Friday, March 4, 2022

The 1884 Peter F. Turner House - 341 West 46th Street


On January 12, 1884 developer John Livingston announced his plans to erect a row "stone front private dwellings" along the north side of West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.   A month later his architect Frederick T. Camp filed plans for nine "three-story and basement brown stone dwellings," each to cost $11,500 to erect, or about $315,000 in today's money.

Camp designed the identical brownstone-fronted homes in the neo-Grec style.  The architrave stone frames of the windows were miniature versions of the entrance.  Geometric brackets with etched decorations upheld pronounced molded cornices.  The corbels of the cornices, with their paneled frieze, carried on the motif of the openings below.

Although painted, the house at 347 West 46th Street retains the architectural details sadly lost from 341 West 46th Street.

The row was completed in December 1884.  On September 9 the following year, Livingston sold 341 West 46th Street to Peter F. Turner for the equivalent of $665,000 today.  Turner wasted little time in increasing the square footage of his new home.  A month later he hired architect J. G. McMurray to design a two-story brick extension in the rear.

Turner ran a foundry at 602 West 39th Street.  As was common, he and his wife, Rose Augusta, took in a boarder.  Their advertisement on October 3, 1886 offered rooms to "one family only" in the "new brown stone house."  Their long-term boarder from 1889 through 1892 was young Harry Joseph Plaut, who was initially attending the College of the City of New York, then Columbia University's School of Mines.

Unlike the quiet scholar, their subsequent boarders would bring unwanted press attention to the address.  Living with the Turners in the summer of 1894 was 35 year old John W. Wallace.  He was a frequent customer of the second-hand clothing store of Solomon Egelka on Seventh Avenue.

The Evening Telegram noted, "If he wanted a button sewed on, he went to Solomon and it was fastened on instantly.  If Wallace needed a crease ironed into his trousers, Solomon Egelka would do it for him."  But eventually Egelka noticed that every time Wallace left, a pair of trousers or a vest was missing from the store.

And so, when Wallace came shopping for a pair of trousers on the evening of September 30, Egelka was vigilant.  Wallace chose a pair of trousers, and then treated Egelka to a beer at a nearby saloon.  Upon returning to the store, Wallace said he did not have enough money to pay for the trousers, and would put down a small amount and pay in installments.  Egelka agreed, the pants were left with him, and Wallace left.  But the storekeeper was close on his trail.

On the sidewalk, he patted Wallace on the stomach and said, "I don't think that beer you took could make you so fat in so short a time."  He called some of the neighbors, who were sitting on their stoops, "to witness how he would make a fat man lean in a short time," said The Evening Telegram.  He pulled two neatly folded pair of trousers from under Wallace's vest.  Wallace was arrested and held in $300 bail on larceny charges.

The Turners next boarders were a young married couple, Ida and Charles Rice.  Rice was a foreman in a painting company.  The couple's only child died in May 1895.  Ida, who was 23 years old, became despondent and, according to Charles, sometimes drank to relieve her depression.

At 9:00 on the night of August 12, Cornelius Murphy was tying up his boat at the Hudson River dock on 49th Street when "he was startled by seeing a woman rush down the dock and throw herself into the river," reported the New York Herald.  Murphy threw off his coat and jumped in after her.  The newspaper said, "He pulled out a very frightened and very penitent young woman and handed her over to a policeman, who took her to the West Forty-seventh street station."

Ida Rice was checked by an ambulance surgeon (today's EMT), who "pronounced her none the worse for her dunking," and she was arrested for attempting suicide (a felony offense at the time).  She told police she had tried to killer herself after  Charles had struck her during a quarrel.  Charles was brought in, and he denied having hit his wife.  He said she had been drinking when he came home and when she tried to leave for more liquor, "he pushed her back into bed, perhaps rather roughly."

On February 11, 1888, Rose Augusta Turner died.  Peter's grief seems to have been substantial and her funeral in the West 46th Street house was private.  A solemn requiem mass followed at the Church of the Sacred Heart on 51st Street near Ninth Avenue.

The grief-stricken Peter F. Turner immediately left the house that he and Rose had bought together.  Nine days after the funeral, on February 23, an auction of everything in the house was held.  The announcement included, in part:

Superb Weber upright automaton piano; rich, hand painted and tinsel curtains and portieres, made in Paris; handsome bric-a-brac; fine carpets and rugs throughout the house; drawing room, library and dining room furniture...oil painting, engravings.

Turner kept nothing.  Even the "servants' and kitchen paraphernalia, china, glass, and silver ware," was auctioned.  Following the household sale, the "handsome dwelling, all cabinet finished," was sold.

The house was purchased by John King and his wife, the former Helen Magnin.   The couple had four children, Elizabeth, Alice M., Charles M., and J. C. King.  The 16-year-old Elizabeth, it seems, was the only one to still live with her parents.

On the evening of February 10, 1904, the house was the scene of Elizabeth's marriage to John Coulthard.  The New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser noted, "A large reception followed the ceremony."  The newlyweds moved into the West 46th Street house with the Kings.

Later that year, in December, John King became ill.  He died on January 4, 1905 at the age of 69.  Helen died four years later, on October 24, 1909.  She, too, was 69 years old.  As had been the case with John's, her funeral was held in the parlor, where Elizabeth and John Coulthard had been married.

John A. Coulthard was working for the city at the time as a bookkeeper.  He and Elizabeth moved on five months later when the King estate sold 341 West 46th Street to sisters Catherine, Helen and Teresa McCabe.  The women shared equally in the ownership.

The sisters shared the house with their widowed mother, and their brother, Michael.  In 1911, following his retirement as rector of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Fordham, New York, the women's uncle, Father Matthias J. McCabe, moved in as well.

Michael McCabe somehow incurred the wrath of a young woman who lived on the block.  It appears that the fury of a woman scorned targeted 341 West 46th Street in the spring of 1912.  At around 6:00 on the morning of March 15 the milkman arrived.  The family had left a basement window unlocked so he could place the milk inside.  He found the window sash "burning briskly," and the carpet and floor inside on fire.  He alerted the family, who extinguished the fire.

Theresa McCabe was married by now.  A few days after the fire she visited the 46th Street house, leaving the baby carriage in the hallway.  The New York Times reported, "when she was ready to depart shortly afterward discovered that her purse, containing $100 and her keys, had been stolen."

Father McCabe owned a five-story tenement house on West 36th Street, and a summer home in Rockaway Park.  A week after the fire in the basement of 341 West 46th Street, another broke out in the front hall of McCabe's tenement.  And then, on the weekend of June 7, Father McCabe went to his summer home to prepare for its opening.  On June 9 The New York Times reported, "While preparing the soil about the house for the flowers he cultivates, he picked up a brick wrapped with cloth that had been saturated with oil and bore traces of fire."  Upon closer investigation, he discovered that one of the porch supports and part of the banister railing was burned.  The fire had burned out before making significant headway.

Father McCabe was understandably furious and pointed the finger at his female neighbor.  "To support his belief," said The New York Times, "Father McCabe said that a certain young woman living in Forty-sixth Street, who has an old grudge against his nephew, Michael McCabe, had confessed to another girl, her next-door neighbor, that it was she who had set fire to the Forth-sixth Street house and the tenement house in Thirty-sixth Street, and, further, that it was her intention to destroy the Summer home at Rockaway Park."

The girl was brought in for questioning and she denied the accusations.  "There was no evidence against her," said the article, "so the investigation ended."

Like the Turners, the McCabes took in a boarder.  From around 1921 through 1923 retired police inspector James E. Hassey lived in the house.  He earned a yearly pension of $1,750--around $26,500 today.

Following Hassey, the McCabes' boarder was Richard Murphy, who was a waiter.  On April 4 that year he and seven other men engaged William Ingraham of Montreal in a "coin-matching" game in Pennsylvania Station.  What Ingraham could not have known was that the game was rigged.  But after he lost the unbelievable equivalent of $10,600 today, he went to police.  Murphy and his cohorts were arrested on May 6, charged with robbing Ingraham in a "framed coin-matching game."

341 West 46th Street (center) retained its stone stoop newels and railings, and other architectural details, in 1941.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services

By the time of Murphy's arrest, the theater district had moved  up Broadway from 23rd Street to Times Square.  In the second half of the 20th century, the West 46th Street block saw the  basement levels of many of the once-proud brownstones converted to eateries--earning the block the name Restaurant Row.  But that did not happen at 341 West 46th Street.   It became, instead, unofficial apartments (there was never a certificate of occupancy issued).  

It may have been during the alteration completed in 1986 that Frederick T. Camp's neo-Grec detailing was shaved off the building in a failed attempt to modernize the facade.  But inside, much of the 1884 details survive intact.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Moira Stone for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

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