Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lost Van Rensselaer Mansion -- No. 101 Waverly Place

The size and grandeur of the mansion reflected the Van Rensselaer status.  The property stretches down MacDougal street, including a walled garden and private stable.  (Someone left her wicker baby carriage in front of the house.)  Photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Beginning in 1840 the development of Washington Square, with its fine brick-faced mansions, spilled onto the north side of Waverley Place between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue.  Owners and developers hoped that homes on this block-long spur of Washington Square North would enjoy the same esteem as those on the park proper.

Holding its own with the grandest mansions of Washington Square was the Cornelia Van Rensselaer house at the northwest corner of Waverley Place and MacDougal Street.  Four stories tall and 35-feet wide, the Greek Revival residence featured limestone or marble trim, floor to ceiling parlor windows, and an imposing presence.  Cornelia’s property stretched nearly half the block up MacDougal Street.

If the wealthy widow was annoyed in 1845 when she appeared on the publicly-published List of Unpaid Personal Taxes (she owed $88.77, or about $2,800 today), her irritation was not enough to make her pay.  The amount still showed as unpaid on the city’s books in 1854.

The Van Rensselaer name was among the oldest and most respected in the city.  Cornelia busied herself with worthy causes and while living here in 1847 was a “manager” of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans.

Gardiner Greene Howland also came from a long American pedigree.  This grandfather, Joseph Howland, was born in Boston in 1749 and founded the shipbuilding firm of Joseph Howland & Son.  Howland’s father, Gardiner Greene Howland, Sr., continued with the company and was a director of the Bank of New York and actively helped build the Hudson River Railroad.

Young Howland married Mary Grafton Dulany in 1856 and by 1863 they were living in the former Van Rensselaer mansion.  The couple would have four children and Howland would become general manager of The New York Herald.

Just two years later, in 1865, the house was home to the Edward Robinson family.   Robinson manufactured “haversacks and knapsacks” as well as Springfield rifles.  The outbreak of civil war meant a potential boon for his company and in August 1864 he received a contract from the Depot of Army Clothing and Equipage for knapsacks.

A few months later Robinson was accused of bribing an official to obtain the lucrative contract.  On February 2, 1865 he countered “I have always been a Union man, a member of the Loyal League, and have always contributed to the cause of the Union, to the amount of many thousands of dollars, having given in one check $10,000; I never paid and never will pay any bribe or bribes to officials in order to get contracts or favors, but I am always ready to support the Government in a proper way.”

That promise to support the Government took a more personal form when Robinson’s son was drafted into the army a few months later.

It may have been that Robinson was leasing the mansion from Howard Henderson.  At any rate the Henderson estate still owned the property in 1871 when (most likely to the shock of the surrounding residents) it was leased to New York City “for use of Second District Police and Third District Civil Courts.” 

Construction on what would become the magnificent Jefferson Market Courthouse complex half a block away on Sixth Avenue had just been initiated.  Therefore, as explained in The New York Times on September 28, 1871, ‘The Court-rooms were removed to No. 101 Waverley-place, which was hired at a rent of $6,500 per annum.”  The rent would rise to $8,000 by May 2, 1873, according to the Documents of the Board of Aldermen of the City of New York that year.

Although the Aldermen approved the rent increase; Assistant Alderman Geis, Chairman of the Committee on Law, bristled, calling it “another fraud.”  He complained that city was paying for an empty building.  On June 4, 1872, nearly a year before the lease was renewed, he argued that the rooms were “leased for the use of the Second District Police Court and the Third District Civil Court, but are now unoccupied.”

In 1874 the city relinquished its lease on the mansion and it became a high-end boarding house.   Young Thomas Burr Hoxsey, from Williamstown, Massachusetts, lived here while he studied at Columbia College that year.  Jacob E. Sutterlin was boarding here in 1875 when he exhibited his “Universal Hand Planing Machine” at the American Institute.

Other residents included Thoams C. Ballard, manufacturer of window sashes; and Mrs. Belle Cole who advertised in The Courier in 1881 as “soprano for Concert Engagements.”

Attorney Richard A. Springs found himself in a sticky situation in 1880.  The Princeton graduate came from a well-known family in Charlotte, North Carolina and was described by The New York Times as “a fine, gentlemanly-appearing man.”  In 1879 he met a young woman who lived nearby at No. 35 East 9th Street, Emily Hinde.  The New York Times later described her as “a tall woman, plainly dressed, with a severe cast of features.”  Emily fell in love with Springs.  

When Springs did not return the woman’s affections, she began stalking him and to “annoy him by using the columns of the newspapers,” according to Spring’s friends.  In February, 1880 after the frustrated lawyer went to North Carolina—partly to visit family and partly to hide—Emily Hinde sued, telling the Jefferson Market Police Court “she had been led astray under a promise of marriage.”  She claimed that Springs had “run away to avoid arrest.”

On November 10, 1880 The New York Times reported “The plaintiff had not ceased her pursuit of him, and on Sunday last an advertisement was published in a daily newspaper offering a reward of $100 for information as to his whereabouts.”   The beleaguered attorney was brought back to New York to stand trial.  “Mr. Springs will combat the prosecution to the end,” reported The Times.  “The plaintiff is equally resolute.”

The boarding house was run by Mrs. M. Van Riper in 1890.  The lifestyle of a proprietress of a high-class home like No. 101 Waverley Place was relatively enviable.  On June 16, 1890 The Evening World said “Mrs. Van Riper is in the habit of being served in her room every morning before she arises with hot milk.”  But on that particular morning things went awry.

The servant who brought Mrs. Van Riper her hot milk was George Montreuil.  While she was distracted, Montreuil was busy stealing her things.  “While she was drinking the milk, she alleges, the servant gathered up a diamond breastpin, a pair of gold eyeglasses, a diamond ring and three dresses.”  Later that morning she complained at the Jefferson Market Court that he had made off with $300 worth of property.

Mrs. Van Riper’s boarders included school teacher Joseph S. Taylor and physicians Emma Klein and W. E. Forest.  In addition to his private practice, Forest was the physician for the Wetmore Home for Friendless Girls on the south side of Washington Square Park.

Forest’s wide-range of cases included the tragic instance of Italian immigrants Rosino Couzoniero and her husband Peter on September 9, 1893.   A saloon keeper, Peter was about 39 years old and his wife ten years younger.  They lived in rooms above the saloon at No. 25 South Fifth Avenue  with Peter’s sister.  (South Fifth Avenue would later be renamed Thompson Street.)

On Friday, September 8 Couzoniero purchased mushrooms at the grocery store of Jerolino Demarco just down the block from his saloon.  “Mrs. Couzoniero cooked them about 3 o’clock that day, and both ate heartily of them.  Mrs. Maria Antonia Negra, sister of Couzoniero, tasted them, but has not suffered any ill effect,” said The Evening World two days later.

The “mushrooms” were, in fact, poisonous toadstools.   “Early Friday evening the Couzonieros were taken violently ill.  Dr. Forest, of 101 Waverley place, was called in.  He did what he could to relieve them, but without success.  After suffering terribly Rosino died this morning.  Her husband survived her but a few hours,” reported The Evening World on September 11.

In the meantime, Demarco, the grocer was sick and his brother and his partner were bedridden.  “Both men are very ill and may die,” said the newspaper.

In April 1894 a young British girl living at the Home for Friendless Girls caused panic when she showed symptoms of small pox.  Dr. Forest sent her to New York Hospital, which sent her to North Brother Island.  On April 20, according to The Sun, “seven physicians made a long examination of her case, and finally told her that she had not got the small-pox and that she had better go home.”

Alice Morton was dismissed from the hospital.  “No clothing was given to her except stockings and shoes.  An attendant gave her five cents, she said, after which she was brought to the foot of East Twenty-sixth street on the department’s boat and turned adrift.”

Because the English girl did not know the city, she became lost trying to find the Wetmore Home. “About 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon the girl was found astray in the street up town.  She was clad in her underclothing, a woolen nightgown, stockings, canvas shoes, an old waterproof, and a hat.  Her ankles, swollen by rheumatism, pained her so that she could hardly walk.”

Two women brought Alice to the Wetmore Home in a street car.  Dr. Forest was called again to examine her.  And the panic started all over again.

“Fearing that it might not be safe to take the girl into the Home under the circumstances, Mrs. Lane at first knew not how to dispose of her.  Finally she sent to the Mercer street station for advice, and Police surgeon John H. Dorn was sent to investigate the case.”  He agreed with Dr. Deforest and Dr. Sangree, who had also been called in, that the girl did not have small pox.  Nevertheless, “as a matter of precaution, he advised that the girl be sent to an institution, so she was taken to Bellevue Hospital.”

Dr. Forest was still here in 1896, employing a 16-year old boy as his office boy.  Harry Scott lived with his grandparents at No. 349 West 20th Street.   In August that year Scott’s grandfather decided to move the family to the east side.  “The boy could not move on account of his work, and consequently became despondent,” explained The Sun on August 30.

On August 29 Harry skipped breakfast, saying he did not feel well.  He went to Dr. Forest’s office; but soon came home, bringing with him what he told his grandmother was medicine and that he would soon be feeling alright.

When his grandfather smelled what he thought was ether, he opened Harry’s door.  The boy told him it was merely an ingredient in the medicine.  “A moment afterward a shot was heard, and the boy was found unconscious on hid bed, with a wound in his left breast.  The revolver and an empty ether bottle were on the floor.”

When questioned at the hospital why he had attempted suicide, he wrote on a piece of paper “Because my grandfather went back on me, and for his sake.”  He later told police he really did not mean to kill himself, but intended only to scare his grandfather. 

As a marketing move, No. 101 Waverley Place was now being called “The Park” in newspaper advertisements.  In 1894 boarders were accepted “by day or week” and ads offered “fine rooms, excellent table.”  Still respectable, the boarding house required references.

Among those boarding here at the time were assistant minister William Northey Jones; H. C. De Lano, a “hydrographer” for the City Department of Docks and Ferries (he earned a salary of $1,200 that year); retired attorney Jonathan Sturges Ely; and George Mosley Clapp and his wife.  Clapp owned the Washington Iron Works and during the Civil War had manufactured several iron-clad warships called monitors.

As the turn of the century came and went, Washington Square retained its refined residential nature.  But the Waverley Place block was changing.  The house next door at No. 103 had been demolished to be replaced by the 8-story Hotel Earle.  Soon, No. 105 would go, doubling the hotel’s side. 

In 1902 the Hotel Earle squeezed in between No. 101 and No. 105.  Photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Nevertheless, the proprietors of No. 101 struggled to maintain its high-end status.  An advertisement on November 7, 1905 in the New-York Tribune offered “Beautifully furnished steam heated rooms, single or en suite; superior table; homelike surroundings, references.”

In July 1908 the Henderson estate leased the house to Mrs. H. A. Johnson for $2,700.  She marketed her boarding house with an alluring advertisement.  “Rooms overlooking Square; table guests; parlor dining; excellent coffee, cream, fresh fruits.”

No. 101 Waverley Place received a splash of celebrity in 1912.  William F. Porter lived here with his daughter, Mary Louise Porter.  Mary Louise had been born in White Haven, Pennsylvania, 24 years earlier—the same year and in the same town in which Bradley Wilson Kocher of the Detroit Tigers was born.

On May 15, 1912 The New York Times announced “Bradley Wilson Kocher of the Detroit baseball team of the American League took out a license in the City Hall yesterday to marry Miss Mary Louise Porter.”  The newspaper added “The Detroits are playing a series with the Highlanders in this city.”

In 1917 construction was nearly completed on "The Annex"--an architectural disappointment given what it replaced.  Photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By now the end of the line for the Van Rensselaer mansion was close at hand.  On September 9, 1916 The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that the Henderson Estate had taken out a $45,000 building loan on the property.  Within the year the mansion was gone and in its place the rather mundane addition to the Hotel Earle, called The Annex, was completed.

The completed structure, seen here around 1917, is little changed today.  Photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


  1. Awesome building , i love the annex, i think its Greek Revival , plenty of buildings like this in DC

  2. Never understood NYC zoning that would allow a commercial structure of such height to muscle it's way onto a residential block like that, looking completely out of place. No wonder so many blocks and neighborhoods changed so radically if intrusions like that hotel or an apartment could so easily be constructed.