The Parnassus Club

The Parnassus Club was a boarding house for young women on West 115th Street, New York City, mainly serving students of the Juilliard School of Music and Barnard College, who were also semi-professional performers or artists of some other sort (e.g. writers), and Columbia nursing students. The Parnassus club was founded and operated by Miss Florence McMillan (a former accompanist to a famous opera diva) in 1921 and operated by her until 1955. It occupied two buildings: 605 and 612 West 115th Street (directly across the street from each other), both were originally apartment buildings, constructed in 1903 and 1905, respectively.

Due to ill health and/or encouragement from IBM and/or Columbia, Miss McMillan began shutting down the Parnassus Club in 1953, when the building at 612 became the second IBM Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, an expansion from the first one at 612 West 116th Street. In 1955, the building at 605 became the new home of the Columbia University Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR), and the Parnassus Club closed and Miss McMillan retired. The 605 building was demolished about 1970 to make way for a parking lot, affording inhabitants of Watson Lab #2 a view of the rear of Watson Lab #1; Shapiro Residence Hall was constructed on the site in 1987. The 612 building was turned over to Columbia University by IBM in 1970.

   The focus of the Parnassus Club was music. The eighth floor had six practice rooms, each with a piano. The front of the 2nd floor was the Music Room, where recitals were given on Sundays in a setting of ornate furniture and oriental rugs. The program from a 1950 concert [11] is at left. The heading says "The Parnassus Club, 605 and 612 West 115th Street, New York City", indicating the second building across the street. According to legend, the two Parnassus buildings were connected by rope and pulley across 115th Street.

Parnassus Club residents included author Carson McCullers (the reference below includes an account of her 1934 stay at the Parnassus Club) and poet Sara Henderson Hay (who lived there while attending Columbia -- or, more likely, Barnard -- from 1926 to 1929), of whom it is said, "she transferred to Columbia University where her poems appeared in its magazine and in the publication of the Parnassus Club, a club for young women where she lived" (so it seemed the Parnassus Club published a literary or arts magazine of some kind).

Frank Damrosch (Juilliard founder and namesake of Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center) was a frequent visitor and patron.

The following photos of the Parnassus Club building at 612 West 115th Street are from a Parnassus Club brochure, date unknown.

Tea parties were given on the roof garden, which was next to Miss Macmillan's cozy penthouse apartment (CLICK HERE to see a modern photo of the penthouse):

Miss McMillan enforced a strict 11:00pm curfew. On the first floor was a reception room where young gentlemen callers would await their young ladies.


28 Feb 2008: Naomi A. Fatouros writes:

I am writing to thank you for your Parnassus Club website.

My mother, Renee Feldman, nee Belkowsky, of Cleveland, lived at the Club around 1920 while she studied violin at Juilliard where she met my father, H.I. Feldman, who was then an impecunious student at Yale's School of Fine Arts, and who later became a well-known architect, specializing in apartment buildings.

While I was a child and young woman, I lived not far from the Club, at 355 Riverside Drive and 108th Street and I would sometimes pass the Club on my way to classes at Columbia.

Thanks to Nuala Hallinan plus former residents Barbara L. Bryan and Rosalinde Weiman (and others who wish to remain anonymous) for information and photos, to Peter Capek of IBM for the NYT clipping, and to Alexander Dolkart, Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at Columbia University. The clipping, from September 6, 1952, says:

MANHATTAN TRANSFERS

115th St., 612-614 W, 50x100.11; Parnassus Foundation Inc. (Florence McMillan, Pres) to International Business Machines Corp, 590 Madison Ave; mtg $83,000 ($134.20).

Same property; International Business Machines Corp (A.L. Williams, Pres) to The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 75 Maiden La; $83,000, p m mtg $122,000 ($134.20).

References:

Last Updated: Thu Feb 28 08:21:56 2008


Frank da Cruz / fdc@columbia.edu / Columbia University Computing History