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
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