Catherine Cossitt Dodge was wealthy in her own right when she married attorney John Shillito Rogers, the eldest son of Henry Pendleton Rogers, on April 18, 1906. She was the granddaughter of millionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes. Three years before the couple began construction on their opulent mansion at 53 East 79th Street, Catherine turned her attention to the less fortunate.
Grosvenor Atterbury had been the architect of the Sage Foundation Homes Corporation for several years, designing improved housing for low-income families. In 1913 Catherine Rogers hired him to design a "model tenement" in the neighborhood just north of the notorious Hell's Kitchen district. Completed the following year, it was highly praised as a "model" tenement building.
Atterbury's design drew on 16th century English architecture in the recessed entrance within a Tudor arch under a square-headed drip molding. It was echoed in two arched windows per floor, each with cast iron faux balconies. Atterbury forewent a cornice in favor of a brick Mission style parapet that protected the rooftop play area.
To reduce costs, the decorative elements were executed in "structural material," as worded by The Brickbuilder. Creative brickwork formed the arches and moldings, and the sills were cast in concrete. Nevertheless, beauty was not sacrificed for thrift. The magazine noted that the front was of "dark red wire cut brick, laid in dark mortar, with almost black headers in patterns...All exposed faces of these concrete sections are of broken tile and crushed gravel, brushed with wire brushes."
It was Atterbury's interior design that drew attention, however. In its May 1915 issue, The Brickbuilder noted, "The term 'model' is decidedly applicable to the arrangement of the rooms and the amount of light and air provided for each apartment." The Independent, on April 13, 1914, wrote,
Light and fresh air, play-space for the youngsters, and something to make neighbors out of co-tenants--all at a price that opens the door to families who are hard put to it to secure any of these advantages--these were the essentials in the planning of the Rogers dwellings in New York--the model of all model dwellings to date.
The Rogers Tenements were actually two buildings separated by courtyards, each with two apartments per floor. The courtyards were 50-per-cent larger than the tenement law required. The buildings were connected by a two-story structure, on the first floor of which were a common hallway and "perambulator room" for the storage of baby carriages.
Large courtyards separated the two buildings, and a "common room" occupied the second floor of the link. The Brickbuilder, May 1915, (copyright expired)
The second story of connecting section held a community room "for the use of all the tenants, for reading and chatting and just getting acquainted," explained The Independent. "It is comfortably built, with large skylights and windows and big built-in seats and bookcases."
The communal room on the second floor of the linking structure. The Independent, April 13, 1914 (copyright expired)
The tenants enjoyed other unexpected amenities. In the "well lighted basement," as described by The Brickbuilder, each tenant had a storage area enclosed by wire fencing. (On that level were also the "garbage burner" and the boiler that supplied hot water and heat to the building.) On the roof, paved with "promenade tile," were playgrounds for the children.
Children at play on the roof. Note the glider to the left. Technical World Magazine, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Technical World Magazine praised the Rogers Tenements, calling them "dwellings that provide real homes to New Yorkers who are having trouble in keeping the wolf from the door. There is nothing cheap, nothing that smacks of charity about the model homes." Rents for the two-bedroom apartments ranged from $20 to $22 per month (about $615 in 2022).
Technical World Magazine said that while those rents would seem high to people in small towns throughout the country, in Manhattan "a comfortable flat of four rooms in a decent district" could not be found for that amount, and stressed that included in the rent was "steam heat, hot and cold water, and most of all, a common room supplied with magazines and some books, for social intercourse between all the tenants."
The larger windows were supplied with canvas awnings, an aid in keeping the apartments cool. Record & Guide, July 31, 1915 (copyright expired)
An advertisement by one resident looking for work in September 1915 hints at the tenants. "Useful man, single, Swede, middle age; experienced inside and outside work; private small family; city or country."
John L. Sutherland lived here in 1922. He had served and was wounded in World War I while serving with the 105th Infantry. Back at home, he saw another battle play out--the Prohibitionists against the "wets." It was a war that the Prohibitionists won, and Sutherland was not happy about it. On March 20, 1922 he sent a terroristic letter to the State Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League that threatened:
If your words and actions henceforth are not silent and if you do not take your place quietly in the great body of American citizenship we mean to kill you without the slightest compunction.
Sutherland was arrested and held on a massive $10,000 bail. The magistrate explained the amount saying that he "believed Sutherland had a temporary aberration and he wanted to protect him from doing violence to Anderson," according to The New York Times. On May 8, Sutherland avowed to three judges in Special Sessions that he had acted on "a silly impulse." A probation officer testified that he had "suffered shell-shock" while serving in France. Somewhat unexpectedly, while the judges found him guilty, they suspended his sentence.
Not long after the incident, the Rogers Tenements were purchased by the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and converted to the St. Joseph's Home. An extension that included a chapel was erected on the parcel at the east of the building, previously a play yard for the tenement children.
An addition was erected upon the building's conversion to the St. Joseph's Home. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
The placid atmosphere of the St. Joseph's Home was shattered when Bridget Farry checked in against her will in April 1929. Five months earlier Arnold Rothstein, known on the street as The Brain or The Big Bankroll, was found murdered in the Park Central Hotel. Mrs. Farry was a chambermaid there and detectives were certain she could identify the murderer. Bridget Farry was, perhaps, fearful about testifying against a mobster and was decidedly not cooperative. She was held on bail for two days in the Jefferson Market Women's Prison, during which time according to The Standard Union Bureau, she had caused such an uproar that authorities "fixed it to have her boarded, instead, in St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Home, 425 West Forty-fourth street." It did not go well.
"Mrs. Farry had a room there and the constant companionship of three policewomen who worked in eight-hour shifts to see that Mrs. Farry did not go away from there." Finally, after two weeks, Bridget Farry determined to go home. The Standard Union Bureau quoted the policewoman on duty as saying "Over my dead body," and commented, "Mrs. Farry thought that was all right, too."
"Books, lamps and other articles calculated to raise contusions and abrasions and lacerations began caroming off the policewoman. Knuckles backed by two hundred and fifty pounds of indignant State's witness helped along." When the police woman was relieved at 8:00, the she was "shattered and torn." A third policewoman was summoned, and then a "husky male cop" was called. He wasn't enough. A second male officer was called. It took all five officers to get Bridget Farry to the West 47th Street police station three blocks away.
The policemen there were crestfallen when a call later came from the District Attorney's office. "Take Mrs. Farry back to St. Joseph's Home." One after another, the officers--first female and then male--went to the back to retrieve their prisoner. Each one reported back, "She says she won't go."
Patrolman Paul Kastner, who was not even on duty, but who had come in to get his paycheck, was one of three officers ordered to transport her back. "Officer Kastner and the two policewomen went back to where Mrs. Farry was and appeared immediately," said the article. "Not without the wagon," Kastner told the sergeant.
A crowd had formed outside the precinct house when the paddy wagon pulled up. "The door of the station house opened and Mrs. Farry came out, a hysterical woman, her clothing almost torn off her." The sergeant and three patrolmen brought her out. Five male and three female officers guarded Bridget Farry on her trip back to St. Joseph's Home, where chaos reigned until the witness was finally called to testify.
A renovation completed in 1943 resulted in 16 single occupancy rooms per floor above the ground levels. Run by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, in 1972 The New York Times described the facility as having "92 rooms and meals for transients as well as for women who want to stay longer." Known today as the St. Joseph's Immigrant home, it affords housing to women "who are working in New York City and/or attending school or internship programs," according to the facility's website. The site says the organization "helps solve the problems of New Yorkers in need, non-Catholics and Catholics alike."
St. Joseph's Immigrant Home got unwanted publicity in December 2014 when it initiated significant increases of room rates. One tenant told a reporter her monthly rent jumped from $600 to $800. Rather unexpectedly, about half of the 70 immigrant women went on rent strike, putting their funds into escrow after receiving eviction notices. Periodicals were not kind to the organization, a Curbed New York headline accusing the nuns of having "Bad Habits" and Gothamist titling an article "Nuns Defy Stereotype To Raise Rent on Immigrant Tenants."
St. Joseph's Immigrant Home continues to provide affordable housing to single women.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for prompting this post
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