Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Marcus Englander House - 262 East 78th Street


Following the end of the Civil War, Jacob Hirsch and Moses Leopold were partners in a fancy goods business at 90 Chambers Street.  Their relationship was so close (or perhaps their finances so tight) that in 1870 the men and their families shared the newly completed house at 262 East 78th Street.  They had a significant commute to work.  East 78th Street had existed only on paper until 1860, and their home--one of a row of identical speculative houses--was among the first wave of construction in the Yorkville district.  Hirsch and Leopold would have taken the Second Avenue streetcar line, opened in 1858, into the city.

The narrow house (just 16 feet wide), was typical of the Italianate style residences rising throughout the city.  Faced in brownstone, it rose three stories above the English basement.  The impressive arched entrance featured double doors with arched windows, topped by an ample transom.  Scrolled and foliate brackets rose from paneled pilasters to uphold an arched pediment.  The molded architrave window surrounds sat upon diminutive brackets.  The design was completed by a cast metal cornice with paired brackets and paneled frieze.

The two families left East 78th Street in 1871 and the house became home to Marcus Englander, his wife, Mariam, and their five children.  Englander was a well-to-do jeweler, a partner with Simon Adler in Englander & Adler at 180 Broadway.

Despite what must have already been crowded conditions, in 1875 the Englanders took in boarders, Mary de Leenheer and her daughter, Josephine.  Mary was the widow of Casimir de Leenheer, who had owned a bakery and candy shop on East 19th Street.  Josephine was teaching in the Boys' Department of Grammar School 53 on East 79th Street, near Third Avenue.  She earned $708 per year in 1876, or about $17,500 today.

Saratoga, New York, was a popular summer resort among Manhattan's wealthy citizens.  During the season of 1876 Englander opened what today might be called a "pop-up" store there--a temporary branch of his upscale jewelry shop.  On September 15, with the season over, Englander packed the unsold stock in a trunk, and took it to the Saratoga railroad station "with instructions to forward it to his residence," explained the New York Herald.  He was understandably panicked when the trunk never arrived.  The newspaper noted the truck contained "diamonds and jewelry valued at $22,000"--more than half a million in today's dollars.

Police discovered a watch, part of the inventory, in a pawn shop, which led them to William McKenzie, a waiter in the Grand Union Hotel.  According to his story, he was returning to New York from Albany when "he was accosted by two men...who said they were coming to this city, and as they were strangers, requested him to take their check for a trunk and bring it to his house, where they would call for it and give him $10."

McKenzie--if his story were true--should have had his suspicions raised when, as an incentive, the men gave him "a pair of diamond earrings, two watches, a neck chain, two pair of bracelets and several plain gold rings."  McKenzie said he no longer had the trunk, that it had been picked up and taken to Philadelphia.  Police there were notified.  New York Police Sergeant Keely advised, "the remainder of the stolen jewelry is without doubt in their possession."  It is doubtful that Englander got much of the valuable booty back.

The Englanders sold 262 East 78th Street in March 1879 to J. Rosenstrauch, whose surname reflected the increasingly German population of the Yorkville area.   The house was purchased at auction on April 12, 1892 by Lena Fried, who resold it in 1897 to Moses Mayer.  The $8,500 price would equal about $250,000 today.

The parlor was the scene of Amalia Mayer's funeral five years later, on December 3, 1897.  She was the wife of Salomon Mayer, and presumably the daughter-in-law of Moses.

As the Englanders had done, the Mayers took in a boarder.  In 1898 Dr. Charles Hush lived with the family.  The 44-year-old suffered a somewhat embarrassing accident on May 30 that year.  He was riding his bicycle at Lexington Avenue and 50th Street at noon when he pedaled headlong into a cable car.  The New York Herald reported, "He received a scalp wound and was removed to the Presbyterian Hospital."

While he retained possession of 262 East 78th Street, Mayer and his family moved out in 1914.  On April 15 the New-York Tribune reported he had leased it "for a term of years."  Sometime prior to 1921 it was purchased by Dora Schnelle.   

In 1922 two servants (most likely the only staff) were seeking new positions.  Their advertisement read: "Cook, German couple, general houseworker, except laundry; moderate wages."

Most likely because of its narrow proportions, 262 East 78th Street was not divided into apartments until 1966, when a renovation resulted in two duplexes.   One of the initial residents was William Cunningham, a graduate of the United States Military Academy.  He was appointed to "one of the top positions in the New York City transportation agency" in 1966 by Mayor John Lindsay, according to Assembly magazine.

Although the brownstone has been painted white, overall the house is in a remarkable state of preservation.

photographs by the author
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