Saturday, July 30, 2022

The William G. Edwards House - 35 East 7th Street


By the 1830's attorney and banker Thomas E. Davis had become, perhaps, more interested in real estate development than his primary professions.  He would become a major player in the East Side east of the exclusive Bond Street neighborhood as it transformed from farmland to residences.  Beginning around 1831, he erected rows of speculative brick homes in the area.

Partnering with Louis Wilcox in 1832, he began construction of one such row on East 7th Street between Second and Third Avenues.  The handsome Federal style residences were completed the following year, valued at $6,000 each—about $191,000 today.

Among them was 35 Seventh Street (the "East" would come later).  Identical to its neighbors, the 25-foot-wide residence was clad in warm orange brick laid in Flemish bond and rose three stories high above an English basement.  Diminutive carved brackets supported the stone window sills and a prim denticulated cornice capped the facade.  The intricate doorway was an upscale element, reflecting that the home was intended for a financially-comfortable family.  Here the round arched door surround with its faceted keystone featured delicate carving and suggested upscale interiors behind its double doors.

The entrance originally matched that of 37 East 7th Street (right).

By the mid-1840's the house was home to William G. Edwards, a fur merchant, and his family.  As was common, they took in a boarder.  William C. Booth an unmarried woolens merchant on Cedar Street, moved in with the family in 1845 and would remain throughout their residency.

A servant made an unsettling discovery that fall.  On September 24, 1845, The Evening Post reported:

Several days ago a male infant was left at the door of the house No. 35 Seventh street.  It was taken into the house, and every effort made to save its life, but it died yesterday.  If the unnatural mother had a heart, this news would wring it to the core.

In 1850 the Edwards family moved down the block to 43 Seventh Street.  Their relationship with their boarder was obviously quite close, and he moved with them.

No. 35 Seventh Street became home to attorney and writer Richard Burleigh Kimball and his wife, the former Julia Caroline Tomlinson.  The couple had married in 1844 and would have five children.

Born in Plainfield, New Hampshire on October 11, 1816, he had graduated from Dartmouth at the age of 17 in 1834 before studying law in New York and Paris.  Kimball traced his American ancestry to Richard Kimball, who landed at Boston in 1634.  

Three years after moving into the Seventh Street house, Kimball left his law practice and ventured into the development of Texas and into writing.  An advertisement for the Texas Land and General Agency said, "The Proprietor of the above Establishment instituted at the City of Houston in March 1843, can be found to day at Richard B. Kimball's, Esq.; No. 35 Seventh-street."  He founded the town of Kimball, Texas and built a portion of the first Texas railroad.

Through his extensive travels he became acquainted with important American and European figures.  According to Appletons Encyclopedia, "He knew Dickens intimately and had met Lamartine, Thackeray, Lord Palmerston, and the elder Peel, and among prominent Americans knew Washington Irving, Webster, and Clay." 

Richard Burleigh Kimball in 1854. original source unknown

Among his many works were the 1850 Cuba and the Cubans; Romance of a Student Abroad, published in 1852; and the 1870 To-Day in New York.

It was most likely one of his many trips that prompted Kimball to first lease his home in 1855.  An advertisement in the New York Herald read:

To Let--The three story furnished house, 35 Seventh street.  It is completely and handsomely furnished, and fitted with gas and water, and all the modern improvements.

The well-respected Kimball suffered a blow to his reputation in the summer of 1885.  On July 24 The New York Times reported, "Richard B. Kimball, a lawyer, was arrested yesterday on an order of the instance of Mary A. and Louise Crotty."  The sisters accused him of  appropriating "about $2,689 of the property" of their deceased father's estate for his own use.

In the meantime, around 1861 two widows, Mary A. Rogers and Ann E. Cox, were living in the East 7th Street house--most likely renting it from Kimball.  It is quite possible that the two were sisters.  They remained until 1878 when it was purchased by William Wicke.

It may have been Wicke who replaced the areaway ironwork with extremely eye-catching Aesthetic style fencing.  He sold the house in January 1885 to real estate operator George Roll for $14,500 (about $403,000 in today's money).  By then the neighborhood had changed from one of monied professionals to immigrants, many from Germany.  The once-proud house was now home to several families.  

The Aesthetic period ironwork replaced the original Federal fencing.

When Gustave Solomon purchased the house from  George Roll's estate in 1896, it was described as a "three-story brick tenement."  Interestingly, the property values had not fallen since Roll purchased it.  Solomon paid $15,000 for the house, or $477,000 in today's terms.  Solomon immediately made renovations, hiring architect William C. Sommerfield to remove and reconfigure walls on the second and third floors.

Among the tenants was Dr. Alexander W. Beck.  He was called to the room of Pauline Barnett (described by The New York Press as "a most consummate actress") at 11:00 on the night of November 9, 1896.  The newspaper also mentioned that she "did not bear a reputation beyond reproach," however.  In fact, it appears that Pauline engaged in prostitution with the full knowledge of her husband.

Pauline had been "choked and robbed" the night before, according to the article.  There had been two similar assaults on women recently, causing the newspaper to opine this "might suggest the existence of some maniacal strangler." 

Pauline's husband had not called police.  "It is explained that he thought his wife might recover, and exposure would make their mode of living the harder for them," said the article.  By the time Dr. Beck was summond, he "found the woman violated and unable to recognize any one."  The New York Press said, "He administered morphine, but feared that insanity, if not death, might result."

Although two men were arrested, Pauline denied that either was her assailant.  The New York Press reported, "Some of the police go so far as to say that the woman may be shamming to avoid being dispossessed."  (Prostitution was a sure grounds for eviction in most rooming houses.)

Dr. Beck responded to another disturbing case, this one just across the street, in 1898. On December 11 The Sunday Telegraph reported on "a strange death certificate handed in by Dr. Alexander W. Beck, of 35 Seventh street" to the City Coroner.  "The certificate stated that David Goldberg, aged 2 years and 1 month, of 32 Seventh street, had died Friday afternoon of asphyxia, the burning of one-quarter of his body, and opium poisoning."

The baby had been "horribly scalded by hot coffee" on December 8.  His parents' home treatment was peculiar by today's viewpoint.   They "applied oil and limewater to the burned parts and then poured ink over them."  When that did not work, they called for Dr. Beck, who prescribed a powder containing bismuth, boric acid and opium.  It was to be used sparingly, but the Goldbergs "put the powder on the child very freely," according to the article, "and in two hours the boy was unconscious."  Dr. Beck blamed the parents for not following his instructions, while the Goldbergs maintained that he gave them no directions.

Mrs. Jennie Dorf purchased 35 East 7th Street in 1906.  There were four families living in the house three years later when she hired the architectural firm of Harrison & Sackheim to make significant alterations.  The height was raised to four floors, and the entrance given with a Renaissance inspired triangular pediment.  The alterations cost Dorf the equivalent of more than $175,000 today.

The proportions of the arched 1832 dooway survive within the substantially altered entrance.  The stone pedestals at the foot of the stoop very likely once held wrought iron basket newels.  

A renovation completed in 1955 resulted in a doctor's office on the parlor floor and one apartment each on the others.  The Lower East Side neighborhood was dealing with a raft of problems like poverty and substance abuse at the time.  Living at 35 East 7th Street in 1964 was 19-year old Shirley Neff.  On June 19 that year, undercover police posed as out-of-town college students and visited the East 80th Street apartment of Margaret Hagopian.  They arrested Hagopian for "living off the proceeds of prostitution" and jailed three "alleged call girls," including Shirley Neff.

The venerable house was remodeled once again in 2006.  There are now five apartments in the building, one per floor.  The Edwards house, with its riveting history, stands out among the row with its somewhat quirky 1909 entranceway.

many thanks to reader Joe Ciolino for prompting this post.
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Friday, July 29, 2022

The Peter Cooper Monument - Cooper Square


By the middle of the 19th century, Peter Cooper was one of the most successful and wealthiest men in the country.  Yet he suffered a nagging self-consciousness over his lack of education.  To provide the means by which other lower-class children could receive an education, he conceived of a free teaching institution based on the concept of a polytechnic school in Paris.  Education should be, he said "as free as water and air." He set about planning a school for the "boys and girls of this city, who had no better opportunity than I."

The cornerstone for Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was laid in 1854.  The total cost of purchasing the site and erecting the structure would cost Cooper, according to The New York Times, “$700,000 in gold.”  Cooper included a free library in his building so that the general public, not only the students, could have access to information and learning.  In a letter to his Trustees, he wrote “I desire to make this institution contribute in every way to aid the efforts of youth to acquire useful knowledge, and to find and fill that place in the community, where their capacity and talents can be usefully employed, with the greatest possible advantage to themselves and the community in which they live.”

Almost immediately following Cooper's death in April 1883, talk circulated about a fitting memorial.  But achieving it would be a long and sometimes rocky road.  In 1887 $30,000 had been donated by the public for the work--just under $850,000 in today's money.  The Sun explained, "Little tin boxes were distributed all over the city," for the purpose.  A committee of 12 artists and art critics, headed by millionaire Orlando B. Potter, approved the designs of sculptor Wilson Macdonald and awarded him the contract.

Deciding on an appropriate site was proving difficult.  On May 29, 1887 The New York Times reported that neither the area directly in front or in back of Cooper Union was deemed right.  "The triangle south of Cooper Institute was objectionable because pedestrians seldom passed on that side of either street and the elevated roads obscured the view; the area to the north of the Institute was objectionable for the latter reason."

But a larger problem soon loomed.  The New York Times reported, "dissensions occurred in the committee, and Mr. Macdonald abandoned the project." Cooper's son, Edward, and his widow Sarah, negotiated a price of $10,000 with Macdonald "for the surrender of his contract."  They personally paid him in order to keep the monument fund intact.

Edward Cooper told reporters on May 28, 1887, "One of the sculptors of whom the committee is thinking was a pupil of Cooper Institute and a devoted friend of its founder.  If he shall prove to be the man for the work there seem[s] to be an especial fitness in his selection."  That artist was Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  But he would not receive the commission until 1892.

Two years later, on January 29, 1894, The New York Times commented, "the subject of a statue to the philanthropist has been almost completely forgotten by the public" adding, "Mr. St. Gaudens has spent much study and care upon the statue, however."  In the meantime, discussions continued regarding the site, and by February 1895 "the little green triangle" behind Cooper Union, once deemed "objectionable," was approved.

Finally, 13 years after Cooper's death, the foundry was at work on the statue, and construction of the stone monument had begun.  On November 21, 1896 The Sun reported that the statue "is of heroic size, representing Mr. Cooper seated in an armchair.  Mr. St. Gaudens is of the opinion that it is one of the best things he has done.  The face particularly is very true to life, and members of the family say that it is very good."

The statue would sit in a canopy designed by Stanford White.  The Sun said, "It will be made of Italian marble, and will be in the form of steps rising to a heavy base, upon which the statue will stand."

On May 29, 1897 the monument was unveiled "with simple but impressive ceremonies," according to The New York Times.  They began in the great hall of Cooper Union with memorial addresses by several prominent citizens.  Grandstands had been erected on the triangular plot now deemed Cooper Square.  "The balconies of the great building were filled with ladies, along the elevated railroad tracks was a line of employe[e]s, while on all sides, kept back by a strong police force, was a jammed-up mass of curious humanity," said The New York Times.  The Seventh Regiment marching band paraded from its Armory down Third Avenue to the site.

New-York Tribune, May 30, 1897 (copyright expired)

Four-year-old Candace Hewitt, the great-granddaughter of Peter Cooper, "gave a tug at the rope which was to pull away the covering flags from the monument.  Her little hands were not strong enough to make much of an impression, but there were stronger hands ready to aid her, and the flags were drawn away quickly," wrote the New-York Tribune.  "When the bronze statue of Peter Cooper was revealed to gaze, the spectators cheered loudly and long."

Among those in the crowd that day was playwright and journalist Joseph I. C. Clarke.  In his 1925 autobiography My Life and Memories, he recalled that after the crowd left, "I stood admiring the truth to life of the seated figure under its stone canopy, stalwart democracy in the grasp of the staff, and benevolence, clear-sighted, luminous on face and brow."

Clarke suddenly realized that standing next to him was Augustus Saint-Gaudens, "gazing as wistfully at his statue as I had been."  The sculptor had been essentially ignored throughout the ceremonies, according to Clarke.  Saint-Gaudens commented, "The canopy, you know, is by Stanford White.  You can always rely on him to do something good."

After a pause he continued, "It's a trying moment, that first instant when you feel that now every man who passes is your critic, and you wonder if you have really done your best."

Clarke replied, "Rest, perturbed spirit.  You have docketed Peter Cooper for immortality."

Clarke remembered Saint-Gaudens's reaction. "'Flatterer!' he said, and swung down the street still smiling.  But it was not flattery."

from the collection of the Library of Congress

It was not long before vandals struck the monument of the revered philanthropist.  On June 16, 1899 The Sun reported that the statue "had been defaced, presumably by relic hunters."  The bronze letters that formed the inscription on the face of the monument were tempting and valuable targets.  "Sixteen of the letters have been pried off and parts of other decorations on the statue have also disappeared," said the article.  "It is said that a letter disappears from the statue every few weeks."

On June 24, 1901 a letter to the editor of The New York Times said sarcastically:

It would be a delight to some student of hieroglyphics to take a trip down to the Cooper Institute some day and try to decipher the inscription on the front of the Peter Cooper Statue.  Supposed to represent a dedication of the monument, it looks like anything but that with half of the letters missing.  A stranger coming to New York might wonder why the city spends its money on powder and shell for departing live 'greatnesses' instead of to repair at a slight cost a monument to one of its foremost sons.  But that is another story.

A letter to the editor of The Evening World a month later said in part, "Yet half of the letters of the grimy tablet are broken off or defaced, and to out-of-town visitors it looks as if Cooper were a forgotten has-been, instead of one of America's greatest benefactors.  For sheer shame let us brace up and do his memory the honor of at least cleaning and re-lettering his tablet."

photograph by Jim Henderson

It would not be until 1935, when Cooper Square was reconstructed, that the monument was cleaned and restored.  It was conserved again in 1987 under the Adopt-a-Monument Program.

A commemoration ceremony was held on May 29, 1997 presided over by Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and Cooper Union President John Jay Iselin.  Reminiscent of the 1897 unveiling, the United States Merchant Marine Academy Band played.  Among the speakers was Peter Cooper's great-great-grandson, Edward R. Hewitt.

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

The 1852 Isaac Labagh House - 12 East 11th Street

In 1852 wealthy banker James Gallatin constructed two identical, speculative houses on East 11th Street, just steps from Fifth Avenue.  Gallatin had lived on the block for several years.  Faced in red brick, the 21-foot-wide Italianate style homes rose four stories above a brownstone clad basement level.  

The western house, 52 East 11th Street (renumbered 12 in 1868), became home to the Isaac Labagh family.  Labagh had married Maria Louise Wood in 1840, and the couple had two children, Isaac Mead and Maria Louise.

Labagh was born in 1811, the son of Revolutionary War soldier Isaac Labagh.  He was a partner in the wholesale grocery firm of Conover & Labagh.  The family remained in the East 11th Street house through 1866, when it was sold to Charles C. Peck and his wife, the former Angelina Stagg.

Peck was a partner in the drygoods firm Seaman, Peck & Co. at 37 Pine Street.  The company had a branch in New Orleans, as well.  

Thirteen years after the Pecks moved into 12 East 11th Street, Angelina fell ill.  She died on February 7, 1880, and her funeral was held in the parlor four days later.

Joshua Mersereau and his wife lived at 60 West 11th Street at the time.  By 1886 they had moved into the former Peck house.  Born on Staten Island in 1813, Mersereau came "from an old Huguenot family," according to The Evening Post.  Now retired, he had been the secretary of the Old Staten Island Dyeing Company, and a County Clerk of Richmond County for at least a decade.  He and his wife had a grown son.

On November 24, 1888 The Evening Post reported that Mersereau had died "suddenly" (often suggesting heart failure) the previous day at the age of 75.  The article said, "He was a most straightforward, honest business man and highly spoken of by his old business associates."  It added, "He was a man of large means."

Dr. Charles Remsen leased the house by 1890.  The Remsen family was, according to the 1896 Portrait and Biographical Record of Suffolk County, "one of the oldest in New York."  Remsen's grandfather, Benjamin Remsen, was private secretary to Thomas Jefferson.  Born on February 7, 1856, Charles Remsen studied at Princeton College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1880.

He and his wife, the former Lilian Livingston Jones, had married in 1886 and would have two sons, William and Charles, Jr.  In 1890 they acquired their summer home in Speonk, near Southampton, Long Island.  The Portrait and Biographical Record noted, "Here, with all the charm that beauty of location and scenery can add, he enjoys the delightful climate and the various sports for which the region is noted."  In 1895, after the Remsens built a church for Speonk, the citizens renamed the village Remsenburg.

Mary L. Hall, who purchased the house in 1896, continued to lease it to the Remsens.

Tragedy came to the family on March 22, 1899 when eight-year-old Charles, Jr. died.  His parents broke the tradition of an in-home funeral, holding it instead at Grace Church Chantry.

The Remsens left in 1902, after Mary L. Hall sold the house that October to Adrian H. Joline.  The new owner rented it to attorney Archibald Gourlay Thatcher and his wife.  The couple redecorated the house, and on December 11, 1902 The Evening Telegram noted, "Mr. and Mrs. Archibald G. Thatcher, whose new home, at No. 12 East Eleventh street, will not be ready for occupancy for some time, have taken an apartment temporarily in the Van Rensselaer, No. 17 East Eleventh street."

Born in 1877, Thatcher had graduated from the Harvard Law School.  Like Remsen, he came from an old American family.  Hanging in the 11th Street house was an 18th century Gilbert Stuart portrait of an ancestor, Reverend Samuel Cooper Thatcher.

Once into their new home, it was again the scene of social gatherings.  On April 16, 1904, for instance, The Globe and Commercial Advertiser mentioned, "Mrs. Archibald Gourlay Thatcher, 12 East Eleventh street, entertained at 'bridge' on Friday afternoon."

Adrian H. Joline sold 12 East 11th Street in April 1906 to Cullen Van Rennselaer Cogwell.  It once again became home to an old New York family.  Cogwell had married Agnes Eugenie Nickerson on January 1, 1896.  

The couple maintained two country homes,  one in Southampton and the other, Riverdale, in Dedham, Massachusetts.  They had two daughters, Louisa Winslow and Mary Van Rensselaer, who were 8 and 4 years old, respectively, when the family moved in.

Cogswell was a secretary and treasurer of the United States Cobalt Company and a mining engineer.  The 1915 Genealogies of the State of New York mentioned, "He has traveled extensively, and is regarded as an expert in his profession."

Louisa was introduced to society in 1917.  Shortly afterward, on December 30, the New York Herald announced, "Miss Louisa Winslow Cogswell is the first of the debutantes to become engaged."  It may have been America's entry into World War I that hurried the announcement.  The groom-to-be was Ensign Thomas Robins, Jr. of the United States Navy Reserves.  The New York Herald mentioned, "At present he commands a submarine patrol boat."

Louisa's wedding took place in the Church of the Ascension ("where her great-grandmother was married," according to the New-York Tribune) on March 16, 1918.  She wore the white satin wedding gown of her grandmother and "an old Van Rensselaer veil of Brussels point applique lace."  The ceremony had a decided military atmosphere, with the best man and ushers all in uniform.  A reception was held in the Cogswell house afterward.

The Cogswells were in Connecticut in the summer of 1919.  The three servants in the East 11th Street house were asleep on the fourth floor on the night of June 14 when burglars clambered up the rear trellis and entered Agnes's bedroom.   Cogswell later explained, "Once in, they proceeded to ransack the second floor, first taking the precaution to lock the doors leading from the rooms in which they were working, so as not to be disturbed."

After gathering up loose pieces of jewelry in Agnes's bedroom, they turned their attention to her 100-pound jewelry safe.  Rather than risk detection by attempting to break into it, they tied a length of clothesline around it and began lowering it out the window.  The Evening World reported, "But the rope broke and down crashed the safe to the flagstones of the yard, where it made a noise that roused the whole neighborhood, even the police, and the burglars had to hurry away with no more loot than they had pocketed."  It was a fortunate turn of events for the Cogswells.  The New York Times reported, "instead of the $20,000 they might have obtained, the burglars got away with only about $900 worth of trinkets."

The following year, on December 17, Molly's first debutante entertainment was held.  It culminated in a Christmas Eve dance in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  She would be less quick to marry than her sister.  On July, 28, 1922 The Evening Telegram noted that she and her mother "will sail for Europe from Boston, Mass., tomorrow, and will travel abroad for two months."  And on August 6, 1924 The Sun reported, "Miss Mary Van Rensselaer Cogswell...of 12 East Eleventh street, accompanied Mr. and Mrs. J. Rich Steers and their daughter, Miss Mary Steers, on a trip to the Canadian Rockies."

The Cogswell family had left East 11th Street by 1927, when their former home was being operated as unofficial apartments.  Among the early tenants was historian, critic and author Constance Lindsay Skinner.  A regular theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune, she is best remembered for the "Rivers of America" series for publishers Farrar & Rinehart.

In 1964 attorney Joseph Siegel lived here when he married motion picture actress Kim Stanley.  According to Jon Krampner in his 2006 Female Brando, The Legend of Kim Stanley, they "split their marriage between her home in Congers [New York] and his ground-floor apartment at 12 East Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village."  

Actress Kim Stanley - from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1966 Siegel joined the staff of Robert Kennedy's campaign for United States Senate.  It, ironically, ended the couple's marriage.  Kennedy had given Siegel his sister-in-law's telephone number to contact regarding a question.  Stanley found the piece of paper on the dresser.  According to Krampner, "she picked up one of Joe's shoes and started beating him on the head and saying, 'You son of a bitch, you're cheating on me with Jackie Kennedy!"  She stormed out of the East 11th Street apartment never to return.  They divorced shortly afterward.

A renovation completed in 2016 resulted in a triplex on the lower floors and a duplex apartment above.  Happily, much of the 1852 interior detailing survives.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The 1881 Engine Company 5 - 340 East 14th Street


photo by Beyond My Ken

With the establishment of the Metropolitan Fire Department in 1865, New York City's network of volunteer companies was abolished.  Engine Company 5 was established on September 25 that year, and moved into the existing volunteer fire station at 340 East 14th Street, between First and Second Avenues.   It had been built about three years earlier.   The new company had a single engine and tender, build by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, and a team of spirited horses to draw them.

The volunteer fire fighters, or laddies, had had a reputation as a boisterous, rowdy group.  Organizing a professional department did immediately change old habits.  On July 20, 1870, The New York Times reported.  "Patrick Farrell, of No. 192 First-avenue, who was shot [on July 18] by Wm. Hamilton, a member of Fire Engine Company No. 5 in Fourteenth-street, died yesterday at his residence of the wounds so received."   Firefighter Hamilton had gotten into an argument with Farrell and a man named William Callaghan "about a picnic," that culminating in the gunfire.  On his deathbed, Farrell said he had been shot "without provocation."  Hamilton insisted it was self-defense.

On October 2, 1879 the Fire Department notified the Board of Estimate and Apportionment of the need for a new house for Engine Company No. 5.  It said the station:

...was originally built for the Volunteer Department about 17 years ago; it has a large school-house on one side, adjoining, and a tenement-house has since been erected on the other, which caused it to settle, cracking rear and front walls and ceilings, and disturbing the floors.

The first item on the Board of Fire Commissioners meeting agenda on July 25, 1880 was "the opening of proposals for doing the work and furnishing the materials for the erection of an engine-house for Engine Company No. 5 at No. 340 East Fourteenth street."  There seems to have been a lack of urgency on the part of the commissioners.  The following day the New York Dispatch noted, "All the bids were laid over for future consideration."

Nevertheless, on September 1 that year, the men of Engine Company 5 were temporarily relocated, their fire station demolished, and construction started on a replacement.  

Napoleon LeBrun had been appointed official architect for the Fire Department in 1879.  A year later his son, Pierre joined him in the business, which became Napoleon Lebrun & Son.  Before the turn of the century they would be responsible for the design of 42 fire houses.  The firm would famously create individual, sometimes lavish, designs for their firehouse.  But in 1881 the Fire Department was renovating or building around a dozen structures.  To save both time and money, Napoleon LeBrun & Son reused one design several times, including for Engine Company 5, with only minor differences.

Engine Company 27, at 173 Franklin Street, was one of the nearly identical structures designed at the time.  photograph by the author

Amazingly, construction took less than six months to complete, and on March 1, 1881 Engine Company 5 moved into its new home.  The design followed the traditional firehouse layout.  The centered bay doors sat within the cast iron base.  The two upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in terra cotta and stone.  LeBrun & Son’s Queen Anne design was splashed with Neo-Grec elements, most notably the stone lintel that floated above the second story central opening.

The company suffered a grievous loss on February 12, 1895.  In reporting the death of firefighter Peter McKeon, The Press began:

One might suppose that staring death in the face as often as they do, firemen's hearts would become a little hardened.  Such is not the case.  No set of men feel grief more keenly than they, and their sorrow for a mate who dies on duty is touching in its earnestness.  This is why the whole department is grieving over the sudden killing of Peter McKeon, than whom a braver fireman never lived.

Engineer McKeon's death was particularly grisly.  The company was responding to a fire in a tenement building, the Florida Flats, when a wheel came off the truck.  "Before McKeon turned around from his place on the firebox step, the engine tender dashed into him.  The pole of the tender pierced the engineer's back, pinning him to the boiler," explained the article.  The terrified horses reared, tearing the pole from McKeon's back and he fell directly to the street where the horses "trampled him again and again."  He died within a few minutes of being pulled from under the horses' feet.  The 45-year-old left a wife and four children.

As the article said, the dangers of firefighting required the "staring of death in the face," almost constantly.  On December 22, 1897 the company was called to a tenement fire at 436 East 14th Street.  The New York Herald reported, "There was an accumulation of gas in the cellar, and this, combined with the smoke, made it almost impossible to live."   Two firefighters, John McCabe and James E. Davis entered the basement.  When they did not return after a reasonable time, other members followed.  "They were found unconscious and taken out."  

Three other firefighters who took up the battle, were also overcome and had to be rescued.  The last to be pulled out, Martin J. Oakley, was dead.  John McCabe returned to the firehouse, but had to be taken to Bellevue Hospital the following morning, where three of his comrades had been taken the night before.  The New York Herald said he was "in a bad condition."

Despite the change from horse-drawn to motorized fire engines, and the neighborhood from one of tenements to commercial buildings, Engine Company 5 remained in its venerable fire station.  Firefighter Jim Ronayne reflected the changing times in 1974 when he was chosen for a specialized--and surprising--detail.

On February 20, 1974, The New York Times wrote, "Three nights a week, when Manhattan fireman Jim Ronayne is not on duty with Engine Company No. 5 or heading to a fire, he is getting ready for a night at the opera.  Mr. Ronayne puts aside his 'turnouts'--the fireman's uniform of dungarees, denim shirt, rubber boots, canvas coat and helmet--dons a black tuxedo and makes his way to Lincoln Center."

Ronayne was one of nine New York City firefighters who made up the "Tuxedo Squad" for the Metropolitan Opera.  At each performance, three of them were within the crowd of opera-goers "to guard against accidents, fires and thefts."  The men estimated that they needed to summon help from Roosevelt Hospital to deal with accidents and illnesses at least 20 times per season.  Ronayne confided in the reporter that "he likes 'Irish opera' best."

photo by Lars Estrem,

Perhaps no single group was more devastated by the events of 9/11 than the New York City Fire Department.  After the attack, Engine Company 5 was deployed to pull hose line up 80 floors in the North Tower.  Among the members was Manny Delvalle, Jr. who also carried an oxygen tank.  As his team continued, he paused at the 10th floor to give a woman oxygen.  He was never seen again.  The men of Engine Company 5 had gone up another five floors when the building began to shudder and they were called back.  After the tower collapsed, a search was made for Delvalle, but the 32-year-old could not be found.  A bronze plaque in his honor hangs among those of other lost firefighters affixed to the facade of the fire station.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Groff School - 228 West 72nd Street


In 1898 A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City noted that George C. Edgar's Sons & Co. "has, to a great extent been instrumental in building up the West Side from 69th street to 95th street."  The article estimated the firm had built 175 private houses "of a substantial type," and added "The best example of their work is No. 228 West 72d street, a house which has few peers, and none better in that section of the city."

That 25-foot-wide brownstone residence had been designed by Gilbert A Schellenger and completed a year earlier.  Above its understated parlor level above the high brownstone stoop was a swelled bay, two floors tall.   The underside was decorated with elaborate foliate carvings and it was crowned with a striking bronze railing.   The recessed openings of the fourth floor were outlined by delicate picture frame-like molding and separated by paired free-standing Corinthian columns.  A robust cast iron cornice a frieze completed the design.

Interestingly, it was not until April 1899 that a buyer was found for the upscale home.  The New York Times wrote, "It is reported that George C. Edgar's Sons & Co. have sold to Justice Martin J. Koegh the residence 228 West Seventy-second Street.

Koegh had been elected to the New York Supreme Court four years earlier.  He and his wife, the former Katherine Temple Emmet, had a large family--four sons, four daughters and a stepson, Martin, Jr.  In addition to his visible court rulings (he specialized in murder cases), Koegh was active in the Irish-American community.  Katherine was the great-granddaughter of the Irish patriot Thomas Addis Emmet.

The family did not stay at 228 West 72nd Street especially long.  It was sold to Joseph G. Groff in 1904, who renovated it for use as his exclusive boy's preparatory school, the Groff School.

An advertisement in the July 1904 issue of The Century Magazine announced "This school, though limiting absolutely its number of students, has outgrown its present quarters, and will move on August 1st into one of the largest and most handsome houses on the West Side, 228 West 72d Street, equipped with every modern convenience, including an electric elevator."

The Groff School offered "board and rooms (with private shower-baths) unequaled," and "modern bowling alleys, fencing hall, billiard room, etc."  It was, as the advertisement pointedly noted, "decidedly a school for gentlemen only."  (Groff retained sufficient living space in the house for his family, as well.)

The steep tuition millionaires paid to have their sons properly prepared for higher education earned Groff a fortune.  On February 12, 1910 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he had purchased "one of the finest estates on the Jersey coast, at Deal Beach...known as Kildysart."  The 50-acre estate had been built for the late Standard Oil vice president Daniel O'Day.  Groff paid over $1 million for the property--nearly 29 times that much in today's money.

The main house at Kildysart held 60 rooms.  Architecture, November 1903 (copyright expired)

The article explained "His intention is to conduct a summer and winter school at Kildysart, much along the same lines as the Groff School in Manhattan."

The activities offered at the Groff Country School--golf, horseback riding and such--were balanced at the Groff School by arrangements with nearby facilities.  A September 1910 advertisement noted "Free use of one of the largest gymnasium in New York.  Also swimming pool and athletic field--all conveniently near."

Earlier that year Joseph C. Groff had had a serious scare.  He and his seven-year old son, Jack, were on their way to Central Park in the family's sleigh on January 16.  The Sun reported "When they reached Columbus avenue Dennis Dehner...driving an automobile, came spinning down Columbus avenue.  Dehner saw the sleigh too late.  Even with the wheels locked by the brake the auto went crashing into the sleigh and crushed it."

Groff was thrown ten feet from the accident while his son "tumbled in the snow unhurt."  Groff's "right shoulder was hurt, but he is not thought to be seriously injured," said the article."  The horse, having been knocked to its knees and cut by parts of the smashed sleigh, was badly frightened.  It headed south on Columbus Avenue dragging the remnants of the vehicle.  The New York Herald said it "ran away, taking the sidewalk and causing a stampede of persons, who fled to doorways."  It was later caught by a policeman at 65th Street.  After filing charges of reckless driving against the motorist, Groff, with a dislocated shoulder, took his son home.

In 1912 Joseph Groff relocated his school to 259 West 75th Street.  The move may have added to his stress and at the end of September, according to the Glen Falls Daily Times, he was "suffering from a nervous breakdown."  Within just two weeks the 42-year-old developed pneumonia.  The complication proved too much and he died on October 11.

No. 228 became a high-end boarding house run by Gertrude B. Winpenny.  Hers was a fantastic story.  Years earlier Gertrude had caught the eye of Bolton S. Winpenny, the eldest son of a wealthy Philadelphia family.  Because his father was adamantly opposed to the romance, on July 4, 1894 the couple eloped to Palmyra, New York.  When the senior Mr. Winpenny found out, he disinherited Bolton--but he offered a carrot.  If Bolton would leave Gertrude, he would receive $60 a week for as long as he stayed away from her.  It was a tempting incentive, equal to about $1,850 a week today.

And so, Bolton disappeared, moving to Yonkers and assuming the identify of David Nally, a presumed bachelor.  Unable to find Bolton's whereabouts, Gertrude sued his father for $50,000 alleging the alienation of her husband's affections.  It never came to trial, but Gertrude was given $12 per week in support.

Now, in 1913, Gertrude decided to move on.  Still unaware of her husband's location, she informed her father-in-law that she would allow a divorce for the sum of $10,000 (more than a quarter of a million today).  It put the long-hiding Bolton on a mission to discredit her.

On March 19, 1913 The Yonkers Herald reported "Mrs. Winpenny has been living in the fashionable West End avenue district of New York City, No. 228 West 72nd street."  The article said that Gertrude had recently taken in a taken in a new boarder, Mrs. Alice Johnson.  She had no way of knowing that the woman was a private detective hired by her husband.

Using evidence provided by Johnson, Bolton Winpenny turned the tables on his wife, suing her for divorce and claiming she was having extramarital affairs with at least two men, Walter McClelland and John Stoddard.  In court Alice Johnson testified "she had attended a theater with Mrs. Winpenny and a John Stoddard, that they went to supper afterward, and on the way home in a taxicab, Stoddard hugged and kissed Mrs. Winpenny, and the two smoked cigarettes together."  Even more shockingly, she told about "the visits of McClelland to the house and that he stayed sometimes all night, at other times staying until 2 o'clock in the morning."

Gertrude Winpenny's boarding house closed soon after the embarrassing trial and publicity.  An announcement in the August 1914 issue of The Century informed readers of the "new residence" of the Coates School in the 72nd Street house.  "Mrs. Isabel D. Coates will receive in her home a limited number of girls who wish Art, Music, Languages, etc.  Students may select their own Circular on application."

By 1920 the personality of West 72nd Street was changing as its mansions were either being converted to apartments and stores or demolished for modern structures.  On June 8, 1920 the New York Herald reported that 228 West 72nd Street "will be altered into high class apartments."

Now called the Teasdale Residence, the renovated house provided apartments for unmarried women and girl students.  Women's hotels and apartments had been popular for several decades, since females began entering the workforce with professions like shop girls, secretaries and garment workers.  They provided a safe, affordable place to live.  

The New York Times, February 6, 1921 (copyright expired)

Within a few years the building accepted men as well.  Charles R. Macauley, a former cartoonist with The World, and his wife had the fifth-floor apartment here in 1922.  They took in a house guest, Countess Tamburini, when her husband, portrait artist Count Arnaldo Tamburini, left for Rome to do a portrait of Benito Mussolini at the end of the year.

At around 3:00 on the afternoon of January 30, 1923 the Countess received a telephone call.  The caller said that a man had been taken to Roosevelt Hospital badly hurt and the card in his pocket had her name and number.  She and Mrs. Macauley hurried to the hospital, only to find out they had been duped.  

When they returned, they found the door to the apartment had been forced open and much of the Countess's jewelry had been stolen.  She estimated the value at around $105,000 in today's money.  The Daily News noted "The thieves had overlooked antiques valued at $22,000."

Happily, all the loot was discovered by police in a Harlem pawn shop on February 3.  Two days later the Daily News reported "Countess Tamburini, who is staying at the Macauley residence, was informed of the recovery yesterday and left her breakfast unfinished to cable the good news to her artist husband, now in Rome."

Countess Tamburini admires a recovered pearl necklace.  Daily News, February 5, 1923

In 1931 a school once again moved into No. 228.  A notice in local newspapers read "Windsor P. Daggett announces a summer term of speech and acting at his Voice and Color Theater, 228 West Seventy-second street, opening July 6."  

The use of the word "theater" was perhaps misleading and by 1933 the facility was renamed the Daggett School of the Spoken Word.  That year the it announced two new courses for the spring term: "Public Speaking for Professional and Business Men" and "Phonetics, Voice and Speech Control."

By 1936 the former basement level had been converted to a bar and grill owned by former prize fighter Carey Phelan.  He was at the Rockaway Beach Hotel on Labor Day that year when he became engaged in a conflict with professional golfer Bea Gottlieb.  She charged him with rape and felonious assault in the ladies' restroom, while he countered that she had "marked him for the victim of her allure."

Carey Phelan took a cigar break between court sessions.  Daily News, March 4, 1937

According to Bea's story, he followed her into the ladies' room and attacked her.  According to his, after he showed her where the restroom was, she said the lights were out.  He testified, "I went in to find the light.  She threw her arms around my neck.  Then I turned on the light."  Phelan declared in court "that the whole case was a shake-down attempt" and that Bea had offered to drop the charges for $50,000.

The basement level had sprouted a storefront by 1941. NYC Dept of Records & Information Services  

On March 9, 1937 the jury acquitted Carey Phelan of all charges.  Dejected, Bea Gottleib went home and swallowed a box of sleeping powder mixed with whiskey.  When her attorney was unable to contact her, he called the police who found her unconscious at around 11:15 that night.  Two days later doctors announced her condition had greatly improved.

A renovation to 228 West 72nd Street completed in 1948 resulted in a restaurant and cabaret in the basement level and two apartments each in the upper stories.

The restaurant was home to Mrs. J's Sacred Cow by 1970.  The popular eatery had been established in 1947 and was known for its steaks and lobster and entertainment.  An advertisement in New York Magazine on April 25, 1988 noted it was "The place where the girls sing to you."  Mrs. J's Sacred Cow remained in the space into the 1990's.

Today disparate storefronts mark the lower two floors, but above, the 1897 mansion is remarkably unchanged.

photographs by the author