Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Rose Coghlan House - 144 West 95th Street



As he often did, developer William J. Merritt acted as his own architect when he planned the row of houses on the south side of West 95th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues in 1886.  And as he was also known for doing, his 18-foot wide homes, completed in 1887, were designed for upper-middle-class families.

Merritt's somewhat quirky row was designed in the up-to-date Queen Anne style.  Clad in brick with stone trim, the three-story houses did not happily co-exist, but fought one another for attention.  When The Architectural Record critic Montgomery Schuyler reviewed the row, he likened it to the "reign of terror."

The eccentric row does not play nice together.  The Coghlan house is near the far end. 
No. 144 was particularly unusual in design.  Pleasing elements, like the knubby terra cotta bosses that dotted the brick parlor floor sprandrels and the wonderful sinuous brick panels directly below, were cancelled out by the somewhat cumbersome treatment of the upper floors--most noticeably the chimney-like brick-fluted pier at the third floor that dead ended at the roof line.

Merritt sold No. 144, along with around half a dozen others in the immediate neighborhood, to real estate operator Catharine S. Barrow.  She leased it almost immediately to the nationally-known actress Rose Coghlan.

Described by The Illustrated American as "one of the most prominent actresses on the American stage to-day," she was born in London.  After playing on the English stage for several years, she arrived in New York in 1872.   Her success and wild popularity seems to have contributed to her well-known temperament which resulted in fiery conflicts with theater managers and owners.

She was, in fact, now legally Rose Edgerly.   Successful thespians were the celebrities of the day, so theater followers were no doubt stunned when they read in the newspapers on April 14, 1885 that Rose had married.  The New York Times wrote "That portion of society which prides itself upon knowing all about the private history of public people was much surprised and annoyed yesterday by the announcement that Miss Rose Coghlan had become a married lady.  The announcement fell with great force upon a number of handsome gentlemen who have long haunted Wallack's Theatre and sighed in vain over the fair actress."

In fact, the "fair actress" was approaching middle age, stage critics had lately viciously noted she had put on weight, and her looks were fading.  Newspapers and theater magazines did not overlook the differences between her and her new husband.  According to The Evening World, Clinton J. Edgerly was "athletic" and Rose was "older than he."

Rose Coghlan as she appeared around the time she moved into the 95th Street house.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Although Edgerly was a Harvard-educated attorney, he had been working as the New York agent for his father's firm, the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.  He gave up his job to direct his wife's tours.  But when her manager, Augustus Pitou, expressly prohibited Edgerly from being involved in her career, "Rose went off with her company to 'Jocelyn' through the country, while her lord and master remained at home," The Evening World later reported sarcastically.

Rose was making about $400 a week at the time--more than $10,500 today--while Clinton took on small legal commissions, making about $20 to $30 a week.  Mostly left alone, he puttered about the 95th Street house with only one or two servants for company.

There were other problems within the May-September arrangement.  The actress was accustomed to receiving adulation and having her whims catered to.  That stopped at the curb of No. 144 West 59th Street.  Clinton Edgerly had no problem making little criticisms and refused to pander.

Rose's often difficult personality was evidenced in an article in The New York Times on December 3, 1887, the year the couple moved into the house.  "Miss Rose Coghlan is a restless spirit," it started, and said "In fact she has a new ambition each week, and is never satisfied."

Another publication which was not left star-struck by Rose was The New York Journal which reported on  her unflattering behavior six months later.  A Manhattan florist named Scallen had sent his messenger boy to No. 144 several times with a small bill of $9.50.  Each time the boy returned telling Mr. Scallen that Rose was asleep "and couldn't be disturbed."

When it happened again one Friday afternoon in June 1888, he went personally.  The newspaper reported that the florist rang the bell "and was received by an exceedingly pretty and stylish little maid."

"Is Miss Coghlan in?"

"Yes, she's in, but asleep and left orders that she should not be disturbed."

"Is she ever awake?" asked Scallen.

"Sometimes, but not often."

"Well, it's not a particularly busy day with me, and I guess I'll wait till she wakes up."

The Journal reported "Mr. Scallen put his back against the jamb of the door and assumed a position which evidently impressed the maid with his intention of remaining on guard.  This disturbed her serenity and she said: 'Very well, I'll go and tell Miss Coghlan.'"

There was a whispered conversation in a distant room.  The newspaper quoted Scallen as saying:

"Then I saw Miss Coghlan sailing down the passageway, looking just as she did in the third act of 'Forget-Me-Not,' only her clothes weren't so fine, and exclaiming, 'Who is this impudent puppy who dares disturb my rest?'"

When Scallen introduced himself and said he had come for his payment, Rose replied "I call this downright impudence and you shan't have a single penny of it."

Rose tried to slam the door on Scallen, but he prevented it with his foot.  Then, telling her that the $9.59 was apparently more important to her than him, he told her the roses were a gift.

Later that same night Clinton Edgerly escorted his wife to the theater, passing by Scallen's flower shop.  Scallen saw her point at him through the window and not long thereafter Edgerly entered the shop and confronted him.  "Mr. Edgerly then launched into a torrent of vituperation, winding up with the comforting assurance that he would 'lick Mr. Scallen for so moderate a sum as two cents.'"

Scallen took him up on the offer and jumped over the counter.  "Then Mr. Edgerly thought it over and concluded after a little while that he would not chew Mr. Scallen up.  He went to the door, muttered several more adjectives and departed."

But a new row was in the works.  People backstage at the theater told the Journal's reporter that when Rose found out that the florist had not been pummeled she flew into a rage.  "She made a momentary demonstration that appeared to convince Mr. Edgerly that he...was really the one who was about to be licked."

The article concluded "At any rate, loud words were heard, Mr. Edgerly made a precipitate exit from his wife's dressing-room and went up to Mr. Scallen's establishment and planked down $9.50."

Rose's summer home was on the Hudson River, between Yonkers and Hastings-on-Hudson  The New York Times noted on July 9, 1888 "Here, with her horses, dogs, hens and other farmyard belongings, Miss Coghlan lives with her husband, Clinton Edgerly; her mother, her brother, Charles Coghlan, and his wife and daughter, a sweet girl of 15."

Rose's controlling nature was evidenced even here.  The article said breakfast was served exactly at 7:00.  Rose then traveled to the city to take fencing lessons for an upcoming role.  Upon her return she "takes long walks over the hills, manipulates the dumb bells, or engages in other exercises which are health-giving and beneficial in a professional sense.  The result is that she is already much thinner than she was last season."

Lunch was precisely at 2:00, then Rose "rests quietly until 5, when her husband returns from the city, and a long drive is taken."  The actress retired early each evening and the exact routine replayed the following day.

The first hint of a serious rift in the Edgerly household came on June 14, 1889 when the entire contents of the 95th Street house were sold at auction.  The New York Times mentioned a few of the items sold, like the painting "The Artist's Proof Etching," by Mariano Fortuny which brought about $1,650 in today's dollars, and a 95-piece dinner set.  The article explained "Miss Coghlan will remove to California."

That was partly true.  Rose was to start a tour in San Francisco later that year; but that would not require emptying the house.  Four days later The Times was more direct.

On June 18 the newspaper reported "When she returned to New-York a few weeks ago, after completing her starring season, Mrs. Edgerly went to live with her husband in their New-York house.  They had never been very congenial.  He was younger than she and was not inclined to render her that homage which she had so long commanded from the public.  He was also given to petty criticisms that continually chafed her.  When she returned home to find him only more given to this habit than ever the breach between them widened rapidly and they finally agreed to quietly separate, at least temporarily."

Rose  moved into the Manhattan Beach Hotel and Clinton, according to The Evening World on June 18, "has rooms at the Lambs' Club, and is devoting himself to life insurance, having apparently discovered that there is no such thing as love-insurance."

The drama continued both on and off stage for Rose Coghlan.  While she had insisted the separation was only a trial, Edgerly obtained a divorce in South Dakota.  Rose flew into a rage when she read an Associated Press report in the fall of 1890 that said Edgerly had sued on "the grounds of drunkenness and ungovernable temper, aggravated by overindulgent in drink."  The New York Herald's headline read "Clinton Says She Drinks."

She called his claim of abandonment "pathetic" and pointed out the gross differences in their incomes.  She said he received "full advantage" of her wealth until "I grew tired of the one-sided arrangement and left him."  She added "I could have gotten a divorce from him...with the greatest of ease in life, but I disliked the idea of a scandal and preferred simply to abandon him...My desertion of him was not without good cause, I give you my word."

Rose likely seethed when, only five months later, on April 3, 1891 The Epoch focused on the obvious differences between her and Clinton's fianc√©e, Maud Barker."  "Miss Barker is a blonde young beauty, whose delicate yet brilliant coloring somehow suggests the morning-glory.  She has a profusion of pale golden hair, and a very sweet manner.  Mr. Edgerly, who somewhat resembles George Clarke, the actor, is a good-looking and accomplished man and a lawyer.  He was formerly the husband of Miss Rose Coghlan, the actress."

Catharine Barrows sold No. 114 to Edward C. Leseur and his wife, Etta, on April 26, 1892.  The couple paid $13,500 for the house--or about $375,000 today.  A Customs inspector, Leseur's name had recently appeared in the newspapers almost as often as Rose Coghlan's.

At a time when corruption and bribe-taking was apparently rampant in the field, Leseur remained honest.  His troubles started in 1890 when Douillet & Co. imported a large shipment of kid gloves.  Leseur appraised them at $3,000 more than the value Douillet & Co. had declared.  Leseur had already made an enemy of his unscrupulous supervisors who reversed the valuation and then fired Leseur.  He was charged with "wrongful discrimination in the appraisement of gloves, insubordination, and insulting language towards his superiors."

Word of the incident came spread to Washington and caught the attention of the new Secretary of the Treasury, Charles William Foster, Jr.  On April 29, 1891 the Philadelphia publication The Bulletin reported "Secretary Foster has ordered Appraiser Cooper of New York to restore Edward C. Leseur to his former position as examiner.  There is far more in this of political and commercial importance than appears on the surface."

Indeed there was.  Foster soon announced he was looking into "some matters which are of great interest to men in the Customs Service hereabout," according to The Times, which hinted that "a shake-up" was in the works.  The Evening World ran a headline on April 25, 1891 that read "Appraiser Cooper Rebuke / Examiner Leseur Reinstated with Pay Since His Removal."

The article noted "Mr. Leseur goes back to work after a four months' vacation for which he receives pay at the rate of $2,500 a year."

On October 2, 1895 Leseur joined other residents on the block in a complaint to the Common Council about the sorry condition of the street.  Their petition sought "the laying of asphalt upon the pavement now in the middle of said street."

After nearly 30 years in the Customs Service, Edward C. Leseur sent in his resignation letter on May 16, 1907.   Apparently in anticipation of his retirement, he had sold No. 144 to Ferdinand Baumgard on April 22.   Leseur's plans did not take him very far, however.  Five days later he purchased the house next door, No. 142.

Baumgard had established the firm Burger & Baumgard in 1879 with Frederick S. Burger.  Burger was, by now, deceased, leaving Baumgard as the sole owner.  He was also general manager for Markt & Co. on West Street, described as "large exporters to many countries of American manufactured products and general importers."

Living in the house with him and his wife, Augusta, was their son, Hans.  The family regularly summered in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Hans went into the medical profession and by 1909, was a respected physician.  Augusta died on September 15 that year, and her funeral was held in the house two days later.

Although Lakewood was normally the Baumgards' summer retreat, Ferdinand was there on February 10, 1911 when he died.  As had been the case with his wife, his funeral was held in the 95th Street house.

Hans, his wife, the former Else Dehls, and their son Richard remained here.  Baumgard practiced from an office he set up in the house.  Among his patients in 1915 was Marie Alice Stark, who suffered from severe anxiety.  In 1907 her husband, William Roscoe Faden had sued for divorce.  She did not contest his custody of the three children because of her scant finances and "was quite sure her husband would permit her to see her children at least once a week," according to The New York Times.

That did not happen.  And now, remarried, "She yearned after her children and sought to see them, but Mr. Faden wouldn't permit it," according to the newspaper on June 12, 1915.  Hans Baumgard was called to the stand to testify upon her behalf.  He told the court "of Mrs. Stark's mental agony and her sleepless nights caused by constant longing for her children and [that] she may suffer a nervous breakdown."

Hans seems to have looked to lessen his patient load in 1930.  An advertisement in The New York Medical Week announced "144 West 95th Street--Doctor will share office and waiting room.  Convenient location for railways and elevated lines."  Then, in 1939, the doctor's office was converted to an apartment, suggesting that he had retired completely.

In 1887 the semi-round transom of the parlor window would have contained stained glass.  
Else died on January 31, 1943.  Richard went into the Army, serving as a private first class during World War II.  He was still living in the house with his elderly father when he died on January 2, 1949.

How long Dr. Baumgard remained in the 95th Street house is unclear.   Inside it remains as he left it, though, with the ground floor apartment and duplex above.  Its unorthodox architecture is no less surprising that the incredible story of its first residents in 1887.

photographs by the author

2 comments:

  1. So, Rose was “difficult” for being ambitious and restless. She entered middle age at 34. Her marriage was May to September even with only a 6 year age difference. She was “controlling” for expecting breakfast at 7am before, as the primary breadwinner, she went to work in the city involving a lot of physical effort, and expecting a routine rest of day. Her divorce is described in a way which makes her look bad.. jealous and enraged. Even though it’s her husband repeatedly described as petty, critical, someone who didn’t work, and who vindictively gave a report of her drinking to the press even though it was not cited in the divorce decree. (He also got cut off by his own father from inheriting.) Maybe she was glad to be rid of him?

    I imagine that any successful financially independent woman during those times when it was rare for women to make their own money would have been described as a dramatic, difficult, occasionally hysterical diva by the press. I think writing about women like that in 2018, that some respect should be given to her achievements and nuance to their stories. Read between the lines of what was written in the press back then.

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