The American author, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, was born and spent her childhood years at 14 West 23rd Street. However, the droves of people who walked by on their way to Madison Square Park every day had no idea. Nor did local historians or even the owners of the building until a walking tour leader recently discovered the fact.
Now, thanks to preservationist Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a red plaque next to the modern glass entrance alerts passersby and visitors that the building housed, among other rooms, an extensive library that inspired Wharton’s initial curiosity about books during an era when a woman’s name was only to appear in print three times in her life – at birth, marriage and death.
Diamonstein-Spielvogel has devoted the past 15 years to commemorating more than 100 locations throughout New York’s five boroughs – the childhood homes, studios and workspaces of famous residents – through the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center’s cultural medallion programme. The programme was the latest in her four-decade-long commitment to preserving the city’s history.