Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The A. Howard Hopping House - 256 West 93rd Street

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert did not officially begin practicing architecture in New York City until 1886.  But by the mid-1890s, C. P. H. Gilbert was designing some of New York's grandest mansions.  In 1893, he designed a row of seven upscale residences for the City Real Estate Co. on West 93rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

Designed in the Beaux Arts style, the homes rose five stories above shallow American basements.   Like its fraternal twins, the ground floor of 256 West 93rd Street was faced in limestone, while the upper floors were clad in beige Roman brick.  The three-story bowed bay wore a stone, tiara-like balustrade.  Limestone elements--the carved panel at the third floor and splayed lintels at the fourth, for instance--contrasted with the brick.

On September 14, 1894, The New York Times reported that A. H. Hopping had purchased the house for "about $23,000."  That amount would translate to approximately $807,000 in 2023.  Andrew Howard Hopping was a partner in the dress goods business of Hitchcock & Co.  

In his personal life, Hopping served as a vestryman in the church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy.  His deep American roots were reflected in his memberships in the Sons of the Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Society of the War of 1812, and the Huguenot Society.

Born on July 18, 1852, Hopping and his wife, the former Emma Louise Tilton, had three sons, Allen Tilton, Howard Hitchcock, and a newborn baby, Spencer Bininger.  A fourth child, Hallsted Lubec, would arrive in September 1902.

Andrew Howard Hopping (original source unknown).

Two years after moving into the West 93rd Street house, Hopping was contacted by his brother Henry D. Hopping about a disconcerting and embarrassing situation.  Henry and his family lived in an apartment building on West 134th Street.  His 13-year-old son Arthur was a student at Grammar School 50, and worked as a messenger.  On November 4, 1896, The Sun reported, "For three weeks past Fire Marshal Hollister had been at his wits' end because of the frequent fires in the district between Columbus and Fifth avenues and 125th and 137th street."  There had been 11 apartment house fires, all deliberately set.

Arthur H. Hopping was arrested and charged with the arsons.  The newspaper reported, "He set the fires, he said, just out of pure love of excitement, and because he wanted to see the engines and firemen in action."  Henry Hopping was "stunned at the revelations made by the boy," said the article.  A clerk, he did not have the financial means to provide the $5,000 bail to get his son out of jail.  The New-York Tribune reported that it "was furnished by his uncle, Andrew Howard Hopping, an importer...who lives at No. 256 West Ninety-third-st."

Journalists tagged the 13-year-old a "firebug."  The Sun, April 11, 1896 (copyright expired)

Arthur Hopping had problems of his own the following year.  Two of W. G. Hitchcock & Co.'s largest clients were the English manufacturers B. B. Priestly & Co. and S. Courtland & Co.  Hitchcock & Co. owed B. B. Priestly & Co. "a large amount," according to the Brooklyn Standard Union.  So large was that amount, in fact, that its principal left Britain for New York in October 1897 "for the purpose of looking into the accounts between his firm and Hitchcock & Co."  The visit ended badly.

On October 23, 1897, the Brooklyn Standard Union ran the headline, "BIG FAILURE / The Old Dress Goods House of Hitchcock & Co. Goes."  Calling W. G. Hitchcock & Co. "one of the oldest and best-known houses in the dress goods trade," the article said the firm's bankruptcy "was a great surprise in commercial circles."  The article, which noted that the firm had been in business since 1818, commented, "It is believed that Mr. Priestley's visit to New York may in some way be responsible for the failure of the firm."

Arthur and Emma sold 256 West 93rd Street to John Marshall and his wife Nellie in February 1899.  The Marshalls apparently never lived in the house, but rented it to affluent tenants.

By 1914, the family of Willis A. Follmer lived here.  Follmer was affiliated with the umbrella manufacturing firm Follmer-Clogg Company, co-founded by his father Charles Jennen Follmer.  Willis and his wife had at least three children, Florence V. J., Charles J., and  Natalie D.

In the decades before seat belts, collisions often resulted in passengers being ejected from automobiles.  On October 12, 1914, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Olive Waldman, wife of Henry Waldman, an insurance agent of 220 West Ninety-eighth street, was thrown from the tonneau of her husband's automobile yesterday afternoon at Broadway and Ninety-first street."  Waldman had been driving west when it "came into collision with the machine of Willis A. Follmer, of 256 West Ninety-third street," said the article."  Although Olive Waldman's injuries "appear to be serious," it appears her husband was at fault and Follmer was not detained.

By 1918, Willis's parents, Charles and Teresa, who had lived at 214 Riverside Drive, moved in with the family.  Also living here was Willis's widowed sister, Eleanor McCormack.  

On February 28 that year, Charles and Teresa were at Atlantic City, where Charles died "suddenly."  His body was brought back to New York and his funeral was held in the West 93rd Street house on March 1.  

Willis inherited the equivalent of $3 million today from the estate.  After having leased the house for years, on December 16, 1918, The New York Times reported that Willis A. Follmer "is the buyer of the dwelling, 256 West Ninety-third Street, sold recently by Mrs. Nellie D. Marshall."

On July 8, 1920, an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune offering 256 West 93rd Street for sale, adding "possession at once."  Just two days later, the newspaper reported that Willis Follmer had sold the house, adding, "The new owner will alter it into small apartments."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The residents of the remodeled apartments were financially comfortable and respectable.  The actions of one of the initial residents, however, tainted that description.  The Evening World reported that Charles E. Turney rented a "villa" in Newburgh, New York owned by Gladys E. and Ward Brewer for the summer of 1921.  On January 17, 1922, the newspaper related, "When he moved out last November he took valuable property.  Some of the stolen articles were found in a garage, more in Turney's New York home."  He was sentenced to "from a year and a half to three years" for the theft.

Much more respectable was Mrs. Anna Manion, who lived here in 1933.  That year she was one of more than 150 "mothers and widows of New York State men who died on the battlefields or at sea during the world war" who accepted the invitation of the U. S. Government "to visit the graves of loved ones or attend memorial services at points abroad during the coming summer," as reported by The New York Sun.  There would be five sailings, the trips to last for one month.

Swiss-born art student Walter Herdeg lived here by 1936.  He became acquainted with a German, Otto August Ritter, that year.  Ritter promised Herdeg a job earning $800 a week as soon as he received $2.5 million that was coming from his father in Germany.  He just needed $2,400 "to tide him over," as later reported by The New York Sun.

The newspaper noted that it was "a story which Mr. Herdeg had no reason to doubt."  He had no reason to doubt it, because he was unaware that the German Vice Consul had written to the New York City Police Department on August 10, "warning them that he was known as an international swindler and had been in jail in Germany."  Police were watching the 42-year-old, but so far had no reason to arrest him.

Herdeg gave Ritter the $2,400 in cash.  Early in January 1937, Ritter paid him $800, but the check bounced.  Police arrested Ritter "in an expensively furnished apartment overlooking the East River," according to The New York Sun on January 6.  He was held on a grand larceny charge.  Ritter's attorney "alleged that his client was being persecuted by the Nazi Government" and insisted "that while it was true Ritter had been in three German prisons, he had been arrested on political, not criminal, charges."

A renovation completed in 1988 resulted in a total of eight apartments.  Unfortunately, the contrast in brick and stone that C. P. H. Gilbert so purposefully designed has been lost under a coat of white paint.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. My great grandfather, Andrew Howard Hopping housed his growing family in this home on 256 W 93rd St. and my grandfather, Spencer Bininger Hopping was photographed as a small child standing in front of the house. Along with Mr. Hopping and his immediate family, his two sisters, mother, two aunts and two Irish servants lived in the sprawling home. Between his nephew's conviction for arson and the bankruptcy of Hitchcock & Co., he had to regroup. His company under a different name survived until approx 1916 when it finally closed. A. Howard Hopping died in 1926.