Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Henry Clarke Coe House - 8 West 76th Street

In 1899, the year that developer James Carlew was completing his seven lavish Beaux-Arts style rowhouses at Nos. 12 through 16 West 76th Street, Cornelius W. Luyster added to the row.  He commissioned architect John H. Duncan to design two equally-impressive residences at Nos. 8 and 10.

Completed in 1900, the opulent Beaux Arts style homes shared elements--the seamless flow of the rustication of the first three floors, for instance--while steadfastly maintaining their own personalities.  Each was 25-feet wide and five stories tall above the basement level and faced in limestone.  A five-step stoop led to the entrance of No. 8.  Its French-grilled double doors sat below a fantastic hood that epitomized Parisian Belle Epoch architecture.   The rustication of the second floor wrapped the frames of the openings, creating the effect of quoins.  Elaborately carved portrait keystones graced the windows.  The protruding, angled bay of the third floor created a balcony at the fourth; and the fifth floor took the form of a high mansard with a prominent dormer.

The pair was harmoniously similar, but distinctive.

Luyster sold No. 10 on April 12, 1900 to Frederick H. and Arabella Parks.  Just three days later an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune was entitled "One Remains Unsold!" and described No. 8 as being "equal in construction and fineness of finish to any houses offered for sale."

It would be three months before Luyster found a buyer; but in July he sold it to Dr. Henry Clarke Coe for $85,000--a significant $2.62 million today.

Coe and his wife, the former Sara Livingston Worden, had three sons, Arthur Paul, Fordyce Barker, and Henry, Jr.  Born in Cincinnati on February 21, 1854, Coe was descended from an old New England family who first settled in the mid-17th century.  Coe had been a classmate in preparatory school with William Howard Taft.  Interestingly, both men then entered Yale University and graduated in 1878.  By the time Coe purchased No. 8 he was chief surgeon of the General Memorial Hospital, consulting surgeon of the Women's Hospital, and Professor of Gynecology at Bellevue Medical College.  A prolific author, he wrote Clinical Gynecology, as well as scientific papers.  His non-medical articles and poems were published in literary magazines.

Like her husband, Sara came from a colonial Massachusetts family.  When they moved into the 76th Street house she was president of the National Society of New England Women.  A writer and lecturer, as well, she was a member of the League of Women Writers, the Writers Guild and the League of American Women.  The New York Times described her as "one of the social leaders of the city."

The family had a staff of seven, two of whom--the butler and chef--were Japanese.  A writer from The New York Times asked Sara about that in 1900.   Her reply filled two columns of the newspaper, in which she said in part "I have found from my own experience that Japanese servants are very satisfactory, and I have a friend who has employed them for a long time who is equally well satisfied.  They are willing to do all kinds of work, and they do all kinds equally well."  

She cautioned, however, that the "Japanese service is not cheap.  Any Japanese going out to service expects to get $25 a month, no matter what he does, and a chef will have from $35 to $50.  On a yacht a man will get from $60 to $100.  But they are good workers, careful and conscientious, and everything they do is well done."  The salary earned by the Coe's Japanese chef at the time would equal about $1,230 per month today.

The Coes' country home, Pinehurst, was in Bayshore, Long Island.  Their elevated social status was reflected decades later in 1936 when both The New York Times and the New York Evening Post recalled "Mrs. Coe and her husband were hosts in their New York house to King Edward VII when he visited this country as the Prince of Wales."  The Times specifically noted the West 76th Street address.  The report is puzzling, since Edward took the throne in January 1901 and does not seem to have been in America in 1900. 

The family received a significant scare on June 2, 1903.  Arthur's nurse took the five-year-old to Central Park for an outing.  He was playing on the steps of the Marble Arch (now gone) when, according to the New-York Daily Tribune, he "fell to the stone flagging.  The fall was not more than two and a half or three feet, but so squarely did the lad strike on his head that an ambulance surgeon said he received a compound fracture of the skull."

5-year old Arthur Paul Coe fell from these steps, fracturing his skull.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
A fractured skull was almost always fatal, but happily the boy recovered.

Henry and Sarah planned a trip to Philadelphia on April 6, 1911.  On the previous afternoon he attended the circus in Madison Square Garden, and "got chilled by the rain" when he left, according to The New York Times.  Around 3:00 the following morning he experienced pain in his right side.  At 7:00 he told Sara he would not be going with her and then called Dr. George W. Jarman who lived on the block.  

On April 11 The New York Times reported that Coe "is convalescing after an operation for [appendicitis] in Miss O'Brien's Sanitarium in West Seventy-fourth Street...He diagnosed the disease himself, and had he not done it so quickly and acted so promptly he might not have been alive to-day."

Entertainments in the Coe house often involved music.  Of particular note was the "reception with music" as described by The Sun, "in honor of Mme. Eugen Ysaye, wife of the distinguished violinist" on April 19, 1913.    The performances that night were stellar, including a Mendelssohn quartet for strings played that included famed violinist Arnold Volpe, and songs by Maurice Farkoa.

The Coes apparently had taken steps not to overlook any of its multi-national guests.  The Sun said "The house was handsomely decorated with palms and spring flowers and in the music room were hung American, Belgian, French and German flags."  The socially elite couples who danced after supper bore names like Townsend, Brokaw, Havemeyer, Dimock and Kahn.

The first of the Coe boys to marry was Henry, Jr.  By the day of his wedding to Helen Virginia Ainslie on June 3, 1914, he was a salesman with the Standard Oil Company and was living and working in Brookline, Massachusetts.  It was a socially notable event.

The Sun, February 8, 1915, (copyright expired)
A few months later, on  Saturday morning, January 30, 1915, Henry kissed Helen, who was several months pregnant, goodbye.  And he then promptly disappeared.

The following week The New York Times quoted Dr. Coe as saying "Everything points to the theory that my son has met with foul play.  I am almost certain that my son has been murdered or is being held for ransom in Boston."  He added "Mrs. Coe, Jr. is bearing up wonderfully under the strain."

Shortly afterward the Coes offered a $250 reward and retained the Harry Burns Detective Agency.  A world-wide search was initiated.  In the meantime, on March 20 Helen gave birth to a baby girl.  Investigators soon discarded the theory of foul play and offered that "he had become mentally unbalanced because of worry over the condition of his wife."

The photographs and descriptions of the 23-year-old which were wired to newspapers and police stations everywhere  finally produced a hit in April.  On May 3 a 150-word telegram arrived at No. 8 West 76th Street sent by a Burns detective from Fairbanks, Alaska.  It said, in short, that Henry had been found, and "was in good health and engaged in the hardware business," according to The New York Times.

Helen Coe on her wedding day.  The Sun, February 8, 1915, (copyright expired)
Dr. Coe told reporters he was happy to have received the news, "However, I think his mind is clouded."  Others were not so sure.  The New-York Tribune reported "The Henry Clark Coe, jr. son of Dr. Henry Clark Coe, of 8 West Seventy-sixth Street...will not return to his young wife and baby in Brookline is the belief of those well acquainted with young Mrs. Coe's parents."  And Robert Burns, the detective who found Coe, seemed to be hedging for time.  "If we brought him back right now we fear that the shock would have a serious effect on his mind," he told reporters.  

If Coe had intended to leave his wife, he changed his mind once discovered.  On June 13 The Sun reported that he "has recovered his mental faculties and is now anxious to have his wife and baby join him."

Sara and Henry had no sooner gotten over that problem than Fordyce drew their names into unwanted publicity.  He was attending Columbia University and on August 2 attended a gathering of students at an inn near Yonkers.  That night, having had much to drink, he was apprehended in the Yonkers rail yard of the New York Central Railway.  He was charged with "malicious mischief in tampering with switchlocks and removing signal lights...thereby endangering the lives of passengers."  Sara went to the police station and was given overnight custody.

The following morning Dr. Coe and his delinquent son appeared before Judge Madden in court.  Young Coe managed to get a suspended sentence on his father's "promise that he would be kept out of mischief in the future."  Dr. Coe explained that his son "showed a tendency to irresponsibility" and attributed the vandalism to "a school-boy prank."  One can imagine the father-and-son discussion that followed in private.

When World War I broke out Sara was left at home alone.  All three of her sons and her husband went off to war.  Dr. Coe spent the autumn of 1917 at the American Hospital in Winchester, England, and then was sent to the front in France, serving with the Evacuation Hospital No. 1 and then with Mobile Hospital No. 3.   He was behind the lines and tended wounded soldiers in several battles.  He received the Meritorious Service Citation and the Medal of the Purple Heart for his service.  Henry, Jr. and Arthur were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

In the meantime, Sara did her part.  On February 10, 1917 The New York Times reported that she had organized the American Defense Club.  Described by Sara as a "preparedness plan, it was "a women's rifle corps, with a shooting gallery, described as a 'studio,' where the women may go for practice shooting."

In December 1918 the Coes sold No. 8.  The title had been in Sara's name and The Times noted that she donated "the proceeds from the sale of her New York residence to service organizations."

On December 16 The Sun reported that the title had been transferred the day before to "Dorothy F. Livermore, bride of Jesse Livermore, who purchased the house as a wedding gift for his wife."  A well-known stock broker, Jesse L. Livermore had obtained a divorce from his wife of 17 years, the former Netit Jordan, two months earlier.  He married the 23-year old former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, Dorothea, "Dorothy," Fox Wendt on December 2.

In his 2001 book Jesse Livermore: World's Greatest Stock Trader, Richard Smitten describes the day Jesse first took Dorothy into the 76th Street house.

It was filled with the best of the best: beautiful rugs from Persia, the finest Wedgwood dishes, and glistening crystal glasses.  The works of great artists hung on every wall.  The bedrooms were sumptuous.

Their lives at No. 8 were not without some upheaval.  In December 1923 Jesse was embroiled in the Teapot Dome Scandal.  He avoided going to his office for fear of being served with a Federal subpoena, but when he opened the door of his house on December 19 he came face-to-face with Federal deputy Joseph Patrina.  The New York Evening Post reported "When Mr. Livermore was handed the paper he asked 'What does forthwith mean?'  'Next train out,' replied the deputy marshal.  Mr. Livermore turned and stepped into his motor car without comment."

The Livermores' country home was at Great Neck, Long Island.  In the spring of 1925 an addition to the main house was being completed.  On the evening of Thursday, April 9, Livermore motored out to inspect the progress.  But in the dim lighting he did not notice that a stairway had not yet been installed and he plunged 20 feet, breaking his right arm and several ribs.

The Sun reported that he "was taken in an automobile to his New York residence where an X-ray expert, a bone specialist and nurses were summoned.  The article noted he "is confined to his home."

The next resident of No. 8 was writer Mark Barron.  At the time he was a Broadway columnist for the Herald Tribune.  His 1928 Broadway play Gentlemen of the Press, written in collaboration with Ward Morehouse, was made into a Hollywood movie.  Like Dr. Henry Coe had been, he was afflicted with appendicitis in 1930.  The New York Sun noted on September 11 that he "is recuperating from appendicitis at his town house, 8 West Seventy-sixth street."

In 1937 architect H. P. Jaenike was hired to convert the former residence to a total of 10 apartments.  Among the first tenants was 19-year old blues singer Jane Williams, here in 1938.

Jane Williams looked much older than her 19 years - New York Post, March 28, 1938 
Jane's apartment was the scene of an ugly lovers' quarrel that year that sparked a salacious court case.   A singer in the Paradise Club and the Hollywood Club, she had caught the attention of 35-year old stock broker Bert Golub.  She told a judge on March 27 that he "barraged her with flowers, candy and telegrams."  But after she discovered he was married she refused to see him.  With his attentions unrequited, "he then broke into her apartment at 8 West Seventy-sixth Street and barraged her with knuckles," reported the New York Evening Post.

Golub's story was different.  In an article entitled "Blues Singer and Broker Wash Their Linen in Court," the Post reported that Golub "said that she filched his bankroll one night in a hotel room."  Golub's testimony was so colorful that he was admonished by Magistrate Overton Harris for his "mud-slinging."

In 1940 Mieczyslaw Horszowski arrived in New York from Europe and moved into an apartment at No. 8.  The Polish-born pianist had given a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Warsaw in 1901 at the age of nine.  He now performed with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.

Also living here in the early 1940's was composer of contemporary classical music Leon Kirchner.  He would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his String Quartet No. 3 in 1967.  

The exterior of the house has survived relatively unchanged on the architecturally significant block of the Upper West Side since 1900.

photographs by the author

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