Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Peter F. McCoy House - 414 West 149th Street

Susan Orcutt was a prolific developer in the last decade of the 19th century, focusing much of her attention on the developing Sugar Hill area of Harlem.   On May 19, 1893 her architect, Christian Steinmetz filed plans for seven three-story stone-faced dwellings on 149th Street, between St. Nicholas and Convent Avenues.  Each would be 19 feet wide and cost $14,000--around $403,000 today.

Steinmetz designed the row as a pleasing assortment of styles. He drew mainly from Romanesque and Renaissance Revival but took creative license.  No. 414 was essentially Romanesque Revival with stoop newels capped with medieval style carvings and heavy rough-cut brownstone blocks facing the facade.  But unlike its fraternal twin at No. 410, which stayed much truer to the Romanesque style, its openings were rectangular like its Renaissance Revival neighbors.  The offset gable with blind openings smacked heavily of the Queen Anne style.

No. 410, two doors away, is a near match but more closely adhers to the Romanesque style.

The row was completed in 1894.  Susan Orcutt sold No. 414 to builder and architect John P. Leo.  The president of the newly-formed Builders' League of New York, he apparently used the house simply for rental income.

In January 1896 Leo sold the residence to Peter F. McCoy.  He, too, was involved in real estate, the president of the Ethelia Realty Company.  McCoy's first wife, Margaret, had died in March 1884 at just 35-years old.  Two years later he married Anna R. Hogan.

The McCoy family included Alice Regeina, Ethel Regina, Angelia, Walter, Harvey, and Peter, Jr.  A year after they moved in, their population was increased by the birth of Rosina on July 10, 1897.  Tragically, the little girl died a year later just ten days after her first birthday.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room of the home.

On August 8, 1901 the New York Herald reported "Announcement is made of the engagement of Miss Alice Regeina Mr. John Monks, Jr."  The article added, "Miss McCoy is an attractive and accomplished young woman...She has been at Long Beach, L. I., for several weeks, but will leave there in a few days for the White Mountains, where she intends to remain until some time in September."

Alice Regeina McCoy - New York Herald, August 8, 1901 (copyright expired)

And so it was presumably on Long Island that Alice read the news of her engagement.  And she was not pleased.  Two days later the same newspaper printed a much different article.

Miss Alice Regeina McCoy, daughter of Mr. Peter F. McCoy, of No. 414 West 149th street, requests the Herald to contradict the announcement of her engagement to Mr. John Monks, Jr., of this city.  The announcement was made originally in the Herald on Thursday, on the authority of Miss McCoy's stepmother.  Yesterday Miss McCoy, who is spending the summer at Long Beach, telephoned that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Monks or anyone else at present."

Despite that unpleasant incident, the family forged on.  In 1904 Anna placed a help wanted ad for a "respectable girl to do upstairs work and assist with children."

At some point Anna's widowed father, Michael Hogan, moved in with the family.  He died in the house on November 29, 1915.   His prestige within the Roman Catholic community was reflected in his funeral being celebrated with a solemn requiem mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In 1908 20-year old Peter, Jr. graduated from Columbia University.  Four years later he earned his law degree from the New York Law School.  On January 10, 1918, now associated with the law firm Eaton, Lewis & Rowe, he was elected to membership of the executive committee of the Bank of Washington Heights.

On April 3, 1918 Peter McCoy, Sr. died in the 149th Street house.  His funeral was held there before his casket was taken to St. Catherine's Church prior to the burial.

In October 1920 the family was looking for additional staff.  An advertisement in The New York Herald read "Man and wife wanted in private house."  An ad in another newspaper explained their intended roles more specifically:  cook and driver.

There was no drama this time when Anna announced the engagement of Ethel Regina to William Lane Donovan on September 21, 1921.   The wedding took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral on January 10, 1922.  The impressive ceremony included two monsignors among the celebrants.  Peter escorted the bride down the aisle and Angelia was the maid of honor.  Walter (now a physician) and Harvey served as ushers.  The only member of the family not mentioned in press coverage was Alice Regeina, who possibly had not reconciled with her step-mother.

A year before the wedding Peter was named Assistant United States Attorney.  His focus was on mail and investment fraud.   Among his most visible cases came soon afterward.  The New York Times later wrote "Mr. McCoy was instrumental in breaking up the nation-wide blind pool, or participating syndicates known as the 'Ponzi System...He prosecuted many persons accused of counterfeiting, selling narcotics and violating the Food and Drug Acts."

Peter was still living in the 149th Street house when on March 7, 1924 the Columbia Alumni News reported that he was "still an assistant United States District Attorney...handling bucketing investigation and commercial frauds."

In 1926 Peter was named Assistant United States Attorney General, assigned to break up mail frauds.  Afterward in the private sector he served as a counsel for the General Electric Co. and other large corporations.

The McCoy family left No. 414 not long afterward.  It was seemingly being operated as a rooming house in 1937 when the Department of Buildings deemed it an "unsafe building."  It may have been at this time, while correcting the conditions, that the owners altered the interiors to apartments.  

Whenever that conversion was completed, however, no official Certificate of Occupancy was granted.  It was not until 2015--most likely after a request from the owner's bank--that a Letter of No Objection to the apartments was issued by Department of Buildings.  The former McCoy house has nine apartments today.

photographs by the author

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