Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The 1842 Wm. Burrell House -- No. 76 Bank Street



In the 1830s and ‘40s Andrew Lockwood was a busy man.  The builder operated his business, Lockwood & Company, from No. 17 10th Street and erected rows of speculative houses in Greenwich Village.  Among his projects were four fine residences—Nos. 70 through 76 Bank Street—to be built on the four plots he purchased in 1835.

Lockwood teamed with Baldwin & Mills, a firm composed of carpenters Gabriel M. Baldwin and John Mills, and mason Amos Woodruff in constructing the Bank Street row.  The men today would be termed contractors. 

Construction began in 1839 and continued for three years.  The completed homes, two and a half stories above a brownstone English basement, were designed in the highly-popular Greek Revival style.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, they discarded the peaked and dormered roofs of the Federal style in favor of a short attic level with small windows cut into the fascia board below the cornice.  Lockwood ornamented these with carved and applied wreaths which gave the square openings the charming illusion of round oeil-de-boeuf, or ox-eye, windows.

The carved wreaths around the attic windows were an elegant detail.

The fashionable house at No. 76 was sold to pharmacist William Burrell.  It is unclear how long the Burrell family lived here.

In 1855, a carpenter named Henry Springsteen lived nearby at No. 83 Perry Street.  Like many young men, he volunteered as a firefighter in his spare time.  He worked out of Guardian Engine Company  at No. 29 Amos Street (later renamed West 10th Street), almost directly across the street from Andrew Lockwood’s shop.

Ten years later New York City’s disjointed collection of volunteer companies was done away with and the professional Metropolitan District Fire Department was organized.  Springsteen apparently chose firefighting over carpentry as a career and was listed in directories thereafter as “fireman.”

By 1878 the Springsteen family had moved into No. 76 Bank Street.  Henry was earning $100.92 a month as a firefighter—an annual salary of about $30,000 today.  Raises in the Fire Department did not come quickly, it would appear, for in 1883 he was still earning the same amount.  Henry was now assigned to Engine Company No. 19 at No. 355 West 25th Street.

Springsteen died in 1889 and his widow received $1,000 in death benefits from the City.

No. 76 Bank Street was sold at auction on March 3, 1910 and became home to Henry Glauder.  The family would not live here long; Glauder had died by 1915 and his heirs sold the house to Jacinto Costa.  The Cuban-born Costa was a principal in the J. Costa & Co. importing company which brought Cuban tobacco to New York.

It would seem that the new owner never lived in the Bank Street house; but either leased it or operated it as a boarding house for a time.  In 1917 artist Virginia Hale lived here.  That year she exhibited her work at the Society of Independent Artists.  Hale’s decision to live in Greenwich Village is not surprising.  It had become by now New York’s Bohemia—the center of artists, musicians and Manhattan’s intelligentsia.

Novelist and short story writer John William Cheever lived in the house in the late 1930s.  In 1938 he landed a job with the Federal Writers’ Project as an editor for the WPA Guide to New York City.  He would later go on to write fiction, much of it based in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that earned him the nickname “the Chekhov of the suburbs.”
Writer John William Cheever lived in the house until his marriage in 1941 -- photo Library of Congress

Cheever married in 1941 and left No. 76 Bank Street.  The following year the house was converted to apartments—a duplex in the basement and parlor floor, and two apartments on each floor above.  The spacious duplex was divided into two separate apartments in 1955.

Although someone had the not-so-advisable idea to paint the brownstone entrance; the house remains in nearly pristine condition almost 175 years after construction.  The original, simple iron railings survive as do the entrance doors and the wonderful wreathed attic windows.  The three houses built simultaneously still stand; but only this one looks much as it did when William Burrell moved in in 1842.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Unexpected Holdout at No. 41 East 41st Street

photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com


The block of East 41st Street between Madison and Park Avenues is walled by soaring brick and stone commercial buildings.  At No. 41, on the north side of the street, a weary relic breaks the rule—looking part haunted house and part squalid store space.

The building had dignified beginnings.  As the grand mansions of New York’s wealthiest citizens crept up Fifth Avenue in the years following the Civil War, the fashionable tone of the neighborhood spilled onto the side streets.  No. 41 was on the cutting edge of residential style; clad in brownstone it rose three stories over a high English basement.  A wide brownstone stoop would have led from the sidewalk to the parlor level and a handsome mansard roof capped the design.

In 1876 Edward Livermore constructed the high-end Devonshire Hotel on 42st Street that stretched through the block next door to No. 41.  Livermore had purchased the house with his building plot and leased it to moneyed tenants.  Two years later Livermore and his wife, Ann, sold the hotel and house as a package to Wright E. Post, who continued to lease out the home.  According to the New York State Reporter, the annual rent on the house in 1884 was $1,500; or about $3,000 per month today.

Adolphus F. Warburton, his wife and five children lived in the house at the time.  When his father died in 1840, the 12-year old Irish immigrant boy had been forced to leave school and find work in a printing office.  He worked on a newspaper and became interested in a new process of court reporting, “Moot’s stenography.”  While he still toyed with the process, he moved to New York City in 1851 and landed a job setting type for The New York Times. 

In 1854 he started his own law reporting company and nine years later was appointed the official stenographer of the Superior Court, Part I.  The young Irish boy who had to drop out of school became well-known, well-respected and wealthy.  Not forgetting his meager background, he was highly involved with the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, the Protestant Episcopal Church Missionary Society for Seamen, and the Society for Improving Workingmen’s Homes.

While the Warburtons went about their day-to-day life in the house, paying rent to Post, a vicious court battle went on for years.  Edward and Ann Livermore contended that the house was accidentally included in the sale and that Post had no claim to the title.  Post fought back presenting the vaguely-worded terms of sale.  It would be twenty years before the case was settled in favor of Post in 1907.

In the meantime, during the first days of January 1888 Warburton was busy at work in the Superior Court.  But he caught cold and stayed home in bed a few days.  The cold worsened to pneumonia and he died in the house on January 10.

The residence became home to retired merchant William H. Morrell who owned “considerable real estate in the city,” according to The New York Times in 1896.  In February that year the Supreme Court Commission held a hearing to consider the proposal by the Rapid Transit Board to build an “underground railroad” William Morrell was there to voice his strong opinion.

Morrell told the committee that he had studied rapid transit for over 25 five years.  “I have studied underground railroads in London, and while it is practicable there I think it is utterly unsuited for this city,” he said.

The New York Times reported “The underground road, he declared, would never pay, and he asked the commission to report against the scheme.”  Morrell, in the end, did not get his way.

By the turn of the century the neighborhood was greatly changing.  Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Augustus Sherman, who owned the house by 1906, however, stayed on.  In fact, that year when they returned home for the winter season, The Times noted that the house “has been greatly altered during the Summer.”

Herbert Sherman was a well-heeled real estate broker, auctioneer and appraiser.  He was a great-grandson of Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence.  It was Sherman who negotiated the massive real estate deal for Andrew Carnegie’s property at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street. 

In August 1913 it was obvious that the once-gracious residential block was doomed to commerce.  Herbert Sherman hired J. Odell Whitenack to convert his house “into a business structure, the three upper floors to be remodeled into non-housekeeping apartments,” said The Times on August 6.  Sherman retained the parlor floor for his real estate business.  In reporting on the planned conversion, the newspaper noted “The district is becoming quite a real estate centre…The entire block has gone into business.”

With the transformation complete the stoop was gone, a retail store was installed at sidewalk level and show windows spread across the former parlor level.  Cresta Blanca Wine Company leased the new store from Sherman on March 14, 1914.  The Times again noted “The building was formerly the residence of Mr. Sherman, and has been altered for business.”
Sherman heavily altered the basement and parlor floors while leaving the upper stories essentially intact. photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com

Actually, the family continued to live in one of the apartments in the house.  Four years later on February 24, 1918 Sherman and his wife said good-bye to their daughter Rosamond as she set out for Yokohama, Japan.  Rosamond was to be married to Edward F. Verplanck who was associated with the Standard Oil Company there.  Oddly enough, the Shermans remained in New York and Rosamond was accompanied by her cousin, Mary Evarts Benjamin.

On January 14, 1919 the prominent real estate man died in the house on East 41st Street at the age of 56.  The Sherman estate would hold the property for several years to come.

Throughout the next two decades the upper floors would continue to be residential.  In 1922 Charles Henry was living here when he passed his bar exams and in 1934 Herbert J. Slingo rented an apartment while his wife, Helen, sued for divorce for desertion.  Helen was the daughter of Daniel T. Pierce, executive assistant to the head of the Sinclair Consolidated Oil Corporation,Harry F. Sinclair.  Slingo was a decorated World War I veteran.

By mid-century, however, the former house was completely commercial.  In 1946 the Real Estate Board of New York had its offices here, and in 1950 the Republican State Committee’s headquarters were in the building.  That same year former Billboard staffer, Ben Smith, opened his own advertising agency at No. 41 under the name of Ben Smith Advertising, Inc.

Then in 1955 residential tenants were back in the building.  The structure was converted to a restaurant and bar at sidewalk level, and offices and a showroom on the second floor.  Upstairs were a huge duplex apartment on the third and fourth floors and a single apartment on the top floor.

photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com
When the building was sold in 2008 for $4.5 million there were three apartments on the upper floors—one per floor.  Today the unexpected holdout is a much-abused version of Herbert Sherman’s 1913 renovation.  With little imagination, however, one can envision the house as it was when the block was lined with handsome brownstone homes of New York’s moneyed citizens.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lost Geo. B. Torrey House--No. 27 East 35th Street

In 1946 the house-studio sits between the Church of the Incarnation (left) and a surviving carriage house.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York   http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWNFLZSJ&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915

Encroaching commerce forced Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens to leave the exclusive Bond Street and St. James Park neighborhoods in the years before the Civil War.  The Murray Hill neighborhood saw the construction of commodious mansions in the 1850s, followed closely behind by the grand homes of Fifth Avenue.  By the last decades of the century the block of East 35th Street block between Park and Madison Avenues was lined with the private carriage houses of the nearby homeowners.

Snuggling up to the rear of the Church of the Incarnation at No. 27 East 35th Street was the two-story carriage house of Julia Elizabeth Brown.  The wealthy widow died on May 11, 1898 leaving an estate of $704,000—a jaw-dropping $19 million today.  On November 19 that year the private stable was sold to Prescott Hall Butler whose family had recently moved from No. 34 East 37th Street to No. 22 Park Avenue at the corner of 35th Street.

The esteemed lawyer was a partner with Joseph Coate in the “white shoe” law firm of Evarts, Choate & Beaman.  A graduate of Harvard College, he had married Cornelia Stewart Smith and the couple had two sons and a daughter.  The family summered in their country home in Bytharbour, St. James, Long Island.  A member of at least a dozen exclusive clubs, including three yacht clubs, Butler was a devoted patron of the American Museum of Natural History.

It was perhaps the theft of Mrs. Butler’s expensive jewelry a few years earlier that prompted Butler to have potential household staff apply to the stable building rather than the mansion itself.  On May 26, 1900 an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune for a butler “first-class; English; three years in last place.”  The following year Cornelia Butler was looking for a new maid.  “Lady’s Maid.  English; competent in all her duties; good hairdresser, dressmaker and packer, best city references.”  Both advertisements directed applicants to apply at the carriage house.

Six months after Cornelia’s ad for a maid was published Prescott Hall Butler died on December 16 in the Park Avenue house “from a complication of diseases.”  He was just 53 years old.

The carriage house was sold on May 31, 1902 to the City Real Property Investing Co.  Already horse-drawn vehicles were being nudged out by automobiles and the firm leased the building to the Murray Hill Auto Station.  A year later The Horseless Age reported that “The Victor Auto Storage Company has bought out the Murray Hill Auto Station…and will conduct it under the same name.”

An owner offered a substantial discount on his custom-made electric coach in 1904 -- The Sun, January 31, 1904 (copyright expired)
While the Victor Auto Storage Company was garaging automobiles in the former carriage house, portrait artist George Burroughs Torrey was in Greece where King George I of Greece sat for his portrait.  When Torrey returned to New York on October 9, 1903, he brought along sketches of the Queen for a portrait “which he will begin in his studio here and go abroad later to complete from personal sittings,” reported The Evening World.

Torrey, a cousin of William Howard Taft, soon turned his attention to finding a more suitable studio.  On March 20, 1904 The New York Times reported that the artist had purchased No. 27 East 35th Street, saying he “will convert the building into a studio.”

If merely converting the stable building into a studio was Torrey’s original intention, his plans soon expanded.  No. 27 was transformed into a four-story neo-Georgian red brick mansion of handsome proportions and dignified reserve.  Inside were the “Pompeian Hall,” a Louis XV room, a picture gallery, a commodious dining room for entertaining, and, of course, Torrey’s studio.

As the building was being renovated the artist and his wife, the former Almira Howes, went back to Greece.  On their return trip on the Kaiser Torrey told reporters that “American art is being appreciated abroad more and more.”  The King, who was obviously pleased with the paintings, decorated Torrey with the Order of the Savior.  Once home, Torrey traveled to Washington D.C. where President Theodore Roosevelt sat for five two-hour sittings in the Blue Room of the White House.  The completed portrait was exhibited at the Republican and Hardware clubs in 1905. 

While other New York City artists were busy painting socialites and millionaires; Torrey became famous for his portraits of heads of states and high-profile politicians.  Following his pictures of the King and Queen of Greece and President Roosevelt came the life-sized portrait of Secretary of the Navy Paul Morton, completed in 1906.  As he started his portrait of President-Elect William H. Taft in December 1908 The New York Times remarked “He has painted portraits of Sir Purdon Clarkes, Gen. Horace Porter, and many other prominent men.”

Taft’s first sitting in the 35th Street studio was on December 14, 1908 and the newspaper noted “”Mr. Torrey will require some more sittings, which will be given by Mr. Taft on subsequent visits to this city.”

Mrs. Taft deemed the portrait of her husband "excellent."  collection of the Library o Congress

A week later the house was the scene of a large dinner followed by “a vaudeville entertainment and supper.”  On December 20 80 guests, including opera stars Madame Farrar, Signor Scotti and Enrico Caruso, sat down to dinner in the picture gallery and adjoining dining room.  The Times noted that Mrs. Torrey received in the Louis XV room which “was brightened with palms and cut flowers.”  In the dining room, “Over each table, from tall antique vases, drooped clusters of American Beauty roses which covered the guests in the manner of an umbrella or parasol.”

A total of 200 guests were present for the vaudeville entertainment in Torrey’s studio.  A stage had been constructed for the 15 acts including minstrels, clog dancing, and recitations.  According to the newspaper the studio was decorated “with Christmas holly, poinsettia, azaleas, and green, and arranged after the order of a French cafĂ© chantant.”

Afterward supper was served as The Hungarian Orchestra played from a balcony over the stage.  The Torreys’ diplomatic guest list included European titles (like Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke and Lady Clarke), Manhattan millionaires (such as Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher), a Supreme Court justice and his wife, at least one General, and actress Billie Burke.

On February 27, 1909 the portrait of President Taft was nearly completed.  It now needed only the approval of the President, Republican State Committee Chairman Woodruff (who had commissioned the painting), and most of all, Mrs. Taft.  The trio arrived at the 35th Street house that morning.  The New-York Tribune reported “Mr. Taft and Mr. Woodruff pronounced the painting satisfactory, and then awaited the judgment of Mrs. Taft.  She looked at it several minutes from various angles before making any remark.  Then she said she regarded it as excellent, and that she was much pleased with it.”

No doubt breathing a heavy sign of relief, Torrey told reporters that following the inauguration he would travel to Washington “to put on the finishing touches.”

On April 23, 1913 Almira was granted a divorce from George Burroughs Torrey.  In reporting it, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin said he “is one of the best known portrait painters in the United States.  Mrs. Torrey has resumed her maiden name and is receiving $5000 a year alimony.”  By now his portraits were hanging in Buckingham Palace and the South Kensington Museum in London.

The following year an “apartment” in the house was rented to William A. Gramer, a City Hall reporter for the New York World.  Following his death in 1920, the apartment became home to Mrs. Rose Moore Strong, also known as Baroness Posse.  She held a series of salons in the house in 1926 for the Society of American Arts and Letters.  The New York Times reported on March 20 “Although planned primarily as social functions the salons are intended also as national meeting places for American artists in all fields of endeavor.”  The society’s goal was to discover and develop unknown American artists “who would  otherwise find it difficult to obtain the aid and encouragement needed to achieve success.”  Rose Moore Strong was still active in 1930 when she hosted poetry readings in the apartment.

Later that year J. P. Morgan purchased the Torrey house.  He made a practice of actively buying up homes in his Murray Hill neighborhood in an effort to keep it residential.  Only months before he had purchased the Clarence L. Hay residence at No. 32 East 37th Street.  Interestingly, George Burroughs Torrey and his second wife, Hawaiian artist Lillie Hart Gay, stayed on in the house, apparently as renters.  On March 23, 1932 it was the scene of the wedding of his niece Kathryn Elston Moore to John Rathbone Ruggles.  The Times reported that “the ceremony will take place in the picture gallery of the residence and a small reception and buffet supper will follow in the studio.”


By 1938 the Torreys had moved on and J. P. Morgan’s firm rented the house to Mary Gibbons.  The handsome structure would survive another 17 years before being demolished with other buildings on the block east of the church.  In 1955 construction began on architect H. I. Feldman’s sprawling mid-century apartment building, completed a year later.

The Torrey house abutted the eastern edge of the church.  photo by the author

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The 1969 "Bubble House" -- No. 251 East 71st Street





In the 1860s the block of East 71st Street between Third and Second Avenues saw the rise of speculative brownstone-fronted homes.  Three bays wide and sporting elaborately-carved entrances; the homes were intended for respectable middle to upper-middle class families.  At the time the neighborhood was slightly marginal—sitting only a few blocks from the gritty district near the East River that one newspaper deemed “a colony of laborers.”  The homes, while comfortable and attractive, were little different than hundreds of brownstone dwellings being thrown up throughout the expanding city.  It would be a full century before No. 251 East 71st Street could be termed “remarkable.”

But before that day would come, the residence was home to a string of equally unremarkable owners who spent their lives modestly and quietly.  The Rev. William G. French was the first owner.  In 1865 he was a member of the New York Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society and worked as a missionary on Blackwell’s Island.  His would have been an unglamorous position.

Blackwell’s Island was the site of the Small Pox Hospital and the Workhouse and the Charity Hospital.  French would have worked with the most indigent, criminal and diseased elements of New York society—few of whom one may imagine, were eager to receive his religious outreach.  By 1880 he would obtain the position of Chaplain of the Workhouse.

No. 251 was a match to its neighbor to the right.

But by now the house on East 71st Street had become home to the Chapman family.  The unmarried Ellen L. Chapman taught in the Girls’ Department of Grammar School No. 7 far downtown at No. 60 Chrystie Street for years.   The house continued to change hands somewhat rapidly.  In the 1890s it was home to James B. Smith, an art enthusiast; and at the turn of the century William E. Schastey and his family lived here.

Schastey lived in the house with his wife and child.  He was in the building business “in which he was prominently known,” according to The New York Times.  But it was his military record for which Schastey was best known and respected.  For years he was a member of the elite Seventh Regiment, popularly known as the “Silk Stocking Regiment” because it attracted the sons of New York’s millionaires in the mid-1800s.  He was first lieutenant when the Spanish-American War erupted; and was captain of Company G of the 201st New York Volunteer Infantry when the regiment was mustered out of service in 1899.

On Wednesday September 29, 1909 William E. Schastey was in Norfolk, Virginia when he was stricken with “acute indigestion.”  The 39-year old contractor died within hours.  His body was brought back to New York and the funeral was held in the house on 71st Street the following Saturday morning.
The dwelling was purchased soon after by Wilhelmina Miller.  The widow of Erhardt Miller, she owned other property in Manhattan and received her husband’s pension--$8.00 per month—earned through his service in the artillery company of the 65th Regiment.

By the 1920s and ‘30s it appears the old Victorian house was being operated as a rather upscale rooming house.  Josephine Lucille Zrust lived here in 1922 while she did graduate work at Columbia University’s department of sociology.  The Department of Buildings apparently caught up with the owners in 1937 when the building received a “multiple dwelling violation.”

In 1961 the house was formally converted to apartments—one per floor.  But it would be a short-lived renovation.  In 1969 the old brownstone was razed to be replaced by an ultra-modern townhouse that epitomized the 60s.  Designed by architect Maurice Medcalfe of the architectural firm Hills & Medcalfe at No. 36 East 57th Street, it captured the Space Age in mortar and glass.  Completed the same year that the astronauts walked on the moon, its minimal design relied on a stark flat surface broken by regimented rows of bulging oval glass windows.  It was Barbarella Meets the Upper East Side. 

The vicious contrast between what was quickly termed the “Bubble House” and the staid architecture of the rest of the block resulted in immediate and unbridled opinion.  The New York Times diplomatically called the swelling portholes “An interesting variation of the bay window.”  The AIA Guide to New York City accused the house of being an excellent argument for the extension of historic districts.

For many years the Donna Schneier Fine Arts gallery was located in the lowest floor of the building.  Nearly half a century after its construction, the structure’s period design continues to shock the casual passerby.  And the address which for a century was unremarkable is quite remarkable today.

photographs taken by the author

Friday, April 25, 2014

The 1911 Ransom Hooker Mansion -- No. 173-175 E. 71st Street





In the first years following the end of the Civil War the Upper East Side saw rapid development.  What had been open farmland and country estates was quickly crisscrossed with streets and avenues.  In 1869 James Fee built the two speculative houses at Nos. 173 and 175 East 71st Street, acting as his own architect.  At just 14.8 feet wide, they were unusually narrow.  No. 175 was later described in The New York Times as a “three-story French roof brown stone dwelling.”

By the turn of the century the neighborhood had noticeably changed.  As millionaires raised elaborate mansions along Central Park, the neighboring blocks took on the upscale tone.  Wealthy citizens purchased the Victorian rowhouses and either razed or remodeled them.  In place of the outdated residences modern high-end homes appeared.

On August 7, 1907 the engagement of Dr. Ransom Spafard Hooker to the daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families was leaked.  The New York Times reported “The engagement of Miss Mildred E. P. Stokes, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes, to Dr. Ransom S. Hooker of this city has become public, although it has not been formally announced.”

Hooker lived and ran his practice at No. 26 East 48th Street.  The Times noted that Mildred “made her debut several years ago, and, like several other members of her family, she is much interested in work in the slums and the tenement-house districts, and recently fitted up several cottages as vacation homes for poor boys.” 


Mildred and Ransom Hooker -- Stokes Records, Volume 3
Owing, no doubt, to the Stokes family’s social prominence, the newspaper essentially overlooked Hooker’s pedigree.  It was, however, notable.  Ransom Hooker was descended from a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Lyman Hall; and among his ancestors were the owners of Britain’s Spafarth Castle during the Saxon period.

Following the wedding the couple continued their varied interests.  Dr. Hooker, while serving as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, was especially interested in anthropology and exploration.  He joined an archaeological expedition to Arabia sponsored by Princeton University and only illness in the family prevented him from joining Admiral Robert E. Peary to the North Pole in 1909.  Mildred remained active in social reform.

In 1910 Hooker purchased the two narrow houses on east 71st Street with the intention of demolishing them and constructing an imposing mansion.  As plans were underway, the Hookers leased No. 173 for the winter season to W. Schuyler Smith.

Architect S. E. Gage was commissioned to design the new structure.  Completed in 1911, it was a somewhat somber neo-Gothic fantasy of pointed openings and clustered multi-paned windows held together with long, carved drip moldings.  Gage took advantage of the now-generous 29-foot plot by setting the bulk of the mansion at the property line, then placing a narrow section back—producing not only visual dimension, but added light to the interiors.

The house as it appeared just after completion.  The large garage opening was later reduced.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWT6G71G&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915&PN=2#/SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWT6G71G&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915&PN=1

An unheard of innovation was the inclusion of space for the Hooker automobile at ground level.  The inconvenience of housing one's car offsite--as had always been the case with carriages--was eliminated.

Life in the new home would be upset by the United States’ entrance into World War I in 1917.  Dr. Hooker sailed overseas with the troops, serving as a major in the Army Medical Corps.  He commanded the 308th Sanitary Train of the 83rd Division and later organized a 3,000-bed Army Hospital in Le Mans, France.

It appears that in his absence Mildred moved back in with her family.  In September 1917 the 71st Street mansion was leased to George L. Whitney for the season.  The following May Mrs. Grant B. Schley, Jr. took it for the summer; and in October 1918 Irving Cox leased the fully-furnished home.  But things returned to normal as the war ended and Hooker, decorated by the French Government, arrived home.

The Hookers would have two children, each named after a parent: Ransom S. Hooker, Jr. and Mildred Phelps Stokes Hooker.  The privileged young lady would go on to be schooled at the private Brearley School and later Foxcroft School in Virginia; while her brother would eventually enroll at Yale University.

The Stokes family was an interesting one and Mildred’s “work in the slums” was not nearly so newsworthy as the activities of some of her siblings.  Her brother James Graham Phelps Stokes drew attention because of his radical political leanings.  He and another sister, Helen Olivia Phelps Stokes, lived next door to one another in Greenwich Village.  Graham’s wife Rosa consistently shocked society with activities like distributing birth control pamphlets.  She was convicted of “seditious utterances” and was arrested in November 1918 at their No. 88 Grove Street house for “illegal registration” to vote.”  Another brother, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, garnered less controversial notice as an architect and historian.

Graham Stokes’s marriage to Rosa came to a well-publicized end in 1925 when he discovered her “misconduct” with a hotel owner.  The trial lasted 30 minutes.  One year later he married again, this time in the grand rooms of his sister Mildred’s home.

On Friday March 12, 1926 The Times reported “J. G. Phelps Stokes, millionaire Socialist, who divorced Mrs. Rosa Pastor Stokes, storm centre of many Socialist and Communist troubles, is to be married tomorrow to Miss Lettice Lee Sands at the home of his sister, Mrs. Ransom Spafard Hooker, 173 East Seventy-first street.”

By now Hooker, in addition to his surgical practice, was teaching at the Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as associate professor of surgery.  Still active in reform issues, Mildred was highly involved with the Association to Promote Proper Housing for Girls.  The family summered at their home in Charleston, South Carolina and at the Hooker camp on Birch Island on Upper St. Regis Lake.

In 1927 Maude Robinson, who was director of the pottery department of Greenwich House, was given part of the basement to operate a pottery studio.  On May 18 that year The New York Times reported on an exhibition which “disclosed the fact that many women of social prominence do expert work in pottery.”  Among Maude’s students were wealthy socialites like Mrs. George Nichols (a daughter of J. P. Morgan), Princess Dorothy Caracciolo, Mrs. Thomas Cunningham, and Mrs. George Naumburg.  Maude Robinson would continue her pottery studio here for 15 years.

Entertainments in the Hooker mansion reached a climax in 1929 when daughter Mildred was introduced to society.  Joy would turn to mourning only months later when tragedy devastated the Hooker household.  On February 16, 1930 a special to The New York Times reported “Ransom S. Hooker, Jr., 19 years old…a sophomore at Yale University, was instantly killed and three of his companions were seriously injured just before dusk tonight when an automobile in which they were driving at a high rate of speed through Simsbury skidded of the icy road, overturned and crashed into a large elm tree.”

The four boys were returning from a weekend visit to Northfield, Massachusetts where they had attended a student conference.  Ransom Hooker was driving and when the car fishtailed, he “tried to control it, but because of the icy condition of the road it was unmanageable.”  The boy’s neck was broken and he was killed instantly.

Entertainments eventually returned to the house, mostly as luncheons and meetings to benefit the reform organizations.  During the annual meeting of the Association to Promote Proper Housing for Girls in the house on January 16, 1934, Mildred (who was now president of the group) proudly announced that the association had interviewed more than 4,000 young women during the prior year and helped many to find jobs.  She pointed out the organization’s multiracial outreach, saying that of the 450 girls it had housed, 200 of them were black.

Although they retained ownership of the house, the Hookers left in 1938 and converted the mansion into apartments.  The renovation, completed in June 1939, resulted in four lavish apartments.  

Two years later the Hookers sold the 71st Street house.  Among the tenants at the time was Elaine Heineberg Luria who married author James Ramsey Ullman on January 26, 1946.  Actor Dennis Hoey, best known as the character Inspector Lestrade in six of the Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone, lived here; and in 1953 it was home to Mrs. Francis Boardman and her son, also named Francis.  The Hooker name briefly returned to No. 173 East 71st Street when, somewhat ironically, Francis Boardman became engaged to Anne Dwight Hooker in 1953.

On December 14, 1960, after three decades here, the 81-year old Maude Robinson died in her studio-apartment.  The respected artist had been technical consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York in addition to her decades of teaching. 

Five years earlier journalist Meyer Berger had written “The world’s most wealthy potters—men and women of distinguished New York families—labor in monastic quiet in a sub-basement in the former Ransom Hooker Mansion at 175 East Seventy-first Street…Miss Robinson permits no short cuts in her courses.  Each pupil, no matter how distinguished his or her ancestry, must learn every phase of pottery making—choosing and mixing the proper clays; working them by hand or throwing them on a wheel; firing them in the oven; making glaze from basic ingredients.”

In 1996 the house was renovated again—this time the conversion resulted in just two apartments.  A triplex engulfed the basement through second floor, and the top two floors made up a duplex.  In 2001 the owners of the two apartments would begin a series of back-and-forth lawsuits that would drag on for years.


Dr. Burton Sultan and his family owned the triplex.  Then actor Sir Sean Connery purchased the upper duplex and began renovations.  The upheaval prompted the eye doctor to sue Connery in 2001 saying the renovations and roof repairs had “damaged his home and injured family members,” according to People magazine.  The family complained of foul odors, water damage, cracked plaster and accused the actor of trying to drive them out of their home.

Connery and his wife, Micheline, counter-sued, saying that the Sultans were hindering necessary repairs.  By 2007 the Connerys had filed six lawsuits and the Sultans at least that many.  New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman finally put her foot down, barring any further litigation without court permission.

“Regrettably, both parties to this dispute have engaged in a slash-and-burn litigation strategy,” she wrote, “that has at times been duplicative and exceedingly burdensome to their adversaries and the courts.”

Despite the tempest inside, the Hooker mansion retains is sedate exterior appearance—an architecturally remarkable structure on an architecturally-charming block.


non-credited photographs taken by the author