21 FIFTH AVENUE
In the placing of a tablet by the Greenwich Village Historical Society on the house at 21 Fifth Avenue to commemorate its occupancy by WASHINGTON IRVING and MARK TWAIN, pleasing recollections of early family ownership were stirred. The original owner and builder has been regarded as worthy of honorable mention, and the name of JAMES RENWICK is recorded in bronze beneath the portraits of America's two eminent men of letters.
The intimate friendship between IRIVING and the members of the Renwick and Breevort families is revealed in his letters. JAMES RENWICK'S mother was the "Blue Eyed Lassie" who inspired the poet BURNS to write two or three songs in her praise, as he knew her in Scotland prior to her marriage to the American, WILLIAM RENWICK. At the Renwick homes in New York City IRVING was virtually a member of the family. JAMES RENWICK was his traveling companion on several occasions in Europe. He married a daughter of HENRY BREEVORT, owner of the great farm bearing his name north of Washington Square, who had sufficient influence with the city fathers to prevent the cutting through of the Eleventh Street from Broadway to Fourth Avenue because it would ruin the family manse near the present site of Grace Church. Young RENWICK was lecturing at Columbia College at the age of 23 years on natural philosophy, and in one of his letters to HENRY BREVOORT, IRVING says: "The professors speak very highly of him and are particularly pleased because he asks on compensation."
When, three-quarters of a century ago, he built the house at the southeast corner of Ninth Street, JAMES RENWICK set apart a room for the use of WASHINGTON IRVING. This lower Fifth Avenue landmark was designed by JAMES RENWICK'S son, one of the leading architects of his time. He designed Grace Church, St. Patrick's Cathedral and many public buildings. The house also has the distinction of remaining continuously in the same family, the present owner being a great-grandson of the original builder. MARK TWAIN made the place his city residence in the Fall of 1904, living there until June 1908. His chief occupation, if we may believe his biographer, was playing billiards in the basement room on the table presented to him soon after he moved in.
Less than a month after the unveiling of his tablet Spain will pay a unique honor to the foreign writer who awakened the renewed interest in the days and deeds of COLUMBUS and QUEEN ISABELLA by placing a tablet on the house occupied by WASHINGTON IRVING in Seville. It will also commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of his arrival in Spain.