Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Pompeo Coppini Studio - 210 West 14th Street


Essentially nothing other than the brick facade and stone sills of the 1848 house survive.

When the row of 25-foot wide Greek Revival homes were completed on the south side of West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in 1848 the neighborhood was filling with equally high-end residences.  Just over three blocks west of the new Union Square, West 14th Street would be a fashionable residential thoroughfare for a few decades to come.

During the Civil War years the family of Edmund Murray Young lived in No. 88 West 14th Street (soon to be renumbered 210).  Young and his wife, the former Josepha Matilda McDonald, had seven children, the eldest being Elizabeth, born in 1844.  One of them, Alexander McDonald Young, died in infancy in 1863 and another, Edmund, Jr., died at the age of 18 a year later.

Elizabeth Bleecker Young's wedding in Trinity Chapel on May 17, 1870 drew attention within society; not only for its brilliance, but because of the groom's position with "our wealthy Cuban society," as worded by The New York Evening Telegram.  Major Don Carlos Francisco Loynaz was, said the article, "a member of General [Emanuel] Quesada's staff and a gallant and brave soldier" and added "The bride, an exquisite beauty, [is] noted as well for her beautiful characteristics as for her beautiful form and features."

The wealth of the Young family was evidenced in Elizabeth's white satin gown.  "The bride's robe was one of the most elegant we have seen this season," said the journalist.  "The groomsmen were attired in full evening dress, as were also the polite ushers."  Following the ceremony a reception was held in the 14th Street house, which The New York Evening Telegram deemed "an exceedingly select and elegant affair.

The newlyweds moved into the house.  Elizabeth continued to work for worthy causes and in 1878 she focused on establishing a lodging house for unemployed working women.  On July 5, 1878 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on her success.  "Mrs. Loynaz of No. 210 West Fourteenth-st., obtained enough subscriptions to warrant the undertaking, and then hired the large dwelling house at No. 148 West Twenty-fourth-st.  The building...can easily accommodate thirty persons with comfortable lodgings in the Summer time."

In the spring of 1882 the 14th Street house became home to another Cuban national.  It was purchased by Cayetano de Socarras on April 20, 1882.  The title was placed in the name of Angela de Socarras.   The couple remained until October 1890.

By then the West 14th Street neighborhood had become greatly commercialized.  Many of the once grand homes were being operated as boarding houses, several of them with shops now in the former basement levels.   No. 210 escaped being converted for business for years; however its glory days were most definitely behind it at the turn of the century when it was run as a boarding house and then as a rooming house.  

The tenants were shady at best.  One of them, Alfred J. Jarman, described by the The Daily Long Island Farmer as "an Englishman advanced in years," seemed an unlikely roomer.  He was employed in the patent department of a scientific journal, had a wife, "several grown daughters," and a house in Newark, New Jersey.  

But when police entered his rooms on December 22, 1911, it all made sense.  "At Jarman's rooms they found a complete counterfeiting outfit, consisting of a lithographic press, ten plates for making ten dollar notes, a quantity of ink and paper, several molds and a supply of white metal."  Jarman not only produced fake bills, but coins.  "Captain Flynn's men found a hundred bogus dimes and quarters."

Another tenant was 21-year old James Redmond.  He was a member of the dangerous Hudson Dusters gang.  On Sunday July 28, 1912 he was part of a violent confrontation with another gang, the Neighborhood Sons, at Horatio and Washington Streets in Greenwich Village.   Several dozen young thugs scattered when police descended on the scene where one tough lay dead and another critically wounded.

While police were questioning the dying William Jenks at St. Vincent's Hospital, Redmond staggered in, saying "I'm very sick and want to be cared for."  The Evening World reported "A doctor examined Redmond and found a bullet hole in the back of his coat and a wound in his back."

"You have been shot," he said.

"Yes, I suppose I have," Redmond replied.  

Neither Jenks nor Redmond admitted any knowledge of the street fight before they died.

By 1913 No. 210 was termed a "lodging house," the lowest form of accommodations.  Lodging house tenants received no amenities, merely a bed or cot, and paid on a day-to-day basis.  Mary Reilly was the proprietor in the first days of 1914 when things got out of hand even for the seasoned landlady.  

On January 14 The Evening Telegram reported "Mrs. Mary Reilly telephoned to the police that there was a band of gunmen in her house...and that they refused to leave.  She said they were firing their revolvers out of the windows and threatened to kill her if she told the police."  When a police lieutenant and two detectives arrived, they found a group of men barricaded in two rooms on the top floor.  They broke down the doors.

The hooligans resisted arrest.  It did not go well for them.  "In the melee the four men in the room suffered painful abrasions and contusions by 'falling against the furniture,'" said the article.  Also arrested was a 16-year old boy, Peter Haape, who was wanted for burglary.  

The early 1920's brought another change to the West 14th Street neighborhood as artists created studios in the former homes.  In 1923 sculptor Pompeo Coppini and his wife, the former Elizabeth di Barbieri, purchased No. 210.  They hired architect Albert S. Gottlieb to convert it with a store and studio in the basement level, offices on the former parlor level, a duplex apartment for the Coppinis on the second and third floors, and three artist studios on the top.

Coppini was born in Italy on May 19, 1870 and emigrated to the United States in March 1896.  His career in New York started out humbly sculpting figures for a wax museum.   While working on his commission to create a memorial to Francis Scott Key, he fell in love with his model and the couple married.  By the time they moved into No. 210 West 14th Street, he had established himself as a respected artist.

Albert S. Gottlieb removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the street level.  Although it is not signed, there is little doubt that the carved tympanum above the new entrance is the work of Coppini.  The bas relief of an artist with brush in hand doubled as an advertisement of sorts for the studios on the top floor.


Given Coppini's artistic status, the work is most likely marble.  It is difficult to tell for sure, because someone decided that painting the sculpture highway yellow would be a good idea.  It wasn't.

On March 17, 1932 The Pelham Sun reported on the "delightful studio tea on Sunday afternoon at Mr. Coppini's studio, 210 West Fourteenth street, New York City."  About 125 guests were entertained by a "delightful musical program."  The article ended "Mr. Coppini is a sculptor of note."

The event took place in the Coppini's duplex.  While the original plans intended for his studio to be in the ground floor, in 1929 it was leased to Spanish-born Carmen Barañano, the widow of Jesús Moneo.  In his memory she named her store Casa Moneo.  Here she sold imported Spanish foods and other products to the residents of Little Spain that was emerging along West 14th Street.

Coppini's most celebrated tenant was French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp who took one of the top floor studios in October 1943.  He was paying Coppini $40 per month rent in 1952, just over $375 today.  Duchamp lived in the studio until 1959 when he moved to No. 28 West 10th Street; but continued working here until his death in Paris on October 2, 1968.  

It was here that Duchamp worked quietly on what the Philadelphia Museum of Art describes as "the fabrication of a large and complex tableau to which he gave the title Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage."  The English translations of the two works are The Waterfall and The Illuminating Gas.

Music critic Winthrop Sargeant visited the artist in his studio in 1952.  He described it in his article entitled "Dada's Daddy" in Life magazine on April 28:

He lives four flights up in a little garretlike studio on 14th Street, one of Manhattan's most blatantly commercial thoroughfares.  It seems a strange place for a high-brow to live, but that is probably the very reason Duchamp has chosen it--to outwit anyone who might expect him to compromise his individuality by doing the obvious thing.

His studio is dominated by its chess table.  Here Duchamp sits by the hour, sometimes actually playing against an opponent.  
Marcell Duchamp poses over his chess board in the 14th Street studio in 1952.  Life magazine, April 28, 1952 
The Coppinis sold No. 210 to Joseph Torch in 1956.  On May 24 The New York Times reported that he "plans to occupy the store for the sale of artists' supplies."  But if those plans involved evicting Casa Moneo, they soon changed.  The 14th Street fixture remained until 1988.



Today a nail salon occupies that ground floor space.  Above it are one apartment per floor other than the top, which still holds three furnished rooms as Pompeo Coppini envisioned in 1923.  And hundreds of pedestrians pass the yellow painted sculpture without a glance.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. Google street view shows that, as of June 2019 the brick on 210 West 14th Street is painted dark green with the sculpture and door yellow and red, respectfully. So the front of this building is in a cycle of slathering new paint over old, slowly filling in details. I understand the current owner not appreciating what they have; but what was the first owner who painted over it thinking?

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