Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Douglas Ludlow Elliman House - 177 East 71st Street


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Born in Flushing, Queens on May 24, 1882, Douglas Ludlow Elliman's early education was at the exclusive Berkeley and Cutler private schools.  But the Financial Panic of 1893 seriously affected his stockbroker father's finances, and he forewent college to take a job as a runner on Wall Street.  Elliman was just 18 years old when he married Theodora Polhemus Trowbridge on October 20, 1900.  His bride was the daughter of well-known architect Samuel Breck Parkman Trowbridge.

Three years later he accepted a job with his older brother Lawrence in the real estate firm of Pease & Elliman.  It was a pivotal move.

On April 14, 1909, The New York Times reported the Pease & Elliman had sold the two wooden houses at 177 and 179 East 71st Street for Mrs. Gertrude B. Miller and Richard M. Hoe, respectively.  "On the entire plot the buyer will erect two five-story American basement houses, each 20 feet front," said the article.

By the time of the transaction, Elliman had done well for himself.  He and Theodora purchased 177 East 71st Street, and worked with Donald Goodrich, the buyer of 179, in developing the site.  They commissioned architect S. Edson Gage to design mirror-image, neo-Federal homes.

Completed in 1910, the American basement residences were faced in red brick and trimmed in stone.  Their first floor windows matched in proportion the Federal style doorways.  Above, a full-width iron-railed balcony fronted three sets of French windows.  The splayed window lintels carried on the Federal motif, and finely dentiled cornices crowned the homes.

Douglas and Theodora had three sons when they moved into 177 East 71st Street.  Douglas Trowbridge was 9 years old, George Trowbridge was 5, and Ludlow was only a few months old.  Also living with the family was Douglas's 20-year-old sister, Rosalie Southgate Elliman.

Douglas Ludlow Elliman (original source unknown)

The Ellimans were affluent enough to not only afford a fine town residence, but a country home.  Shore Acres was in Noroton, Connecticut.  The family was there on May 9, 1911, when, back in the city, a man notified a police officer that he "had seen men going into the basement of the house at 177 East Seventy-first street, which belongs to Douglas C. [sic] Elliman, a real estate man," reported The Sun.  The policeman called for back-up from the East 67th Street station house, and soon the house was surrounded.  One officer shimmied in through a window, then opened the door from inside.

The Sun said, "A search was made of all the twenty-five or thirty rooms of the house, but no one was found, nor had anything been taken.  In the cellar they found that a window had been forced."  While Lieutenant Gloster and Detective McGee hashed out the mystery, policeman Jerry McMahon idly "toyed with the open door of the heater."  He felt cloth, and in feeling closer, realized he was touching a human arm.

Officer McMahon stuck his head into the dark interior of the furnace and demanded, "Come out of that, now!"  His command was answered by a youthful voice that cried, "We can't.  He won't let us."

When McMahon ordered again, more sternly, "Come on now!" he was answered with, "Aw, shut up and come in an' get us!"  The savvy policeman set fire to a newspaper and threatened to light the furnace.  The Sun reported, '"We'll come out!" shrilled the voices, and a head was poked out the door."

The policemen pulled 13-year-old William Callahan out of the furnace.  The next sooty burglar to appear was 14-year-old George Volk.  The leader of the youthful gang, 16-year-old John Ranfino, was more difficult to extract.  "His head came all right," said The Sun, "but his shoulders were broad, and as the door is about a foot in circumference they stuck.  With persuasion and much twisting the shoulders were worried out, but a long tangle of legs followed."

Ranfino was locked up in the 67th Street station, charged with attempted burglary.  The younger boys were turned over to the Gerry Society.  There they explained that Ranfino had pushed them into the cellar window, and then they pulled him in.  They had been on the first floor of the house when they heard police sirens, and hid out in the furnace.  "The police can't yet see how they did it," reported The Sun, "and why they failed to suffocate."

The year of the near-burglary, Douglas Elliman struck out on his own professionally.  He formed Douglas L. Elliman & Co. and began to focus on apartment living.  Years later The New York Times would call him "a leader in arranging the gradual migration of the city's wealthiest residents from the private mansions that lined Fifth and Madison Avenues to the luxury apartment houses that sprang up on Park Avenue and points east, such as Sutton Place.

On June 3, 1913, The New York Press noted, "Mr. and Mrs. Douglas L. Elliman and Miss Rosalie Elliman have closed their house, No. 177 East Seventy-fist street, and have gone to Shore Acres, their summer home in Noroton, Conn."  It would be Rosalie's last season at Shore Acres.

An article in The Sun on March 6, 1914 reported that Douglas and Theodore "have announced the engagement of their sister, Miss Rosalie Southgate Elliman, to Radcliffe Romeyn...Miss Elliman was introduced to society a year ago."

Just two months later, the Ellimans leased 177 East 71st Street to William Chapman Potter.  Born in Chicago, Potter had graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1897 with a degree in engineering.  He would have a broadly varied career.  Aerial Age Weekly explained, "He started life as a mining engineer, and after many years in that work both in Mexico and this country, he became identified with the production of automobiles, vice-president of the Guaranty Trust Company and president of the Intercontinental Rubber Company."

William Chapman Potter, The Guaranty News, July, 1918 (copyright expired)

Potter had married Caroline Morton in 1902.  Three years after moving into the East 71st Street house, the couple suffered indescribable heartache.  On May 11, 1917, The Evening Post reported that their infant daughter had died.

With America involved in World War I, on June 7, 1918 President Woodrow Wilson nominated William Chapman Potter to be a member of the Aircraft Board.  Organized in 1917 and reporting to the Secretaries of War and the Navy, the board made recommendations regarding the development and procurement of military aircraft.

The Potters left 177 East 71st Street that year, and Theodora Elliman rented the house to newlyweds Merideth and Elizabeth Manning Sage Hare.  The couple had been married in Bermuda on March 2, 1916.

A younger Merideth Hare, Quarter-Century Record, Class of 1894 Yale College, 1922 (copyright expired)

An attorney, Merideth was 47 years old when the couple moved in.  A graduate of Yale and Columbia Universities, he had served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War.  Elizabeth was a member of The Society of Independent Artists.  Her family traced its American roots to David Sage, who arrived in Connecticut from Wales in 1652.

The Hares' lease was not renewed.  On February 7, 1920 the Record & Guide reported that the Ellimans had sold 177 East 71st Street, noting, "It will be occupied by the buyer at the expiration of the present lease."

That buyer was another Yale graduate, Dr. John Rogers, and his wife, the former Elizabeth Selden White.  Rogers earned his medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and was, according to Herringshaw's American Blue Book of Biography in 1926, a specialist "on diseases of thyroid gland."  When the couple moved into 177 East 71st Street, he was a consulting surgeon at several New York City hospitals.

The former Elliman house is to the left.  photograph by the author

The Rogers remained here until 1945, selling it in April that year.  In 1989 a "recreation room" penthouse was added.  Never converted to apartments, the eight-bedroom Elliman house was sold in 2014 for $14.8 million. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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