Saturday, August 8, 2020

Mouquin

 

THE MOUQUIN HOUSE

At the turn of the Century, Henri and Jeanne Louise Mouquin were suffering from a marital scandal that had erupted while they were living on a chicken farm in Nanuet, New York, in November of 1900. The farm supplied fresh eggs and poultry to the family restaurant business in New York City.

Henri's father (also named Henri) had immigrated to New York from Switzerland in 1854, and opened a successful French Restaurant in 1857. The restaurant had prospered, bolstered by the largest wine importing business in the country, and a second Mouquin restaurant, known as Mouquin's Uptown, was opened at the height of the Gilded Age in 1898. Henri and his brother Louis managed the second restaurant for their father in what had been the old Knickerbockers Club on Sixth Avenue and 28th Street.

The original downtown restaurant is credited with introducing onion soup and bouillabaisse to New Yorkers. More importantly, it taught the American public how to appreciate fine wine at reasonable prices. Located between Fulton and Ann Streets, the restaurant was a favorite haunt of writers, newspapermen, politicians and Wall Street tycoons. Charles A. Dana of The Sun, Horace Greeley of The Tribune and James Gordon Bennett of The Harold were among them.

Madame Jeanne Louise Mouquin, an attractive redhead, was reportedly having an affair with the manager of the chicken farm, a Monsieur Leon L. Chevanney, on nights when her husband sent word that he would be working late at the restaurant. One night he returned home unexpectedly, surprising his wife. Monsieur Chevanney escaped by jumping out a second story window. The scandal hit the newspapers. In retaliation, Madame Mouquin told the newspapers that her husband had had an affair with the maid while they were living in Hoboken, New Jersey. At the time of her unwanted pregnancy, the maid blamed the coachmen. Later, after the baby was stillborn, the maid confessed to her mistress that Monsieur Mouquin had fathered the child. Newspapers hinted that there would be a divorce.

No one knows how the marriage recovered. Jeanne Louise recalled that they used to admire the house from the train on the way to New York. When her husband learned it was for sale, he bought it. It needed a lot of work, and the couple set about renovating and restoring.

The Mouquins destroyed a large marble fireplace in the basement to install a coal furnace, the first central heating to the house. They installed electricity and the fiftieth phone in Piermont. Though the Ferdons had running water by 1873, the Mouquins modernized the indoor plumbing and bathrooms. One claw foot tub dates from February 1904. Each bedroom received a sink to replace the traditional pitcher and washbasin. There were three pull chain toilets and a basement toilet for servants.

The Mouquins took their French cooking seriously. The kitchen was moved upstairs to a first floor back room that had served as Mr. Ferdon's library. Another fireplace was replaced by a 48-inch, professional size, cast iron cook stove from The Cosmopolitan Range Company, dated June 4, 1889. It burned coal. The Mouquins bought it used from the Astor Hotel when the hotel switched to gas fired stoves. They installed a wine rack in the basement room cooled by a natural spring.

An imported mahogany staircase was installed from the first floor to the tower room. The dining room fireplace received a new mahogany mantle decorated with tiles depicting the Song of Alfred.

Henri continued to take the train into New York and manage his father's uptown restaurant. The French atmosphere and gaiety attracted realist painters from the Ashcan School including Robert Henri, Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn and George Bellows. A pastel by Everett Shinn, currently in the Newark Museum, depicts the outside of the restaurant on a cold wintry day in 1904.

In 1905, William Glackens painted Chez Mouquin inside the Parisian style caf�, posing Jeanne Louise Mouquin with another restaurant owner, Robert Moore of the Caf� Francis. The Chicago Art Institute currently owns the painting.

The couple's only son, Henri, was sent to The Kingsley School in New Jersey. He graduated from the University of McGill in Montreal and received his master's in chemistry from Columbia University. He earned a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University and a PhD in Physics from the Sorbonne in Paris. In Piermont he became known as Professor Mouquin. He taught chemistry and physics at New York University.

With the advent of Prohibition, the Mouquins were forced to close their French restaurant and wine importing business. Henri, the founder of the Mouquin Restaurant and Wine Business, was 83 years old and retired to his 1200-acre estate in Williamsburg, Virginia. His 53-year-old son, Henri made an effort to keep the uptown restaurant open by bribing politicians and flaunting the Prohibition law. The restaurant was forcibly closed down in 1925. For a time, his wife operated a patisserie tearoom named Henri's on 40th Street. Henri retired to his home in Rockland County. He was a founding member of the Rockland County Golf Club on Route 9W. He also amused himself with a steam yacht on the Hudson River, once making the voyage to the Tidewater, Virginia area to visit his elderly father.

After her husband passed away, Jeanne Louise remained in the house until her death in 1953. Over the years, the central heating system was converted from coal to an oil-fired furnace that provided steam to cast iron radiators. The outside clapboard was covered over with stucco. Even so, the wood trim around the windows and porches required one side of the house to be repainted each year. Madame Mouquin devoted herself to gardening. Her gardens were featured in The Journal News.

The second generation of Mouquin's, Henri and Georgette Mouquin and their son Charles moved in to the house in 1953. Another round of improvements were made to upgrade the electricity and the kitchen. Professor Henri retired from his position at New York University, devoting himself to alcohol and squandering the family fortune until his death in 1957. Charles and his mother, Georgette, worried how they would be able to keep the house. Georgette owned and operated the Geneva School of Business in New York City. Charles completed his education at Berkley, California, and began his career on Wall Street as a securities analyst. He and his mother were able to replace the roof in the early 1960's and shore up the foundation with new beams and steel supports. Al Turk & Son were engaged to replace the multi-leveled roof.

By the time Charles and his wife moved in in 1979, the house needed more work. Fortunately, Charles had prospered on Wall Street, and was able to afford the necessary repairs. Rotten wood was replaced. Plastering, painting and wallpapering were needed. The electricity was upgraded. The kitchen and bathrooms were modernized. A new gas heating system was installed. They also chose to replace the greenhouse on the Western side of the house, as it appeared in The Rockland County Centennial Atlas of 1876. Most recently, the roof was restored and the exterior was painted. Again, Al Turk & Son were called upon for the extensive roof restoration. The recently deceased father Al Turk had previously worked on the roof as the son of his father.

The maintenance and repair of an old house never ends. The care pays off in the long run, as the end result is something unique and unusual, and worth the preservation.

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