Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Jennie Cunningham Croly House - 171 East 71st Street


photograph by the author

In 1866 real estate developer James O'Kane erected a row of six identical homes on the north side of East 71st, between Third and Lexington Avenues.  Designed by prolific architect John Sexton, each was just 15-feet-wide and rose three stories over a high basement level.  Their Italianate design featured double-doored, arched entrances below impressive pediments supported by foliate brackets.  The architrave-framed segmentally-arched windows sat upon molded sills.  Identical, individual cornices crowned the homes.

No. 171 East 71st Street became home to the family of Robert Ward, whose hosiery business was far downtown on White Street.   The Wards remained at least through 1873, after which James T. Shylock and his wife resided here briefly.

Shylock was described by the New York Herald as "a wealthy married man."  His carousing with a friend in the spring of 1876 landed him in jail and brought humiliating publicity.  In an article titled "Bad Shylock," the New York Herald recounted that he had approached Officer Cumming in the notorious Tenderloin District, "and demanded to know if certain houses were ones of ill-fame."  The New York Times reported that Cumming told Shylock, "he had better leave."
The newspaper continued, "He accosted the officer, and abused him with vile language.  The officer again met him talking to a prostitute on Twenty-sixth street."  The woman fled, but Shylock remained, daring Cumming to arrest him.  His "loud and abusive language" drew a crowd of about 50 onlookers.  When Cumming attempted to take Shylock into custody, "he struck the officer a terrible blow in the face and attempted to seize his club," said the New York Herald.  The article reported, "It was with a great deal of difficulty and not until he had been severely punished, that he was finally secured in a cell in the station house."

In court, Shylock showed no remorse, expressing "his intention to hammer out the brains of the officer."  The judge fined him $10 and fifteen days in the Tombs.

In 1877, 171 East 71st Street became home to Dr. Benjamin Morje, starting a long tradition of physicians at the address.  Morje's son Anthony worked as an office clerk.  The family lived here until 1880 when real estate operators Samuel H. Leszynsky and Charles A. Troup purchased the property.

They leased it to Dr. G. Arnold until 1882, when they sold 177 East 71st Street to David Goodman Croly and his wife, Jennie Cunningham Croly.  As was common, the title was placed in Jennie's name.  The couple had a son and a daughter.

Croly was a well-known journalist.  He was city editor of the New York Herald in 1856 when the couple married.  He later became managing editor of the newspaper, and then editor of the Daily Graphic.

Jennie Cunningham Croly, however, was better-known than her husband.  A pioneering female journalist, she had started her career with the New York Sunday Dispatch.  She was working at the New York Herald when she met Croly.  Over the years she was connected with several newspapers and magazines, wrote books under the pseudonym Jennie June, and co-founded Sorosis club for women writers and the New York Woman's Press Club.

In 1887 Jennie Croly purchased a half-interest in Godey's Lady's Book and served as its editor.  Her abilities and interests went far beyond journalism.  American Women reported, "She was chosen president of the Women's Endowment Cattle Company...That company, incorporated under the laws of New Jersey, had a capital stock of $1,500,000 and controlled 2,000,000 acres of grazing land in New Mexico, with thousands of head of cattle."

An ardent feminist, Jennie testified before the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital in 1883.  Her exhaustive testimony exposed the "peculiar hardships of women in this country."  Among her suggestions was the making of public education mandatory for girls.  Several of Croly's books were aimed at women, such as For Better or Worse, Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women's Topics, and Thrown on her Own Resources.

Jennie Cunningham Croly, Progressive Era, copyright expired

American Women mentioned, "Her home has for years been a center of attraction for authors, artists, actors and cultured persons.

In April 1892 Dr. Oscar Peter Honegger and his wife Augusta Louise purchased 171 East 71st Street.  The couple paid $14,000 for the property, or about $430,000 in 2023 terms.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1855, Honegger received his medical degree in Heidelberg, Germany in 1879.  He also attended Pittsburgh University and the University of Zurich.  He and Augusta had one daughter.

A few months after moving into the 71st Street house, Honegger was called to a tragic case.  The parents of 23-year-old Isaac Henry called him to their home on the night of January 10, 1893.  The New York Sun reported, "Henry admitted to the Doctor that for the last five years he had been addicted to the use of opium."  His habit forced him to smoke "five and seven grains of opium a day."  This time the young man would not survive and died the following day.  "Dr. Honnegger [sic], in his death certificate, gave chronic opium poisoning as the cause of death," said the article.

In his free time, Oscar Honegger was an avid chess player.  He founded the Metropolitan Chess Club and served as its president until resigning on June 15, 1897.  The American Chess Magazine said, "much against the will of the members, he was allowed to step out of office."  Calling him "a player of no mean ability," the article added, "the most genial of men, Dr. Honegger was an ideal president, indeed.  He is a physician with a large practice."

The Honeggers had a large St. Bernard dog.  On the afternoon of May 6, 1900, it was hit by a Lexington Avenue cable car near 71st Street.  The World reported, "The dog got caught under the car and was fearfully mangled."  When it was finally extracted, the horrific condition of the animal became evident.  "One woman fainted and many screamed," said the article.

Back at 171 East 71st Street, the Honeggers' daughter had a playmate over.  Their carefree afternoon was about to turn horrific.  The World reported, "An excited young man recognized the dog as the property of Dr. Honegger...and dragged the still animate body into the doctor's house without giving the family any warning, causing two little girls, whose playfellow the dog had been, to go into hysterics."  The St. Bernard died within a few minutes of being brought to the house.

In December 1905 Dr. Honegger purchased a house on East 91st Street and sold 171 East 71st Street to brothers James Otis and William Stone Post.  They were the sons of eminent architect George Browne Post, and a year before purchasing the house had joined their father's practice, which became George B. Post and Sons.

The brothers shared the townhouse and, apparently, the Post summer estate, Claremont, in Bernardsville, New Jersey.  James and his wife were childless, while William and Lillian Marie had two daughters, Marian and Lillian.

In April 1914, the Posts sold 171 East 71st Street to Dr. Albert R. Lamb.  A 1907 graduate of Columbia University, Lamb married Helen Foster on January 4, 1910.  When they moved into their new home, their daughter Mary Nightingale was three years old.  Albert Jr. arrived later that year, on December 3, 1914, and daughter Priscilla was born on May 28, 1919.

Lamb was a pathologist at the Presbyterian Hospital.  When America entered World War I, he received a commission in the Medical Corps, and at the end of the conflict was a member of the American Commission in Paris to Negotiate Peace.

In July 1921 Dr. Lamb was appointed professor of clinical medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and attending physician at the Presbyterian Hospital.  

A year later Lamb sold 171 East 71st Street to another physician, Dr. Henry Alsop Riley, and his wife the former Margaret Hamilton.  Born in 1887, he graduated from Yale University in 1908 and received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1912.  A specialist in nervous and mental diseases, in 1930 he was a professor of neurology at his alma mater.

Dr. Riley retired as attending neurologist of the Neurological Institute of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in 1962, and ended his private medical practice in 1964.

No. 171 East 71st Street became home to Geoffrey T. Hellman, described by The New York Times journalist Alden Whitman as "The New Yorker writer, humorist, bon vivant and clubman."  Hellman married his second wife, the former Katherine Henry, in 1960.  The couple had a daughter, Katharine.

Born on February 13, 1907, Hellman had been with The New Yorker since 1929.  The humorist was the author of two books, Mrs. de Peyster's Parties and Other Lively Stories From The New Yorker, and How to Disappear for an Hour.  Whitman said of him, "Mr. Hellman moved easily among the wealthy New Yorkers of the Upper East Side, for he himself was the great-grandson of Joseph Seligman, the international banker."

Hellman died of cancer in the 71st Street house on September 26, 1977.  His daughter by his first marriage, sitar player Daisy Paradis, still lives in the house.

An interesting side note is that because the address appears prominently in the background of several scenes in the 1961 motion picture Breakfast at Tiffany's, fans routinely mistake 171 East 71st Street as the house of the film's character Holly Golightly.  The actual location was next door, at 169 East 71st Street. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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