Hospital on Roosevelt Island. Over the course of an impressive career, which spanned the first half of the Twentieth century, O’Connor found himself the recipient of numerous architectural awards for both residential and commercial projects, including best design for his work on the Grace Steamship Lines building; once located downtown.
A specialist in the design of indoor tennis courts, O’Connor would also design private residences up and down the east coast including homes in Middleburg, Virginia, Greenwich, Connecticut and of course the old brick house on 215th Street designed for William H. Hurst.
The 100 x 120 foot lot, which sat across the street from the old Seaman Mansion, was purchased by Hurst in 1910. A wealthy man, Hurst made his fortune as as president of the Stock Quotation Telegraph Company, which supplied stock ticker equipment to financial firms.
A year after purchasing the property, Hurst would serve as the grand jury foreman who handed down indictments in the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in which some 146 garment workers, mostly young girls, were killed. The lethal inferno remains the deadliest industrial accident in New York City history.
Like the current south-north migration, Hurst moved his large family to Inwood to escape the cramped quarters of their former West 80’s townhouse.
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst would also require extra living quarters for their servants.
According to the New York Times, “The 1925 census return shows him in the house with his family, four female Irish servants and Alex Setchof, a 22-year-old Russian chauffeur. All five of the staff had been in the United States for only a year.
In 1921, a butler, James J. O’Brien, sued Hurst because he was bitten by the family poodle on the lawn while serving tea. Mr. O’Brien wanted $2,000, and said that Hurst had pressured him to settle for only $25; it is not clear how the case was resolved.“
While little has been written about the lives of the Hurst family–a writer named Robert Emmet Ireton dedicated his 1909 book, A Central Bank, to “William H. Hurst, President of the Stock Quotation Company, Treasurer of the New York News Bureau Association, Loyal Friend and Citizen…as a Token of Esteem, Regard and Respect.”
Old newspaper clippings also tell us that the family placed an advertisement in 1917 seeking the services of a private nurse. Perhaps one of their ten children suffered some chronic malady?
Old newspaper clippings also tell us that the Hurst family lost a daughter in 1925 and that the funeral mass was held inside Good Shepherd Church, just down the street from the family home.
The family would be rocked by another tragedy when Minnie Hurst, who had mothered ten children, died in January of 1929. Like her daughter before her, Minnie’s funeral was held at the Church of Good Shepherd. There was likely not a dry eye in the house.
Hurst himself would die less than two months after his wife’ s passing.
After Hurst’s death in 1929, according to the New York Times, the property was sold and the brick building, with terra cotta detailing, was converted into a convent. In 1946 the grounds were expanded to create the Gerard School of the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
A local resident who attended the school in 1964 described life there in a neighborhood forum. “The entrance way was a grand style with black and white tiles, a crystal chandelier and symmetric winding staircases to the second floor. To the left of the staircase was a sunroom which was used as a sacristy for the chapel. On the first floor there were two sitting rooms on each side of the entrance. Opening into the lager area a chapel on the right and a classroom on the left (front hall like a T shape).
Upstairs another grand entrance way with the classrooms surrounding it. All rooms with fireplaces and sunshine. Some rooms were painted light blue and some light yellow. Mantels were white. On the third floor were the nun’s quarters. One died up there so there could be a ghost. We heard rumors of terrible things that went on up there. We had quite an imagination.
In the basement were the kitchen and a room to eat. Not a full cafeteria style. There was a nun that was one of the lesser orders of the RSHM and she was called “sister”, as opposed to “Madame” which (is what we called) the teachers.
We learned and spoke French. All prayers were in French and we had to curtsey in a sweeping style bringing one leg out in a ballet motion and bow with skirt held. Meeting a nun in the hallway to curtsey was difficult when you had a full load of books in your arms.“
The school closed around 1969, and in 1974 the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists bought the old Hurst house as well as the property next door, 532 West 215th Street, for a new school, Northeastern Academy.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hurst’s former home, which had fallen into disuse, has been bricked up since the 1980’s. A building which harbored and nurtured generations of children now sits unused– a stately and curious reminder of another Inwood of ages past.
Author’s note: Since first posting this email several years ago I have received a slow, but steady stream of emails from descendants of William and Minnie Hurst. The emails all begin in similar fashion, “I am the great grandchild of William H. Hurst and I came across your post online.” Soon they are forwarding photos of the old house and asking for the contact information for other Hurst relatives so distant in the family tree that they have lost touch with them through the passing decades.
For me, connecting these long lost Hursts, while learning more of the history of my own neighborhood, has been a labor of love. I’m sure it has for them as well.
The below photos were all provided by the descendants of William and Minnie Hurst.
Special thanks to Lee Hirata who scanned photos from her grandmother’s photo album.
And to Caleb Hurst who contacted MyInwood and wrote: “I am the great grandson of William H. Hurst. My grandfather was Austin Hurst, and my father was William H. Hurst.” He then followed up with this treasure trove of mostly interior shots of his great grandfather’s Inwood home.
Thank you Caleb and Lee.
They were followed by Joe Gonzalez, who wrote: “Allow me to add yet another ancestor to your contacts! William Hurst is my wife’s great great grandfather via his son William, Jr. and his wife Ruth Adele Johnson. We also have some pictures to share.
Attached is a picture of Minnie Murphy Hurst, along with a picture of Minnie and William’s son, William H. Hurst, Jr. in his WWI uniform.”
And, Joe Gonzalez writes in again asking for help identifying family members in the below photo: “So far, I know Austin is far left, Clare Hurst Forney is 4th from left, and her husband Adger Forney is third from left. Otherwise not 100% certain of others. Based on that familiar low stone wall, I’m guessing this was taken at the Inwood house.”
On June 22, 2013, after years of email correspondence, I met the descendants of William and Minnie Hurst for the very first time. Many had never seen the house before,nor had they met one another.
Several generations of surviving Hurst’s posed in front of the old house, “530” they called it, and shared some family mementos they brought for the event. The day was full of emotion and I thank them for including me.