Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Jennie Oberdoerfer House - 317 West 112th Street


Charles T. Mott designed a long row of Queen Anne-style, three-story and basement homes on the north side of 112th Street between Manhattan Avenue and Eighth Avenues (today's Frederick Douglass Boulevard) in 1886 for real estate developer Edward Roemer.  Among them was 317 West 112th Street, which Mott gave multiple architectural personalities.

A stepped, solid wing wall of chunky undressed stone led to the parlor floor, the round-arched openings of which sat within pointed Gothic eyebrows.  Gothic turned to Romanesque on the second floor, where a trio of round arches with rough-cut keystones united two tall windows and a brick panel and lunette.  That motif was carried on to the third floor, where the windows were square-headed, joined by a single, flat stone lintel.  The little house was a sort of stylebook of architectural periods.

Sarah A. Muir purchased 317 West 112th Street in January 1889 for $15,000, the equivalent of around $456,000 in 2023.  The Muir family lived here until 1899 when William W. Vaughn paid $13,412 for the property.  Unfortunately for him, he filed for bankruptcy only months later, in 1900.  

William E. Thorn, who held the mortgage to the house, foreclosed and rented it to Regina Jonas Oberdorfer that year.  Known as Jennie to her friends, she was the daughter of Cecelia and Julius Jonas and had married Adolph Oberdorfer (frustratingly, also spelled in documents as "Oberndorfer," "Oberndoerfer," and "Obendorfer") in 1894.  The couple had a baby girl, Alice, in 1895 and a second, named Edith, soon after.  The marriage fell apart around 1898.  Jennie first took her daughters and her widowed mother to East 74th Street, and now to West 112th Street.

Cecelia Jonas died in the house on October 5, 1902.  Jennie forged on, taking in boarders for income.  

Running a boardinghouse may have given her the initial business acumen to branch out, and by 1908 she had acquired a small vacation hotel at Rockaway Park.  As the summer season neared, she placed an advertisement in the New York Herald on April 26, 1908:

Exceptionally high class accommodations at Rockaway Park; new house, open June 1.  Arrangements for the season by apply[ing] J. J. Oberndorfer, 317 West 112th.

The stalwart young business woman continued to expand.  In 1913 the New York Hotel Record listed her as proprietor of the Coronado Hotel in Edgemere, Long Island.

The following season she advertised it saying:

"The Coronado."  High class family hotel; opens May 1; renowned for its superior location, right near the ocean; unapproached cuisine, sociability, select patronage; special rates for May and June.  Each Sunday until May 1 at hotel, or address Mrs. J. J. Oberndorfer, 317 West 112th St. New York City

Her success was such that in 1916 she required a secretary.  On January 6 she advertised for a "Young lady of ability, initiative, pleasant personality, refinement, as private or business secretary, where conscientious work will gain recognition."

On March 29, 1918, The American Jewish Chronicle reported, "Mrs. Jennie J. Oberdorfer, of 317 West 112th Street, has announced the engagement of her daughter Miss Alice Obendorfer, to Private William J. Rosenthal, Quartermaster Corps, U.S.A."  The article noted that Jennie would be hosting a reception in honor of the couple in the 112th Street house on April 7th.  

Ironically, that was the very day that the United States entered World War I.  Alice would not marry her military fianc√© until March 17, 1920.  (The newlyweds moved in with Rosenthal's parents nearby on West 113th Street.)

In the meantime, Jennie continued to take in boarders, apparently one at a time, at 317 West 112th Street.  In May 1919 a young Chinese man named Chuey lived here.  Describing himself as single and a "good mechanic, experienced drive," he was looking for a job as a chauffeur with a private family year.

Harry Spencer was 24-years-old and working for the Borden Milk Company as a milkman when he lived here in 1926.  That winter various bill collectors and deliverymen were the victims of a gang of armed robbers.

In the pre-dawn hours of February 24 Spencer was delivering milk to tenement buildings along West 142nd Street.  Apparently to save time, he cut across the rooftops from one building to the next.  The New York Sun reported he, "was crossing the roof in the course of his rounds just before daylight when somebody yelled, 'Hands up!'  A negro, later identified as Palm Johnson, 17 years old...appeared out of the darkness, brandishing a pistol."  The teen took $14.52 from Spencer, who suddenly swung at the robber.

Johnson fired his gun, the bullet entering Spencer's left thigh.  "Undaunted, Spencer continued to struggle.  He got the pistol and shot Johnson in the left knee."  The shots awakened tenants all around, who now shouted to the pair as they wrangled on the ice-covered roof.  As they struggled, several times partially hanging off the slippery roof, the gun changed hands.  Four more shots rang out before officers arrived.  The New York Sun reported, "Johnson had recovered the pistol and was taking careful aim when [Officer] Bevan knocked him down."  Both men were taken to a hospital.

The house as it appeared in 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Jennie Oberdoerfer died in 1933.  By 1936, 317 West 112th Street was home to Atticus H. Mitchell, an analytical chemist.  A graduate of the University of Georgia, he worked for Ferguson Laboratories.  

The 1889 row suffered abuse throughout the latter part of the 20th century.  Then in 2001 a renovation to 317 West 112th Street resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and one apartment each on the top two floors.  Although the masonry has been painted, the stained glass transoms removed, and expected replacement windows installed, the Oberdorfer house is greatly intact.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. You can see a postcard showing the Coronado Hotel on this page: