Written by Village Historian Suzie Alvey, firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday, 18 July 2013 00:00
I am writing a new interactive series entitled “My History Home,” since my original series, “House Detectives” has been popular with readers. Both series will run as information is collected.
The impetus for my personal interest in history stems from my grandfather, Perry Valentine Los Kamp (b. 1903- d. 1978), who owned an 1875 A. T. Stewart home at 116 Tenth St. when I was a young child. The house was huge, especially from my young point of view with grand rooms, high ceilings, wonderful furnishings and a backyard that seemed to go on forever.
I delighted in sleeping over as often as possible with Grandpa Perry and my grandmother, Florence Buchner Los Kamp (b. 1898-d. 1968). I did little craft projects with my grandma, had my own quiet room (a haven from the hectic life as the oldest of five) and was served a breakfast of corn flakes in heavy cream with blueberries picked from the backyard that morning. During summer holidays, we would sit on the grass waving little American flags as the parades would march past my grandparents’ house. During quiet moments I studied their many museum-quality things, items from their past which all had stories.
So what about the story of my grandparents’ “history home?” I’d have to say that 116 Tenth St. and its owners should be called “the story of the disappearing houses.”
The property at 116 was owned by Frederic Kenneth Stephenson (b.1891) and his wife Lucie G. Stephenson (b. approximately 1895) in 1932. The property did not have a house at the time. The Stephensons were originally from Manhattan and lived in various homes in Garden City before and after buying the property on Tenth Street. Stephenson was listed with his wife, son and one servant at 108 Fifth St. and was a bond salesman in the 1925 census. By the 1930 census he owned 122 Hilton Ave. and was a vice president of a bond company with his wife, three children and three servants. The Stephensons lived at the Hilton Avenue home from between 1925-1930 to before 1940, approximately 10 to 15 years. However, the address was changed to 97 Tenth St., and the Poole family currently lives in the 1908 home.
By the 1940 census, Stephenson, a now-divorced investment banker, moved back to 108 Fifth St. with his son, F. Kenneth, Jr. His luck improved the following year when he married Evelyn W. Keeler Taylor (b. approx. 1895) who was the widow of Willard Underhill Taylor, a wealthy New York City lawyer and real estate investor. She brought her children.
All together, the newly-married Stephensons lived at 83 Eleventh St. from about 1942 to 1950. Later, they moved to North Carolina, where F. Kenneth, Sr. died in 1954. Evelyn passed away in 1966.
The home at 116 Tenth St. was originally located at 118 Ninth St.
The earliest inhabitants of 118 Ninth St. I could find were Sylvanus Delamere Ward (b.1880 in London) and May Sedgwick Ward (b.1879). May’s Segwick family has a few members who are accomplished. Actress Kyra Sedgwick, her late cousin Edie Sedgwick and General John Sedgwick, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The family dates back to 1613.
The Wards married in 1912 (she was a young widow), and lived at 118 Ninth St. by 1925. Originally, they were from upstate Syracuse and retained a home and office up there. Starting about 1916, they lived at 6 Franklin Court before moving to the Ninth Street house as renters. They had four children. Ward was a lawyer in general practice and he was also a tenor soloist at a number of New York City churches and the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City. The Wards moved to Manhattan’s East Side, which probably made it easier for him to continue his law practice and sing in churches in Manhattan.
James and Allie McKendrick, along with Alfred P. and Elizabeth Bell, lived at 118 Ninth St. starting in about 1932. They were importers and lived in the home for about 14 years.
They sold the home to Myra J. Sears (b. 1882) in 1946. Sears then moved the house and garage from 118 Ninth St. to 116 Tenth St., most likely to prevent it from being razed when the village expanded municipal parking field 9W behind the Franklin Avenue stores. When placing the house on the property, Sears rotated the house 90 degrees so that the front door faced the west side of the property, not the front. She then built a 20-foot long porte cochere from the front door over part of the driveway. She also added wide floor to ceiling windows at the back of the house for the living room and sitting room.
To begin with, Myra Sears was a secretary who managed to bring up a very successful son. Lieutenant Sterling G. Sears (b. approximately 1903) was interested in radio from a young age. In 1922 he won a prize on a radio show for creating the smallest vacuum tube when he was about 19 years old. Starting in his early 20s, the radio engineer attained multiple patents for radio and electronics such as a contact microphone, a folding telephone handset, an electrical switch and more. By the age of 24, Sears was named “one of the foremost radio experts in America.”
In the 1930 census, Sterling Sears was married to the equally smart Jessie P. Sears (b. approximately 1905) and lived in Brooklyn with Myra, his mother, in a nearby apartment. By 1940, Sterling and Jessie lived at 113 Locust St. Soon after, they moved to 113 Ninth St., across the street from Myra, who lived at 118 Ninth.
Mother and son stayed near each other as Myra moved her house around the block to 116 Tenth St. in 1946, while Sterling and Jessie then lived at 115 Tenth St. in 1950. Their home at 115 was also moved, but after they left the area. Known to current Garden City residents as the “Kanner House,” it was moved about 100 feet west to its present location to allow for more parking behind the Franklin Avenue businesses.
After selling their homes, Myra, Jessie and Sterling Sears moved upstate to the Roxbury area where they established M. J. Sears Company in 1951 with Jessie as head. The company and the one it merged into, the Audiosears Corporation (established 1956) developed acoustic elements, headsets, telephones and other equipment for the telecommunications industry, the United States military and foreign countries. The family-owned company moved to Stamford, NY in 1962 and currently employs about 90 people in the same town.
My grandparents bought 116 Tenth St. from Myra Sears in 1950. When they moved from St. Albans, Queens, my father, Mason Los Kamp and his sister, Kay joined them for a short time, since they were already young adults.
My grandfather and my dad were furniture sales representatives who sold furniture from the factories to stores such as Fortunoff’s. My grandfather was interested in history since he was a descendant of John Howland, a pilgrim who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. He was also related to Father Isaac Hecker, who founded St. Paul’s Cathedral in Manhattan and the Paulist Sect of the American Catholic Church. My grandfather was a Master Mason from the Montauk Lodge in Brooklyn who had some famous members during his time there. One was Wesley “Branch” Rickey who was the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball teams who developed the farm system and racially integrated major league baseball.
The house was situated on one-half acre and was an A. T. Stewart Victorian era home. The architect was John Kellum, who designed many buildings in the newly formed town and the builder was James H. L’Hommedieu who built almost everything up to that point. The house had a three-car garage that had been converted from an old barn, with chauffeur’s quarters on the second floor. It had about four or more bedrooms and two baths with a first floor parlor and sunroom/sitting room. Kay painted oils in her third floor studio. The basement had high ceilings, which made it ideal for parties that my dad and aunt gave.
My grandfather wrote this about their house in 1952:
“Our ... Old House...With many a creaking sigh our old house settles itself for the night. Up in my bedroom, just before dropping off into slumber, I hear the settling noises of my family and, finally of the house itself, adjusting its beams after another day of our heavy steps on stairs and floors. I smile in the darkness of my room, listening to the noises of our large structure, Aunt Myra’s [referring to the previous owner] ghost always closes one door a night—the crack of a floor board, the creak of the stairs slowly relaxing after the day’s heavy traffic. These to me are reassuring sounds, for I spent my boyhood in a house not too different from this one, built in 1865. This home of ours is a rarity in this seventh year of the atomic age; it has not changed nor become less secure or comforting. In it I find peace after the days labors in the teaming City of New York, 25 five miles away, and month in and month out, year in and year out, my house fits me like a comfortable old shoe.”
Perry and Florence Los Kamp loved entertaining in the home but had to sell it. They sold 116 Tenth St. to the village. So, ironically, after Myra Sears went to the trouble of moving the home to Tenth Street to avoid it being demolished, the house only lasted 14 years at its new address. It was knocked down and turned into a parking lot in 1960. My grandparents moved to 26 Old Country Rd., next to the Long Island Ethical Humanist Society.
The shock of knocking such a beautiful home down affected me deeply and even as an eight-year-old, I knew the house was special. So 53 years later...I hope to preserve Garden City’s history- one house, one artifact and one book at a time.
Thank you to Lauren Davies and Greg Canavan for an aerial photo of the Heath Place and Washington Avenue area in the Eastern Section.
Also, the author thanks Marie and Edward Gillespie for two aerial photos and four additional photos of Gillespie Lumber originally located on Franklin Avenue between Eleventh and Twelfth Streets. All will be digitized for LongIslandMemories.org by Garden City’s archivist, a copy sent to The Garden City Historical Society and then placed in the Village Archives.