Sunday, September 03, 2006

91 Remsen Street, Brooklyn

Upon marrying June Smith (Mansfield) on June 1, 1924, Henry Miller and his new wife set out to find a newlywed home. They had been living in a state of increasing tension with Emil Conason and his wife in an apartment on Riverside Drive, and needed a place of their own. The couple were very happy at 91 Remsen Street for just over a year, in what Miller termed their "Japanese love nest." However, their difficulty in paying the rent eventually overwhlemed them, causing them an eviction.
LOCATION

As far as I can tell from Google Maps, 91 Remsen Street is at the corner or Remsen and Henry Streets in Brooklyn.

Above, I've included a map with archival images of Remsen Street, as found in the Digital Library collection of the New York Public Library. (the maps are from Yahoo Maps).

91 Remsen Street is said to have been in a higher class section of Brooklyn Heights, and it was the only house on the street that was divided into apartments. It had been formerly owned by a (future) corrupt federal judge by the name of Martin Manton.

91 REMSEN STREET in PLEXUS

Henry Miller's novel Plexus opens with the acquisition of this new apartment, which Miller describes as "stunning," but also "far beyond our means." He and June manage to convince the landlord that they are upstanding citizens with an income that easily covers the rent ($90/month). In actuality, June would have to "extract" the first month's rent from an admiring clerk at the Broztell hotel. Plexus covers the entire period at 91 Remsen Street (all the way to page 288).

91 REMSEN STREET -- A TIMELINE

* The Millers rent an apartment (June 1924);

* Henry Miller quits his job at Western Union in order to write full time (Sept. 1924);

* Henry's old pal Joe O'Reagan ("O'Mara" in Plexus) stays with the Millers for a few months, without consent of the landlord (approx. Nov. 1924);

* Henry begins his Mezzotint project and, with June's help, distributes them throughout New York. To help make sales easier (especially from male buyers), the prose poems are passed off as June's: they are signed "June E. Mansfield/91 Remsen St.";

* Henry and June are evicted (Sept. 1925).

DESCRIPTIONS

"The floors were of inlaid wood, the wall panels of rich walnut; there were rose silk tapestries and bookcases roomy enough to be converted into sleeping bunks. We occupied the front half of the first floor, looking out onto the most sedate, aristocratic section of Brooklyn...."

"Back of our two rooms, and separated by a rolling door, was one enormous room to which had been added a kitchenette and a bath. For some reason it remained unrented. Perhaps it was too cloistral. Most of the day, owing to the stained glass windows, it was rather somber in there, or should I say--subdued. But when the late afternoon sun struck the windows, throwing fiery patterns on the highly polished floor, I enjoyed going in there and pacing back and forth in a meditative mood." [both quotes from Plexus, pgs. 10-11]

Two of the art prints the Millers added to the walls were The Opium Smoker (presumably by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy; image above, at left) and The Wailing Wall (possibly by Gustav Bauernfeind?; image above, at right). Both works are in the 'Orientalist' style.

EVICTION

The landlord--Mr. Taliaferro, from Virgina--is portrayed as a fine, courteous, generous Southern gentleman in Plexus. Even as Taliferro approaches Miller about the rent that is in arrears by several months, there is an empathy that makes for a tender eviction on page 285. It's suggested in the Miller biography, Henry Miller: A Life (p.108), that Miller was also ejected for breaking house rules, such as sneaking a gas stove into the bathroom and letting O'Reagan sublet without Taliferro's knowledge.

Henry wrote a letter about the eviction to his friend Emil Schnellock:

"Saturday afternoon (a hot afternoon in Montana, I guess), he dropped in on me casual like, when June was out, and drew a chair up to my bedside while I lay back apathetically, and he told me a quiet little story. He was the best friend I ever had and now he's gone back on me, too. He says the jig is up. Whether I come across with the rent or not, he won't promise whether I can stay or not.That's about as clear-cut as he made it sound to me..." [Letters To Emil, pp. 12-13].

Henry then invites Emil to "sneak a bottle over" to the apartment for a celebration of the "passing of the glories of Remsen Street," which includes a toast to the Mezzotints.

Visit this posting to see which apartments followed. This includes a return to Remsen Street, at a different house.

91 REMSEN STREET -- TODAY

Someone named "Stella" on the I-Explore photo community has posted the above picture of 91 Remsen. Another link includes four more views of this section of Remsen. Several other contemporary photographs of Remsen Street (though not #91 in particular) may be found on Flickr.

Does anyone know if the plaque seen in the photo above is in honour of Henry Miller?

21 Comments:

Blogger David Marc Fischer said...

Yes: The plaque marks the building as Miller's one-time residence. To the best of my knowledge, it went up after 1988. Also to the best of my knowledge: It's the only plaque in New York City that acknowledges Miller.

I'll try to add more info at some point....

11:52 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks for the confirmation, DM. I'll have to go visit it one day. If you find out about other official Miller markers in New York, I'd love to hear about it.

6:59 pm  
Anonymous Roger E. Gorrin said...

91 Remsen Street is the house I was "born" (Long Island College Hosp) in. My parents and I lived there until I was 2 yrs old. I was born in 1952. I have a couple of photos of that time showing the front of the house and another showing the couple that owned the house. I wonder if they are the same ones as when Miller lived there in '25. In the late '60s my mother had a small oil painting done of the front of the house as a keepsake of her "newlywed" apartment. The house was painted a light green. That painting now hangs in my home. I passed the house yesterday and noticed the plaque. Thanks for the info.
Roger E. Gorrin

11:48 am  
Anonymous Kreg said...

I just came across this post on a bog called "One A Day" which has a close-up photo of the Miller plaque.

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