Friday, April 22, 2022

The Frank J. Dupignac House - 40 East 75th Street


According to The Iron Age in 1904, Robert K. Carter "was born at Carter Hall, near Winchester, Va. March 12, 1839."  He graduated from what would become known as the Washington and Lee University Medical School, and during the Civil War served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army.  During  the Reconstruction period, Carter gave up his medical practice and relocated to New York City.

His new career could not have been more different--hardware.  After working with two firms, he struck out on his own in 1870, dealing in "Hardware, Iron, Steel, Mill, Mining and Railway supplies."  Eventually R. K. Carter & Co. would do business nation-wide.

In 1882 Carter and his wife, the former Hannah M. Youngs, purchased the newly-built rowhouse at 40 East 75th Street.  Erected by Terence Farley and designed by the prolific firm of Thom & Wilson, the four-story, high-stoop residence was faced in brownstone.  It's neo-Grec design included prominent window cornices on substantial brackets and a cast metal terminal cornice.  The Carters paid Farley $40,000 for the property, just over $1 million in today's money.

The couple had two children, Lena May and Clarence M.  Clarence graduated from the Columbia University School of Arts in 1893.  Two years later, the East 75th Street house was the scene of Lena's wedding reception.  She was married to Hewitt Coburn, Jr. in the Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church at 8:30 on the evening of December 11.  

Robert Carter died in the house on December 2, 1904 at the age of 66.  Clarence, by now, was involved in R. K. Carter & Co.  He and his mother remained at 40 East 75th Street.  

Then, in April 1910 following Hannah's death, Clarence and Lena sold the house to Frank Jay Dupignac and his wife, Eleanor Van Alstan Gwyer.  Before moving in, they hired the architectural firm of Herts & Tallant to renovate the home.  On July 6, The New York Press reported, "The plans call for increasing the height of the main building to five stories and building a rear extension five stories high."  The interior layout was also redesigned, an elevator installed, and the outdated stoop removed.

Outside, Herts & Tallant focused on the basement and parlor levels and the new top floor, leaving Thom & Wilson's second through fourth floors intact.  A bowed bay at the former parlor floor--now the second--allowed the architects to recess the entrance behind free standing columns.  The new top floor took the form of a dormered mansard.

An attorney, Dupignac was born on January 10, 1848 as Frank John, but at some point, according to a descendent, "he  became known as Frank Jay Dupignac, probably adopting a nickname."  By the 1890's he had gained "considerable prominence," according to one newspaper, as a corporation lawyer.  He and Eleanor had three children, Dudley, Eleanor and Edith (who had married Mortimer Kennedy Flagg in 1900).

The Dupignac summer estate was at Orient Point in Mamaroneck, Long Island.  Their lifestyle was reflected in an article in the New York Herald society pages on December 10, 1916:

Mr. Frank J. Dupignac has closed his house, No. 40 East Seventy-fifth street, and taken a house at Santa Barbara and will be there during January, February and March with Mrs. Dupignac and their daughters, Miss Eleanor Dupignac and Mrs. Mortimer Kennedy Flagg, and their granddaughter, Eleanor Lee Flagg.  They will return to their Mamaroneck house in May.

Eleanor was married to Arthur Van Rensselaer Thompson in the Mamaroneck residence on June 29, 1918.  The Sun said, "The large living hall was made into a chapel of flowers," and estimated the number of guests at 125.

Five months later, on November 29, her mother died.  Eleanor Gwyer Dupignac's funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue.

In the meantime, Edith's husband, Mortimer Kennedy Flagg, had died and she and her daughter had moved back into the East 75th Street house.  On September 13, 1919, Frank Dupignac announced her engagement to C. Douglass Green.  The Sun commented, "Mrs. Flagg is with her father at their country place in Mamaroneck, N. Y."  The wedding took place in the drawing room of 40 East 75th Street on November 24, 1919, "in the presence of a small gathering of relatives and friends," according to The Sun.

The Greens remained in the house with Frank.  Edith appeared in the society columns as she routinely entertained.  On February 11, 1921, for instance, The New York Times reported on the dinner she gave "for Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Phelps Dodge."  In November that year the society newspaper Gossip listed Eleanor Lee Flagg among the season's debutantes.

Frank Jay Dupignac died at the Mamaroneck estate on May 10, 1922 at the age of 74.  As had been the case with his wife, his funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church.  According to The New York Times, he left an estate "valued at about $1,000,000."   That amount would equal to about $15.4 today.

Dupignac's will reflected tensions between him and his son.  A version signed on November 21, 1918 gave Dudley $60,000 with the rest divided between his sisters.  Dupignac revised it on December 9, 1920, reducing Dudley's inheritance to $15,000 "and two mortgages."  Dudley Dupignac was not happy.  He took his sisters to court in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the will.  (Dudley Dupignac eventually committed suicide in 1943 in the garage of his home in Mount Kisco, New York.)

Edith and Eleanor sold the East 75th Street house to attorney Allen McCulloh in August 1922.  He retained possession for years.  It was converted to apartments in 1952-53.  Among the residents in the 1950's was Greek-American actor, screenwriter and director John Cassavetes.  In his 2019 book Shadows, Raymond Carter notes, "Cassavetes used the living room, studio and two bedrooms of his penthouse apartment at 40 East 75th Street between Fifth and Madison for scenes in the reshoot [of the 1959 film Shadows]."  He added, "The furniture in the living room scene reappears in Faces and Love Streams."

The configuration of apartments remains unchanged since 1953.  And overall, the outward appearance is much as it was when Frank and Eleanor Dupignac initiated its makeover in 1910.

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

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