Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The 1837 Robert Hogan House - 175 MacDougal Street

A high stoop originally led to the parlor floor.
In 1826 Mayor Philip Hone ordered that the former potter's field near Greenwich Village be converted to a parade grounds named after George Washington.  By 1833 exceptionally fine brick mansions had begun lining the new park.

Dr. Robert Hogan soon began construction of his own upscale home a block north of the park, at No. 175 MacDougal Street.   Completed in 1837 the 25-foot wide brick-faced home was designed in the new Greek Revival style.   Three bays wide the doorway sat above a high brownstone stoop.

The wealthy and highly educated Hogan was perhaps best known for his passionate work among the Irish population.   From 1839 through 1842 he was the president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and therefore in charge of the St. Patrick's Day Parade each of those years.  He also served as president of the Irish Emigrant Society and in 1846 was a vice-president of the committee formed to provide "Aid to the Famishing People of Ireland."

Hogan was, of course, involved in other interests than the Irish.  He held directorships in firms like the Excelsior Fire Insurance Co. and was invited to speak at the commencement exercises of St. John's College in the Fordham section of the Bronx on July 13, 1843.  The New-York Daily Tribune noted "a poem of great feeling and masterly composition, 'Joan of Arc,' was admirably delivered by Robert Hogan."

By the early 1850s the house was home to the John Hobart Sprague family.  A merchant and partner in Sprague, Robinson & Co., Sprague had married Henrietta Prall on February 20, 1843.  When they moved into the house they had two children, Anna Augusta and John Hobart, Jr.  In 1853 another daughter arrived whom they named Maria Louisa.

Tragedy struck just over a year and a half later when Maria Louisa contracted scarlet fever.  She died in the house on March 30, 1855.  The heart-rending funeral took place in the parlor two days later, on Sunday April 1.

Two more children would be born while the family lived in the MacDougal Street house--Henrietta Louise and Julia Adelaide.

Henrietta involved herself in charitable causes, most notably The New-York Ladies' Educational Union (otherwise known as The Patriot Orphan Home).  The Civil War had left hundreds of New York children without fathers.  The women purchased a building with grounds in Flushing and were caring for more than 100 fatherless children.

Irish immigrant and millionaire John Rose, who died on April 11, 1860, had left a fortune in his will to be  distributed at the discretion of his brother, Chauncey.   A specific amount, $300,000, was earmarked to establish "a farm for destitute boys of the city of New York."  Chauncey recognized that The Patriot Orphan House fell within that designation.

In August 1864 he donated a large chunk of that bequest, $20,000 to Henrietta Sprague for the New-York Ladies' Educational Union.  The New York Herald opined "It is an excellent gift for a good and noble purpose."   The gift equal about $315,000 today, and The New York Times reported that the society could now "liquidate the entire debt" on its property and "will undertake the charge of a larger number."

When the family's dog wandered off on Wednesday morning, September 19, 1866, they quickly placed a notice in The New York Herald.  Describing him as "a black and tan dog, with cropped ears.  Answers to the name of Jack," a $5 reward was offered for his return. (About $78 in today's dollars.)

Before 1868 the Spragues moved to No. 173 Madison Avenue.  The MacDougal Street house was purchased by William Henry White who leased it in the early 1870s to Mrs. Muretta O'Brien, a self-sufficient businesswoman who ran a retail furniture business.

Mrs. Helen B. Dexter was equally self-sufficient--although in a less upstanding manner.  When not using that name, she went by the aliases of Miss Eliza Dunning, Miss Abbie Lincoln, Mrs. Ellen B. Dexter and Mrs. S. P. Douglas.  It was under the name of Abbie Lincoln that she entered Muretta's furniture store in September 1876.

Dexter had rented a vacant house at No. 187 Lexington Avenue and asked Muretta to furnish it.  Delivery vans took $1,500 in furniture to the residence--about $35,000 in goods by today's standards.  Then, the name of Mrs. S. P. Douglas, Dexter then sold the furniture and disappeared.

When she realized she had been duped, Muretta went to police headquarters.  Detectives Ferris and McConnell worked the case for two weeks.  Finally on September 22 The New York Herald reported "They succeeded last night in arresting Mrs. Lincoln at her residence.  She was taken to the Central Office last night and locked up on a charge of grand larceny."

The following year, in October, White sold the house to Israel Ullman and his wife for $18,000.  The 63-year old had come to New York City from his native Bavaria with his parents in 1839.  A wholesale dry goods merchant, he operated from the corner of Franklin Street and Broadway for years.

The couple would not stay in the house appreciably long.  They sold it to Francis Aquila Stout in March 1882 for $10,600; taking a significant loss.  The millionaire bachelor immediately laid plans for updating the residence.

In May 1883 his architect, H. R. Marshall, filed plans for renovations including "roof raised and flattened," and "entrance for coach" and "front and interior alterations."  The updates cost Stout nearly a quarter of a million dollars by today's terms.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed and the arched doorway and round opening above it were added.

Stout was a remarkable character in New York social history.  The year after he did the renovations to the MacDougal Street house he married Emily Meredith Read, the daughter of Civil War General Meredith Read.  Although he held the position of President of the Nicaragua Canal Construction Company and had studied engineering in Paris, the Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York later mentioned "he never entered upon a professional or business career.'

Instead he focused on his passion.  "Inheriting a fortune, he devoted himself to scientific and literary pursuits, and, in a large sense, to social obligations; and he was actively engaged in the work of many important charities," said the Journal.   A member of the most exclusive social clubs--the Union, the Union League, the Knickerbocker and the Century among them--he maintained a summer estate named Thousand Island House, in Alexandria Bay, New York.  He was highly involved with the American Geographical Society and was its vice-president from 1872 to 1892.

Stout's marriage apparently upset his plans to live in the MacDougal Street house.  Instead the house was leased until after Stout's death on July 18, 1892.  Emily sold the house in December 1892 to John Hagy Davis for $21,000.  Like Stout, Davis immediately did renovations, although less extensive by far. A few weeks after taking title Davis had contractor R. H. Casey alter the interior layout at a cost of $1,200.

The wealthy widower was the head of the banking firm of John H. Davis & Co.  He lived in a mansion around the corner at No. 24 North Washington Square and maintained a villa in Newport. "Rhua House."   Every summer Davis took his daughter, Florence, to Europe.  Known as Flora, The Evening World described her as "popular in New York and Newport society."

The same year that Davis initiated the renovations to No. 175 MacDougal, Flora was married in the British Embassy in Paris to Lord Terence Blackwood.   After that civil ceremony, reported The Evening World "there was a brilliant religious ceremony."

When her new husband's older brother was killed in the Boer War, Flora became the envy of every New York debutante by receiving a title: the Marchioness of Dufferin.

In the meantime, back home, Flora's father married the widowed Mary Ethel Jackson Meredith in July 1898.  They continued to live on in the Washington Square mansion, leasing the MacDougal Street house.  Ethel died in the Washington Square house in March 1900 and John, by then remarried, died there on May 7, 1926 at the age of 83.

His widow, Therese, held on to the MacDougal Street house until 1930, when she sold it to Adelaide Goan.  The immediate neighborhood had become highly important in the New York artist community by now.  The WPA's New York City Guide advised "MacDougal Street, bordering the west side of Washington Square, swarms with tearooms, night clubs, and Villager memories."  Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's gallery had operated around the corner at No. 8 West 8th Street for years and several of the former carriage houses of the Washington Square mansions directly across from No. 175 MacDougal had been converted to artist studios.

An awning shade the doorway to The Brick House in 1937.  It was the last year for the restaurant.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Once again a new owner began renovations.  Adelaide converted the first and second story to a "tea room" and rented the upper floors to artist Virginia Needham who supplied illustrations for periodicals like St. Nicholas magazine.

The tea room, or cafe, at No. 175 was called The Brick House and was popular among the artsy set.  In 1934, for instance, New Democracy magazine noted "on the evening of March 22 at The Brick House, 175 Macdougal Street, the Discussion Group held by Mr. Allan Brown held a very successful dinner.  At first planned as a small dinner, the idea became popular and almost sixty sat down."

On October 11, 1937 The New York Times reported "The Grant Studios, which for several years have flown the banner of art on Brooklyn Heights have joined the Manhattan show places and are now located at 175 Macdougal Street."  The gallery opened that day with its 17th Annual Invitation Exhibition of paintings, prints and sculpture.

The Grant Studios held important exhibitions, perhaps the best known being the New York Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition.  On the other hand, the art critic of The New York Sun was less than enthusiastic about the show that opened on November 17, 1939:

The Fine Arts Guild is having rather an extensive showing at the Grant Studios, 175 Macdougal street.  It is a quietly conservative display, marked here and there by generally competent painting, but containing nothing it seems necessary to get excited about.

The Grant Studios lasted at least through 1949.  By then Benjamin Canzonier had owned the building for eight years.  He converted the upper floors to apartments in 1943.  But as West 8th Street, steps away, changed from art galleries to shops catering to New York University students at mid-century, so did No. 175.

In August 1957 The New York Times column "Shop Talk" lauded the bags available at the shop that had replaced the Grant Studios.  "One of the most versatile carry-all bags in town can be found at Robert John," it said.  The writer was impressed that the duffel bag included a leash attachment, "in case you want to bring the dog too."

In 1965 a dress shop was in the retail space, replaced in 1975 by Reminiscence, a clothing and gift store where often quirky items like a washable canvas lunch bag could be purchased for $14 in 1981.  The popular store remained here until 1985 when it moved to No. 74 Fifth Avenue.

The treads of the three-step entrance are white marble--evidence of the high-end tone of the house when Francis Stout remodeled the doorway in 1883.

The last vestige along the block of a time nearly two centuries ago when the wealthy erected their homes on the northern fringe of the city, the Robert Hogan house still exhibits its residential beginnings.

photographs by the author

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