Saturday, January 12, 2019

Beleaguered Twins - 206 and 208 East 35th Street


Despite the ill-designed replacement stoops and the lost window details of the second floor, the houses retain much of their former charm.
At only 12-and-a-half feet wide, the mirror image brownstones at Nos. 206 and 208 East 35th Street were intended for middle class families.  Yet their up-to-date Italianate design featured elements seen in much more upscale homes.  The high stone stoops led to a rusticated parlor level where the entrances were not embellished with fussy brackets and pediments, but quiet, splayed keystones which were echoed over the windows.   A prominent sill course separated the planar-faced upper floors where the openings wore handsome molded frames.

A single cast metal cornice unified the two homes.  The architect further downplayed the narrowness of the residences by placing their entrances on opposite sides.

More affluent families were already enjoying running water from the Croton Reservoir when these homes were built.  But that was not a luxury shared by the owners of Nos. 206 and 208.  And when the Sanitary Police checked the outhouses on April 24, 1860, No. 206 did not pass muster.  A citation ordered "that the owners have the regular three days' notice to renovate their premises, after which time they will be liable to be cleansed at public expense."

It is unclear whether the Kirk family lived at No. 206 during the horrific five-day long Draft Riots that began on July 11, 1863; but they would be tragic victims.   On July 17 The New York Times printed a full-page account of the atrocities that had occurred the day before.

At around 5:00 that evening a violent mob had reached the neighborhood of 29th Street between First and Second Avenues where "they were robbing and plundering all the stores in that vicinity."  The State Militia moved in, but "they found the rioters were too strong for them, and after contesting the field for half an hour, they were ordered to withdraw."

Terrified citizens locked themselves within their homes, hoping against hope that the mob would not find a reason to break in.  But for some reason one or more of the Kirk family was outside.  Among the long list of fatalities and injuries printed in The Times was "Ellen Kirk, a child two years of age, accidentally shot by the mob, at No 206 East Thirty-fifth-street."

While No. 208 held on as a private home (it was home to city inspector Michael G. Murray in the 1880's), No. 206 was being operated as a boarding house by Mrs. B. Brashen at that time.  Among her boarders in 1884 was 21-year old Fannie O'Keefe, whose deceased father, Frank O'Keefe, had been a City Coroner.

Despite her young age and having had only "some experience in teaching," Fannie was the Acting Principal of the Industrial School of the Children's Aid Society on West 18th Street.  She was filling in while the school's principal was "recruiting her health in the South," according to The New York Times.

Children who attended industrial schools came, for the most part, from impoverished families.  They had little training in appropriate behavior nor respect for authority.  It was a condition that would lead to Fannie's becoming infuriated on the afternoon of March 31, 1884.

Ida Miller, according to The Times, had "not learned her lessons well and was refused marks."  She was instructed by Fannie to remain after school.  At closing, the 12-year-old headed out but Fannie pursued her, brought her back to the classroom, where the child was told to "properly sit."  The rebellious girl turned her back on her teacher, challenged her to strike her, and then "dared the teacher to prevent her leaving and called her 'a dirty, big-mouthed thing.'"

The insult earned Ida a slap across the face.  Fannie then ordered another student, John Cavanagh, to hold Ida's left hand while she beat her with a cane.  It would seem that Fannie O'Keefe's disciplinary fervor got the best of her.  "Ida fell on the floor nearly insensible."

Streetwise beyond her years, Ida knew the ins and outs of the system.  She marched off to the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children where she lodged a complaint and exhibited her evidence.  "The right side of her face was swollen, and a hand had left the marks of fingers on her cheek.  Her right hand was black and swollen and there were black streaks on her arms and shoulders," reported The Times.

On April 1 a warrant was issued for Fannie's arrest.  She told the judge that Ida was a "wayward girl" and recounted the girl's actions and insults.  "This," said The New York Times, "Miss O'Keefe believed warranted her in thrashing the girl."  Justice Patterson disagreed, saying "however great the provocation, the punishment inflicted was too severe."

At around the time of that incident Mrs. Brashen rented a back parlor to Mary Edrup, a dressmaker.  An English woman, she said her husband had abandoned her and that she had subsequently obtained a divorce.  Other than that, her landlady and the other boarders knew little about her.  She was characterized as being "reticent about herself."

Mary was described by a newspaper as "a comely brunette, quiet in manner and tasteful in her attire."   She left on "a hasty trip to England" in February 1885 and afterward she returned to her room at No. 206.   None of the others living in the house realized that she was deeply troubled.

Then, on Saturday morning, July 18, The New York Times reported "Mrs. May [sic] Edrupt [sic], of No. 206 East Thirty-fifth-street, tried to kill herself at 11:30 o'clock last night by shooting herself in the left breast."  The gunshot had wakened everyone in the house and they rushed to the room.  There, according to the article, "she was found lying across the bed in her room, clad in a wrapper.  She moaned and said: 'This puts an end to my troubles.  I was so unhappy.'"   Two days after shooting herself doctors held little hope of her survival.

Still a private residence, No. 208 was home to Colonel Theodore B. Mills by 1906.  The corpulent 67-year old (The Sun estimated his weight at "more than 300 pounds") hailed originally from Ashtabula, Ohio.  Prior to coming to New York City he established a real estate business in Topeka, Kansas, had been involved in land and mining operations in New Mexico, and was a major real estate operator in El Paso, Texas.   In Manhattan he was best known for his political activities.

He was elected a delegate to the Independence League Convention in 1906.  The event was held in Carnegie Hall on September 11 and as hundreds filled the auditorium it became, according to one account "insufferably hot."  Mills told some friends, including his daughter, that he was "pretty nearly all in" and said he was going outside for air.

Although he complained of "a slight dizziness," according to The Sun, he seemed to have been recovering and was conversing on an upper step with another delegate.  The newspaper recounted "A band was blaring, red fire was burning, everybody was cheering and there were so many evidences of enthusiasm that Mr. Mills remarked to Delegate Rose: 'There is going to be tremendous crowd here to-night.'  Then he sank down and died almost instantly."

Not even the police were allowed, by law, to remove a body until the Coroner had arrived.  So as throngs of delegates filed up the steps and into the hall, they were forced to pass the corpse.  A policeman was sent to a nearby livery stable to borrow a horse blanket with which to cover Mill's body.

Someone went inside to tell Mills's daughter, Mrs. C. O. Horner, what had occurred.  "When the news of her father's death was communicated to her she nearly collapsed," wrote The Times.  "She had to pass through a throng of laughing, chatting delegates, for few of the men in the hall knew what had occurred. A policeman accompanied her to the Colonel's house."

In 1937 both houses were slapped with a Multiple Family Violation, suggesting that by now they were being operated by the same owners.   Alterations in 1952 resulted in one apartment per floor, a configuration which survives.

It was most likely at this time that the stoops were replaced with side-facing brick versions.  The narrow proportions of the houses resulted in the stoops sharing the bottom step and preventing more than one person entering or leaving at a time.  The same renovation was probably responsible for the window surrounds of the second floor being inexplicably shaved off.

photograph by the author

4 comments:

  1. The 1940 tax photos are not the best, but they do show the stoops.

    http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/s/2d2tcq

    http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/s/8ue3tc

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    1. Not to mention the shaved off window surrounds of the second floor. Thanks!

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  2. The digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York (rather randomly) includes 23 photos by Edmund Vincent Gillon taken in the backyard of 208 East 35 Street.

    https://collections.mcny.org/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYW5ELRFWY&SMLS=1&RW=980&RH=1666

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    1. Fascinating. I can't find any biographical information on Gillon, but it would seem that one of his friends lived there- or perhaps he did.

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