Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Lewis I. Cohen House - 11 East 9th Street


Henry Suydam operated a successful tea business and, like several wealthy businessmen at the time, invested in real estate.  In 1840 he began construction on four handsome Greek Revival homes on Ninth Street, between Fifth Avenue and University Place.  (Interestingly, Suydam retired in 1841, the year the houses were completed, and in his leisure became an accomplished landscape painter.)

Among the row was 83 Ninth Street (renumbered 11 East 9th Street in 1868).  Like its identical neighbors, the 25-foot-wide house was three-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  Its brownstone portico, with unfluted Doric columns, was a slightly less elegant version of the marble examples along Washington Square, two blocks to the south.  The squat attic widows that peeked through the fascia board were expected elements of the Greek Revival style.

The row was intended for well-to-do merchant class families.  Around 1849 Lewis I. Cohen moved into 93 Ninth Street.  The principal in L. I. Cohen company, his firm imported "French and English fancy and staple stationery."  More importantly, he was a major maker of playing, business and calling cards, and was the first American manufacturer of lead pencils and introduced steel pens to the United States market.

The front and reverse of a Cohen playing card.  image via The World of Playing Cards

Lewis's son, Solomon L. Cohen, and his nephew, Benjamin Lawrence, were both involved in the business and lived in the 9th Street house, as well.  Upon Lewis's death in 1860, the business was renamed Lawrence & Cohen.

The house was purchased by Ann Eliza Jacobson following Cohen's death.  Born Ann Eliza Cuberly, she was the widow of Israel B. Jacobson, and ran it as an upscale boarding house.  The status of boarding houses was reflected in the number of residents--the fewer the more high-end.  Ann appears to have never taken in more than three at  time, and they remained with her for years.  In the mid-1860's they were Frederick Tagenhorst, a tobacco merchant; Charles W. Adams, a broker; and attorney Leonard A. Bradley.  

It may have been Ann Jacobson who gently updated the house by replacing the Greek Revival ironwork with a more modern Italianate version.

The house returned to a single family home in 1872, when Ann Jacobson sold it to Feliciano Latasa.  He was a partner with Canuto Latasa in the tobacco firm of Latasa & Co. at 178 Pearl Street.  A year earlier, Feliciano Latasa's residence had been listed as "Cuba," while Canuto Latasa seems to have run the New York side of the operation.  Feliciano was, as well, a director in the Equitable Life Assurance Society, and vice-president of the Commercial Warehouse Co.

In February 1890, William H. Lefferts purchased 11 East 9th Street for $31,000.  He made a tidy profit three months later when he resold it to Charles B. and Harriet Bronson Hoffman for $36,000.  The prices would convert to about $910,000 and $1.06 million today.

The Hoffmans, who invested heavily in real estate, do not appear to have ever lived in the house.  The Chanler family soon leased the house.  On March 28, 1894 "Society" column of The Evening Telegram announced, "The luncheon party never loses its charm.  Among the pleasant entertainments of this sort yesterday was a luncheon of twelve, entertained by Mrs. Chanler, of No. 11 East Ninth street."

Following the Chanlers, banker John Kennedy Tod and his wife, the former Mary Howard Potter, leased 11 East 9th Street.  The couple's country estate, Innis Arden, was in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.  Born in Scotland, Tod had been a nationally recognized rugby player before immigrating to the United States.  The Tods, like the Chanlers, appeared in society columns for their entertaining.  On March 17, 1897, for instance, The New York Times reported, "A dinner party was given by Mr. and Mrs. J. Kennedy Tod at their residence, 11 East Ninth Street, last evening.  Covers were laid for sixteen."

The Tods spent the winter social season of 1898-99 away from New York.  On December 19, 1898, The New York Times noted that "Mr. and Mrs. Robert McCurdy will pass the Winter in New York, at 11 East Ninth Street.  They will have a large house party at Morristown for Christmas."  

The McCurdys were newlyweds, Robert Henry McCurdy having married Mary Suckley earlier that year.  He was a trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company, founded in part by his father.  The New York Times described their New Jersey country home as "palatial."

Photograph from "History of the City of New York 1609-1909" (copyright expired)

The couple was obviously impressed with 11 East 9th Street, and in October 1900 signed another lease.  They continued to rent the house until 1906, when they moved uptown to 39 East 51st Street.

Next to lease the house were Joseph N. Patterson and his wife, Virginia.  A wealthy merchant, Patterson was close friends with electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, who visited the 9th Street house.

Virginia's story was colorful and tragic.  As a teenager she was, according to The New York Times, "a beautiful Pittsburgh heiress, who was much sought in New York and Paris society."  In 1888 she met Count Giuseppe Carussi, following the death of his wife.  He came from "one of the oldest families of Italy's aristocracy," according to the newspaper.  They were soon married and the 17-year-old American became the Countess Carussi.

It would not be a pleasant marriage.  Carussi was a drunk who beat his wife.  Two weeks after the wedding, she fled their hotel room and pleaded with the hotel manager "for protection against her husband."  She was persuaded to return to him and remained for two months before finally leaving.  She obtained a divorce in 1891 and "re-entered society at the age of 20," according to The New York Times.  (Later the newspaper would report that the Count Carussi "died insane.")

If Virginia thought that marriage to Joseph Patterson would bring her domestic bliss, it was not to be.  Not long after moving into the 9th Street house, on Saturday afternoon, March 10, 1906, Patterson "decoyed" her, as worded by The World, to Bellevue Hospital, where he had her committed as insane.  Once a simple way to get rid of a family member--either to obtain control over money, or perhaps to clear the way for a romance--a declaration of insanity had to be proven to the courts.  And so, the following Monday a hearing was held.

The couple's appearances were starkly different.  The New York Times reported, "Mr. Patterson is lame and walks with a cane with difficulty," while The Evening World described Virginia as being "richly gowned and carried herself with striking dignity.  Her auburn hair was tastefully dressed and her dark eyes sparkled with animation."

Patterson accused Virginia of drinking and of having hallucinations.  He said that after he and Tesla had discussed wireless telegraphy, "his wife began to believe that she was receiving wireless messages from dead friends."  Although, according to The Evening World, Virginia "showed no traces of mental derangement in court," Magistrate Barlow ruled, "Mrs. Patterson, I think it would be better for you to go back to the hospital."

Across the courtroom Virginia pleaded with her husband.  "Joe, you wouldn't send me back to that inferno.  I have been herded with criminals and outcasts for two days.  You don't know what I have suffered there.  Joe, you won't condemn me to any more of it, please?"  Patterson refused to speak to his wife and left the room.

Shortly after the untidy affair, Elizabeth Rossiter Gibb leased 11 East 9th Street.   She was the second wife of Howard Gibb, the head of the dry goods firm of Frederick Loeser & Co.  Gibb had died in Paris in 1905.  Elizabeth was the primary beneficiary of his sizable estate, as long as she remained a widow, according to The New York Times on July 8, 1905.

Living with Elizabeth, were with her children (the youngest of whom, Howard, was just 8 years old), and her widowed mother, Mary Wickes Rossiter.  Mary would not live with the family here for long, though.  She died in the house at the age of 89 on January 4, 1907.

A much happier event occurred here five months later.  Edith Rossiter Gibb was married in the parlor to Frederick Heath Douglas on May 8.  The New-York Tribune noted, "It is to be a quiet home ceremony owing to the recent death of the bride-elect's grandmother, Mrs. Mary Wicks Rossiter."  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted, "The Gibb residence was charmingly decorated in green and white."

After decades of ownership by the Hoffmans, the house was sold in April 1920 to Johnston and Mary de Forest.  The connected De Forest and Johnston families had owned properties along the block since the 1880's.  But only four years later, in June 1924, they sold the house to Julius Marschuetz Mayer, a senior member of the legal firm Mayer, Warfield & Watson, and a judge of the United States District Court.

A life-long bachelor, Mayer shared the house with his sister, Ethel, and her husband Charles G. Bourne.  Like so many former occupants of the house, Mayer's residency would be short.

Judge Julius M. Mayer, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Mayer caught a cold in mid-November 1925.  The New York Times remarked that, "his condition had not been regarded as serious."  During dinner on the night of November 30, he said he did not feel well, and went to his bedroom.  The newspaper reported, "The butler, on carrying a glass of water to him a few moments later, found him dying, and he expired before the arrival of the family physician."  His death was attributed to a heart attack.

His funeral was held in the East 9th Street house the following day.  The New York Sun reported, "Before the commencement of the funeral services, which were brief and simple, a large throng jammed the entrance to the Mayer home at 11 East Ninth street...The crowd became so great at one time that orders were given to allow no more persons to enter the residence, where more than four hundred had gathered."

The Bournes remained in the house for years, appearing routinely in the society columns.  Such was the case on June 7, 1932, when The New York Sun announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Griswold Bourne of 11 East Ninth street, have gone to California for the summer."

The end of the line for 11 East 9th Street as a private home came in 1939, when a renovation resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and one apartment each on the upper floors.  That configuration was changed in 1954 when the duplex was divided into two apartments in the basement and one at the parlor level.

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


  1. J. Kennedy Tod was also the nephew, and an heir of, John Stewart Kennedy, a railroad financiers and one of the richest men of the era

  2. So there was no more information on what happened to the unfortunate Virginia Patterson?

    1. She was transferred to Dr. Carlos Frederick MacDonald’s Falkirk Sanatorium, a private facility, where she spent the rest of her life.