Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Dewitt Clinton Hays House - 26 Bank Street


When yellow fever swept New York City in 1798, the Bank of New York purchased lots on a Greenwich Village road and built a branch there.  The lane took on the name Bank Street.

In 1843 developer Stephen B. Peet purchased ten 19-foot-wide lots on the south side of Bank Street, between Waverly Place and West Fourth Street, from the Bank of New York.  The following year he completed a splendid row of hybrid homes--a successful mix of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival elements.  Sitting on brownstone English basements, the three-story red brick residences had expected Greek Revival doorways, with Corinthian pilasters, narrow sidelights and ample transoms.  But rather than the heavy entablatures seen in other Greek Revival houses, the entrances were given unusual stone canopies and cornices, supported by scrolled brackets.  The lintels of all the openings were decorated with graceful ogival arches--a foreshadowing of the Gothic Revival that was just emerging in New York City.  The terminal cornices, with their rows of delicate dentils, were purely Greek Revival.

Since 1836 Louis Desire Peugnet and his brother, Hyacinthe, had operated the Freres Peugnet School on Bank Street.  In 1845 Louis erected a fine home at 11 Bank Street and that year opened a boarding school in the newly built 26 Bank Street.

An advertisement in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer read:

Classical, Mathematical and Commercial Institution, directed by H. Peugnet, 26 Bank street.  English, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemstry, &c. are included in the general course of studies, without extra charge.
Terms--Boarders, $75 per quarter; day boarders, $45; day scholars, $30.  A deduction of 10 percent, when there will be two or more brothers. 
The Situation and extent of the play grounds give to the institution the advantages both of the city and country.

 The $75 tuition would be equal to about $2,650 today.

In 1851 Dewitt Clinton Hays and his wife, the former Amanda Fitzallen, purchased 26 Bank Street.  Interestingly, his brothers Benjamin and Jacob, Jr. moved in as well.  Three of ten children, their well-known father, High Constable Jacob Hays, had been called "the terror of rascals of every grade."  By the end of his career, his reputation for handling law breakers was such that parents warned unruly children, "Old Hays will get you!"

Benjamin had worked closely in law enforcement with his father.  But in 1845 a full-time, salaried police department, the Municipal Police, was organized.  While Jacob honorarily kept his title, both his and Benjamin's jobs were eliminated.

Dewitt was a member of the brokerage firm of Wellstood, Hanks, Hays & Whiting.  Jacob, Jr. was also a broker and appears to have worked in the same office.  Dewitt Clinton Hays would go on to become president of the Bank of Manhattan (later Chase Manhattan), and treasurer of the New York Stock Exchange.

It may have been Dewitt's and Amanda's growing family (they would have eight children) that prompted Benjamin and Jacob to find their own homes.  By 1853 both had moved out.

The Hays family remained until 1859, when the house was purchased by Benjamin J. Hart and his wife, Harriette.  Benjamin and his brother, Solomon J., had operated a firearms and sporting goods firm, Benj. J. Hart & Bro. at 297 Broadway since around 1848.

This 1857 Navy Percussion Revolver is marked "B. J. Hart / Broadway"  photo via college

The working relationship between the brothers came to an end on December 31, 1861 when an announcement in the New York Herald said the partnership "is this day dissolved by mutual consent."  Benjamin continued running the business, now alone.

Tensions within the extended family may have prompted the break-up.  In April 1866, a month after the death of his father, John I. Hart, Benjamin and Harriette sued what appears to be the rest of the Hart family, including Solomon and more than 40 others, including Benjamin's sisters and their husbands and children.  The contention was over real estate.

The Harts remained at 26 Bank Street for a decade.  In 1870 it was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  The residents that year were John H. Giffin, a "case" merchant; William F. Gilley, the deputy registrar in the Hall of Records; and Harold Howard, who operated a watch store on Broadway.

Boarding houses were quite often run by widows.  It was a respectable way for a single woman to make a living.  In the 1870's Eliza A. Wilson was the landlady; in the 1880's the house was operated by Almira Mills; and at the turn of the century Mary E. Connor, the widow of Frank Connor, was in charge.

Around 1901 a "Miss Wilson" took over.  She took in a young boarder that year, Mary Lowell.  Described by The Evening World as "a beautiful young woman," Mary was among the new class of females--a career woman.  She was trained as a "stenographer and typewriter."  (The term "typewriter" at the time referred not only to the machine, but to its operator.)  She was about 19 years old.

Like many working girls, Mary had come to New York to find employment and, most likely, a husband.  She knew no one in the city and her landlady became her only friend.  Although she did not find a job in an office, she found work in a Greenwich Street restaurant and kept that job for years.

The Evening World, June 7, 1904 (copyright expired)

Three years after she moved in, Mary and Miss Wilson had a terrific argument during the first week of June 1904.  The spat would end tragically.  It was so serious that Mary moved to another boarding house on Waverly Place on June 5.  

Two days later The Evening World reported, "Lying dead in the rear of the old-fashioned residence at No. 147 Waverly place to-day, was found the body of Mary Lowell...There is some mystery about her death, though it is generally believed that she committed suicide some time during the early morning hours by springing from the window of her room on the third floor of the house."

In her room was her trunk which had been brought from 26 Bank Street.  Mary had not opened it.  An acquaintance, Mamie Veto, gave her opinion.  "The girl had no blood relatives living here...For three years past she had lived with a Miss Wilson, at 26 Bank street.  She was practically the only friend...and they quarreled last week."  Mamie concluded, "I am convinced that her feeling of loneliness brought on the fit of despondency that urged her to commit suicide."

The house continued to take in boarders through the Depression years.  Then, in 1942, a renovation resulted in one apartment per floor.  A subsequent remodeling joined the basement and parlor levels as a duplex apartment.

In 1992 the house was sold for $1.25 million, and in 2009 interior designer James D. Huniford sold it for $7.25 million (about $1 million below the asking price.)  It was returned to a single-family home in 2016.  

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Friday, October 29, 2021

The Robert J. Hunter House - 349 West 30th Street


By 1853 the family of Robert J. Hunter lived in the three-story house at 223 West 30th Street (renumbered 349 in 1868), erected about a decade earlier.  It and its mirror image neighbor at 225 shared a 27-foot-wide plot that would have held a single residence in other parts of the city.  Despite its narrow width, the house displayed the up-to-date elements of the newly popular Italianate style.

The entrance featured handsome carved, paneled doors, rope carving and an ample transom.  It originally sat below an Italianate pediment supported on brackets.  Molded cornices originally graced the openings.  Above it all was a handsome pressed metal cornice with foliate brackets and ornamented frieze.

The 20th century modernizations to the building thankfully left the wonderful doors and rope carving intact.

It is unclear what Hunter's profession was, but he listed his annual income in 1866 at $24,520--a tidy $412,000 in today's money.  And he was prominent enough that in 1862 he served as treasurer of the committee to erect a statue of DeWitt Clinton in Central Park.

Sharing the house was Hunter's son and daughter-in-law, Joel D. and Frances Hunter.  The couple had married on January 17, 1844.  In 1854 Joel was taken into partnership in the "butter, cheese and lard" firm of Jay L. Adams & Co. on Greenwich Street.

In 1860 Robert J. Hunter moved to Pierrepont Street in fashionable Brooklyn Heights.  The West 30th Street house became home to the Johnston Knight family.

Johnston listed his profession as a clerk at the time--a nebulous term that ranged from a low-paid shop helper to a highly-responsible accountant.  He and his wife, the former Sarah Hill Quin, would have eight children.

Tragedy struck on July 5, 1868 when the couple's one year old son, Thomas Hamilton, died.  His funeral was held in the parlor two days later.  Another funeral would be held there six years later.  The Knights' eldest daughter, 15 year old Jane Hill, died on November 2, 1874 and, as had been the case with Thomas, her casket sat in the parlor for two days until her funeral.

A year later Sarah Knight visited her parents at 16 West 9th Street.  It appears she went into labor there, and died in childbirth on October 14.  Her body was not brought home to the West 30th Street house, but instead her funeral was held in her parents' parlor on October 16.

Johnston was now the single father of six children--14 year old Mary Ann; Joseph Patrick, who was 12; 10 year old Johnston, Jr.; 6 year old Sophia Hamilton; William Thomas, who was 3; and the newborn Peter Regan.

By 1882 Johnston had changed careers, now in the plumbing business at 8 West 4th Street.   He would endure the funerals of two more children in the 30th Street house.  Little Peter Regan, died at 6 years old on March 18, 1882, and Johnston, Jr. died six years later.

Almost every house of the period had a small building in the rear yard--either a smaller house for income purposes, a stable, or a workshop.  In 1886 Johnston was renting his rear building to the young sculptor Rupert Schmidt for his studio.

Born in Bavaria in 1864, Schmidt had arrived in the United States only a year earlier.  He later relocated to San Francisco where he was praised as one of that city's foremost artists.

It appears that by 1891 only Knight's two unmarried daughters, Sophia and Mary, were still living at home.  By 1894 they were taking in a boarder, Charles Knapp.  The erudite scholar, who received his Ph.D. in 1890, was a philologist--or expert in the history of languages--and professor of Latin at Columbia College.

Johnston Knight needed the income from a boarder.  He was facing pressure from Joseph E. Mount for back mortgage payments at the time.  Unfortunately, it was not enough and Knight lost his home of more than 35 years in foreclosure on April 6, 1895.  The house sold at auction for $10,000--about $320,000 today--to Sarah T. Haller, the widow of George F. Haller.

Moving in with their mother were John H., Christiana I., Edwin and Nellie G.  The family had barely settled in when Sarah died on August 12, 1896 at the age of 59.

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, John H. Haller joined the Company K of the 71st United States Volunteers.  Troops fighting in Cuba were soon dying not from the wounds of battle, but of illness, including typhoid fever.  The Haller family was surprised to read a newspaper report on August 19, 1898 that John was among the sick soldiers who had been transported from Cuba to Camp Wikoff at Montauk Point, Long Island.

The family tried repeatedly to be given permission to visit the Camp hospital--through telegraph, letters and five trips to the 71st Regiment Armory.  Finally, that permission came, but what Christiana and her siblings found there was devastating.  She later wrote:

Finally we found my brother lying in an unconscious condition, from which it was utterly impossible to rouse him, and the nurse said that he had been in this state for six days previous.  Both the doctor in charge of the ward and this nurse told us, without any reserve, that his condition was more the result of starvation than disease, and that such was the case with the rest of the soldiers there under treatment.

The humiliation of the soldier went further.  Christiana's complaint to the Chief Quartermaster of Volunteers, Lt. Colonel F. B. Jones, continued:

He died the next day, August 24, at 11:30 p.m...and his body was removed to the deadhouse clad only in an undershirt, and it was in this condition when my oldest brother and the undertaker came for the body.  Had not the undertaker been provided with a winding sheet, there would have been no covering for him in which to be placed in the coffin.

John's was the latest in a long string of funerals in the West 30th Street house.  But when the family requested a military escort to the cemetery, they were "flatly refused on the ground that [Saturday] was pay day in the camp, and no soldier would be permitted to be absent."  Christiana wrote, "Consequently my poor brother not only sacrificed his life in the service of his country, but was also deprived of his right of an escort of his comrades to his last resting place."

At the time of the tragedy, Edwin Haller was a teacher in the Free Academy of the City of New York.  When Sarah Haller died, he and his siblings had received equal shares in the West 30th Street property.  But trouble within the family seems to have begun in 1900 and by early 1901 had become untenable.  Christiana, named "Chrissie" in court papers, sued the others on April 1, 1901.  The court referee, C. W. West, ordered the sale of 349 West 30th Street on March 7.

By 1923 it was being operated as a rooming house.  Living there that year was 24 year old Joseph Roseblock, who made his living as a short-order cook in a restaurant on Broadway and 47th Street.

On the morning of January 18 that year James Barbarusis and his wife walked into the restaurant for breakfast.  Barbarusis owned a restaurant on Sherman Avenue in the Bronx.  Three years earlier a cook had stolen a $100 Liberty Bond and $45 in cash from the restaurant and disappeared.

As the couple sat at their table, a waiter cried out, "Ham and eggs!"  The order was repeated from the kitchen, "Ham and eggs."  Unbelievably, Barbarusis thought he recognized the voice from three years ago.  The Daily News reported, "Barbarusis also ordered ham and eggs to ascertain recognition of the voice.  When the echo came again, he was satisfied and went out and brought a detective."  Joseph Roseblock's distinctive voice landed him in jail for the earlier robbery.

Hugh McNelis rented a room here the following year.  The 50-year-old became despondent that spring.  He decided to end it all by going to the lake in Corona Park in Flushing and drowning himself.  But McNelis could not have anticipated the heroics of a 15 year old high school student, Frank Aidala.  Hugh jumped into the lake on April 25, 1924, followed closely by the teen.  Frank hauled McNelis out and he was taken to Flushing Hospital "suffering from immersion," according to the Newtown Register.

By 1943, 349 West 30th Street was home to the Izzo family.  Lucy Izzo speculated in real estate, buying and selling commercial properties.

Anthony Izzo was still a teenager when he took the job as chauffeur for Martin Hessikiel, a wealthy fur dealer.  He was driving Hessikiel along the Merritt Parkway on Saturday night, September 25, 1945 when the car was forced over.  Hessikiel was "slugged and robbed," according to The New York Sun, the highwaymen getting away with $13,000 worth of furs--a substantial $187,000 by today's terms.

Izzo, who was 19 years old at the time, was questioned.  His story began to fall apart and under pressure he confessed to his part in the conspiracy and identified the two others, 18 year old John Carratella and 21 year old Daniel Gezzi.

The parlor window most likely matched that of its former twin next door.

A 2000 renovation resulted in two duplex apartments in the narrow house.   The 20th century was not especially kind to the vintage residence.  The parlor window was shortened, the lintels shaved flat, the entrance pediment was removed and the transom painted over, and the red brick was given a coat of mint green paint.  And still the charm of the early Italianate style house survives.

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The 1873 French Flats at 15 East 12th Street


In 1873 a high stoop rose to what is today a centered window above the store.

Maria Titus owned the 25-foot wide house at 15 East 12th Street in 1870.  It sat within a fashionable neighborhood, just two blocks south of Union Square and half a block from Fifth Avenue.  On April 28 that year she sold the "elegant residence" to Thomas O'Connor for $18,000.  (The price would equal about $368,000 today.)  O'Connor renovated it into a French flat.  The term was used to differentiate upscale apartment houses--still viewed skeptically by most families--from tenement buildings.

The stoop was moved to the center of the building and stores installed on either side at ground level.  Stylish neo-Grec stone lintels now graced the openings.  The date of construction was announced within the pediment of the pressed metal cornice.

There were just three apartments in the building--one per floor.  O'Connor and his wife moved into one of them.  The suites were large enough for one tenant to sublet part of theirs.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on April 13, 1874 offered details of the apartments:

To Let--Part of a French Flat (four rooms) unfurnished, with use of kitchen, range, hot and cold water, washtubs, privilege of bath, water closet, elevator and all conveniences to a gentleman and wife; rent $35 per month; only one other family of two in the house, with other.

One of the ground floor spaces was initially leased to a grocery store.  Although it went out of business in the spring of 1874, it was immediately replaced by another.

On April 4, 1887 O'Connor sold the property to Katharine Best Prochazka for $30,500.   Born in Hessen, German in 1829, the widow had three grown sons, George, Ferdinand and John.  At least one of them, Ferdinand, shared the owner's apartment with his mother.

The Prochazka brothers were an interesting bunch.  George A. Prochazka was born in 1855 and at the age of just 12 studied chemistry in Germany.  He earned his Ph.D at the University of Heidelberg in 1874.  In 1881 George joined the dyestuff maker Heller & Merz and four years later married Henry Merz's daughter, Emilie.

John Prochazka also studied chemistry in Germany, while Ferdinand turned his attention to architecture, specializing in monument design.  His firm, Hoffman & Prochazka, moved its offices into one of the commercial spaces in 15 East 12th Street.  (Family ties briefly pulled Ferdinand away from monument design in 1889.  When his mother erected a water tank on the roof that year, the plans noted, "architect, F. Prochazka.")

Katharine's tenants were professional, like decorator Paul Sarazin  and his wife, who were among the original 1873 tenants.  The New York Times said that he lead "a quiet, orderly life and seem[ed] to have all the work he needed to live comfortably.  In 1888 Sarazin's wife fell ill.  Her condition deteriorated until he neglected his commissions so he could take care of her.  "The effort ran him down and got him into debt," explained The New York Times.

Sarazin's devotion to his wife took such a toll that soon after she was taken to the French Hospital, he, too, was admitted.  His wife died in the hospital and although he recovered and was released, his spirit was drained.  The New York Times reported, "Having no family and almost friendless he seemed to lose interest in affairs.  He spurred himself to sufficient energy, however, to clear off his debts, but his neighbors saw less and less of him.  From having been strong and industrious he became sickly and indifferent."

Sarazin mostly stayed in his apartment.  Other than going out to buy food and other necessities, he showed little interest in anything, including his work.  He walked out of the East 12th Street building on September 28, 1889 and never returned.  A week later The New York Times reported, "Since his disappearance Ferdinand Prochazka, the architect, whose mother owns the house, has tried to find him, but without success."  Ferdinand told reporters Sarazin possibly wandered off, "possibly finding shelter, but more likely in want, as he could not make himself understood in English, and, even if demented, his pride would probably restrain him from seeking alms."  The New York Times concluded its article saying, "If he may have died Mr. Prochazka would like to know that fact."  (It does not appear the decorator was ever found.)

Thomas O'Connor proudly placed the date of his renovations above the neo-Grec style cornice.

Another tragic tenant was John Townsend, who arrived from England around 1891 and took the third floor apartment.   He had brought $3,000 with him to start his new life--a comfortable $88,000 in today's money).  But instead of finding a career, according to The Evening Post on October 28, 1892, "Townsend played the races."  The newspaper said he had squandered his entire savings.

When he was not heard from for several days, a friend went to the 12th Street building and Katharine Prochazka opened his door with her passkey.  The Standard Union reported, "Too proud to appeal to his friends for help, John Townsend, a young New York sporting man, would have died in his boarding house had he not been accidentally discovered by one of his former associates.  He was dangerously sick with peritonitis, hungry and without medicine to relieve his intense suffering."  He was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital where his condition was reported as serious.

In 1892 the grocery store closed and the space was taken by the New York office of British publisher Ward, Lock & Bowden.  In 1895 the firm began publishing Windsor Magazine, as well.

The New York Sun, April 18, 1896 (copyright expired)

The size of the commodious apartments was revealed in an advertisement in 1901:  "Nine rooms; rent $45; only three families in house."  The rent would equal about $1,400 today.

Katherine Prochazka died on November 13, 1904.  The East 12th Street property was inherited equally by her three sons.  Within the year, in August 1905, Ferdinand transferred his one-third share to his brothers (who, incidentally, had founded the Central Dyestuff and Chemical Company of Newark in 1898).

Ferdinand cut ties with his former partner before the year's end.  On January 1906 The Reporter announced "Ferdinand Prochazka has purchased his partner's interest in the firm of Hoffman & Prochazka and will continue it alone under the name of Ferdinand Prochazka Monument Architect."  He moved his office out of 15 East 12th Street.

The former upscale apartment building was converted to lofts.  Space was leased in August 1905 to the Bach Fur Company for a term of six years.  The firm obtained a license "to scrape and store skins" in the space.  

A. A. Vantine & Co.'s "The Oriental Store" took another space.  Exotic gifts like Chinese porcelains, Japanese tea sets, Turkish rugs and lacquered ware, described as "Oriental delicacies," were sold here.    The Oriental Store moved to Union Square in 1912, and the space became home to Swiss Colours Company.  The dyestuff firm was most likely well known to their landlords, the Prochazka brothers.

In 1933 the building was renovated.  It was probably at this time that the stoop was removed.  There was now a single store on the first floor and apartments above.  A another remodeling completed in 1955 resulted in a luncheonette on the ground floor and two apartments each on the upper floors.

That configuration lasted until 1993 when the store became home to the Marquet Patisserie, the second floor was converted to offices, and there were now just one apartment each on the third and fourth floors.

Lynne and Jean-Pierre Guillot had opened the original Marquet Patisserie in Brooklyn several years earlier.  Florence Fabricant advised in The New York Times on January 13, 1993, "The new shop sells the fine French pastries and breads made in the Brooklyn store.  The bright, airy but narrow shop has a few temporary tables in front and back."  The cafĂ© operated in the space into the early 21st century.

In 2017 Villanelle opened.  Once again Florence Fabricant reported on the opening, saying the restaurant's proximity to the Union Square Greenmarket was convenient for executive chef Nick Licata, "given his vegetable-forward menu."

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The 1832 Thomas Suffern House - 11 Washington Square North

Work on the exterior is currently taking place, possibly to remove the ill-advised white paint on the marble.

The seven acres of land that New York City purchased from the Herring family in 1790 was chosen for its somewhat remote location.  The property was used as an execution ground and potter’s field.  Seven years later it was increased to 13 acres.  By 1828 the hangings had ceased and Mayor Philip Hone renovated the potter’s field into a military parade ground called Washington Square.  

The Sailors’ Snug Harbor owned the block on the north side of the park between Fifth Avenue and University Place, and Washington Square to 8th Street.  In 1831 it offered leases on lots 1 through 13 with the stipulation that the lessee would erect within two years "a good and substantial dwelling house."

The plot at 11 Washington Square North was leased to Thomas Suffern.  His sumptuous 31-foot-wide Greek Revival style home was completed a year later.  Nearly identical to its immediate neighbors, it was faced in red brick and trimmed in white marble.  The areaway was protected by heavy cast iron fencing topped by large palmettes.  The white marble stoop led to the entrance within an Ionic portico that sat snugly against the facade.  Short attic windows, typical of Greek Revival, pierced a full-height fascia.

Simple Greek Revival fretwork on the bottom panels contrast to the exuberant palmettes atop the fencing.  Rather than gateposts, ornate panels in a lyre motif, flank the gate.

The patrician appearance of the Suffern house reflected the social position of its owner.  Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1787, Thomas Suffern had inherited the tobacco business of his uncle George Suffern in 1810, and additionally made a fortune in importing Irish linens.  A cousin of President Andrew Jackson, he was the business mentor of Alexander T. Stewart.

Thomas and his wife, the former Jane S. Lansing, had two daughters, Janet and Agnes.  In 1855 Agnes was married to Edward Neufville Tailer, Jr. in the drawing room of the Washington Square mansion.  The groom was a descendant of Sir William Tailer, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.  Shortly after the wedding Thomas Suffern helped Edward procure a partnership in the dry goods firm of Winzer & Osbrey (which later became Winzer, Tailer & Osbrey).  The newlyweds moved into a home nearby at 8 East Eighth Street.

Five years later, on October 24, 1860, Janet married Captain Arthur Breese Lansing, who had recently retired from the United States Army after a notable career.

Like all gentlemen, Edward N. Tailer kept a journal.  His, however, went further than most, including newspaper clippings of important incidents, and personal remembrances.  In October 1860 he detailed the ball held for the visiting Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.  He was one of the ushers and danced "in the set next to the Prince," while his father-in-law, Thomas Suffern, "danced in the Prince's set."

Thomas Suffern died in the Washington Square house in 1869 at the age of 82.  In 1874 Agnes and Edward Tailer and their five children--Agnes Suffern, Mary Elizabeth, Thomas Suffern, Laura Suffern, and Frances "Fannie" Bogert--moved back to 11 Washington Square North.  

Edward Neufville Tailer, Jr.  from America's Successful Men of Affairs: The City of New York, 1895 (copyright expired)

Agnes Suffern Tailer, image via

The first of the Tailer children to wed was Mary, who married Robert Reginald Livingston in 1884.  The groom had a prestigious pedigree.  His paternal lineage in America went back to the 17th century and "Robert Livingston of Clermont."  His ancestors included Schuylers, Van Rensselaers, and Beekmans.  His great-grandfather, Robert Robert Livingston, was a Founding Father and the Minister to France under Thomas Jefferson.  

On May 3, 1887 17-year-old Laura died "suddenly," as worded by The Evening Post.  Her funeral was not held in the house, as might have been expected, but at the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street.

Thomas Suffern Tailer was married to Maud Lorillard on April 14, 1893.  The Sun reported, "A thousand persons tried to crush into Calvary witness the marriage."  The account added, "the wedding reception at the Lorillard residence was one of the social events of the year."  The newlyweds embarked on an 18-month world trip, "unconsciously covering a distance of about 40,000 miles," said The Sun upon their return.

On October 28, 1894 The Sun newspaper noted, "During the absence of Mrs. E. N. Tailer and her family in Europe, Mr. and Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer are occupying the homestead in Washington square, but they expect soon to take possession of their Tuxedo cottage, their wedding gift from Mr. Lorillard."

The next to wed was Fannie, who married Sydney Jefferson Smith on December 16, 1896.  The New York Times remarked, "Grace Church was thronged to the doors, and although it had been announced that Mr. and Mrs. Smith's reception would be limited to relatives and intimate friends, the spacious rooms of the bride's father's residence on North Washington Square were almost uncomfortably crowded with guests."

The line of elegant carriages, which "put the neighborhood of Washington Square and Grace Church into unaccustomed animation," drew the attention of artist Fernand Lungren.  He lived in the studio building at 3 Washington Square North and quickly began sketching the scene for a painting, A Winter Wedding.

Fernand Lungren captured the scene as high society arrived at the Tailer house for the wedding reception.

Edward and Agnes Tailer, like most high society figures, were often on the move.  On May 22, 1900, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported:

Mr. and Mrs. Edward N. Tailer have returned to their home, No. 11 Washington Square North, from Tuxedo Park, where they passed several days.  Before sailing for Europe, on Thursday, June 21, Mr. and Mrs. Tailer will be the guests of their son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney [sic] Smith at their country place at Westbury, Long Island.  Mr. and Mrs. Tailer, who intend to remain abroad for the greater part of the summer, will join their daughter, Mrs. Robert R. Livingston, who is now in Paris.

Mary Livingston had just emerged from mourning at the time.  Robert R. Livingston had died at the age of 40 from pneumonia on April 16, 1898, after being ill only a few days.

Agnes had a fright on the night of December 6, 1902.  She was returning home on Fifth Avenue when her coachman, Charles Burrton, stopped as two Eighth Street streetcars crossed the avenue.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Brutton noticed a well dressed man standing in the street...Just as Mrs. Tailer's carriage stopped, the man with the cane walked up to it, opened the door and sprang in, flopping down in the seat beside Mrs. Tailer."

Agnes was understandably frightened.  The article said, "the thought entered her mind that she might have a thief to contend with, as she wore jewelry of considerable value."  The intruder had scarcely entered the carriage before Agnes exited on the other side.  Brutton called to a policeman, who rushed to the vehicle to find the stranger "comfortably lying on the cushions," according to the New-York Tribune.  "He had endeavored to make himself comfortable after Mrs. Tailer had stepped out, and was sprawled over practically the whole interior."

As it turned out, the gentleman from New Jersey was intoxicated to the point that he thought he was still in Newark.  Mistaking the Tailer carriage for a hansom, he had hoped only for a quick trip home.  He got an equally quick trip to the Mercer Street police station, instead.  Agnes, in the meantime, was apparently too shaken up to get back into the carriage and walked the rest of the way home.

photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By the time of the unsettling incident, Mary Livington and her children, Robert Reginald and Laura Suffern, had moved into the mansion with the Tailers.  Laura's introduction to society occurred at a reception here on December 9, 1909.  The prominence of the family was reflected in the elite surnames of the receiving party: Barber, Hyde, Bloodgood, Townsend, Tuckerman, Burr, Stillman, Hoyt and Appleton.

Mary Livingston and her children traveled broadly.  On December 22, 1912, for instance, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Robert R. Livingston, accompanied by Miss Laura Suffern Livingston and R. Reginald Livingston sailed yesterday for Panama to be gone about a month."  And on February 20, 1916 The New York Times announced, "Mrs. Robert R. Livingston and her son, Robert R. Livingston, have returned from a trip to the Pacific Coast and are at their town house, 11 Washington Square North, until they open Northwood, the Livingston estate near Cheviot-on-Hudson.  They spent about six weeks on the coast."

The Sun reported on May 17, 1914, "society was interested in the engagement announced last week of Miss Laura Suffern Howard Shippen Davis.  Miss Livingston and her fiancĂ© are widely known in society, their families being among the oldest in the city."  The wedding took place in St. Paul's Church in Tivoli, New York on September 26 that year.

On February 8, 1917 Edward N. Tailer was stricken with "an attack of indigestion which so weakened his heart that he could not rally," according to The Sun.  The symptoms would probably be diagnosed as a heart attack, today.  He lingered for nearly a week, dying on February 15 at the age of 86.  

In reporting his death, newspapers recalled his Journal of Some of the Events Which Have Occurred in My Life Time, begun in 1848.  Among his entries was a description of the early days of Washington Square:

I remember when heavy guns were drawn over the Square, after it became a parade ground, that the weight broke through the ground into the trenches in which the dead were buried and crushed the tops of some of the coffins.  At one time near 4th and Thompson Streets I saw a vault under the sidewalk opened and the body found there was still wrapped in the yellow sheet in which the yellow fever victims were buried.

Agnes was grief stricken over the loss of her husband of 62 years.  She survived only a month longer than Edward, dying in the mansion on March 18.  The Sun said, "She had borne up bravely under the blow at first, and on the day before her quiet passing away had been well enough to go for a short drive."  The New York Times said simply, "Grief for the loss of her husband was said to have been the immediate cause of her death."

The house was left in equal shares to Agnes's children.  In May 1918 Mary Livingston bought her brother's share.  She and Robert continued to travel--in 1920, for example, they sailed to the West Indies.  

Then, on February 23, 1922, Robert was married to Alice Delafield Dean in St. James's Church on Madison Avenue.  The New-York Tribune said, "it was witnessed by a large gathering representative of society, with which both families long have been identified."

Mary did not let solitude slow her social life.  Several of her entertainments revolved around the new generation.  On December 21, 1935, for instance, she hosted "a debutante reception with dancing" for  her granddaughter, Catherine Livingston Davis.  It would be the last grand affair in the mansion.

After having been in her family for over a century, in 1936 Mary Livingston was forced to abandon the mansion her grandfather had built when Sailors' Snug Harbor refused to renew the leasehold. 

The stately facades might as well be on a Hollywood studio lot since nothing original survives behind them.

In 1939 the mansions from 7 through 13  Washington Square North were gutted and only the facades preserved.  Architects Scott & Prescott created a modern apartment building, with an entrance on Fifth Avenue, which replaced the elegant homes.  Their doorways above the white marble stoops are mostly for show and rarely, if ever, used.

photograph by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The 1892 Dr. Owen J. Ward House - 160 West 94th Street


In May 1891, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Walden P. Anderson was erecting a row of 13 three-story dwellings on  the south side of West 94th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.  The cost of constructing the row would cost the architect-developer $195,000--or about $5.65 million today.

Anderson created three different designs in an A-B-C pattern.   Each sat upon a brownstone English basement and rose three stories to a short attic level.  The "B" models, which included 160 West 94th Street, were clad in red brick above the parlor level and were distinguished by elaborately carved brownstone spandrel panels between the second and third floors--each one markedly different.  Above the pressed metal cornice, round copper clad dormers poked through the slate shingled mansard.

At 17-feet wide, three feet narrower that the average domestic building plot, the residences were intended for upper-middle class families.  Each contained ten rooms and two baths.  They were completed in 1892 and in April Anderson sold 160 West 94th Street to Dr. Owen J. Ward.  He would be the first in a string of physicians to occupy the house.

Born in 1840, Ward had graduated from the Medical Department of the University of the City of New York in 1865.   By the time he purchased the 94th Street house he was a busy man.  A bachelor, he was the house surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital, the visiting physician of the Tombs prison downtown, and when the Gouverneur Hospital opened in 1885, he became its visiting surgeon, as well.

His position with the Tombs resulted in Ward's often being called as a witness in criminal cases.  In December 1894, for instance, he testified in a highly publicized extortion case involving some of the highest ranking officials in the police department.

On March 4, 1898 Ward and the defense lawyer had a heated exchange in the courtroom as he testified for the prosecution in the murder case of William J. Koerner.  The defendant was charged with killing Rose Alice Redgate, and a letter signed by the victim was introduced as evidence.  

Prior to the trial the Assistant District Attorney had handed the letter to Ward and asked him to get Koerner to confirm it was written by Rose Redgate.  The defense attorney was brutal in his cross-examination:

You showed that unfortunate prisoner the letter, and used your influence as Tombs physician and prison attendant to get him unwittingly to identify the letter?

I did as I was instructed to do.

Having thrown off your respectability as a physician, tell us what you did as an individual?

I asked him to read the letter.  I asked Koerner who wrote it.  He said Rose Redgate wrote it.  I said, "Is it true that Rose Redgate wrote the letter?  And is it true what she has written in the letter?"  Koerner answered, "Rose could write nothing but what is true."

That may have been Ward's last appearance in criminal court.  Five months later, on August 17, he died in the 94th Street house at the age of 58.  His estate sold the property in February 1902 to Dr. H. Rickaby.

Within only a few years Dr. George Koegler and his family were living here.   A successful dentist, he and his wife had four sons.   On the night of December 3, 1907, the Koeglers had dinner guests, H. Strasbourger and his wife.   Mrs. Strasbourger arrived dressed in a fur coat and muff.  The two couples must have been very close, for they had dinner in the informal family dining room in the basement level.  When the Strasbourgers prepared to leave, her furs were gone.

The New York Times reported, "While everybody was in the basement at dinner the thief, who had evidently been watching the actions of the household, came down through the skylight and took all the belongings."  Along with Mrs. Strasbourger's things, he gathered up "a gold watch, stickpins, and other jewelry owned by the Koegler family," said the article.  He made his escape out the parlor floor and down the stoop.  The fur coat alone was valued at $1,000--more 28 times that much today.

Still living here with his parents in the post-World War I years was John Charles Koegler.  A bachelor, he was a provision merchant.  He was forced to retire at an early age in 1920 due to medical problems.  The 48-year-old died in the house a year later on April 5, 1921.

Dr. Koegler soon converted space in the house for his office (most likely the former family dining room in the basement).   In 1923 he advertised for a "girl to assist in dentist office," and again on March 23, 1925 he sought a "Young lady to assist in dentist's office; experience unnecessary."

When the Koeglers sold 160 West 94th Street to M. C. Berg, Inc. in 1929, The Sun noted, "Extensive alterations will be made."  Although not officially renovated to apartments, it was now operated as a rooming house.

Among the initial residents were newlyweds Donald Patten, a switchman and track-walker for the New York Central Railroad, and his bride, the former Yolanda Bartolotti.  On June 21, 1930, just 24 days after the wedding, the couple quarreled.  Yolanda stormed out and headed straight for the passenger piers, where she sneaked above the Ile de France which was about to sail for Europe.

When the ship had passed Sandy Hook, Yolanda appeared in the purser's office.  She had some difficulty convincing Henri Villar that she was, indeed, a stowaway.  She was given a job in the ship's hospital as an assistant to a nurse and when the vessel arrived at France, she was taken "to one of the best Havre jails," according to The New York Times.  The article said, "She had been incarcerated four days before her husband's frantic cablegrams and the solicitations of the American Consul could open the jail doors."

The newspaper wrote on July 18, "When she returned on the liner Paris yesterday she was glad it was all over and hoped she could settle down and 'give married life a fair trial.'"  But it was not entirely over.  The reunited couple's embrace was interrupted by immigration officials who took her to Ellis Island "for an examination of her status."  Yolanda explained that she was an alien, having come from Italy as a child, but that her husband was an American citizen.  Things eventually seem to have worked out for the couple.

Fire broke out in the house on July 8, 1938.  Two firefighters, Harry Christman and George S. Magnuson were deemed heroes.  They received medals on May 8 "for the rescue of a man from the third floor window at 160 West Ninety-fourth street," reported The New York Sun.

The house was officially renovated to apartments in 1968.  There are now six units in the building, including a triplex engulfing part of the basement through the second floor.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog