Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The 1848 Sherman-Dodge House - 52 West 9th Street


Wealthy physician Austin Sherman completed construction of his Greenwich Village home at 13 Ninth Street (renumbered 52 West 9th Street in 1868) in 1848.  The double-doored entrance of the Anglo-Italianate style residence was entered at street level within a rusticated brownstone base.  The two upper stories were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  In the rear yard, as was common, was a small, tw0-story house.

Austin was well-known for his patented medicine, "All Healing Balsam."  In addition to his medical practice, Austin dabbled in real estate.  In May 1851, for instance, he advertised: "To Let--A first class three-story and attic House with all the modern improvements and conveniences, pleasantly situated, 43 Ninth street.  Apply to A. Sherman, 13 Ninth street."

Dr. Austin was stricken with paralysis, according to the Weekly Drug News, in 1871, most likely the result  of a stroke.  He died 13 years later, on November 22, 1884.

The house would be home to three families by the turn of the century.  John A. Stevens was here by 1887, followed by the Charles E. Griswold family.  On March 27, 1891 The Epoch reported, "Mrs. Charles E. Griswold and Miss Gertrude Griswold gave an exceptionally pleasant musicale on the night of Wednesday, March 25th, at their residence, 52 West 9th street.  They will receive informally on the second, third and fourth Mondays of April."

Finally, William Cornelius Hall moved his family in.  He and his wife, Marie Suzette de Mirigny Thomas, had married in 1880.  Their first son, William Claiborne, was born in 1881, followed by John Mandelville the following year, and by twins Agnes Stuart and Marie Suzette de Marigny in 1886.

A graduate of Yale University, Hall was a vice-president of the Perth Amboy Terra Cotta company, perhaps best known for making the Tiffany bricks, designed by architect Stanford White.  Marie Suzette was related to the Marquis de Marigny, the Duc de Villinbrosa, and to Baron Louis von Hoffmann of Germany.  Her grandfather was the first governor of New Orleans.

Upon his graduation from Yale in 1904, William Claiborne Hall took a ground-level job in his father's firm, earning $5 per week (about $160 today).  A year later he was promoted to the sales department.

Marie Suzette's wedding to Charles Schuveldt Dewey on December 20, 1905 was a socially important affair.  Three days earlier The Sun had reported that pre-wedding entertainments had been going on for two weeks.  It added, "To-morrow night Chauncey Dewey of Chicago, a cousin of the bridegroom and a nephew of Admiral Dewey, will give a dinner dance for the bridal party at the Waldof-Astoria.  The final ante-nuptial affair will be a dance given on Tuesday night by the bride's aunt, Mrs. Gilbert Colgate."  

According to the New York Herald, Marie wore the wedding gown of her great-grandmother, "who was a lady in waiting to the then Queen of Spain."  The Church of the Ascension filled with some of Manhattan's most elite families, with names like Havemeyer, Schuyler, Roosevelt, Colgate and Hall.  Following the ceremony, a reception was held in the West 9th Street house, which the New York Herald said, "is one of the old fashioned houses that has undergone few changes."

Despite a privileged upbringing identical to his brother William, John Mandeville Hall (who went by his middle name) became the black sheep of the family.  He was seemingly unable to keep his name out of the newspapers for the worst of reasons.   It started on June 12, 1906 when the Perth Amboy Evening News began an article saying, "Mystery surrounds the sending out of a card bearing the Hall coat-of-arms and reading as follows":

                                                                    52 West Ninth St.

The engagement of Lily F. Wilson, of New Rochelle, daughter of Mrs. George Grant Wilson, and Mr. Mandeville de Marigny Hall, of New York, has been broken by mutual consent.

The Hall family had sailed for Europe soon after Marie's wedding, and had just returned.  Mandeville insisted he was dumbfounded at the announcement.  The newspaper said, "The envelope is from Tiffany's and Mr. Hall said it is unquestionably from their own supply of stationery...he asserted that he did not know who the mysterious sender was."

Not surprisingly, the engagement was called off.  Instead of marrying Lily Wilson, one month later, on July 9, Mandeville married Florence Teall.  The wedding was kept secret from society--even initially from Florence's parents.  The couple moved into the West 9th Street house, but Florence left Mandeville the following January, "owing, she says, to his dissipated habits," said The Evening World.  The marriage was no longer secret.

On Sunday January 10, Mandeville sent for Florence, "and urged her to return, but she refused," according to The Evening World.  He went up to his room and shot himself.  The following day The Perth Amboy Evening News wrote, "Mrs. William C. Hall, of 52 West Ninth street, a summer resident of Perth Amboy, was kept busy yesterday telling sympathetic callers that her twenty-four-year-old son, Mandeville, who was removed to the Roosevelt hospital on Sunday suffering from a pistol wound, had not attempted suicide."

Suicide, or attempted suicide, within a high society family would be scandalous, and the family (including Florence) joined in a well-constructed explanation.  Mandeville (who survived) told police and reporters that he noticed a jar of vaseline on a table in his room and decided to clean his revolver.  "There were three cartridges in it, and I omitted to remove them.  One of them exploded accidentally."

Following the incident, Mandeville sailed for Europe.  But it was not entirely to escape the ugly publicity.  On June 31, 1908 The Evening World reported, "Mrs. Florence Teall Hall, who learned through The World that her husband Mandeville de Marigny Hall, was traveling in Europe with Vida Whitmore, a former Weber & Field's beauty, today sought her lawyer, John L. Linehan."  Florence ordered an investigation "and if the fact were as reported," she would direct her attorney to bring suit for divorce.

She did not have to wait long for proof.  On August 4, chorus girl Vida Whitmore arrived in New York on the Lusitania "with a meagre wardrobe," according to the Perth Amboy Evening News.  "Although she travelled first class she was penniless, and her cab hire to her apartments uptown was paid by friends."

Although still married to Florence, Mandeville had told Whitmore he was divorced, and they had been married in New Jersey on May 21.  According to her, he convinced her to give him between $18,000 and $20,000 in "precious stones," then gave her the key to a strong box in the Colonial Trust Company.  When she opened the box upon her return to New York, "there was nothing in it but air," she told a reporter.  She continued, "It would take a book to tell all the low, mean things that man did.  His deception as to his former marriage and divorce was deliberate."

He had also told Whitmore that his father had died and left him a fortune.  "The poor old man is a victim of paralysis, and lives in a helpless condition in his lonely old-fashioned home No. 52 West Ninth street," she said.

Both Florence and Vida would have to wait to get justice.  The Perth Amboy Evening News noted, "Hall is now under arrest in London accused of having passed a worthless check."  He was extradited to France and sentenced to 13 months in prison.

But on September 28, 1909, The Perth Amboy Evening News said, "Through mysterious influence he obtained his release and turned up last May at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, in company with a married woman of New York...Hall is only twenty-five years old, but for four years he has led the life of a spendthrift, chiefly on money he got from women."

That lifestyle came to an abrupt end at the fashionable Narragansett Pier on July 12, 1909, where he was using the pseudonyms Charles W. Stevens and Douglas Turner Johnstone.  According to The New York Press, "A technical charge of forgery was entered against Hall, who is alleged to have drawn many checks on the [Fifth Avenue Bank] which were valueless."  According to the arresting detective, "Hall was enjoying himself hugely, having run up an automobile bill of $175...and was popular with summer girls there when arrested."  He was sentenced to two years in the Rhode Island state prison.

Despite the never-ending bad publicity, the family continued to maintain appearances.  Invitations went out in December 1909 for Agnes's marriage to Walter Bateman Allen on January 26, 1910 in the Church of the Ascension.  Most likely because of her brother's notoriety, her wedding did not get the ample press coverage that Marie's had.

William Cornelius Hall's paralysis that Vida Whitmore had earlier mentioned was the result of a stroke he suffered while he and Marie Suzette were touring Egypt in 1906. On June 6, 1911 he suffered another stroke.  This one proved fatal.  His funeral was held in the West 9th Street house at 5:00 on the following afternoon.  It may have been Mandeville's past that prompted Hall to simply leave the entire estate to his wife rather than deal with the untidy issue of disinheritance.

The house was purchased in October 1915 by Edith Livingston Hall Morgan.  In reporting the sale, The New York Times described it as "a three-story dwelling, with a two-story dwelling at the rear of the lot," and added, "Mrs. Morgan plans extensive alterations to the houses."

Edith Livingston Hall (unrelated to the previous Hall family) had married William Forbes Morgan, Jr. in 1904.  At the time of the wedding, according to the New-York Tribune, she was "one of the most prominent young women in New York society."  Morgan was a member of the brokerage firm of Morgan, Livermore & Co.  The couple had three children, Barbara L., born in 1905, and twins Ellen and William Forbes Morgan II born in 1907.   Edith's sister Anna Rebecca was married to Elliott Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt was Edith's niece.

Things were not going well for the couple, and William remained at 176 East 70th Street, while Edith and the children moved into the West 9th Street house.

In 1920 William, Jr. was away at boarding school.  Shortly before 4:00 on the morning of February 4, Edith was awakened to the smell of smoke.  The New-York Tribune wrote, "Prompted by mother-love and disregarding her own safety, she rushed up to the fourth floor her home."  That was where 10-year-old Ellen and 14-year-old Barbara were sleeping.  "Before she could reach her children...she was overcome by smoke and collapsed."

Fire fighters had to break into the entrance doors.  On the fourth floor landing they found the body of Barbara.  "A quick search revealed the bodies of Mrs. Morgan and her other daughter, Ellen," said the New-York Tribune.

Edith's will demanded that the West 9th Street house "shall not be sold until Mrs. Morgan's youngest child shall have reached its majority, when the proceeds from the sale shall be distributed equally among her children," explained the New-York Tribune on April 21, 1920.  Despite her expressed wishes, the house was sold the following year.  On July 28, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that William de Leftwich Dodge had purchased the "three and one-half story building and two-story studio building in the rear."  The article noted, "The new owner is a mural painter, and will improve the premises for his own occupancy."

Indeed, William de Leftwich Dodge was a mural painter.  Born in 1879, he grew up in Europe and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts.  His mural Glorification of the Arts and Sciences adorned the dome of the Administration Building of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and in 1895 he completed a series of murals for the Library of Congress.  He had decorated the Cafe de l'Opera and the Follies Bergeres Theater in Paris.  

Dodge poses in front of The Purchase, one of six murals for the Tower of Jewels at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  Original source unknown.

The "improvements" Dodge made to the West 9th Street house were transformative.  Essentially, only the ground and third floors gave hint of the home's 1848 appearance.  A five-paneled set of leaded casements was the feature of the second floor, and a double-height studio was installed at the former attic level.  Unlike most studio windows in converted vintage homes at the time, this one was recessed, providing an ample balustraded balcony.  On either side were complex terra cotta medallions, possibly designed by Dodge.

The balcony and medallions in 2011, prior to a restoration of the facade.  photo by Beyond My Ken.

By the time the Dodges moved into their remodeled house, William was a professor at the Arts Students League of New York.  He and his wife, the former Francesca (known as Fanny) Theodora Bland Pryor, had a daughter, Sara, and a son, Roger.  The family's summer home was in Setauket, Long Island.

On March 26, 1935, The New York Sun reported, "William De Leftwich Dodge, one of America's leading mural painters, whose panels form part of the decoration of many public buildings in this country and abroad, died yesterday after an illness of some months.  He was 68 years old."  Despite his international prominence, Dodge's funeral was private, held in the West 9th Street house the following afternoon.

The New York Sun revealed what was perhaps a little known detail in the artist's resume.  "The helicopter which Mr. Dodge made and flew for ten feet before the Wright brothers' flight in 1903 is now on exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington."

Dodge's renovations to 52 West 9th Street were perfect for artist Hans Hoffmann, and the following year the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts moved in.  Born in Weissenberg, Germany, Hoffmann grew up in Munich where he studied architecture before turning to painting.   In 1934 he had opened a summer school in the artist colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, then a year-round school at 137 East 57th Street before moving to the former Dodge house.  The school remained here through 1938.

A renovation completed in 1948 resulted in a duplex on the ground and second floor, and one apartment each on the upper floors.  In May 2016 the duplex was purchased by Craig Newmark (founder of Craig's List) and his wife Eileen as their Manhattan pied-à-terre.  They paid $5.9 million for the three-bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home.

With the facade sensitively restored, the house looks remarkably as it did when William de Leftwich Dodge made his overwhelming 1921 "improvements."

photograph by the author
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