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Dvořák House

Between 1892 and 1895 Antonín Dvořák lived at 327 East 17th Street, where he composed his famous “From The New World” symphony. Despite an international campaign to preserve the house, it was demolished in 1991.

Location: 327 East 17th Street New York, NY  |  Google Maps
Neighborhood: Gramercy Park
People: Laurie Beckelman, Harry Burleigh, Antonín Dvořák, Rudolph Firkunsy, Vaclav Havel, Josef Jan Kovařík, Harvey Worthington Loomis, Yo-Yo Ma, Henry Steinway, Jack Taylor, Jeanette Thurber
Places: Beth Israel Medical Center AIDS Hospice
Above: Dvořák's funeral in New York City on May 5, 1904 was an event of national significance; Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Dvořák House was located at 327 East 17th Street, near Stuyvesant Square Park. It was a three-story Italianate style row house constructed in 1852, and briefly served as the home of world-renowned Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, from 1892-1895. He composed his Symphony No.9 in E minor “From the New World” during this time.1 The head of the National Conservatory of Music of America, Jeanette Thurber, invited Dvořák to serve as its director. He moved with his family from Prague and inhabited the row house for three years. Composer and colleague Josef Jan Kovařík from Prague also lived with Dvořák and had taught at the Conservatory as a result of Dvořák’s influence. Thurber suggested he write a symphony “embodying his experience and feelings in America.”2 Dvorak had successfully integrated traditional Czech and Slovak folk music with classical music. The New World Symphony was culturally significant because it was considered the first symphony that celebrated the American experience. The Conservatory had African American, Native American, and female students. Dvorak studied closely with African American student Harry Burleigh, who introduced him to old plantation songs and spirituals. Later Dvorak said, “In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”3 Another influence for the New World Symphony came from Harvey Worthington Loomis’s compositions of Native American music. Dvorak claimed both Native American music and African American spirituals had striking similarities and ultimately represented the essence of America’s origins. The premiere of the New World Symphony took place at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893, and received laudatory praise. Dvořák left the Conservatory in 1895 citing familial obligations in his native country of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic.

Beth Israel Medical Center purchased the Dvořák House in 1989, and planned to demolish it in order to build an AIDS hospice. In 1991 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the house as a New York City Landmark.4 Several months later, the City Council overturned the designation. The building was razed so that the Beth Israel Medical Center could build the hospice on the site. In 1997, a statue of Dvořák was placed in Stuyvesant Square Park to commemorate his contributions to American music.5

Despite the fact that the Dvořák House was designated a New York City Landmark in February of 1991, the New York City Council overturned this decision in June of 1991. The house was demolished in 1991 and is now the Beth Israel Medical Center AIDS Hospice.

February 1991: The Dvořák House is designated a New York City Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

June 1991: The Dvořák House’s designation is overturned by the New York City Council and the Beth Israel Hospital demolishes the house during that same year

Community organizers and preservationists, including Jack Taylor, spearheaded the campaign to designate Dvořák's residence as a New York City Landmark. This campaign was triggered by the plans of the owners, Beth Israel Medical Center, to demolish the building in order to construct an AIDS hospice capable of serving the needs of its patients.6

Preservationists insisted that the house was culturally significant because Dvořák had composed the New World Symphony, the Cello Concerto, and other masterpieces while residing there. There was support from around the world for the building's designation, including from the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and the Archbishop of Prague.7 The music community, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Henry Steinway, and pianist Rudolph Firkušný, supported the designation. In addition, several AIDS advocacy groups were in favor of designation. They argued that the property was too small, while other properties in the vicinity could have be used as an alternative.8

Some suspect the hospital purchased the Dvořák House in an attempt to secure more property on the block for real estate purposes.9 At the time, the Board of Estimate, which had previously approved designations made by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, had been dissolved. The responsibility now fell into the hands of the New York City Council. An editorial appearing in The New York Times entitled "Dvorak Doesn't Live Here Anymore" argued that since Dvořák only occupied the house for a short period of time and that there were extensive alterations made since he lived there, it was not significant enough for designation.10 This editorial further fueled the fire for razing the building. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Laurie Beckelman attempted to reach an agreement with Beth Israel Medical Center to at least keep the facade of the Dvořák House, but to no avail - Beth Israel would not capitulate.11 When the New York City Council overturned the designation in June 1991, the hospital quickly demolished the building.

The Dvořák American Heritage Association along with the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association was able to secure funds to move a Dvořák sculpture that had been on the rooftop of Avery Fisher Hall to Stuyvesant Square Park. Jack Taylor, coordinator of the two organizations, remarked at the dedication of the statue:

"The monument is not a substitute for the Dvořák House, but it is, finally, a recognition of the genius that house sheltered and nourished and the greatness that poured from it."12

  1. Frank J. Prial, “Dvorak House Declared A Manhattan Landmark,” The New York Times, 27 February 1991.
  2. Antonin Dvorak Designation Report, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1991.
  3. 
Ibid.
  4. Prial, Frank J. “Dvorak House Declared A Manhattan Landmark,” The New York Times, 27 February 1991.
  5. Jane H., “Stuyvesant Square; Dvorak, Back Home at Last,” The New York Times, 21 September 1997.
  6. Frank J. Prial, “Dvorak House Declared A Manhattan Landmark,” The New York Times, 27 February 1991.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Karen Mathiesan, Interview with Jack Taylor, 13 October 2007.

  9. “Dvorak Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” The New York Times, 7 March 1991.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Karen Mathiesan, Interview with Jack Taylor, 13 October 2007.
  12. Jane H., “Stuyvesant Square; Dvorak, Back Home at Last,” The New York Times, 21 September 1997.