Recently, while writing about a property in New Jersey I contacted a descendant of one of the previous owners. I wanted to use a photo that I had found online to go along with the story of the building. After looking at the Building Chronicles website she made a curious statement: “It seems through storytelling, history transforms almost anyone into a legend.” In the case of 296 West 92nd Street, it was the owners’ notoriety rather than history, which transformed the building into a legend.
Though a legend in her time, if you Google Anna Braga, you won’t readily find her mentioned. Anna was born in Berlin, Germany around 1871. Her family was not in favor of her entering into acting as a teen, but her talent was not to be squelched and when financial troubles hit, the family became dependent on her acting income. Starting in Dusseldorf, she travelled throughout Germany, quickly gaining a supportive and growing group of fans. Some might say the rest is history. Her talent took her to Cologne and then back to her hometown before finally bringing her to the American stage.
BECOMING A TRAGEDIENNE OF THE AMERICAN THEATRE
The year was 1893 when she made her first trip to America. Within a year she was married on a whim to a man by the name of Egon Reiner. The marriage lasted less than five years. After her divorce, Anna, who was now 28, became involved with 37 year old Nahan Franko. Franko had already been married twice, but apparently the third time was the charm. Anna left the stage to marry Franko but had already earned her fame on the European and America stage as a tragedienne best known for playing stern parts. One year prior to her marriage to Franko, she was given the role of Madame Sans-Gene in the play of the same name, performed at the Irving Place Theatre in New York City. According to Norman Hapgood, author of The Stage in America 1897-1900, this was the most difficult supporting role. Anna Braga was heralded as the “best known of the young leading women” on the stage in an article, “The Foreign Stage in New York,” written in the literary journal, The Bookman.
But Anna Braga was not the only one who transformed the 296 West 92nd Street into a legend. Her husband Nahan Franko was also a well-known celebrity of the day. Nahan, born in Louisiana 23 July 1861, was a child prodigy – traveling the country as early as eight years old as the violin soloist for famous opera singers such as Carlotta Patti. His dedication and talent were such that he eventually attained the position of concert master for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He held the position for 22 years until, in 1905, he was elevated to conductor for that same orchestra. At the time he was one of only two American conductors who had ever attained that position. Entrusted with the directorship of concerts in Central Park, his fame drew thousands of listeners.
Continuing to move forward and upward, he eventually became the conductor of his own orchestra, traveling the world and earning more money than any other in his position at that time. The crowning event in his life was at the Hippodrome in New York where he celebrated his 50th year as a professional musician in 1919. Volunteering to be a part of the celebration were greats including Arthur Bodanzky, Victor Herbert, Leopold Stokowski, Josef Stransky and Nahan’s brother, who also was accomplished in the music field, Sam Franko.
The Frankos remained at 296 West 92nd for the entirety of their lives together, giving the house a true sense of artistry and a rich history.
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