Friday, February 22, 2019

The David G. Farragut House - 113 East 36th Street

Developers Kennedy & Haw completed construction on a pair of high-end Italianate style houses at Nos. 113 and 115 in 1859.  Three bays wide and four stories tall above English basements, they reflected the wealth of their intended owners.   Wide stone stoops led to impressive double-doored entrances under carved pediments.   Almost assuredly cast iron balconies fronted the parlor windows.  Molded surrounds ornamented the openings and the cornices were splendidly detailed.

No. 113 was sold to Henry E. Quinan, a partner with John Falconer in the shipping firm of John Falconer & Co.  He was, as well, secretary of the Atlantic Mail Steamship Company.  At some point Quinan transferred titled to his partner and Falconer and his wife, Catherine, were living here by about 1862.

When not focused on shipping, Falconer involved himself in charitable causes.  He was appointed a commissioner of the newly-organized Hudson River Asylum for the Insane in 1862, for instance.   He was elected to the board of the Tenth National Bank in 1865.

Henry Quinan may have regretted not holding onto the property.  In 1866 the citizens of New York City purchased the house as a gift to Admiral David Glasgow Farragut.  As the Washington D.C. newspaper the National Republican later explained, "admiring friends...purchased, fitted up, and presented him with the elegant residence."  A campaign had raised $50,000 which covered the $33,000 price of the house (just over half a million today), and its costly furnishings.

David Farragut was commanding the battleship Pennsylvania in Norfolk, Virginia when he married Virginia Dorcass Loyall (his second wife) on December 26, 1843.  A true military wife, she accompanied him to the West Coast in 1854 where he commanded the Mare Island Navy Yard until 1860.  At the outbreak of Civil War she moved to Washington D.C.  

Farragut's military exploits were the stuff of legend.  He entered the Navy at the age of nine-and-a-half and was appointed midshipman the following year.  He showed his mettle during the War of 1812 when, at the age of 12, he discovered and stopped a mutiny among the prisoners aboard the Essex.   The same year the boy was given charge of a captured ship and navigated it into port "over the head of the violent-tempered captain," according to the Sausalito News later.

During the Civil War he led the Union Navy in the Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Mobile Bay.   It was during the latter conflict that Farragut gave his iconic command.  When the advance ship, the Brooklyn, stopped, throwing the fleet into confusion, Farragut shouted through a trumpet, "What is the trouble?"  The answer came back "Torpedoes."  (The term at the time referred to water mines.)

"Damn the torpedoes! Four bells!  Captain Drayton, go ahead! Full speed." shouted Farragut.

In 1867, now with the rank of admiral, he embarked on what the National Republic termed "his almost royal command of the European fleet."  The 1892 National Cyclopaedia of American Biography said visited "several stations in Asia and Africa, being received with distinguished honor by rulers and people wherever he landed."  By special permission of President Andrew Johnson Virginia accompanied her husband on the flagship Franklin.

The two houses were originally nearly identical.
With the august couple at No. 113 was their son, Loyall.  Born in 1844, he could technically boast that he had served during the Civil War in both the Navy and Army.   At around the age of 12 he told had told his father he wanted to go to West Point.  According to the Colorado Herald Democrat decades later, "the old Admiral replied: 'I don't know how that would do; I'm not so sure whether you could stand fire.'"

When Loyall assured him that he had the courage, Farragut took him to the maintop of the flagship heading to Port Hudson.  "The lad never flinched while the shot and shell flew thick and fast about him.  Then the father said: 'Very well, my boy, that will do; you shall go to West Point.'"  Loyall was appointed a cadet at West Point by President Abraham Lincoln.  He rose to the rank of lieutenant.

The 36th Street house was filled, of course, with gifts from around the world and memorabilia from the admiral's past. Upon the Farraguts' return from the Far East in 1868, The New York Herald commented on many of the gifts the couple had received, including gifts from "the queen of the harem" in Constantinople."  The article noted "the gold and jewelled services, with diamond settings, and the fairy-like scenes, were wonderfully rich and peculiar and presented with truly Eastern magnificence."  But one of the most prized items in the house was far less exotic.  It was the admiral's 1838 portrait by William Swain.

This portrait held a place of honor in the 36th Street house.  It now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Loyall married Gertrude Metcalfe, the daughter of Dr. John T. Metcalfe, on March 30 1869.   He brought his bride to live in the 36th Street house.  

Only two months later newspapers nationwide reported disturbing news.  The Indiana Daily Wabash Express wrote on May 11, "Admiral Farragut is still kept closely confined at his residence, No. 113 East Thirty-sixth street, New York, in consequence of the neuralgia from which he has long suffered."

The following year the Farraguts embarked on "a journey undertaken for the benefit of his health," according to The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.  While in Portsmouth, New Hampshire he suffered a fatal heart attack on August 14, 1870 at the age of 69.

On September 28, 1870 the Hudson Daily Star reported that The Farragut Funeral Committee of the Board of Aldermen had confirmed "Preparations for the obsequies are proceeding satisfactorily, and the display will be more imposing than any since the Lincoln funeral procession passed through the city."

Despite a driving rain on September 30, thousands lined the streets as Farragut's coffin proceeded up Broadway and Fifth Avenue to Grand Central Depot "on the shoulders of sailors who formerly served under the Admiral," as described by Hudson Daily Star.  The ceremonies were conducted "according to strict naval etiquette."  

The special train bore the remains to Woodlawn cemetery, accompanied by "distinguished naval and military officers as well as by a vast confluence of people from all ranks of society," according to The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.

David Farragut's legacy has perhaps never been surpassed by any military figure before or after.  His birthplace in Tennessee was renamed Farragut, Washington D.C. named Farragut Square in his honor, and monuments and statues appeared in several cities.  Two Navy destroyers were named for him as well as several other Navy ships; and the World War II Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho was just one more honor.

When the statue to her husband was unveiled in Farragut Square in Washington in 1881, Virginia was the guest of President James A. Garfield at the White House.  She remained at No. 113 East 36th Street with Loyall (who published The Life of David Glasgow Farragut, First Admiral of the United States Navy in 1879) and Gertrude.

On November 3, 1884 the National Republican reported "Mrs. Virginia Loyall Farragut, the widow of the great admiral, died Friday night last, Oct. 31, at her home, No. 113 East Thirty-sixth street."  She was 60 years old.  Virginia was interred in Greenwood cemetery next to her husband.

In July 1885 Loyall expanded the house by hiring architect G. E. Harney to design a two-story extension to the rear.  He had been, by now, an executive with the New York Central Railroad for years.   He and his wife also dabbled in real estate with Gertrude's brother, Henry Metcalfe.   Henry briefly lived with the Farraguts in 1895.  The following year Gertrude died.

In 1902 Loyall loaned a historical piece of his father's past to the Boys' Club in the impoverished Lower East Side.  The boys were putting on a play, Gilbert & Sullivan's H. M. S. Pinafore.  None of the players was over seven years old.  Loyall was a director of the club, which sought to guide the boys away from lives of crime.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 2, "Admiral Farragut's hat played a part in the performance, as it was worn by little 'Fred' Sulky, the boy who appeared as Sir Joseph Porter, K. C. B., the admiral of the Queen's 'navee.'"

The admiral's venerable uniform hat is worn by a young player.  The girls in the cast are, in fact, boys.  New-York Tribune April 20, 1902 (copyright expired)
That hat and many of the other significant items within the house would find a new home in 1917.  On October 1, 1916 Loyal died a heart attack in his summer home in Ashfield, Massachusetts at the age of 73.  The New-York Tribune noted "Mr. Farragut had lived at 113 East Thirty-sixth Street, in the house presented to his father by the people of this city."

One year later the Sausalito News announced "Some striking objects commemorative of the life and services of one of the most romantic and inspiring figures among the list of great American naval heroes, Admiral David G. Farragut, have recently been received by the United States National museum at Washington as a gift of the estate of Loyall Farragut."

Among the items removed from the house to the museum were a jeweled sword inscribed "Presented to Rear Admiral David G. Farragut by Members of the Union League Club...April 23rd, 1864."  There were also several uniform items, including that hat used in the Boys' Club play, and "several paintings of notable scenes in his career," including the William Swain portrait.

In April 1917 the Farragut estate sold No. 113 to J. P. Morgan for $45,000.   Two months later, on June 16, Morgan's daughter Frances Tracy was married to Paul Geddes Pennoyer in St. John's Church in Lattington, Long Island near the Morgan summer estate, Matinicock Point.  The newlyweds moved into No. 113 East 36th Street.

Pennoyer was an attorney and was for a time an executive with Victrola Records.  The couple had two sons, Paul, Jr. and Robert, and four daughters, Virginia, Frances, Katherine and Jesse.   In 1927 Pennoyer was made a partner in the law firm of White & Case.  The family's summer home, Round Bush, was at Glen Cove, Long Island.

The Pennoyer family left 36th Street in 1937 when Paul was placed in charge of the White & Case offices in Paris.  They would remain there until 1939.

It was most likely just after their leaving that the house was modernized by the removal of the Italianate framing of the entrance.  Oddly enough the pilasters, molded arch and keystone were left intact.

More significant change came when the house was converted to apartments in 1948.  There was now an apartment in the basement level and two each on the upper floors.  The stoop was removed and the entrance moved below the sidewalk level.  The renovations did not convert the original entrance to a window, as was often done; but placed an iron balcony in front of the doors.

The altered appearance leaves no hint that this residence was once home of one of America's greatest military figures.

photographs by the author

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