Thursday, March 2, 2023

The John Cooney House - 307 West 112th Street


In 1886 real estate developer Edward Roemer began an ambitious building project.  His string of three-story and basement homes would nearly fill the south side of West 112th Street, between Eighth Avenue (today's Frederick Douglass Boulevard) and Manhattan Avenue.  Designed by Charles T. Mott, they were a harmonious blend of styles--Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and, in one case, Gothic Revival.

Among them was 307 West 112th Street.  Its basement and parlor levels were purely Romanesque Revival.  Mott faced them in undressed brownstone and gave the parlor openings chunky voussoirs.  The two upper floors changed personality with smooth red brick and pristine lines.  A stepped brick faux balcony rose from the single brownstone lintel of the second floor.  Originally, it quite likely held an iron railing.  The waffle-pattern cornice was a signature Charles T. Mott detail.

John Cooney moved his family into the new house.  He had been appointed to the Police Department in 1880.   Cooney and his wife Ellen had seven children--four daughters and three sons.  The modest house was made even more crowded by the presence of Cooney's widowed mother-in-law, Ellen Farrell.

That an Irish-born policeman could afford his own home was somewhat surprising.  Equally suspicious was the family's comfortable lifestyle.  On September 12, 1896, for instance, The Evening Telegraph reported, "Mrs. John Cooney and the Misses Cooney, of No. 307 West 112th street, who have been summering at Salisbury Manor, Catskills, have returned to the city."

By 1898 Cooney had achieved the rank of lieutenant.  That year he was made acting captain of the Far Rockaway precinct where the Cooneys had their summer home.  The Sun said on July 28, "The Captain lives at 307 West 112th street, but he does not have much time to spend at home."  The Cooneys' sons had all moved out by now.  So, when Cooney was not home the house was populated entirely by women.  Ellen's sister was living with the family, possibly to help care for the women's mother, who was very ill.

At 2:00 on the morning of July 27, 1898 Ellen and her sister were already awake "in attendance upon the invalid," according to The Sun.  They heard a noise downstairs, but assumed it came from the street and paid no attention.  About an hour later, one of them went to the basement and found it ransacked.  Burglars had removed the bars from the window and pillaged the family dining room.  The Sun said, "They made their escape with $100 worth of silverware and had done almost as much more damage in getting their plunder."

The unnecessary damage to the furniture led to the suspicion that the crooks had a grudge against Cooney or his family.  The article added, "The fact that burglars had been in the house reached the ears of the sick woman and the excitement had the effect of making her still worse."

Five days later, Ellen Farrell died at the age of 90.  Her funeral was, somewhat surprisingly, not held in the parlor, but in the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle on West 118th Street. 

The thief, 23-year-old Frederick N. Hoyt, was arrested on September 20.  The Sun reported, "He is known by several aliases."  He was charged with committing 13 burglaries within three months.  At the station house he pleaded "with a show of feeling," according to the New York Herald, "But, Captain, you want to remember that I support my old grandfather and grandmother with what I manage to get."

On December 17, 1899, John Cooney was promoted to captain and put in charge of the West 37th Street police station.  The advance in rank raised his pay from $2,000 to $2,750 per year--about $92,700 in 2023.  

On the morning of August 11, 1900, Cooney entered his office to find a 12-foot-high floral horseshoe standing on his desk.  The patrolmen and sergeants surprised him with it in honor of his 20th anniversary on the force.  The New-York Tribune mentioned that he had spent the previous night "at his summer home at Rockaway Beach."  Readers of the article, at a time when corruption was rampant in the Police Department, may have wondered how the captain could afford a home in a nice Manhattan neighborhood as well as a summer house.

The answer may have come a year later.  On December 14, 1901, the New-York Tribune began an article saying, "Police Commissioner [Michael C.] Murphy was stirred to action yesterday by the raids which had been made on the headquarters and branch offices of 'Al' Adams."  

Albert J. Adams was widely known as the "Policy King."  (Policy games were illegal lotteries, later known as the numbers game; and bucket shops were establishments operating under the pretense of a brokerage firms, but which in reality took “bets, or wagers…on the rise or fall of the prices of stocks,” as defined by the Supreme Court).  He and similar criminals were able to amass millions by paying bribes to police.

The article said Murphy "summoned Captain John Cooney, of the West thirty-seventh-st. station, to Police Headquarters, suspended him from duty without pay, and ordered him on trial for neglect of duty in failing to suppress the policy places in his precinct."

The disgraced Cooney appeared at a department trial three days later.  He somehow managed to retain not only his job, but his rank.  He was, however, transferred to the 75th Street police station house.

Ellen died at the Far Rockaway house on July 17, 1904 at the age of 54.  The Daily Standard Union reported, "The remains were removed to her home, 307 West 112th street, Manhattan."  Her funeral was held there on July 20.

Later that year, in December, Cooney fell ill.  The New York Press initially made a joke of his condition, saying on December 5, "When a policeman takes to candy as a steady diet, he is likely to suffer many gibes from his brothers in blue; when that policeman is a captain, dire consequences may be expected...He is so ill he has to remain in his home, at No. 307 West 112th street."

The article explained, "The captain is fond of chocolates, and about a week ago he laid in a supply of 'fudges,' creams and other styles of the delectable sweets...On Saturday, after partaking of a light dinner, he began to have that funny felling; then he was seized with severe pains."  The New York Press mockingly titled the article, "Cooney's Candy Causes Cramps."  But his condition was much worse.  A week later he was still bedridden.  The New York Herald reported, "The physician who was called said the cause was ptomaine poisoning, probably originating in the candy."

Cooney recovered and four months later, on April 19, 1905, he sold his home of nearly two decades to Samuel and Rebecca E. Abeloff.  Samuel was a diamond and jewelry merchant, having established his office on Maiden Lane in the 1880s, shortly after immigrating from Poland.  He dabbled in real estate, as well, owning at least one tenement on the Lower East Side.  The couple had two sons, Abram Joseph and Simon.  

Despite some painting of the stonework, Mott's quaint row is relatively intact.

Somehow, when the extended family arrived in America, the surname became spelled both Abeloff and Abelow.  Living with Samuel and Rebecca's family by 1908 were Barnet and Jennie Abelow, presumably relatives.  They were both commissioners of deeds, appointed civil service positions similar to notary publics today.

Abram Abeloff was still living at home in the 1920s.  Now a physician, he wrote medical articles like "The Communicability of Rheumatic Disease," published in the Archives of Pediatrics in September 1926.

The now-widowed Samuel Abeloff suffered a heart attack in 1936.  He was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he died on December 26.  In reporting his death, The New York Times mentioned, "Mr. Abeloff had been an active member of several Jewish philanthropic societies."  He left an estate of $511,742, around $10 million by 2023 terms.  Abram and Simon Abeloff sold the house that October to Ruth M. Holtman for the equivalent of $225,000 today.

The house in 1941 looked much as it does today.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

At the time of the sale, the Harlem neighborhood had become the epicenter of Manhattan's Black community.  Most of the homes along the 1887 row had been converted to rooming houses, and 307 West 112th Street followed suit.  The tenants seem to have been hard working and respectable, drawing no unwelcome attention to the address for decades.

That all changed in 1985.  On May 2 undercover narcotics detective Debra Lewis posed as a cocaine addict and approached suspected drug dealer Otis Butts.  She testified at trial that she took a walk with him to 307 West 112th Street where he had told her the drugs were located.  Butts was "in business" with his cousin.  He sold her cocaine and three days later sold her "something better" in the hallway of the house.

Things along the block were greatly improved at the turn of the century.  In 2004, the former Cooney house was renovated.  There is now a triplex apartment in the basement through second floor, and an apartment on the third.

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


  1. Great post, as always! I have to ask, what is the deal with the building to the left of 307?

    1. I'm not quite sure what the owners are doing with that scaffold-like structure