The Iron Horse had brass fixtures in his house. And galvanized steel wiring. He also had clapboard siding, parquet floors and a screened-in porch.
Lou Gehrig, the Yankees’ iconic first baseman, bought the home in New Rochelle, N.Y., in December 1927, just two months after completing one of the most successful seasons any major league hitter has ever had, culminating in a World Series title. He then refurbished the three-bedroom structure to accommodate both himself and his parents, taking great care to turn it into a place they would all feel proud to call home.
But today the old house, while still maintaining some of Gehrig’s handiwork, sits cold and neglected, in search of a new owner.
Arthur Scinta, a local preservationist and architectural historian, hopes the house, 13 miles north of Yankee Stadium, can be restored and preserved in the style in which Gehrig fashioned it, perhaps even turned into a Lou Gehrig museum.
“You can still feel Gehrig’s presence in the house,” Scinta said. “It would be a shame if all that was lost.”
But the house, it turns out, also has a puzzling history — specifically, it was foreclosed on in 1937 while Gehrig’s parents, Christina and Heinrich, still owned it.
Gehrig bought the house, at 9 Meadow Lane, in his mother’s name, taking over an existing mortgage of $10,000, according to 1927 records. Gehrig and his parents then moved in shortly after Christmas, with Gehrig working hard to fix it up to his liking.
“Not a bad joint, is it?” he was quoted in a story published in The New York Sun on Jan. 9, 1928. “Not a new place, but it will be as good as new when I get ’er all dolled up. It was a Christmas gift to my mother.”
Gehrig, whose appearance in 2,130 consecutive games earned him the nickname the Iron Horse, is described in the Sun story as being covered in paint and plaster as he worked on the house. He lived there, with his parents, until he moved out in 1933 after marrying Eleanor Twitchell. In all, Gehrig won two World Series titles while residing at that address. Another local newspaper described him playing ball with local children across the street.
But on Sept. 11, 1937, according to a deed in the Westchester County clerk’s office, Gehrig’s mother and father lost the house in foreclosure. The new deed awarded the property to the children of an earlier owner, Alexander List, who died in 1932 and whose family held the mortgage while the Gehrigs lived there, records show.
At the request of The New York Times, the Westchester County clerk’s office uncovered the case files from the foreclosure in a warehouse in Elmsford. They show that the Gehrigs missed a semiannual payment of $255 on May 9, 1937. The failure to pay set off a clause in the mortgage that allowed the List children, as executors of their father’s will, to call in the balance (about $8,800).
Christina Gehrig did not pay what was owed and did not appear for the hearing at the Supreme Court in Westchester County, the records show. The house was then awarded to the List children in foreclosure.
There is no explanation of why the Gehrigs did not pay and what role, if any, their son played in the case.
In 1937, Gehrig’s last season as a formidable player, he made $31,000, according to the Baseball Reference website. That was a substantial amount of money back then, and presumably Gehrig would have been able to pay his parents’ mortgage while also taking care of his own expenses.
Jonathan Eig, the author of “Luckiest Man,” the well-regarded 2005 biography of Gehrig, said he had not been aware of the foreclosure. He said Gehrig “was extremely careful with money,” but also pointed to the well-known tensions between Gehrig’s wife and his mother as a possible explanation for what occurred.
“Eleanor had a very strained relationship with Christina Gehrig,” Eig said. “It is possible that she forbade Lou from giving them the money to save the house. Or perhaps his parents were ready to move out, anyway. There may be no way of knowing for certain.”
It is possible, too, that Gehrig was not even aware of the foreclosure. Perhaps he and his parents decided collectively to walk away from the mortgage, although that kind of behavior was not consistent with the family’s history.
After the foreclosure, Gehrig’s parents moved to nearby Mount Vernon. Christina Gehrig moved to Milford, Conn., in 1948 after Heinrich passed away. She died there in 1954 at the age of 72.
Sometime after the Gehrigs moved out of the New Rochelle house, Walter and Josephine Sears moved in as tenants. The couple appear on the 1940 census as living in the house with their daughters, Mary Ann, 11, and Joan, 7.
All these years later, the daughters still live in the area.
“It was a lovely home; I wish I lived there now, ” said Joan Straehle, 84, formerly Joan Sears. She remembered being in a second-floor bedroom on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That was six months after Gehrig, then 37 and living in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which became known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Walter Sears was a World War I veteran who, his daughters say, had been gassed and taken prisoner by the Germans. He later rented the old Gehrig house from the List family. Straehle and her older sister, now Mary Ann Prunty, recalled details of living there — how they did their homework on a staircase landing, how the basement flooded after it rained and that the tree in the front yard where Mary Ann liked to go and daydream.
The sisters also recalled the day in 1941 when the Samuel Goldwyn production company came to New Rochelle to take photos of the house for its coming Gehrig movie, “The Pride of the Yankees,” featuring Gary Cooper. The girls stayed home from school as their parents gave the Hollywood visitors a tour.
A year later, their mother wrote to Goldwyn complaining that while she and her husband had provided full access to their home, they never received complimentary tickets to the film, as their father had requested. The letter is in the Samuel Goldwyn Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills.
“That was Daddy,” Ms. Prunty said with a laugh.
The City of New Rochelle has now put up a sign commemorating the street on which the house stands as Lou Gehrig Way. Scinta is eager to do more. He wants to save the house from losing its connection to Gehrig.
The house, which needs work, was bought in another foreclosure last year for $303,000 by a real estate broker, Karan Garewal, and a partner. In a telephone interview, Garewal described the purchase as an investment and said it was now listed for sale again at $449,000.
“We hope the new owner will be someone who appreciates the history of it,” Garewal said. “It is like a piece of art in that sense.”
During a recent tour, Scinta pointed out the dining room’s stippled stucco walls, which he believes Gehrig did himself because of the style of the time. There is also an oak, pull-chain toilet tank; gaslight fixtures in the attic; and a row of old sinks in the basement.
“It is unusual to have four of them lined up like that,” Scinta said. “Who knows, maybe Christina Gehrig washed Lou’s uniform there?”
Scinta has envisioned the Yankees buying the house and preserving it and perhaps even using it as housing for players called up from the minors. The Yankees, however, are not in the home-preservation business, but might contribute financially if the house becomes a nonprofit museum.
“Lou Gehrig is a cherished figure in Yankee lore,” said Randy Levine, the president of the Yankees. “I’m sure there would be a lot of interest in preserving his legacy in that way.”
Gehrig’s legacy includes a .340 batting average in his 17 years with the Yankees, and only the Yankees. He hit 493 home runs and collected two most valuable player awards and achieved one triple crown. His consecutive-games streak, which Cal Ripken Jr. broke in 1995, still resonates.
Part of that body of work was produced while Gehrig lived at 9 Meadow Lane in New Rochelle. For now, at least, the house endures just as Gehrig once did, game after game, year after year.
Source: New York Times
By: David Waldstein
12 February 2017