Thursday, April 10, 2014

Houdini's house then and now

Here is a photo of Houdini's house at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem, New York. This comes from the collection of John C. Hinson and appears to be the house during Houdini's own time. The house still stands today and still looks much the same. However, in Houdini's day you can see that the top floor had an open balcony, and the rooftop has now been enclosed, probably to contain modern heating and plumbing equipment.

Also notice there is someone looking out the window. Who might this be?

278 in Houdini's time.
278 in 2005.

Soon I will share some interesting details about what happened to 278 after Bess sold the house in 1927. For other look at the house today, click here for a Google street view.

Thanks as always to John Hinson.

Related:

20 comments:

  1. Cool post. Have you seen this article?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/harlem-houdini-house-article-1.1500624

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    1. Indeed. Shared it HERE when it first appeared back in Oct.

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    2. I've updated with a list of related posts, including this one.

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  2. Didn't Houdini have a hole cut out in front of the basement to accommodate his books and magic props? Isn't that the large cave like hole we see at the basement level?

    Looks like there's a door there now.

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    1. Great catch! He did indeed and that is very clear in the older shot. Yes, looks like they added a door. Could even now be another apt unit.

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  3. I'm glad that the owner of the building kept the features of the building mostly intact. (I wonder why the owner hasn't realized that he could probably make lots of money if he let it become a museum instead of an apartment building, and then he could charge visitors a fee to come in? Or maybe he figures it's not worth it, and why change?)

    On the other hand, if I had some money, I could just move in. :p I'll take the bottom suite with the nice gaping hole-cum-patio, please.

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    1. I expect he's doing pretty darn well with the apartments -- NY rent. In 2012 the top unit became available. It's a dream of mine to rent an apt there at some point -- just spend a year writing this blog and researching HH from his house. Heck, it's a dream just to see inside!

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  4. John Hinson Great nephew of Bees and Harry HoudiniApril 11, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    I am going to NY in the summer hope to visit the house. And hope to get in.

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  5. The owner might not be allowed to tamper much with the outside façade of the building. New York law may forbid total restructuring of old historic buildings. And why would he anyway? The outside of the building has an Old World charm to it.

    Turning the house into a museum might work if the city owned it. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs owns the Louis Armstrong house in Queens, and that site is supported by donations. That house is a historic landmark and I suppose the same could be done for this house. But this would be too much for one individual to deal with. It's much easier to rent out the rooms and just collect the rent checks each month.

    A powerhouse magician could purchase it and donate it to the cultural affairs people to run it as a museum. A more worthwhile endeavor than purchasing an island in the Caribbean.

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  6. Great post. I love the vintage photograph. It's fascinating to see how little the building has changed since Houdini's time. I'm actually working on a miniature 1:12 scale replica of 278 so I guess I have more interest in the architecture than most people!

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    1. Cool! You might consider leaving that part of the top floor windowless if you want it to match the house in Houdini's day. This photo, by the way, is the only photo of the house in Houdini's time that I can recall ever seeing.

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    2. Unfortunately, I'm way past the stage of removing windows, but thanks for the suggestion. If that area was windowless, what was up there? I had always read that Houdini's office was on the top floor, so that's what I did. I really liked your post about visiting the house. It was a great source of information. By the way, when I get to the point where my brownstone is photography-worthy, what is the best way to post photos so everyone can enjoy?

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    3. It appears to me it was an open balcony. While I do believe Houdini's office was on the top floor, I'm now not sure where exactly. Originally I thought the two windows we see in the pic of him in his office were the top floor windows. But now we know that can't be! The current thinking now is that windows of his office could have faced the backyard.

      I'd be happy to share pics of your 278 model here on WAH if you like. :)

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  7. Hey--post a photo of that mini 278 when you're done. I'd love to see it.

    You're welcome John. I suppose it had to be said and I'm sure the donation of the house would be tax deductible...

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    1. When I get around to doing my post on the post-Houdini history of the house you will learn about a few magicians who at one time considering buying it.

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  8. "Buy Harry's House Fund"
    :-)
    Over to you John. ;-)

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    1. I think we'd first need to buy a time machine and travel back to a time when it was affordable. :)

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  9. Just purchased a Euro lottery ticket.
    Numbers are 2, 3, 7, 8, 11, and lucky stars 27 and 13
    :-)

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