Friday, April 21, 2023

The Arthur C. Coxe, Jr. House - 211 East 61st Street


A fanciful metal hood decorates the second story bay, added between 1957 and 1967.

During New York's post-Civil War building boom several developers erected long rows of high-stooped homes, and their names appeared repeatedly in trade journals.  Such was not the case with A. S. Bussell.  Essentially forgotten today, he was perhaps restricted by his available finances and his projects were limited to two or three houses at a time.  Often years passed between the completion of one group and the initiation of another.  In each case he acted as his own architect.

In 1875 he completed a trio of 18-foot-wide, brownstone-clad homes at 211 to 215 East 61st Street.  His Italianate design held fast to tried-and-true elements seen throughout the city.  High stoops led to double-doored entrances below triangular pediments upheld by foliate brackets.  The architrave openings sat upon molded sills with diminutive brackets, while handsome cornices pulled out all the stops with paneled friezes, foliate brackets, ornate modillions, and dentils.

The easternmost of the three, 211 East 61st Street, became home to Mary P. and Sophia Vernon, presumably mother and daughter.  The woman took in a few roomers (apparently not wanting to go so far as to offer board).  An advertisement in November 1886 offered, "An elegantly furnished front room to let; gas, bath, heat. 211 East 61st st."  Living with the women the following year were Dr. Charles B. Isaacson and Sheir Levison.  (Unfortunately, Levison died on July 2 that year.)

At the time, Jacob Ottenheimer was working hard to ensure that fellow Germans headed to America would have stable homes.   Born in 1840, he had been an agent of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company since 1881, having previously worked for two other railroads.

He had established the town of Ottenheimer, Kentucky (today known as Ottenheim), which was described by The New York Times as "a thriving German colony of over 200 families planned by him and named after him."

On December 16, 1888, The New York Times reported that he had purchased "some 12,000 acres of land" in Pike County, Pennsylvania, which "is said to consist for the most part of very fertile land."  The article noted that he and several German-born investors had been assured of "a large German immigration between now and next Spring, and for some of whom they have undertaken to find land suitable for market gardening within easy reach of New-York."

In 1891 Ottenheimer built the Forest Park Hotel in Pike County, Pennsylvania.  It was a summer resort marketed as being located in the "Adirondacks of Pennsylvania."

Jacob Ottenheimer died on October 25, 1895 at the age of 55.  Not long afterward his widow, the former Clara Fredman, leased 211 East 61st Street from Mary P. Vernon.  Moving in with her were her unmarried daughter Florence L., her married daughter Sophie and son-in-law Arthur Lederer, and their two small sons, Richard Melville and Herbert Bernard.

Clara and Arthur Lederer now joined forces to run the Forest Park Hotel.  During the off-season of 1897 they greatly expanded the operation.  The Jewish Messenger reported on June 3, 1898:

Many important improvements have been made during the winter and this spring, such as the building of a new cottage, new bachelor apartments, a bicycle depository, a two-mile bicycle track between Forest Lake and Lake Taminent, a large bathing float with ten additional bathing houses; and, with the continued increase of popularity, the Government has found it necessary to establish a summer post-office there under the name of Forest, which will provide improved and increased mail facilities.

An advertisement the following year enumerated the activities available at the Forest Park Hotel and Cottages.  "Fishing, bathing, rowing, sailing, bowling, billiard, pool, tennis, croquet, bicycling, music, cafe.  Cuisine and appointments unsurpassed."  The advertisement promised, "No malaria or mosquitoes."  

On March 11, 1900 The New York Times reported that Clara had announced Florence's engagement to William E. Jacobs, noting that mother and daughter "will be home to their friends on Sunday, March 25, from 3 to 6. P.M."  The couple was married in the East 61st Street house on June 4, after which they sailed to Europe "to make an extended trip through the Continent," according to The New York Times.

In 1941 the house still retained its 1875 appearance.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Mary P. Vernon sold 211 East 61st Street in 1902.  It was resold twice before attorney Arthur Conkling Coxe, Jr. purchased it in August 1916 for $13,500 (about $345,000 in 2023 terms).

Born in 1880, and a graduate of Yale University and the Cornell University Law School, Coxe had an impressive political and legal pedigree.  He was the son of United States Court of Appeals judge Alfred Conkling Cox, Sr.; the great-grandson of United States Representative and United States District Court judge, Alfred Conkling; and the grand-nephew of Roscoe Conkling, New York Congressman and Senator.

Coxe had married Helen Prince Emery in 1913.  They had three sons, Alfred Jr., John E. and Samuel H.  The family's summer home was in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

In 1929 Coxe was nominated by President Herbert Hoover to the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York.  He was the third of his family to serve in the role.  His great-grandfather, Alfred Conkling, had been appointed a Federal judge by President John Quincy Adams in 1825; and his father was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882.

Alfred Conkling Coxe, Jr. original source unknown, via Bcoxewiki

On January 12, 1951, The New York Times reported, "After twenty-one years on the Federal bench in the Southern District of New York, Judge Alfred Conking Coxe announced his retirement yesterday.  He notified President Truman by letter on Wednesday."  Coxe noted that he would continue "to accept special assignments."

Six years later, on December 21, 1957, Alfred C. Coxe died in the Old Lyme, Connecticut home at the age of 77.  It is unclear how long Helen remained in the East 61st Street house, but before 1967 it had received a significant make-over.

The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the former English basement level, a few steps below grade.  A delightful bowed oriel was installed at the second floor with a delicate balcony-like railing and a whimsical metal hood.  A coat of stucco was applied, the architrave surrounds of the upper story windows were removed, and the cornice simplified.  It remains a single family home.

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

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