Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Paul P. Rao House - 210 East 61st Street


On May 7, 1871, the New York Herald ran a succinct, two-line article that read, "Augustus S. Bogert was yesterday morning found in death throes at No. 210 East Sixty-first street, and soon after died.  Coroner Keenan will hold an inquest."  The Bogert house was one of three recently erected homes at 206 through 210 East 61st Street.

The identical, 17-foot-wide homes rose four stories above high English basements.  Faced in brownstone, their designs stood out among the scores of other Italianate high-stooped residences being erected throughout the city.  The rusticated parlor floors were dignified by arched entrances, which were flanked by engaged Doric columns that upheld a dentiled pediment.  Each pair of arched parlor windows was separated by a paneled pilaster.  The residences were crowned with complex cornices that included paneled friezes, paired and individual brackets, and dentils.

No. 210 was rented to a succession of occupants until 1891, when Gustav Gomprecht, head of the Gomprecht Manufacturing Company, purchased it.  He and his wife, Rosa, had at least one son, Harry, who was studying at the Free Academy of the City of New York in 1895.  The family remained in the house until April 1906, when Gomprecht sold it to Ellen and Patrick J. McCue.  

Patrick was a partner with his brother in McCue Brothers, a men's hat firm.  While he and his wife now lived in a fine home uptown, he did not relinquish his Irish roots, and remained highly involved in the charitable work of St. Brigid's Church on the Lower East Side.

Boarding with the family from 1916 to 1920 was another Irish-born New Yorker, Thomas F. Maguire.  He had been a clerk for the County of New York since January 1, 1898.  When he left 210 East 61st Street in 1920, he was earning $2,400 per year (about $32,500 in 2023).

Around 1923 Paul Peter Rao and his wife, the former Catherine Marola, purchased the property.  The couple had two daughters, Nina and Grayce, and a son, Paul Jr.

Born in Prizzi, Sicily on June 15, 1899, Rao was brought to the United States by his parents when he was five.  He left school in 1917 to enlist in the navy and saw active service in the Mediterranean.  He graduated from Fordham Law School in 1923.

The respected attorney suffered embarrassment on Sunday morning, June 11, 1930.  He was most likely taking his family on a summer outing, and was driving along the Boston Post Road (today's Route 1) in Larchmont, New York when he became a victim of apparent distracted driving.  The Larchmont Times reported, "the cars stopped for a traffic signal and the Rao car, at the rear, crashed into the machine ahead and drove it into the first car in line."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Rao's career quickly rose.  From 1925 to 1927 he was Assistant District Attorney of New York County, and in 1941 was appointed an assistant United States attorney by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In 1948 President Harry S. Truman appointed him a judge of the United States Customs Court.  It was a lifetime position.

The population of 210 East 61st Street increased by one after Nina's marriage to John Denham Cameron on January 9, 1950.  The New Castle Tribune reported, "Following a wedding trip to Nassau and Florida, the couple will reside at 210 East 61st Street."

Judge Paul P. Rao in 1967.  (original source unknown).

Paul Rao was named Chief Judge of the Customs Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.  (The name of the court was changed in 1980 to the United States Court of International Trade.)  Rao could have retired at the age of 70 in 1968, however he chose to remain on the bench.  The following year he gave up his position as Chief Judge, but remained on as associate judge, "carrying a full calendar and going to his office at Foley Square each day from his home on 61st Street," said The New York Times.

Paul Peter Rao died of a heart attack on November 30, 1988 at the age of 89, having lived at 210 East 61st Street for over 50 years.  The house remained in the family, occupied by Paul Rao Jr., also a lawyer, for decades.  It was sold in January 2022 for $7.58 million.  Nearly a century of its being in the same family resulted in its remarkable preservation.

photographs by the author
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