Tuesday, February 11, 2020

C. Abbot French's 1889 100 West 76th Street

On May 5, 1888 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced that "C. Abbott French & Co. are preparing plans for a large flat...to be built by Lawrence Kelly on the southwest corner of 9th [later Columbus] avenue and 76th street.  It will be of brick and stone and will have modern improvements, the first floor containing stores."  Those modern improvements would have included running hot and cold water and electricity.

The six-story structure was completed the following year.  C. Abbott French & Co. had blended two currently-popular styles, neo-Grec and Queen Anne.  And while the overall bulk of the building was rather ponderous, decorative elements and stone bandcourses relieved the mass.

Above the storefronts on the Columbus Avenue side, the building was sectioned horizontally by bandcourses and vertically by chimney backs.   The latter were decorated with brick rustication at the second and third floors, carved stone panels and eye-catching portrait heads.  Rough-cut stone was used for the quoins of the corners and of the second floor openings, and the top floor windows of the central section wore arched tympani upheld by thin engaged columns.  Every window boasted a variety of colorful stained glass transoms.

The stained glass transoms were produced in a variety of designs; the matching pairs signifying that they were in the same room.

The 76th Street entrance was off-set within the undressed brownstone base.  A sideways porch was sheltered from the elements by a deeply-overhanging stone roof decorated with neo-Grec incised flowers.

The sprawling apartments filled with professional, upper-middle class residents.  Among the most celebrated was Dr. Henry Richardson Rogers.   In its June 1889 issue The American Magazine said of him "Probably there is no man professionally before the public whose life has been so eventful and full of interest as that of Dr. Rogers."  The article began by telling of his early exploits in Cairo and Cuba, how he sailed a ship to New York from Cuba after all its officers had been shot and he had just been "struck down by yellow fever."  Now, it said, after years of labors and study, he had developed important medicines, what he called "Royal Remedies."

The American Magazine, June 1889, copyright expired

But before long Dr. Rogers would be known less for his remedies than for his communications with the dead.  On November 25, 1895 The New York Times reported "Central Office detectives last night arrested Dr. Henry R. Rogers, a pretended Spiritualist, and his accomplice, Matilda Chadwick, at a seance at their house, 100 West Seventy-sixth Street, and they are locked up at Police Headquarters."   Also arrested was Elias Whitmore.

Rogers charged $1 admission, a hefty $30 today, with the promise that deceased loved ones would appear.  After Neil Gerard complained to police that he felt he had been a victim of a scam, he went back accompanied by undercover Detectives Brown and Frye, one of whom carried a warrant in his vest pocket.

In the darkened room Gerard again asked for his sister's ghost.  A white-robed figure appeared in the doorway.

"Are you Emma?" Gerard asked.

"Yes, I'm Emma."

At that point Detective Frye grabbed the ghost and Detective Brown seized Rogers.  The doctor grabbed a hatchet and tried to strike the detective, but missed.  Elias Whitmore attempted to rescue the ghost, Matilda Chadwick, from her captor and he, too, was arrested.

When the trio appeared before the Yorkville Police Court the following day, detectives had laid out an array of evidence, including, according to The Times, "a blond wig, a very much soiled shroud, which had once been white; a black sweater, some yards of mosquito netting, and several pairs of soiled white kid gloves."  In addition to fraud charges, Rogers faced another for assault for his hatchet attack.

From the beginning things did not look good for Rogers.  Before the session began Magistrate Crane said "I believe that man Rogers is one of the biggest scoundrels in this country.  For years he has been getting money out of credulous people by trick and device," and he told Rogers's lawyer, "You appear to be an intelligent man and I would advise you to have nothing to do with this prisoner.  You say you were at the flat last night when these mock manifestations took place, and it is inconceivable to me how you can still put any faith in such a charlatan."

The hearing went on, nevertheless, and Rogers explained that the spirit of Emma Gerard, when touched by human hands, had fled, materializing into Matilda Chadwick.  And as for the hatchet attack, it was nothing of the kind.  He was on his knees trying to open a small cupboard with the hatchet when he was jumped upon and assaulted with his own tool, wrenched from his hand.

Matilda, however, came clean.  Described by The Times as "over fifty years old, and who looks as though she had had many sorrows," confessed that she was paid $5 for each seance in which she impersonated a spirit.  "I had to do something," she said, "as my husband abandoned me six years ago, and does not support me, and I have three children to take care of.  It was either this or dishonor."

She told how she would conceal herself in a cabinet, dressed in various costumes, then appear through the curtains.  Mary, Rogers's wife, stood just outside the curtains in the dark and would whisper the name of the spirit she was supposed to be.

Mary E. Rogers obtained a divorce on January 6, 1897 and twenty days later Henry married the 67-year old widow Harriet Eliza Beach in Cairo.  Harriet's former husband was Alfred E. Beach, editor of the Scientific American, who had died in 1896 leaving her millions.   Rogers had gained her confidence through seances, evoking spirits like a Greek youth Amorona who had reputedly died 2,000 years earlier.

Her children were concerned that she was being duped by the known con artist.  They attempted to have her estate turned over to their control six months after the wedding, but they were too late.  The New York Times reported later "There was evidence [that] Mrs. Beach-Rogers, on the day of her marriage in Egypt, conveyed to her husband all of her property for the consideration of $1."

Harriet filed for divorce early the following year.  Mary Rogers had remarried as well.  Her new husband was William Cauldwell, the former proprietor of the Hotel Empire.  In a bizarre twist Harriet was now living with the couple--so that both of Dr. Rogers's wives were now living in the same home.

In the meantime the building continued to house respectable tenants, like Elizabeth H. Lindsay, "teacher of voice culture," here by 1907.  The contralto paid what would be considered affordable rent for her large apartment.  An advertisement in The Sun on September 13 the following year offered "eight large rooms, corner, $900 to $960."  Rent for the more expensive apartment would equal about $2,250 per month today.

At the time Pedro Rubio, Jr., president of P. V. Rubio & Co., dealers in the "mahogany and fine wood trade," lived here.  Sharing the apartment was his sister, Castora Amanda, and 12-year old Hilaria Orlaineta.  Pedro and Castora were born in Peru, the children of whom The New York Times called "one of Peru's ablest and best-known lawyers."  Hilaria Orlaineta, for whom Pedro had guardianship, was from Mexico.  According to The Times, in 1905 she had been "committed by her parents at Tabasca, Mexico, to the care of Mr. Rubio."

Well-executed portraits start down onto Columbus Avenue
A somewhat bizarre situation arose in September 1908.  Castora was engaged to Almazor Puga, who lived in Peru.  The couple posed a difficult question to City Clerk Scully on September 24--whether or not he would marry them by proxy.  New York officials admitted that marriage by proxy was "perfectly legal" in Peru, but agreed that such a marriage would not be recognized by the courts of the United States.  Federick Bergmann, former Consul General of Peru, had power of attorney for Puga and offered to stand in for him at the civil service ceremony.  It appears, however, that Castora was forced to travel to Peru to be married.

Pedro and Hilaria were in the newspapers two years later when the girl, now 14, disappeared.  She had left the apartment wearing three dresses, one over the other, and The New York Times suggested "there is a possibility that she may have started to walk to her old home in Mexico."  She had some small change on her when she disappeared, what police said was "enough to take her only a dozen miles or so on her way to Mexico."

But Pedro was not so sure that was her plan.  "He thinks she may have run away with a boy friend," said the newspaper.  "Several months ago Mr. Rubio discovered that she was receiving the attentions of a young druggist's clerk whose first name is Victor.  Mr. Rubio told his ward that she would have to stop meeting him."  It is unclear whether the runaway was found.

Mrs. Annie B. Hyatt, the widow of wealthy carpet dealer George E. L. Hyatt, was listed in the building by 1905.  She and her 41-year-old son, James V. A. Hyatt, quarreled in 1913.  Annie got over the spat, but James did not.  Despite what she called "her fruitless search," she never saw him again.

Annie lived on at No. 100 West 76th Street for three decades until her death on December 28, 1932.  She left her entire estate to the two daughters of her attorney, ignoring her son.  Her will said in part "I have watched and waited in vain for his return but as I have been nothing to him in life, I can be nothing to him in death."

Other tenants in the building included etcher Elias M. Grossman and his wife, Josephine.  Born in Russia, he had grown up on the Lower East Side, studying art at the Educational Alliance.  Before he was 25-years-old his work had been accepted for exhibition at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and similar institutions.

He was especially known for his drawings of aged Jewish persons and by the mid-1940's his works were owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and the Fogg Museum.  Grossman died on September 19, 1947.

Somehow the wonderful carved Victorian entrance doors have survived.
The last quarter of the 20th century saw a variety of boutiques in the ground floor.  Designer Koos van den Akker's shop was here by 1972; One Woman Boutique in 1978; and the Danny Noble boutique opened on July 15, 1987.   In 1995 Milanese fashion designer Martino Medali opened his boutique here.

The fashion shops shared spaces with home goods stores.  In 1997 Broden Store was here and the following year Bel Decor opened.

The storefronts have been modernized and replacement windows keep the drafts out upstairs.  But overall little has changed to C. Abbot French's 1889 structure.  And, thankfully, when the windows were replaced those marvelous stained glass transoms were preserved.

photographs by the author

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