Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The James Morris Leopold House - 347 West 84th Street


In 1888, Nathan Murray began construction of the first house on the West 84th Street block between Riverside Dive and West End Avenue.  Designed by Joseph M. Dunn, 347 West 84th Street was completed the following year, its three-story, brownstone clad facade reflecting the currently fashionable Queen Anne style, splashed with neo-Grec touches.

The high stone stoop led to an impressive portico with banded Corinthian columns and pilasters.  The two parlor windows were united by a single frame and separated by fluted Corinthian pilasters.  Their single, triangular pediment was filled with a carved sunburst--a common Queen Anne element.  The upper story windows sat within architrave frames, with those of the second floor wearing pediments that echoed those of the doorway and parlor window.  An ornate pressed metal cornice topped the design.

The 18-foot-wide house was purchased by real estate operator Frank N. Gill, perhaps best known for erecting the Gill Building at 9-13 Maiden Lane.  He leased the house for several years before selling it to James Morris Leopold and his wife, the former Florence Rosetta Kohn, on November 29, 1897.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1860, Leopold was the head of the banking and brokerage firm James M. Leopold & Company.  He and Florence had four children, James Jr., Florence Henriette, Leopold, and Jane Rose.

(original source unknown)

Leopold's brother, Alfred, was a partner in James Leopold & Co.  He went to police headquarters in 1901 to file a complaint against a new client.  On May 6 Theodore Barron's check for $11,190 was returned by his bank marked "N.G." (no good).  The 38-year-old was arrested on May 14.  The Leopold brothers were not eager to speak about the incident.  The New York Times reported, "At the home of James M. Leopold all information was refused, reporters being told to go to the house of Alfred M. Leopold."  There the journalist was told that Alfred "would not return during the night, as he would stay at a hotel for the night."

Leopold sold 347 West 84th Street to George W. Thedford around 1908, who quickly resold it to Otho Sprigg Cockey and his wife in March 1909.  Cockey, whose family had deep American roots, was the general agent of the Grand Trunk Railway System.  

A year before moving into the West 84th Street house, Cockey was called as a potential juror in the most sensational murder case of the day--the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who had fatally shot architect Stanford White.  But, according to The Evening World, “The fact that Otho S. Cockey...had been associated with Thaw’s father in business barred him.”

The Cockeys beloved pet, a French bull terrier, ran off in the spring of 1913.  They wasted no time in offering a reward for her return.  On April 26 a notice in The New York Times read: 

STRAYED from 347 West 84th St., at 8 o'clock this morning, small toy, dark brindle French bull bitch; answers to the name of 'Wiggles'; liberal reward.  O. S. Cockey. 347 West 84th St.

It is unclear if Wiggles ever came home.

The Cockeys were at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on May 9, 1915 when Otho died.  His body was brought back to 347 West 84th Street where his funeral was held three days later.

Cockey's widow remained in the house for several years, then leased it.  On September 2, 1920, the Musical Courier reported that Adelaide Gescheidt had "added more space for her teaching facilities by taking the house at 347 Wet Eighty-fourth street, New York, retaining her main studios at 817 Carnegie Hall."

Born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1877, Gescheidt had been an operatic soprano.  Her stage career ended when, as she recalled in her 1930 book Make Singing a Joy, she "met with a serious accident to my neck by falling from an awkward height across a steel bar."  Now, she turned to coaching opera and concert singers whose voices had been damaged by "injury, illness, or other defects."

Adelaide Gescheidt, Musical Courier, November 23, 1922 (copyright expired)

On June 26, 1920, three months before Gescheidt leased 347 West 84th Street, Nina Teresa Melville was married to Gould Thorp Miner in Massachusetts.   Now, after their honeymoon, they subleased rooms from Adelaide Gescheidt.

The young groom had served in the navy during World War I.  He was now associated with the Bankers Trust Company.  They, like their landlady, rubbed shoulders with polite society.

On May 27, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported that the Miners had welcomed their first child, Olive Emelie.  The article noticed, "Mr. and Mrs. Miner will pass the summer with Mrs. Edward Gleason Spaulding, at Princeton, N. J., and Woods Hole."

This would be the last season that Adelaide Gescheidt received students in the West 84th Street house.  Musical Courier, July 6, 1922 (copyright expired)

In July 1923, The Sun reported that Mrs. Cockey had leased the house for a period of ten years.  It was operated as a respectable rooming house, with residents like Herbert H. Wentworth, a sales engineer with the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co., coming and going for a decade.

At the end of the lease, on September 6, 1933, The New York Sun reported that an agent "leased for Mrs. M. Cockey of East Orange, N. J., her dwelling at 347 West Eighty-fourth street to a client who will alter and occupy the house."  Around 1940, the Cockey estate sold the property to Harry W. Thedford, who was, ironically, the brother of George W. Thedford, from whom the Cockeys had purchased it.

In 1964 the house was converted to apartments, one per floor.  Then, a substantial renovation completed in 2019 resulted in an apartment in the basement and a triplex residence above.  While O'Neill Rose Architects removed almost any trace of Joseph M. Dunn's 1888 interior details, its sweeping redesign earned it Architect Magazine's 2019 Residential Architect Design Award.

photographs by the author
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