On August 26, 1881 Margaret and Francis Crawford purchased two vacant plots on East 75th Street, just west of Park Avenue. The Real Estate Record & Guide noted they intended to erect "new buildings." A month later architect John G. Prague filed plans for two "four-story brown stone dwellings." They were completed the following summer.
Thomas Henry Hall and his wife, the former Marie Louise Chanfrau, purchased 53 East 75th Street in September 1882. The couple paid $42,000 for the residence, or around $1.1 million in today's money.
The couple had three children, Joseph, Pierre, and Adelaide. Hall was the principal in Thomas H. Hall Tobacco, the cigarette factory of which was on East 37th Street. His brand "Between the Acts," came with trade cards featuring popular actors and actresses, similar to the baseball cards in bubble gum that appeared in the 20th century.
The front and reverse of one a "Between the Acts" trade card. from the collection of The Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Halls were visible in society, Marie Louise's name appearing in society columns regularly. On December 30, 1887, for instance, The Evening World noted, "Mrs. T. H. Hall, of 53 East Seventy-fifth street, will entertain a number of friends on the evening of Jan. 3."
The Hall's summer home was at Great Neck, Long Island, where Thomas, who was a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club, docked his schooner, the Republic. He and "his family party" took the Republic south January 31, 1889 to escape the winter weather. Newspapers, kept informed by Hall, followed the progress of a voyage. On February 17, the New-York Tribune reported that the vessel "with Thomas H. Hall and guests aboard, is at the Bermudas, bound for the West Indies."
On the same day of that article, the Hall schooner was weathering a storm--one which the society ladies had not anticipated. Hall's notes from that day said in part:
the movement of the joiner work is slightly unpleasant to the ladies. I am on my knees, braced up against the transom cushion to get a fairly steady position. Some of the ladies feel inclined to return home from St. Thomas, but our run from Bermuda so far has been such as would suit any yachtsman.
Hall most likely had difficulty in persuading the women not to abandon the voyage. The storm only worsened and the following day Hall's notes told of Captain Brown's being hurt by a lurch of the vessel. They landed at San Jose, off St. Thomas, on February 19. "Doctor on board here. Captain better; no bones broken. Will probably go to St. Croix next."
Around 1891, Thomas H. Hall began showing signs forgetfulness. Although he was only 51 years old, the symptoms smacked of what today might be diagnosed as early dementia. In the 1890's it was declared lunacy.
In February 1895 Marie Louis and her children, now all grown, signed an affidavit questioning his sanity. In the affidavit, Joseph Hall said in part that for two years his father "has been unable to remember things, and has been suffering from such a loss of memory as to render him incompetent to carry on the business." The family wanted to sell Thomas H. Hall Tobacco and had a buyer, the American Tobacco Company, lined up. The Sun explained, "The business is now in such a condition that it can be sold to advantage." The Halls' application asked that Thomas be "adjudged insane" and that "Joseph Hall, his mother, Marie Louise Hall, and his brother, Pierre C. Hall, be appointed committee of his father's person and estate."
What reporters found extraordinary was that Thomas Hall seemed totally on board with the move. On February 15, The New York Times wrote, "There is no other case on record, so far as known, where anybody, fearing he might be insane, has come into court asking for a commission in lunacy on his own account." He told the court that he had suffered a serious illness a few years earlier. "Since then I have gradually improved, except for my loss of memory." While he felt himself "perfectly competent to comprehend any legal instrument," he recognized the necessity to turn his business affairs over to this family.
Thomas H. Hall died in the East 75th Street house on January 19, 1901 at the age of 59. Living with Mary Louise were Pierre, his wife Minnie, and their 7-year old daughter, Maria Louisa.
The Hall name appeared in newspapers for the wrong reasons a year later. On April 15, 1902 the New York Herald reported that Minnie had sued Pierre for divorce for carrying on an affair with Riena Lentine Abry. Appearing in court to testify against Pierre was Riena herself--who apparently had been unaware he was married. Shortly after the messy affair, Marie Louis gave up 53 East 75th Street.
It became home to Adolphus J. and Elizabeth Peyton Norton Outerbridge. The couple had been married in October 1890. Adolphus was associated with this his family's shipping firm, A. E. Outerbridge & Co. The couple had a daughter, H. Gertrude, and their summer home was in Rye, New York.
In May 1916 the Outerbridges sold the house to Elizabeth A. Dortic. The daughter of Alfred Schermerhorn, her husband, Henry Theodore Dortic, had died in 1901. High-stooped brownstones were decidedly out of style by then, and on May 20, only days after she took title, Dortic's architect, Lewis Colt Albro, filed plans for a massive remodeling. Costing the equivalent of $657,000 today, the overhaul included "entire new front and rear walls, partitions, elevator, interior alterations."
Unfortunately, we have no photographic evidence of the finished product. Albro removed the stoop, and placed the entrance a few steps below the sidewalk, creating a fashionable American basement residence.
Elizabeth maintained homes in Paris, on the Champs Elysees; and in Bar Harbor. She remained in the 75th Street house until September 1923 when she sold it to Charles Ralph and Lydia Bridge Hickox for $125,000.
As Elizabeth had done, the Hickoxes made changes. They hired architect George E. Hornum to transform the residence into a modern, neo-Federal home that bore no resemblance to its high-stooped origins. How much of Albro's design was utilized is unclear; although Hornum did not attempt to change the level of the entrance, which remained there the old English basement had been.
The dignified, beige brick facade featured French doors below a fanlight at the second floor, which opened onto a small balcony. A limestone cartouche decorated the space above the third floor center window.
Hickox had received his law degree from Harvard in 1896 and joined the law firm of Convers & Kirlin in 1899. He became a partner in 1908 when the firm was renamed Kirlin, Campbell, Hickox and Keating. A specialist in admiralty law, he was president of the Maritime Law Association of the United States.
The couple remained in the house for 16 years, selling it to George J. and Mary Boht in 1939. The Bohts initiated renovations which resulted in one apartment each in the basement and first floor, and furnished rooms in the upper floors.
Among the tenants in 1960 were Ted Israel and his wife. Mrs. Israel was headed home to New York on December 16, 1960 on TWA Flight 266 from Ohio. As the airplane descended on its approach to Idlewild Airport (today's John F. Kennedy International Airport), it collided in midair with United Airlines Flight 826. All 134 passengers were killed.
Benno de Terey, the chief interior designer for French & Company, lived here in the early 1970's. Before immigrating to America in 1927, he had been art historian and director of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. The New York Times described him as "a specialist in post Renaissance fine arts and collector of the decorative arts of the period."
A renovation completed in 1996 resulted in one apartment in the basement, and a triplex and duplex apartment on the upper floors. The 4,000-square-foot "tony triplex," as described by a realtor, was offered for rent in 2015 for $35,000 per month.
photographs by the author
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