In the first years following the end of the Civil War the
Upper East Side saw rapid development.
What had been open farmland and country estates was quickly crisscrossed
with streets and avenues. In 1869
James Fee built the two speculative houses at Nos. 173 and 175 East 71st
Street, acting as his own architect. At
just 14.8 feet wide, they were unusually narrow. No. 175 was later described in The New York
Times as a “three-story French roof brown stone dwelling.”
By the turn of the century the neighborhood had
noticeably changed. As millionaires raised
elaborate mansions along Central Park, the neighboring blocks took on the
upscale tone. Wealthy citizens purchased
the Victorian rowhouses and either razed or remodeled them. In place of the outdated residences modern
high-end homes appeared.
On August 7, 1907 the engagement of Dr. Ransom Spafard
Hooker to the daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families was
leaked. The New York Times reported “The
engagement of Miss Mildred E. P. Stokes, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Anson
Phelps Stokes, to Dr. Ransom S. Hooker of this city has become public, although
it has not been formally announced.”
Hooker lived and ran his practice at No. 26 East 48th
Street. The Times noted that Mildred “made
her debut several years ago, and, like several other members of her family, she
is much interested in work in the slums and the tenement-house districts, and
recently fitted up several cottages as vacation homes for poor boys.”
|Mildred and Ransom Hooker -- Stokes Records, Volume 3|
Owing, no doubt, to the Stokes family’s social prominence, the
newspaper essentially overlooked Hooker’s pedigree. It was, however, notable. Ransom Hooker was descended from a signer of
the Declaration of Independence, Lyman Hall; and among his ancestors were the
owners of Britain’s Spafarth Castle during the Saxon period.
Following the wedding the couple continued their varied
interests. Dr. Hooker, while serving
as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, was especially interested in
anthropology and exploration. He joined
an archaeological expedition to Arabia sponsored by Princeton University and
only illness in the family prevented him from joining Admiral Robert E. Peary
to the North Pole in 1909. Mildred
remained active in social reform.
In 1910 Hooker purchased the two narrow houses on east 71st
Street with the intention of demolishing them and constructing an imposing
mansion. As plans were underway, the
Hookers leased No. 173 for the winter season to W. Schuyler Smith.
Architect S. E. Gage was commissioned to design the new
structure. Completed in 1911, it was a
somewhat somber neo-Gothic fantasy of pointed openings and clustered multi-paned windows held
together with long, carved drip moldings. Gage took advantage of the now-generous
29-foot plot by setting the bulk of the mansion at the property line, then placing a narrow section back—producing not only visual dimension, but added
light to the interiors.
|The house as it appeared just after completion. The large garage opening was later reduced. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWT6G71G&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915&PN=2#/SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWT6G71G&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915&PN=1|
An unheard of innovation was the inclusion of space for the Hooker automobile at ground level. The inconvenience of housing one's car offsite--as had always been the case with carriages--was eliminated.
Life in the new home would be upset by the United States’
entrance into World War I in 1917. Dr.
Hooker sailed overseas with the troops, serving as a major in the Army Medical
Corps. He commanded the 308th
Sanitary Train of the 83rd Division and later organized a 3,000-bed
Army Hospital in Le Mans, France.
It appears that in his absence Mildred moved back in with
her family. In September 1917 the 71st
Street mansion was leased to George L. Whitney for the season. The following May Mrs. Grant B. Schley, Jr.
took it for the summer; and in October 1918 Irving Cox leased the
fully-furnished home. But things returned to normal as the war
ended and Hooker, decorated by the French Government, arrived home.
The Hookers would have two children, each named after a
parent: Ransom S. Hooker, Jr. and Mildred Phelps Stokes Hooker. The privileged young lady would go on to be
schooled at the private Brearley School and later Foxcroft School in Virginia;
while her brother would eventually enroll at Yale University.
The Stokes family was an interesting one and Mildred’s “work
in the slums” was not nearly so newsworthy as the activities of some of her
Her brother James Graham
Phelps Stokes drew attention because of his radical political leanings.
He and another sister, Helen Olivia Phelps
Stokes, lived next door to one another in Greenwich Village.
Graham’s wife Rosa consistently shocked
society with activities like distributing birth control pamphlets.
She was convicted of “seditious utterances”
and was arrested in November 1918 at their No. 88 Grove Street
house for “illegal
registration” to vote.”
Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, garnered less controversial notice as an architect
Graham Stokes’s marriage to Rosa came to a well-publicized
end in 1925 when he discovered her “misconduct” with a hotel owner. The trial lasted 30 minutes. One year later he married again, this time in
the grand rooms of his sister Mildred’s home.
On Friday March 12, 1926 The Times reported “J. G. Phelps
Stokes, millionaire Socialist, who divorced Mrs. Rosa Pastor Stokes, storm
centre of many Socialist and Communist troubles, is to be married tomorrow to
Miss Lettice Lee Sands at the home of his sister, Mrs. Ransom Spafard Hooker,
173 East Seventy-first street.”
By now Hooker, in addition to his surgical practice, was
teaching at the Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as associate
professor of surgery. Still active in
reform issues, Mildred was highly involved with the Association to Promote
Proper Housing for Girls. The family
summered at their home in Charleston, South Carolina and at the Hooker camp on
Birch Island on Upper St. Regis Lake.
In 1927 Maude Robinson, who was director of the pottery
department of Greenwich House, was given part of the basement to operate a
pottery studio. On May 18 that year The
New York Times reported on an exhibition which “disclosed the fact that many
women of social prominence do expert work in pottery.” Among Maude’s students were wealthy
socialites like Mrs. George Nichols (a daughter of J. P. Morgan), Princess
Dorothy Caracciolo, Mrs. Thomas Cunningham, and Mrs. George Naumburg. Maude Robinson would continue her pottery
studio here for 15 years.
Entertainments in the Hooker mansion reached a climax in
1929 when daughter Mildred was introduced to society. Joy would turn to mourning only months later when tragedy devastated the
Hooker household. On February 16, 1930 a
special to The New York Times reported “Ransom S. Hooker, Jr., 19 years old…a
sophomore at Yale University, was instantly killed and three of his companions
were seriously injured just before dusk tonight when an automobile in which
they were driving at a high rate of speed through Simsbury skidded of the icy
road, overturned and crashed into a large elm tree.”
The four boys were returning from a weekend visit to
Northfield, Massachusetts where they had attended a student conference. Ransom Hooker was driving and when the car fishtailed,
he “tried to control it, but because of the icy condition of the road it was
unmanageable.” The boy’s neck was broken
and he was killed instantly.
Entertainments eventually returned to the house, mostly as luncheons and meetings
to benefit the reform organizations.
During the annual meeting of the Association to Promote Proper Housing
for Girls in the house on January 16, 1934, Mildred (who was now president of
the group) proudly announced that the association had interviewed more than
4,000 young women during the prior year and helped many to find jobs. She pointed out the organization’s multiracial
outreach, saying that of the 450 girls it had housed, 200 of them
Although they retained ownership of the house, the Hookers
left in 1938 and converted the mansion into apartments. The renovation, completed in June 1939,
resulted in four lavish apartments.
Two years later the Hookers sold the 71st Street
house. Among the tenants at the time was
Elaine Heineberg Luria who married author James Ramsey Ullman on January 26,
1946. Actor Dennis Hoey, best known as
the character Inspector Lestrade in six of the Sherlock Holmes films with Basil
Rathbone, lived here; and in 1953 it was home to Mrs. Francis Boardman and her son, also named
Francis. The Hooker name
briefly returned to No. 173 East 71st Street when, somewhat
ironically, Francis Boardman became engaged to Anne Dwight Hooker in 1953.
On December 14, 1960, after three decades here, the 81-year
old Maude Robinson died in her studio-apartment. The respected artist had been technical
consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York in addition to her
decades of teaching.
Five years earlier journalist Meyer Berger had written “The
world’s most wealthy potters—men and women of distinguished New York families—labor
in monastic quiet in a sub-basement in the former Ransom Hooker Mansion at 175
East Seventy-first Street…Miss Robinson permits no short cuts in her
courses. Each pupil, no matter how
distinguished his or her ancestry, must learn every phase of pottery making—choosing
and mixing the proper clays; working them by hand or throwing them on a wheel;
firing them in the oven; making glaze from basic ingredients.”
In 1996 the house was renovated again—this time the
conversion resulted in just two apartments.
A triplex engulfed the basement through second floor, and the top two
floors made up a duplex. In 2001 the
owners of the two apartments would begin a series of back-and-forth lawsuits
that would drag on for years.
Dr. Burton Sultan and his family owned the triplex. Then actor Sir Sean Connery purchased the
upper duplex and began renovations. The
upheaval prompted the eye doctor to sue Connery in 2001 saying the renovations
and roof repairs had “damaged his home and injured family members,” according
to People magazine. The family
complained of foul odors, water damage, cracked plaster and accused the actor
of trying to drive them out of their home.
Connery and his wife, Micheline, counter-sued, saying that
the Sultans were hindering necessary repairs.
By 2007 the Connerys had filed six lawsuits and the Sultans at least
that many. New York Supreme Court
Justice Marcy Friedman finally put her foot down, barring any further litigation
without court permission.
“Regrettably, both parties to this dispute have engaged in a
slash-and-burn litigation strategy,” she wrote, “that has at times been
duplicative and exceedingly burdensome to their adversaries and the courts.”
Despite the tempest inside, the Hooker mansion retains is
sedate exterior appearance—an architecturally remarkable structure on an
non-credited photographs taken by the author