Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Charles Edward Strang House - 207 West 21st Street


In 1845, the family of Charles Stirling lived in the recently completed house at 163 West 21st Street (renumbered 207 in 1865), just west of Seventh Avenue.  The high-stoop, 25-foot wide residence was three stories tall above an English basement.  Most likely designed by the builder, its design was transitional--straddling the Greek Revival and newer Italianate styles.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor floor windows were likely fronted by a cast iron balcony, and photographs show what appears to be a carved portrait keystone over the arched entrance.  The simple bracketed cornice drew heavily from the earlier Greek Revival style.  Inside were 21 rooms, according to a later advertisement.

Stirling listed his occupation as "liquors" nearby at 185 Eighth Avenue.  The term could have meant either that he ran a retail store, or a saloon.  In either case, he was affluent enough to afford the high-end residence.   The family took in a border, as was common.  In 1845 Asa Smith, a teacher, lived with the family; and in 1848 Angeline Slater boarded here.  She, too, was an educator, teaching in the Girls' Department of Ward School No. 18.

In 1851 the family of Charles Edward Strang moved in.  A partner in the barrel-making factory of Strang & Bogert, he boasted a long American pedigree.  His ancestors Daniel L. Estrange and wife Charlotte LeMestre, had escaped Huguenot persecution in France, arriving in New York in the 1670s.  Charles's wife was the former Maria Storm, of Katonah, New York.  The couple had four children, Mary E., Sarah Frank, Susan, and Charles Jr.

Like most wives of affluent businessman, Maria involved herself in worthy causes.  In 1853 she was a "lady manager" of the New-York School of Design for Women on Broadway on Broome Street.  The New New York Times noted its purpose was "to give instruction to women, either gratuitously, or at very low rates, which will qualify them to earn a living by the practice of some of the branches taught in it, or to become teachers in other schools."   Through her position with the school, she would have come in contact with some of the most influential men and women in New York.  Among those sitting on the Advisory Committee were Moses Taylor, Alexander Hamilton, Jr., George L. Schuyler, and Robert Bowne Minturn.

Mary Elizabeth Strang married into another old New York family on February 20, 1856.  Aron B. Kipp's first American ancestor was Hendrick Hendricksen Kip, who lived in New Amsterdam before 1636.  The family's farm on the East River eventually lent its name to Kips Bay.  The bride was 19 years old and Aron was 22.   The couple initially moved into the West 21st Street house with the Strangs.

A daughter, Mary Ann, was born to the Kipps on September 1 that year.  On September 28, 1858, another baby girl, Catherine Louisa came along.  Tragically, Mary Ann died at the age of three on September 20, 1859, and her sister died the following year at the age of two on  October 10, 1860.

While he retained his partnership in Strang & Bogert, in 1864 Charles moved his family upstate to Maria's hometown of Katonah, New York.  The family leased 207 West 21st Street to Benjamin Odell, a wholesale grocer, and then to Samuel Friedberger, a shirt merchant, before selling the property to Thomas T. and Anna M. Bryce in 1869.

Thomas T. Bryce was a partner with his brother James in the cotton factoring firm William Brice & Co. at 29 Chamber Street, founded by their father.  The Bryce family remained here until June 22, 1878 when they moved to Garden City, Long Island, and sold 207 West 21st Street to John and Mary Tiernan for $12,250--or about $343,000 by 2023 terms.

John Tiernan ran a restaurant, or "eatinghouse," on Sixth Avenue.  His sizeable income afforded him a membership in the exclusive Down Town Association, a businessmen's social club.  In November 1885 Mary had twin boys, James Bernard and John Thomas.

The family suffered horrible tragedy in the summer of 1888.  Both twins contracted diphtheria.  James died on June 27 and his brother died the following day.  The boys were two years and eight months old.

In addition to the Sixth Avenue restaurant, in 1894 John Tiernan was proprietor of the Windsor Hotel in Rockaway Park on Long Island.  His advertisement on May 27, 1894 touted it as "strictly a family resort."

The Tiernan's daughter Mary was a teenager at the time, and in 1898 ventured into the world of business.  On March 7 that year the Board of Education met, and among the agenda points of the Special Committee of Five was:

Your Committee urges the immediate appointment of a stenographer and typewriter.  For this position, it recommends to you Miss Mary P. Tiernan, 207 West Twenty-first street, Borough of Manhattan, recommending that her salary be fixed at and after the rate of $60 per month.

The term "typewriter" at the time referred not only to the machine, but its operator.  And Mary's salary would equal about $2,000 per month in today's money--a very acceptable amount for a women in 1898.

The Tiernans left 207 West 21st Street just prior to the turn of the century.  In 1900 it was being operated as a boarding house.  

Among the tenants that year was Morris Cowan, who became involved in the three-day race riot that started on August 14.  The night before, plain clothes police officer Robert J. Thorpe had accosted Arthur J. Harris, a black man, and his girlfriend May Enoch in the notorious Tenderloin District.  Thorpe mistakenly believed Enoch was a prostitute and Harris her customer.  Not realizing Thorpe was a policeman, Harris cut him with a knife and the couple fled.  Thorpe died the next day.

The Tenderloin District was peopled with blacks and Irish, and their already tense coexistence boiled over into horrific violence.  On August 20, 1900, The New York Press reported, "Three colored men were prisoners yesterday in the West Side Court.  One, who acted as if demented, was accused of stabbing a peddler in the back with a fork and of knocking down a little child in the street.  He said he was Morris Cowan of No. 207 West Twenty-first street."  Cowan admitted to having stabbed the man, but claimed it was done in self defense.

Like Cowan, the other tenants were working class.  Among them were a freight elevator operator, a cook and a draughtsman.

In 1941 the stoop and entrance were intact.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Renting a room here in 1921 was Juan Ramirez, who had enough money to afford an automobile (possibly a taxi).  He stopped for dinner at a restaurant on West 27th Street on December 26 and happened to glance out the window to see three men attempting to steal his car.  Luckily for Ramirez, his outdated car did not have a self-starter, so the would-be thieves had to crank it, giving him time to dash out to the sidewalk and catch 20-year-old Thomas Daly.  The other two ran, with patrolman John Heinold on their heels.  After Heinold fired one shot into the air, Anthony La Salle stopped.  When the officer returned with his suspect, Ramirez still had Daly firmly in his hold.

In 1953, 207 West 21st Street was converted to apartments, two per floor.  The stoop was removed, the entrance lowered to the basement level, and a slathering of stucco applied over the brownstone.

The beleaguered house is easily ignored today.  But with a little imagination, the astute passerby can envision the Strang house as it appeared when well-dressed Victorian men and women alit from their carriages at the curb.

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

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