Friday, January 3, 2020

The Carolina and John Greenough House - 38 East 63rd Street

Architect F. S. Barus designed an 18-foot wide, four-story brownstone house for developer Francis Crawford in 1880.  Although the title to the property, completed the following year, was put in the name of his wife, Margaret, the project was purely speculative.  In June 1881 the pair sold the high-stoop house to Ann Sophia Stephens for $31,750, or just under $350,000 today.

The widow was known nationally as Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, the author of dime novels, poems and short stories.  As a matter of fact, the term "dime novel" had originated with Ann's 1860 Indian Wife of The White Hunter.   When she purchased the new house in June Manhattan society was away for the summer.  But on January 29, 1882 the Memphis Daily Appeal reported "Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, the venerable novelist, opened her new home at 38 East Sixty-third street, New York, a few nights ago with a literary reception."

Ann S. Stephen's plots were thrilling, the main character often a female. 
Ann leased the furnished house for the winter season of 1891-92 to millionaire Francis Cutting and his wife, the former Frances Frost.  The couple had two grown children, 23-year old Frederick Page and 31-year old Isabella Frost Cutting.  The family moved in just in time for Isabella's house wedding marriage to Englishman Harrold Courtenay on December 22, 1891.  (It would not be a happy match.  Courtney later had his wife confined to an insane asylum and lived lavishly off her money.)

In the spring of 1899 Ann S. Stephens, now 89-years-old, sold No. 38 to real estate operator Augustus Stoner.  The price was kept confidential, but the $20,000 mortgage Ann personally provided Stoner--about $625,000 today--more than hints at the rising property values.

Stoner leased the house to Mary E. Wilcox in October that year.  At the end of the three-year lease, in 1902, he sold it to 72-year old retired merchant Isaac McConihe and his wife, the former Phebe McKean Warren.  The couple had recently relocated to New York City from Troy.  On October 2 the New York Herald announced he would make the house his permanent residence.

McConihe had been a prominent figure in Troy, having served as alderman in 1853, as police commissioner for many years, and as mayor in 1860-61.  His residency in the 63rd Street house would be extremely short.   He suffered a fatal heart attack on Saturday morning, January 10, 1903, just three months after moving in.  His funeral was held in the residence two days later.

Phebe McConihe sold the property to banker John Greenough and his wife, the former Carolina H. Storey.  Born in 1846 and graduated from Harvard in 1865, John was a member of the firm of Poor & Greenough.  There were two children, Marion M. and Carroll, who graduated Harvard the year his parents purchased No. 38.  

The Greenoughs maintained two summer residences, Urchin at Glouster, Massachusetts, and a cottage at Tuxedo Park.    On May 31, 1904 the New-York Tribune reported on their dinner party at Tuxedo Park, the guest list of which included Captain D. R. De Chair, Royal Naval attaché of the British Embassy at Washington, and his wife.  

While that party was going on much work was taking place on 63rd Street.  Before moving in the Greenoughs had commissioned architect William Strom to give the Victorian brownstone a complete make-over.  The massive project--costing the equivalent of $582,000 today--included extending the structure to the rear, stripping off the stoop and facade, and pulling the front forward to the property line.

When completed the house bore no resemblance to its former self.  Strom had created a neo-Georgian townhouse faced in Flemish-bond brick above the limestone-clad base.  A bowed bay rose three stories and featured the centered entrance under an arched pediment, and handsome paneled lintels at the second floor.  The splayed stone lintels of the upper openings followed the Georgian motif.  Given the significant expense of the project, it is somewhat surprising that Strom left the entrance where the former English basement doorway had been--a few steps below the sidewalk.  The result was the appearance that the house had sunk below street level.

With that project finished the Greenboughs brought Strom back the following year to make "extensive alterations and improvements" to their four-story stable at No. 212 East 63rd Street.  The Record & Guide reported on September 16, 1905 that the "building will be rebuilt and enlarged at a cost of about $10,000."  That project was not inexpensive, either; equal to nearly $295,000 today.

Both Carolina and John were active in social causes.  He served as president of the building committee for the New York Kindergarten Association in 1906, for instance, and on April 17, 1912 Carolina hosted a fair in their home "for the support of the model flats maintained by the St. George's City Mission Committee," as reported in the New-York Tribune.

John was vice president of the American Geographical Society of New York, and hosted the reception for 50 European geographers in the society's new building at 157th Street and Broadway on October 17, 1912.  The New-York Tribune remarked "tall and venerable, [he] presided beneath an enormous American flag hanging above the speakers' table."

And when a benefit concert of sacred music for the benefit of the Home for Colored Working Girls and of the St. John's Club for Boys was given in the spring of 1916, readers of The Sun were instructed that tickets could be obtained from Carolina at the 63rd Street address.  She was a staunch supporter of the Stony Wold Sanatorium, as well.

By 1919 John had been elected president of the American Geographical Society.  Now retired, he became more involved in charitable organizations.  He was, for instance, a member of the Campaign Executive Committee in 1920 charged with raising $975,000 for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; and the following year was involved with the work of St. Michael's Home for Girls.

John Greenough died on May 4, 1934 at the age of 88.  Carolina would live to the same age, dying in 1947.   Five years before her death she sold No. 38 to Dr. Charles S. Dazer.  On January 9, 1942 The New York Times reported that he "will alter and use it for his residence and office."

A subsequent renovation was completed in 1952 which resulted in apartments above the ground floor level doctor's office.  That physicians office would remain until October 1969 the new Katz Gallery opened in the space.  It remained until about 1974 when the Moi salon took over.

On April 21, 1975 Angela Taylor, writing in The New York Times reported "Moi (who is Mrs. William Raymond Ryder in private life) is a tiny young woman born in India of Chinese parents.  For several years Moi did facials, manicures, waxing, eyelash dyeing at the Davian salon and acquired enough enthusiasts to open her own establishment recently in the street floor of a townhouse."

The former Greenough house continues to house an office in the ground floor and apartments above.  From the street, however, there is little hint that it is anything but the private home of a socially-prominent family who could afford two country estates.

photograph by the author

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