Friday, July 28, 2023

The 1895 Henry Hesse House - 164 East 71st Street

The Hesse house (right) is a mirror-image of 166 East 71st Street

In March 1884 The Manufacturer and Builder reported that developer Moritz Bauer "intends to erect a first-class four-story and basement brown stone private dwelling" at 164 East 71st Street.  Bauer had already hired Hugo Kafka to design the upscale residence.

But something upset Bauer's plans.  A decade later two wooden dwellings still occupied the narrow plots at 164 and 166 East 71st Street.  That would change in 1894 when Thomas and Jennie Graham purchased the properties.  The couple were active in real estate within the neighborhood and made a successful team.  Jennie filled the position of developer and owner, while Thomas designed the structures.

They replaced the frame houses with two mirror-image, brick and stone rowhouses.  A handsome blend of Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles, their basement and parlor levels were faced in rough-cut stone.  Stone voussoirs took the place of decorative lintels at the parlor level.  A shared stone cornice with delicate dentils that capped the first floor terminated in foliate bosses.

Graham gave the second and third floor windows a common lintel--possibly to fool the eye and disguise the homes' narrow 12-foot-widths.  Complex pressed metal double cornices with elaborate friezes, dentils and foliate brackets completed the design.

In July 1895 Jennie Graham sold 164 East 71st Street to Henry Hesse, Jr.  A physician, he was 33 years old at the time, and his wife, the former Clara Lauterjung, was 22.  The population of the house was increased on September 21, 1896, when son Henry Rudolph was born, and again in 1898 with the birth of Margot Pauline.

Although he never served in a war--he was born the year the Civil War broke out--Henry was nonetheless highly patriotic and joined the volunteer 23rd Regiment as a teen.  When the Hesses moved from Brooklyn to the East 71st Street house he held the rank of second lieutenant and was Assistant Surgeon of Company B of that regiment.

Henry Rudolf was a bit slower to offer his services.  It is unclear how he managed to avoid his obligations during World War I, but it was not until 1919 (following the declaration of peace) that he registered for military service at the age of 23.

The Hesse family lived quietly in their narrow house, their names appearing in society pages only when the children married.  The East 71st Street house was the setting for Margot Pauline's wedding to Dr. Alfred G. Langmann on June 4, 1925.  In reporting on the ceremony, The New York Times mentioned, "The bride was graduated from Vassar in 1921."

Henry Rudolph would take his time in finding a wife.  When he married Hilda Poel on April 18, 1927, he was 31 years old.  Now empty-nesters, his parents sold their home of more than three decades to Dr. S. H. Shindell in August 1928.  The New York Evening Post remarked, "The purchaser will occupy the house as a residence and office."

Dr. Shindell's practice was quite different from that of his predecessor--he was a veterinarian.  He was called to assist in a birth at 62 Washington Square South in 1935 when H. E. Van Herwarth's cat went into labor.  Normally, cats give birth unattended, but Sakura Jane was a "world-famous prize seal-point Siamese," according to The New York Post on October 22.  Shindell was stunned when the kittens kept coming--finally numbering ten in all.  He told reporters it was "the largest litter of kittens of which he has ever heard."

Nature had not intended for Sakura Jane to give birth to ten offspring.  The New York Post explained, "With so many babies to feed, Sakura Jane has not enough milk to go around."  Shindell told Van Herwarth he would had to find a wet nurse cat--a daunting challenge.  The surrogate mother did not have to be a Siamese, but "she must have given birth within the last forty-eight hours."  (It is unclear if Van Herwarth ever found a feline wet nurse.)

By 1940 the Thomas Bandes family lived at 164 East 71st Street.  He and his wife Mary had two sons, Gerald and Selwyn, who were 18 and 11 years old respectively at the time.  Living with them was a 28-year-old servant, Mercelina Gordeurn.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, 164 East 71st Street was home to the resourceful Carole Eppley.  She ran a "kitchen-bakeshop," as described by The New York Times on March 19, 1978, from the house.  The article said in part, "There may be nothing new about the Easter rabbits in general, but there is news in their delectably sweet and sprightly reincarnations as original and charming cookies."  The rabbit cookies were just part of Carole Eppley's Easter confections.  The article said she was "baking fluffy, coconut-furred lamb cakes ($10 each), egg-shaped petits fours decorated in pastels ($2 each), a dozen different barnyard animals $9 a dozen) and bird's nest cookies, which are really brown sugar cookies filled with green grass frosting and a rainbow assortment of jelly beans."

A charming built-in bench on a staircase hall landing survives, as do the intricately inlaid flooring.  image via

The former Hesse house was remodeled in 2013.  While much of the 1896 detailing was removed, some--like the main staircase and some mantels--survive.  The exterior is well preserved.

photographs by the author
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