Friday, December 10, 2021

The 1865 Elias Koch House - 214 East 78th Street


When Howard A. Martin purchased 200 feet of property north of the city in 1861, East 78th Street existed only on paper.  Included in the deed was a $128 assessment to open the street.  He divided the parcel into 15 building plots, each 13-feet, 4-inches-wide.  His builders, Warren and Ransom Beman (possibly brothers) and John Buckley, were most likely responsible for the charming design.   

In 1862, with the houses still under construction, Martin sold the row to an investor, William H. Brower, who, in turn, sold the houses to various buyers prior to their completion.   It would be a slow process, however.  In April 1861, Civil War broke out.  Construction in New York City ground to a near halt as working class men marched off to fight in the South.  The row was not completed until 1865, the year the war ended.

That year Henry Noble purchased 214 East 78th Street.  Like its identical neighbors, it rose three stories above a high basement level.  Just two bays wide, each of its openings was arched, creating an appealing and highly unusual appearance.  A bracketed Italianate style cornice graced the roofline.

Six houses among the original row of 15 survive.

Noble, who lived in Pennsylvania, had no intention of living in the house.   He leased it, as did a series of subsequent investors until 1869 when Elias Koch purchased it as his residence.  The bill of sale included the chandeliers and gas fixtures, the parlor hall oil cloths, and rather surprisingly, the "ceiling cornices" in the parlor and reception room.

Born in Mainz, German in 1829, Koch was a partner with his brother Jonathan in J. & E. Koch, manufacturer of satchels and bags.  Koch and his wife had at least two children, Alphonse and Bella.  

While the staffs in more affluent homes had very specific jobs, servants in middle-class households straddled responsibilities.  In 1879, for instance, the Kochs advertised for a "cook, washer and ironer."

The skinny house became a bit more crowded following Bella's marriage to Julius Kauffman, a director in the Tradesmen's National Bank.  Tragically, Bella died on October 12, 1898 at the age of 32.  

Elias Koch's abilities went beyond the making of satchels.  In 1898 he and Alphonse, with Louis Plaut, were granted a patent for for an "Electric-Telephone System for Houses."  By now Alphonse had owned the East 78th Street house for three years.  His father sold it to him on November 4, 1895 for $8,000--about $258,000 in today's money.  

After being in the Koch family for decades, Alphonse sold 214 East 78th Street to Elie and Marie Sulzer in April 1901.  He took a substantial loss on the property, selling it for $6,000.

The Sulzers had a son, Gabriel, and a daughter, also named Marie.  Gabriel's bar mitzvah was held in the nearby Temple Beth Israel Bikur Cholum on March 11, 1910.  The New York Herald announced the family would "at home Sunday, March 13, from three to six P.M." to receive congratulations.

Three months later, the Sulzers transferred title to the house to Marie.  They were more generous than Elias Koch had been to his son, charging her $100 for the property.  Marie leased the house in 1913, then sold it the following year.  It became home to Hans Rabenstein.  

The Rabensteins and their cook parted ways in 1920.  Her very specific position-wanted advertisement suggests she may have been a bit demanding:  "Cook.  Hungarian, wishes position in apartment, or country; $65-$70; no coal stove."  The top salary she was requesting would be equivalent to about $900 per month today.

The Rabensteins sold 214 East 78th Street to Hannah Lundgren in 1922.  When it was sold again in November 1945, The New York Sun noted, "The buyer intends to alter and occupy part of the premises," indicating a conversion to apartments.

But that did not happen, at least not yet.  The house was renovated in 1952, but remained a single-family house.  It was not until 1978 that it was divided into two duplex apartments.  Then, in 1996, it was returned to a single family residence--its captivating charm intact.

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


  1. Tom, none of the other surviving houses have shutters. Were they removed from the other houses or were shutters added to 214 by a later owner?

    1. I am almost positive they were fabricated during the 1996 renovation. They are striking.