Thursday, April 28, 2022

The 1842 Peter McLaughlin House - 105 West 11th Street


In 1841, William Hurray designed a long row of Greek Revival homes for builder George Youngs on the north side of West 11th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Before the project was completed in 1842, Peter McLaughlin had purchased 105 West 11th Street, near the Sixth Avenue end of the row.  Identical to the others, the three-story brick home sat upon a brownstone English basement.

It is unclear if, or how long, McLaughlin lived here.  By the early 1850's, however, it was home to Constant H. Brown and his wife, the former Helen Benjamin.  When the Browns moved in, Constant was listed as a clerk with the Merchants' Bank.  In 1860 he was promoted to cashier, a highly responsible position.

The couple had married in 1829 in Waterford, New York.  A son, Benjamin Constant Brown, was born the following year.  It is unclear exactly when the Browns relocated to New York City, but clearly Benjamin was grown at the time, for he remained in Waterford.  

Helen was moved by newspaper accounts of devastating fires downtown in January 1854.  The first broke out on Saturday night the 28th, around 11:30, in an iron foundry on Pearl Street.  Firefighters had been hampered by the frigid weather.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "some of the firemen froze their hands, and only restored them by holding them under the hydrants.  Some of the hoses, too, froze up solid."

As they battled the inferno, at around 1 a.m. an arsonist set fire to a stable nearby at 14 Pearl Street.  With firefighters stretched thin, that fire, too, spread rapidly.  Before morning nearly the entire block where the foundry had stood was destroyed.  On the stable block, tenement buildings occupied by "a number of indigent families, many of whom lost all their effects," were also gutted.

On February 8, the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "Mrs. C. H. Brown, of No. 105 West Eleventh-st., handed to Lieut. Snodgrass, at the First Ward Police Station, a large bundle of new clothing and a sum of money, to be distributed to the sufferers by the Pearl-st. fire."  Her money was well-used.  The article said Lt. Snodgrass went to the site of the fire, where he "found thirty or forty poor families living in the dilapidated buildings.  He kindly distributed $20 among them."

Constant H. Brown died on July 28, 1860 at the age of 57.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.  Helen took in a boarder, one at a time, over the next few years.  In 1863 Addison G. Jerome, an broker on Exchange Place, lived here; and the following year another broker, John Kellogg, boarded in the house.

In 1866 Helen moved back to Waterford, New York.  An auction of all the household furnishings was held on April 16.  The sale listing gives a hint of the Browns' lavish interiors.  Suites of furniture had been custom made by Alexander Roux, one of the foremost cabinetmakers of the period.  Other items included a "rosewood Cabinet Piano," ormolu and Sevres china, "real Roman bronzes, a collection of very valuable Paintings, Italian marble Statuary by Mozier and Wilson," and "very rare and valuable Chinese Vases."

The house next became home to George E. Stone, a banker at 50 Wall Street.  His residency was relatively short.  He sold it in 1869 to Robert Abbott, a real estate operator.  Abbott apparently set up an office in the house, presumably in the library.  His real estate advertisements often used the West 11th Street address.  It was most likely Abbott who updated the house with a neo-Grec style cornice.

Abbott listed 105 West 11th Street for rent in 1875, noting "newly painted throughout; contains 15 rooms and two bathrooms; also all the modern improvements."  It was leased by Arturo Cuyas, Jr., a publisher with offices at 35 Broadway.  Living with him was his widowed mother, Philomena.  Cuyas's father, who was born in Cuba, had been the proprietor of the Barcelona Hotel on Great Jones Street, which catered to Spanish-speaking guests.

In 1879 John A. Pinard purchased the house.  He and his brother Charles, were partners in the catering firm Pinard Brothers, a favorite among high society.  Following the winter season's glittering dinner parties in Fifth Avenue mansions, the Pinard Brothers would follow their clients to Newport each summer, where their catering business continued uninterrupted.

Living with the Pinard and his wife, the former Elizabeth M. Smith, were Elizabeth's widowed mother, Margaret Cunningham Smith, and her unmarried sister, Fannie M. Smith.  While the Pinards  necessarily spent their summers in Newport, Fannie seems to have been rather independent.  The Evening Telegram noted on December 30, 1881, "Miss Fannie M. Smith, No. 105 West Eleventh street, will receive on Monday for the first time since her return from abroad."

The following year, on December 13, 1882, Margaret Cunningham Smith died.  The Pinard family moved northward to East 65th Street not long afterward, selling 105 West 11th Street to Charles J. Fagan.  Although Fagan died in the house on November 15, 1894, his family retained possession, leasing it.

By 1920 the house was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  Among its residents was Dr. Charles A. Perilli.  Born in Italy in 1885, he came to New York when a boy.  A trustee of Bellevue Hospital and a member of the advisory council of the Department of Hospitals, he was also a vice president of the Pennsylvania Exchange Bank.  The esteemed physician would remain into the 1930's.

Even more celebrated and certainly more colorful was Countess Josephine. F. de Castelvecchio, who lived here with her husband, Anthony Frabisilis, a court interpreter, by 1923.  The countess had had a fascinating, if somewhat tragic, life.  Born in 1864 in Paris, her father was the half-brother of Napoleon III and her grandfather was Louis Napoleon, King of Holland from 1806 to 1810.

A marriage was arranged with her music instructor, Francisco Palamidessi, while she was a teenager.  The New York Times wrote years later, "he squandered her fortune and at 24, with four children in her care, she was destitute.  The marriage was later annulled."  She relocated to England where actress Ellen Terry offered her roles on stage.  Using the stage name Elouina Oldcastle, her real identity was concealed from the public.

In 1900 she moved to New York City where she appeared on stage for many years and toured the country before marrying Frabisilis in 1903.   In 1932 The New York Times said, "After her retirement from the stage she lived with her husband in an apartment in West Eleventh Street, where she resumed her tutoring."

A hint at Josephine's worrisome financial conditions came in December 1923 when Merle Sumner, a columnist from The Morning Telegraph, attempted to interview her.  Sumner wrote, "The Countess was not in a story-telling mood.  Her memoirs, she announced, were for sale only."  Josephine died in December 1932 in the Metropolitan Hospital on Welfare Island.  The New York Times reported she "left an estate of less than $1,000."

Living in the West 11th Street house in 1926 with Dr. Perilli and the Frabisilis was motion picture actress Eleanor Wesselhoeft.  A character actress, she played roles of matronly women in films such as the 1931 Street Scene with Sylvia Sidney and and Beulah Bondi.

Eleanor Wesselhoeft, far right, in a scene from Street Scene.

A renovation completed in 1963 resulted in a triplex apartment in the basement through second floors, and three furnished rooms with a common kitchen on the third.   It was subsequently returned to a single family home by restauranteur Keith McNally.  He placed it on the market in 2017 for $14 million.

photograph by the author
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