Thursday, July 18, 2024

The 1860 Henry Morehouse Taber House - 42 West 12th Street


Frederick P. James was the head of the banking and brokerage firm of F. P. James & Co.  In 1854, he erected three upscale homes on the south side of West 12th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  Abutting them to the east were six rowhouses built by Alphonse Loubat a decade earlier.  Somewhat surprisingly, in 1860 James demolished the 16-year-old Loubat houses and replaced them with elegant, brownstone-faced residences. 

Each of the identical, 21-foot-wide homes was four stories tall above a rusticated English basement.  Their fully-arched entrances were crowned by striking arched pediments supported on foliate brackets.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows were likely fronted by cast iron balconies.  Molded architrave window frames added to the homes' elegance.

James sold 42 West 12th Street to cotton broker Henry Morehouse Taber.  Born in Saugatuck, Connecticut on February 8, 1825, he married Mary Elizabeth Philips on October 3, 1855.  The couple had a son, William, who was four years old when they moved in.  Mary was pregnant at the time, but, sadly, their son Kenneth would die in infancy that year.  A daughter, Mary, would be born in 1861, and a son, Sydney Richmond, arrived the following year.

Henry Morehouse Taber, from Henry Morehouse Taber A Memoir, 1918 (copyright expired)

Few New Yorkers could claim an American pedigree as impressive as Taber's.  He descended from three Mayflower passengers: Philip Taber, Francis Cooke, and Kenelm Winslow.  Taber's great-grandfather, Levi Taylor, had served in the French and Indian Wars and had fought with the Connecticut regiment during the Revolution.

Taber and his brother, Charles Corey, headed the cotton brokerage firm of C. C. and H. M. Taber.  Shortly after Henry moved his family into the West 12th Street house, war broke out in the South.  It proved to be a boon to the brothers' business.  Sydney Richmond Taber wrote decades later,

During the Civil War the transactions of the firm reached a considerable magnitude, and shortly after the close of that period they established branch houses or agencies at New Orleans, Memphis, Mobile, Providence, Boston and Fall River.

In 1876, Taber went into partnership with his son, William Phillips Taber, forming the cotton brokerage firm of Henry M. Taber & Co.  In the meantime, Henry and Charles continued working together.  They amassed large amounts of Manhattan real estate; and owned and operated steamers like the propeller-driven Vicksburg and the side-wheeler City of Providence.  Additionally, they operated the Utica Cotton Company and its mills, of which Henry was president.

Mary Elizabeth Taber died in 1888.  In addition to his many business responsibilities, Henry threw himself into civic matters.  He had been appointed a trustee of the Common Schools of the 15th Ward in 1875, and in 1892 became an outspoken critic of police corruption.  As foreman of the grand jury hearing evidence of department misconduct, he was quoted by The Evening World on April 5, 1892, saying,

There is at least $7,000,000 collected annually from the keepers of gambling dens, saloons, concert halls and houses of ill-repute and distributed among the members of the Police Department.  I say at least $7,000,000, for calculation shows that the amount is probably nearer $10,000,000.  I direct this accusation against the entire force, from the Superintendent down to the patrolmen.

The article said, "Mr. Taber's sweeping allegations created not a little talk at Police Headquarters and throughout the departments generally this morning."

Taber's high-profile accusations and the grand jury's findings sparked a State investigation, the Lexow Committee.  The sweeping scrutiny put high-level police officials on trial in 1894 and ended the careers of many.

On October 30, 1897, William Phillips Taber died at the age of 40.  The New-York Tribune noted, "He had been in poor health for some time, but his death was directly due to pneumonia."  Two months later, on Christmas Eve, Henry Morehouse Taber died at the age of 72.

Taber's will divided his $1 million estate (in the neighborhood of $38 million in 2024) between Mary and Sydney.  A clause in the will raised the ire of a journalist of the New York Evening Journal.  Taber directed that there be no religious services at his funeral, claiming that "Christianity, so-called, is not the religion of Christ," but that current Christian teachings "encourage ignorance, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, acrimoniousness, intolerance, wrong and mental slavery."

The fact that Taber had been president and treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the First Presbyterian Church prompted the writer to say, "his religion was a sham."  The New York Times chimed in as well, calling him a hypocrite.  The articles sparked a number of letters to the editors of the newspapers in defense of Taber.  One, for example, asserted that a person "may disapprove of this or that theology, and yet highly approve of the good the Church is doing."

Mary Taber inherited the West 12th Street house.  She almost immediately moved to 20 Washington Square and leased her childhood home.  By 1902, it was being operated as a high-end boarding house run.  It was the scene of excitement on the afternoon of March 30, 1904.  The Sun reported, "A husky looking man called yesterday afternoon at the boarding house kept by Mrs. Jane Allen at 42 West Twelfth street and asked for Miss Farrell."  One of the hallboys (servants, usually teenaged boys, kept on staff to run errands) directed the man to the third floor.  The Sun said, "The man didn't go to Miss Farrell's room but dropped into one next to it.  He was ransacking a bureau when a servant came in with some bedclothes."

The thief, Jacob Bososky, knocked the woman over and ran downstairs.  The article said, "Two negro hallboys heard the rumpus and tried to block the intruder when he came downstairs.  He bowled them over and ran through Twelfth street, pursued by the boys."  Two detectives joined in the chase.  After Bososky fled into a Sixth Avenue house, the officers caught him on the third floor.  "He was locked up," concluded The Sun.

Among the boarders in 1908 was William S. Hall, known as Billy in the men's apparel community.  He was described by Men's Wear magazine that year as "a pioneer furnishing goods salesman."  Artists Clara M. Burd and S. H. Eltzner boarded here in 1910.  Burd was both a successful illustrator of children's books and a designer of stained glass window designs.  In the latter capacity, she worked with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company and J. & W. Lamb Studios.  Both she and Eltzner were represented in the exhibition of the Architectural League of New York in 1910.

Clara M. Burd created this charming illustration for a children's book while living here in 1911.  image from the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

A month after the RMS Titanic sank, a fundraiser for the victims was held in the parlor here.  The New York Times reported on May 5, 1912, "The sum of $100 was raised for the Titanic survivors by means of a concert given last Tuesday evening at the home of Miss Florence de B. Allen, at 42 West Twelfth Street."  Nine musical artists volunteered their services.

On July 5, 1919, the Record & Guide reported that Mary Taber had hired architects Cross & Butler to convert her childhood home to bachelor apartments (meaning they had no kitchens).  Costing her the equivalent of $176,000 today, the plans listed items like "new dumbwaiter, vent shaft, skylights, plumbing door & remove stoop."  The Department of Buildings noted, "Not more than 15 rooms to be used for sleeping purposes."

Mary Taber's renovations resulted in the loss of the stoop and elaborate entranceway.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Interestingly, Florence de B. Allen remained here after the renovations.  The 1929 New York Blue Book of New York Society listed her living here, as well as consulting engineer Joseph Ezekiel Pogue and his wife, the former Grace Needham; artist Alan Gregg Holbrook and his wife; the Helen Cook, and Mrs. Martha Youngs.

The house was sold for $15.1 million in 2009.  The Real Deal said later, "the buyer's identity was masked by an LLC...But press reports have pegged [actor Tom] Cruise as the buyer."  A remarkable renovation brought 42 West 12th Street back to a single family home.  The stoop was refabricated and an incredibly accurate entrance recreated.  

The facade served as the apartment of Joan Holloway, a character in the television series Madmen.  And it seems that was as close to celebrity the address would achieve.  When the Taber house was placed on the market in 2013 for $28 million, the real estate agent insisted, "The owner of 42 West 12th Street is not Tom Cruise nor any entity related to him." 

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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The 1860 William and Caroline Birdsall House - 129 East 35th Street


Thomas Crane and Alexander McDonald--a granite merchant and stone cutter respectively--got into real estate development by erecting a row of five high-end homes on the south side of East 35th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues.  Completed in 1860, they reflected the increasing affluence of the Murray Hill neighborhood.

Among the row was 81 East 35th Street (renumbered 129 in 1867).  Nearly identical to its neighbors, it featured brawny stone stoop newels and railings with urn-shaped balusters.  The double-doored, arched entrance was crowned with an impressive arched pediment supported by sumptuously carved brackets.  Four stories tall above the English basement, the home's design was completed by an elaborate cornice featured foliate brackets and frieze panels of flowers and leaves.

The house was purchased by William Birdsall, Jr. and his wife Caroline W. Birdsall during construction.  The 37-year-old Birdsall was a partner in Cromwell & Birdsall, flour merchants.  His father, William, Sr., had died just months earlier, on July 30, 1859, leaving William and his siblings a significant inheritance.

When William and Caroline moved into 81 East 35th Street, the family of James Cumings was living across the street at 72 East 35th Street.  They were apparently renting that house, because in 1865, when the Birdsalls moved to Brooklyn, James and Laura Melissa Shaw Cumings purchased the Birdsalls' home.

Cumings was the owner of the Columbian Foundry and president of the Morris & Cumings Dredging Company.  The New York Herald called him, "well known to all old New Yorkers and his active life is contemporaneous with the rapid development of the city."  Born in 1803, he entered the iron business as an apprentice to Robert McQueen in the Columbian Foundry.  In 1832, McQueen turned the business over to Cumings and his partner Peter Morris.

James and Laura had five children, James Maurice, Joseph, Mary Ida, Laura and Ira T.  When his parents purchased the house, James Maurice Cumings enrolled in the New York City College.  He and his brothers Ira and Joseph would enter their father's business.

The population of 129 East 35th Street increased following Mary Ida Cuming's marriage to Rev. Zina Doty in 1875.  The groom was born in Middletown, Ohio in 1843.  He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1867 and was admitted to the bar in Dayton, Ohio.  After relocating to New York City to practice law, he changed course, entering the General Theological Seminary and graduating in 1873.  He was made rector of St. Ambrose's Church.  The couple had a son, James Cumings Doty, in 1876.

Laura M. Cumings died on October 6, 1879.  Her funeral was held in the parlor on October 9.  Two months later, almost to the day, James Cumings died at the age of 77 on December 7.  His funeral took place here on December 10.

Two years later, on November 11, 1881, the Cumings siblings sold 129 East 35th Street to Stephen B. French for $21,250 (about $653,000 in 2024 terms).  French resold it the following month to Jeremiah Andrews.  By 1885, Andrews was renting the house to 20-year-old Rignal Duckett Woodward.

The wealthy bachelor, who was attending the Columbia School of Political Science in 1885, came from a colonial Maryland family.  His father, Rignal T. Woodward, was described by The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography as, "one of the largest planters and most influential men in the locality where he resided.  Abington Farms was an ancestral home and had been in the Woodward family for a number of generations."

It was most likely during Rignal Woodward's occupancy that the stone stoop railings were replaced with handsome, updated cast iron versions, intricate openwork iron newels and matching, tall areaway fencing.  

The original stoop railings and newels can be seen next door in this 1941 photo.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Rignal married Carolyn Atwater Goddard on June 19, 1890 in her parents spacious apartment in the Osborne.  Despite being a home wedding, there were eight bridesmaids (coming from as far away as California and Toronto), and seven ushers.  The Sun said the bridesmaids, "all wore old fashioned mull gowns and carried bunches of wood flowers."

Carolyn was the daughter of Colonel Calvin Goddard, a Civil War veteran and treasurer of the Wells Fargo Company.  Following his death on April 3, 1892, her mother, Caroline Atwater Goddard, moved in with the couple.  Rignal's maternal aunt, also lived in the house.  In an article about the Woman's Protective League on January 7, 1894, The World mentioned, "Miss Raborg is another hard worker."  Getting the family relationship slightly wrong, the article said she "resides with her sister, Mrs. Rignal Woodward, at No. 129 East Thirty-fifth Street."  It continued, "Miss Raborg has given her life over to charity, but is nevertheless very shy and retiring."

The family's country home was in Wallingford, Connecticut.  While Rignal held a law degree and was a partner in Woodward & Mayer, he was deeply involved in politics.  But when he became the target of a politically-driven scandal in 1895, he simply walked away.  On April 10, The Sun reported on his resignation "as a member of the Executive Committee of the Grace Democracy and as Chairman of the organization in the Twenty-first Assembly district."  The article said, "Mr. Woodward is tired of active politics, and John F. Lynch...has had much to do with his tired feeling."  Lynch, who had been vice-chairman of the committee had charged Rignal with embezzlement.  An investigation cleared him, finding that "the charges were the result of a personal difference between the two men," said The Sun.  Nevertheless, Rignal walked away from politics.

In March 1895, Jeremiah Andrews sold 129 East 35th Street to attorney Thomas Thacher.  (Despite having lived here for a decade, the Woodwards apparently did not want to buy.)  Thacher was an 1871 graduate of Yale and a partner in the law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Barnum.

A terrifying incident took place here on March 1, 1897.  At 7:30 that night, the doorbell rang.  A maid, Agnes Kelly, answered the door to find a revolver pointed at her head.  Frank Linden grabbed Thacher's overcoat--valued at more than $1,520 in today's money--from the hall tree and fled.  Two hours later, the career thief held up Margaret Norris in Central Park.

Agnes Kelly gave a description of Linden and later made an identification of the man who had threatened her and stole the coat.  Unfortunately for Walter Taylor, he was a dead-ringer for Frank Linden and was locked up on Agnes's identification.

But the maid was called back to police headquarters on March 18 following the arrest of Frank Linden.  Seeing the two men side by side, she was now "unable to say which of the two men had robbed the house," reported The New York World.  Under intense questioning, however, Linden confessed and Taylor was freed.

The Thachers remained here until February 1900 when Edward Rufus Adee and his wife, the former Geraldine Fitzgerald, purchased the house for $40,000.  The couple had a three-year-old daughter, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and on June 19, 1902 a son, William Townsend, was born.

Edward Rufus Adee (original source unknown)

Born in Westchester County in 1863, Adee was educated in private schools and graduated from Yale in 1885.  He and Geraldine were married in 1897.  He had been involved with the Mercantile Trust Company since graduating from Yale, and had risen to vice president.  Adee's affluence was reflected in his memberships to the Union, Tuxedo, Lawyers' and Westchester Country clubs, and in the family's summer home, Almost Brook, in fashionable Tuxedo, New York.

Late in 1903, Ernest became ill with septicemia, or blood poisoning.  He died in the house on December 13 at the age of 40.  

Following her period of mourning, Geraldine Adee threw herself into charitable, civic, and political causes.  She became president of the Babies Hospital of New York and of the Home for Young Girls in the Bronx, as well as the Committee of the State Charities Aid Association.  She was president of the women's auxiliary of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church, secretary of the United Associations of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and chairman of the New York Committee for the National Cathedral.

Beginning with the winter social season of 1915, however, much of her attention was focused on Geraldine's coming out.  On August 21, 1915, the New-York Tribune reported, "Miss Geraldine F. Adee, daughter of Mrs. Ernest R. Adee, of 129 East Thirty-fifth Street, will be among the debutantes of the coming winter.  She is now the guest of her aunt, Mrs. Eugene Sugny Reynal, in Newport."

With the winter season in full swing, on February 8, 1916, the New York Press reported, "This evening Mrs. M. Dwight Collier of No. 14 East Sixty-fifth street will give a theatre party, followed by supper and dancing in Sherry's, in honor of Miss Geraldine F. Adee, the debutante daughter of Mrs. Ernest R. Adee of No. 129 East Thirty-fifth street.  The guests will be from the debutante sets and additional guests have been invited for the supper and dancing."

Marriage in society often closely followed a young woman's coming out.  But Geraldine's marriage to Francis B. Bradley would have to wait until the end of World War I.  Bradley would have graduated from Harvard in 1919, but he left school to enlist in the U.S. Navy.  Ironically, he served on the U.S.S. Harvard.  On October 25, 1919, Geraldine Adee announced her daughter's engagement.  The Evening World mentioned, "Miss Adee has been prominent in the Junior League since she was introduced about three years ago."

The wedding took place in "the picturesque Church of St. Mary's at Tuxedo Park," as reported by The New York Times.  Following the ceremony a wedding breakfast and reception was held at Almost Brook with "all of the colonists of the park [i.e. Tuxedo Park] attending," said the article.

Geraldine now sold 129 East 35th Street to Dr. Beverley Robinson and his wife, Anna Foster, and moved permanently to Almost Brook, where she died at the age of 83 on May 5, 1956.

Dr. Robinson had a sterling pedigree.  Both his parents, Moncure Robinson and Charlotte Randolph Taylor, were considered members of "the First Families of Virginia."  A member of the Century Association, Dr. Robinson was a clinical lecturer on "Heart, Lungs and Throat" at Belleview Hospital Medical Center.

Dr. Beverley Robinson, from the collection of the Lillian & Clarence de la Chapelle Medical Archives.

Anna Foster Robinson died on January 3, 1921.  Her funeral was held in St. Bartholomew's Church two days later.

Late the following month, Robinson was "attacked with synovitis of the right shoulder joint and severe neuritis of the shoulder and upper arm," according to his self-diagnosis.  After self treatment "with the aid of two best consultants" and achieving no relief, he decided to rub laudanum on the afflicted areas.  A mixture of opium, morphine, codeine and other agents, laudanum was, understandably, controlled as a narcotic.  To obtain the drug, Robinson would have to fill out paperwork; but his affliction prevented him from writing.

He, therefore, asked his pharmacist (whom he had known for years) to fill out the application and have his nurse sign it for him.  The druggist refused his request.  Robinson wrote a letter to the editor of the Medical Record which was published on February 12, 1921.  He said in part, "I am an old practitioner and believe my character and reputation are unblemished and yet I can not have, in dire emergency of extreme pain, a local anodyne, which is a narcotic, to relieve me locally."  He ended his letter lamenting, "Alas, the shame, the pity, and the crying outrage of it all!"

Dr. Beverley Robinson survived his wife by three years.  He died on June 21, 1924 in the East 35th Street house at the age of 81.  

The Robinsons' unmarried daughter, Pauline Lentilhon Robinson, remained in the house.  She maintained the lifestyle of a well-to-do socialite.  On May 23, 1925, for instance, The New York Times reported that she "sailed early this morning on the Majestic to pass the Summer in Europe," and four months later, on September 19, the newspaper reported, "Miss Pauline Robinson, who passed the Summer in England, Scotland and France, returned on the Olympic and is at her home, 129 East Thirty-fifth Street for the Winter."

Pauline's routine continued for years.  On September 17, 1930, The New York Times reported that she "has been at the Madison since returning from Europe last week, [and] opened her house at 129 East Thirty-fifth street yesterday."

It is unclear when Pauline Robinson left East 35th Street.  A renovation completed in 1998 greatly updated the interiors.  Still a single-family home, in 2007 its façade was restored, windows replaced and the roof repaired.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The 1897 Herbert Francis Taylor House - 302 West 98th Street


In 1896, architect John Hauser designed a row of eight brownstone-fronted houses at 302 to 316 West 98th Street for developer William H. Picken.  Sitting between two mansion-lined thoroughfares--Riverside Drive and West End Avenue--they were intended for well-heeled owners.  Completed in late 1897, Hauser had designed the row in two models, repeating the A-B configuration down the line.

The easternmost house, 302 West 98th Street was designed, overall, in the Renaissance Revival style.  Hauser splashed it with touches of Romanesque Revival--in the medieval carvings of the otherwise stoic stoop newels, and in the foliate carving on the insides of the entrance pilasters.  The paired pilasters that separated the upper floor windows were an interesting feature--each pair sharing a single capital.

Picken sold the 19-foot-wide house to Henry Pinner on February 10, 1898.  The Record & Guide said he paid, "about $2,500."  (The price would translate to $966,000 in 2024.)  Pinner was associated with the Aeolian Company, which manufactured player pianos and organs.

Henry W. Pinner, The Music Trades, May 6, 1922 (copyright expired)

Pinner had a long career in the piano business, starting out with the Decker Piano Company and moving to J. & C. Fischer Piano Company before joining Aeolian's piano department.  His residency at 302 West 98th Street was relatively short.  Pinner sold the house to Herbert Francis Taylor in April 1904.

Taylor was vice president of Whitaker & Co., merchant tailors.  Its exclusive shops on Fifth Avenue and on Conduit Street in London fashioned custom clothing for wealthy clientele.  Born in London in 1859, he had come to New York in 1890.  Taylor and his wife Annie had three children, Herbert Jr., Eileen, and Lila Mary.  

Annie F. Taylor hired a live-in servant girl shortly after moving in, and was looking for additional help later that year.  Her advertisement on September 7 may have been too strongly couched:  "Wanted--Woman to do housecleaning; come prepared to work."

The following month she reworded the ad.  "General Houseworker--Girl (white), general housework, good plain cook and laundress; wages $20; another girl kept; two adults, three children; Apply Mrs. Taylor, 302 West 98th st., near West End av."  (The monthly wages would equal about $706 today.)

While the Taylors were well-to-do, Annie's job description separated the family from the wealthier households on West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  In those homes, the cook would have had no other responsibility and the suggestion that she do housework or laundry would have been insulting.

Annie F. Taylor was a staunch fighter for the rights of women.  She was corresponding secretary of The Legislative League of New York, and a member of the Woman's Suffrage League, the City Federation and the Women's Forum.  The objects of the Legislative League were "to secure political, legal and industrial equality to the women of New York State."  Club Women of New York noted in 1904, "The organization has aided in giving to women the rights of a mother to her child and to a woman to her earnings."  The article said that currently "the members are working to amend the marriage license laws."

Following his graduation from The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, Herbert Jr. went off to Yale in in 1914.  There he showed diverse interests.  He was a member of the swimming and cross-country teams, and a member of the Mandolin Club.

On October 14, 1917, The Sun reported on the engagement of Herbert Jr. to Madeleine Martha Ros.   The wedding took place in the Ros house at 325 West End Avenue on June 29, 1918.  Herbert joined his father's firm and eventually became president of Whitaker & Co.

The winter social season of 1919 was a busy one in the Taylor household.  On December 10, Eileen was married to Linwood H. Geyer in St. Agnes's Chapel on West 91st Street.  The New York Herald reported, "The ceremony was followed by a reception in the home of the bride's parents."

Ten days later the family was back at St. Agnes's Chapel for Lila Mary's wedding to Ben Stalker Buckmaster.  Once again, a reception was held in the 98th Street house.

Now empty nesters, Herbert and Annie remained briefly in the house, while Annie continued her work with the various women's reform groups.  The couple sold the house in June 1922 "to a buyer, for occupancy," according to the Record & Guide.

It continued as a single-family home until 1961, when an apartment was installed on the top floor.  Then a renovation completed in 1988 resulted in one apartment per floor.

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Monday, July 15, 2024

The Lost Folies Bergere (Helen Hayes Theater) - 210 West 46th Street


The New York Architect - June 1911 (copyright expired)

The Forty-Sixth Street and Broadway Realty Co. was specifically organized to erect a unique theater at 206 to 212 West 46th Street.  Before ground was broken, on July 2, 1910, the Record & Guide reported that Henry B. Harris and Jesse L. Lasky had signed the lease.  The two producers envisioned a cabaret in New York City based on the restaurant-nightclub-theater in Paris, the Folies Bergère.

Designed by Herts & Tallant, the Folies Bergère cost $200,000 to erect--about $6.62 million in 2024.  The windowless façade was covered with a tapestry of polychrome terra cotta tiles--"old ivory, turquoise blue, and gold," according to The New York Architect in June 1911.  (The journal felt the exterior "presents a convincing argument for a more extended introduction of color in the facades of buildings of all descriptions.")  Below the "wrought bronze cornice" was a panel by eminent muralist William de Leftwich Dodge.  The New York Architect explained, "This frieze represents, in allegory, all the characters of vaudeville."

The Heating & Ventilating Magazine, October 1911 (copyright expired)

Inside the three entrances, the lobby was decorated in white marble with colored mosaic floors.  William de Leftwich Dodge supervised the decoration of the auditorium, drawing on the French roots of the Folies Bergère.  Gilded plaster festoons and paintings by Dodge created a decidedly Parisian atmosphere.  In its July 1911 issue, The Green Book said the auditorium suggested, "with its delicate color scheme, nothing else so much as the interior of a jewel box," adding, "The walls and pillars are covered with damask the shade of salmon, or crushed strawberry, or old rose."

The New York Architect, June 1911 (copyright expired)

Harris and Lansky departed from the traditional theater by treating the orchestra level and the front of the first balcony as a restaurant.  The Green Book Album wrote:

When you enter the auditorium you see, instead of the ordinary orchestra chairs, row after row of tables.  Each row is elevated a foot or so above that ahead of it, so that a good view of the stage is to be had from every seat, and an iron rail separates one company of diners from the next.

Wait staff in white tie assemble in the orchestra and front balcony.  The Heating & Ventilating Magazine, October 1911 (copyright expired)

Patrons in evening dress ordered from menus written in French and were served by white-tied waiters.  Diners would enjoy orchestra music from 6:00 to 8:15, when the curtain rose.  As the evening drew to a close, a call boy glided from table to table asking who needed a taxi.  Those patrons who did were handed numbered cards, eliminating the need for a curbside wait.

The Folies Bergère opened on April 27, 1911.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Dinner with music, dancing and fiery little tabloid shows as an accompaniment, will be served from 6 p.m. to 8:15, when the curtain will go up on 'Hell," a profane burlesque in one act by Rennold Wolf, with music by Maurice Levi...The revue will satirize plays and people of present public interest."  The revue was followed by the American premier of the ballet, Temptation, by Alfredo Curti; which was followed by another revue, Gaby.  

The article noted, "Supper will be served from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.  During the revues and the ballet refreshments will be served and smoking permitted in all parts of the house."  The supper portion of the evening was accompanied by the cabaret show, "giving New York the first midnight music hall."

Later that year, Harris and Lasky produced A La Broadway.  The "satirical burlesque in one act" opened on September 22.  The Sun reported, "It consisted or large quantities of girls, many changes of costumes and a pair of really funny comedians."  What audiences and critics could not know was that they were seeing the first appearance of an 18-year-old Brooklyn girl who would eventually shake American theater to its foundations.  "Miss Mae West had a song or two that went pretty well and she danced with considerable grace and originality," said the article.

Unfortunately, Mae West's first Broadway show closed after eight performances.  Lasky's and Harris's bold concept had not turned a profit.  On September 30, Variety reported on the closing of the Folies Bergère.  "While it is claimed that the restaurant portion of the enterprise has yielded a profit, the scheme has proved itself impractical owing to the limited seating capacity of the house under the present policy."

That year another producer, Beatrice DeMille, introduced Jesse L. Lasky to her son, Cecil B. DeMille.  Lasky would team with him and Samuel Goldwyn to form the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, a moving picture firm.  Harris traveled to London in April 1912 to arrange a play.  He was lost on the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

With its auditorium remodeled with traditional seating, the theater reopened as the Fulton Theatre.  It offered both live plays and occasional moving pictures.  On November 24, 1915, for instance, an advertisement in The Evening World announced four screenings a day of Fighting In France, "The French Government Official Motion Pictures taken by order of the Great General Staff of the French Army for the National Archives."

The play Penny Arcade opened on March 24, 1930, a three-act drama about bootlegging and murder.  In the audience that night was Al Jolson, who was not taken with the performances of lead actors Eric Dressler and Lenita Lane, but with two supporting players, Joan Blondell and James Cagney.  According to Matthew Kennedy in his Joan Blondell, A Life Between Takes, Jolson purchased the motion picture rights to the play for $20,000.  "He quickly sold it to the Warner Bros. film studio in California, but only under the agreement that Blondell and Cagney come attached with a three-week contract to film the play."  It was the beginning of film stardom for the two unknowns.

The stage of the Fulton Theatre would see famous entertainers over the years.  On January 18, 1932, The New York Times reported, "Maurice Chevalier, the French film actor and entertainer, will begin a limited concert engagement of one and a half weeks at the Fulton Theatre."

Boris Karloff opened in the 1941 play Arsenic and Old Lace,; and on November 20, 1946, Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, the prequel to her 1939 drama The Little Foxes, opened with Patricia Neal as Regina Hubbard.  Also in the cast were Paul Ford and, Jean Hagen.  In 1951, Audrey Hepburn made her theatrical debut in Gigi.

On November 9, 1955, The New York Times reported, "The incandescent name of Helen Hayes will glow permanently on the marquee of a Broadway playhouse starting Nov. 21."  It was a great honor.  The only other living actress to have a theater name for her was Ethel Barrymore.  When told of the renaming, Helen Hayes remarked, "I burst into tears.  It was too much for me.  An actress' life is so transitory--suddenly you're a building."

The "extensively renovated" theater was dedicated on November 30, 1958 and opened the two nights later with Helen Hayes starring in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet.  The New York Times reported the auditorium had been "refurbished in Louis XIV decor" and that the "theatre's seating capacity was increased by 113 to 1,152."  The new decorations included a "mirror-paneled lobby with white marble stairs," and "'royal enclosures' with custom arm chairs and cushions, a series of French Lalique basket lights and crystal chandeliers."

The Helen Hayes sign covered the Dodge mural and a new glass building-wide marquee was installed.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.

The Helen Hayes Theatre was the venue of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Long Day's Journey Into Night, and the long running Mary, Mary by Jean Kerr which opened on March 8, 1961 and ran for three years.

One of the "royal enclosures" with chandelier is seen in this photo of the renovated theater.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Henry Fonda was starring in the one-man show Clarence Darrow in the spring of 1974.  Following his performance on the night of April 23, he collapsed in his dressing room.  His wife, Shirley Mae Adams, told reporters the extra strain of the Tony ceremonies two nights earlier had caused exhaustion.   Five days later, The New York Times reported the 68-year-old actor was still hospitalized.  Although Fonda eventually recovered, the play did not.  It was replaced by another one-man show, Will Rogers, starring James Whitmore.

On March 23, 1982, The New York Times reported that demolition had begun on the Helen Hayes Theater.  Preservationists had obtained a temporary stay, but it was lifted by the United States Supreme Court, removing "the last major impediment to construction of the 50-story Portman Hotel in the Times Square area," said the article.  The demolition was part of what would become known by some as "The Great Theater Massacre of 1982."  Four other vintage theaters would be demolished with the Helen Hayes--the Morosco, the Bijou, the Astor and the Gaiety.

A day earlier, 1,000 demonstrators had gathered on West 45th Street to hear pleas from performers including Celeste Holm, Tammy Grimes, Jose Ferrer, Colleen Dewhurst, Estelle Parsons, and Treat Williams.  Producer Joseph Papp broke the news to the gathering.  "I'll tell you frankly, these theaters are going to come down.  The Supreme Court has lifted the stay."

Because of the architectural importance of the Helen Hayes Theater, Portman Properties agreed to preserve one-third of the façade.  But on June 9, 1982, The New York Times reported that the façade "collapsed during demolition work on the remainder of the theater."

photo by Fred R. Conrad, The New York Times June 9, 1982.

The vandalism was not only architectural.  Many saw the demolition of the theater as an affront to Helen Hayes.  The following year, the Little Theatre was renamed the Helen Hayes Theater.

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Saturday, July 13, 2024

The 1951 Carlton House - 680 Madison Avenue (21 East 61st)


photo by Lowell Cochrane

In January 1950, the Associated Press reported that the Ritz-Carlton on Madison Avenue at 46th Street was to be demolished.  The northern portion of the ultra-fashionable hotel was Carlton House--a residential hotel whose well-to-do residents enjoyed the service of the Ritz-Carlton's staff. 

Almost simultaneously, on January 3, The New York Times reported that a new Carlton House was already in the works.  "The Astor Estate interests...will add another large one to their holdings with the construction of a fifteen-story and penthouse luxury hotel-service apartment building on...Madison Avenue between Sixty-first and Sixty-second Streets.  It will have its main entrance at 680 Madison Avenue."  The article noted, "Like the property from which it inherits its name, it will be operated by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company."

Architect Kenneth B. Norton told The Times that the 200 apartments would range from one to four-and-a-half rooms and most would be "completely furnished and with full hotel service."  He added that because of his "recessed construction" (i.e., projecting bays and setbacks), "nearly all of the suites will offer corner rooms."

photo by Lowell Cochrane

Norton's neo-Georgian design was markedly similar to his John Murray House, designed a full decade earlier.  Fluted pilasters, and neo-Classical elements like stylized urns and wreaths drew from its Georgian precedents.  The fenestration brought the viewer from 18th century into the mid-20th.  The grouped casements, some of them wrapping the faceted corners, were an integral part of the overall design.

Carved grooves imitate fluted pilasters and Greek keys stand in as their capitals.  The windows are applaudable replacements.  photo by Lowell Cochrane

In the basement would be a barber shop, valet, laundry rooms, "helps' dining room," and offices.  The first floor was given over to public spaces: the lobby, a cocktail bar, "a cabaret and dining room" (which extended into the second floor), and reception rooms.  (Interestingly, the Department of Buildings was stern about the cabaret portions of the dining room, saying the cabaret on the first story "is limited to a piano in the dining room," and on the second "is limited to string instruments only, consisting of five pieces.")  On the second floor were four more dining rooms, ten maids' rooms, and the kitchen.  There were four duplex apartments on the 14th and 15th floors, and three apartments in the penthouse level.  

The floorplan of one of the upper floors from a 1951 brochure shows the arrangement of terraces.  

Four months after ground was broken, leases were already being signed.  Among the prospective residents were Zilph Hayes Palmer, the widow of philanthropist Edgar M. Palmer; the H. Allan Sillcoxes, whose summer home was in Southampton; and the William Felton Barretts, whose summer estate was Sky Farm in North Egremont, Massachusetts.

The Ritz-Carlton Restaurant opened on May 8, 1951.  The New York Times described it saying, "The restaurant, designed in the Adam period, is built on two levels.  A décor of French blue, rose and beige is carried out in the French blue walls, rose and beige draperies, and upholstery to correspond."  The article noted, "Many dinner parties were given last night at the formal opening," and listed the names of all the guests in the various groups, saying, for instance, "L. G. Auchincloss, who has taken an apartment in Carlton House, entertained for his daughter, Mrs. E. A. J. Collard, and Mrs. Charles S. Whitman."

Although not nearly the scale of those held at the earlier Ritz-Carlton, the Carlton House was regularly the scene of debutante entertainments and society weddings.  On January 1, 1955, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Frank B. Bateman of 40 East Eighty-eighth Street and Jungle Point, Palm Beach, Fla., gave a tea dance yesterday in the Carlton Suite of Carlton House for their debutante daughter, Miss Barbara Ellen Bateman."  The last of the string of weddings that year was that of June Rosoff to Lt. Herbert M. Zydney of the U. S. Air Force on December 22.

On March 7, 1964, The New York Times reported that Harry B. Helmsley and Lawrence A. Wien "have contracted to buy Carlton House, the deluxe residential hotel" from "the British branch of the Astor family."  The name of the building was tweaked to the Helmsley Carlton House.

Among the residents Helmsley and Wien inherited was Carlotta O'Neill, the widow of playwright Eugene O'Neill.  She moved here from the Lowell Hotel just over a block away around 1961.  She apparently had regrets, however.  In 1966 she told friend and New York Times journalist Jose Quintero, "This apartment is too large...The more space you have around you the lonelier you feel.  Sometimes it's like being in the middle of the ocean with no other craft in sight, trapped within the high, desolate dome of the sky."

Quintero described a portion of the apartment several years later, on May 1, 1988 in The New York Times, saying,

I sat on a large leather chair, which was partially occupied by a black stuffed Chinese monkey, found by the O'Neills during a disastrous trip to the Orient before their marriage.  The monkey's name was Estaban and, to my annoyance, he seemed forever to be peering with contemptuous amusement through the narrow slits of his eyes.

According to a 1979 brochure of the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site by the Division of Cultural Resource Management, Carlotta lived in Carlton House "until the fall of 1968, when a breakdown sent her to Regent Hospital followed by a transfer to St. Luke's.  She died at Valley Nursing Home near Westwood New Jersey on November 18, 1970 at the age of 82.

In the meantime, other residents included the twice widowed Florence Levi Lehman, the mother of president and publisher of The New York Times, Orvil E. Dryfoos.  Walter M. Giblin and his wife, actress Constance Talmadge, lived here by the early 1960s.  The couple had homes in Jericho, Long Island and Palm Beach, Florida.  Born in Chicago in 1901, Giblin was a general partner in the brokerage firm of Glore, Forgan & Co. and a director in several other large firms.

Lucius Dubignon Clay and his wife Marjorie lived here at the time.  Born on April 23, 1898 in Marietta, Georgia and a 1918 graduate of West Point, Clay administered the United States' occupation of Germany following World War II.  He was deputy to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945, and was appointed Commander in Chief of the United States forces in Europe and military governor of the United States Zone in Germany from 1947 to 1949.  On June 25, 1948, the day after the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin, Clay mobilized the Berlin Airlift.

His life at Carlton House was much more placid.  In 1962 he became a senior partner in Lehman Brothers, the investment banking firm.  He retired in 1973.  While he and Marjorie maintained their apartment here, according to Jean Edward Smith in her Lucius D. Clay, An American Life, they "spent most of their time on Cape Code at the old rambling house--known in East Chatham as 'Square Top,' for the shape of its roof--that they had bought in the 1950s."

Also living here were Joseph Revson and his wife Elsie.  Revson was a founder of the cosmetic firm Revlon, Inc.  Founded in 1932 "with a few hundred dollars," according to The New York Times later, Revlon "became one of the biggest concerns in the cosmetics industry through high-powered advertising and the introduction of a number of new products."  Revson filled his free time with painting and was an accomplished landscape artist.

Another enterprising resident was Harold Boeschenstein, who founded the Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation in Toledo, Ohio in 1938.  Like Lucius D. Clay, he had been highly involved in post-war logistics and in 1958 sat on a committee of business experts to advise President Dwight D. Eisenhower "on how to cope with Soviet trade," according to The New York Times.  He accompanied Vice-President Richard M. Nixon on his 1959 trip to Moscow.

Boeschenstein and his wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Wade, divided their time between Carlton House and their home in Perrysburg, Ohio, near Toledo.  Boeschenstein's cultural focus was divided between the two locations, as well.  He was president of the Toledo Museum of Art and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History and the Asia Foundation.  He died of a heart attack in the couple's Carlton House suite on October 2, 1972.

In 1978, Jean and Krishna Roy Riboud moved into a ninth-floor apartment.  The French-born Ribould was chairman of Schlumberger, the largest oilfield services company in the world.  During World War II he had been imprisoned by the Nazis in Buchenwald concentration camp.  The couple's French home was in Neuilly-sur-Seine outside of Paris.  Riboud died there on October 20, 1985.

What would be an important era in Manhattan social history was foreshadowed in New York Magazine's September 17, 1984 issue, which reported on the upcoming opening of  Pierre Cardin's restaurant, Maxim's.  "No expense is being spared in creating a replica of the Paris institution," said the article.  "Everything, from the busboys' uniforms to the crystal chandeliers, will come from France.  The grand staircase is already in place."  (The article warned, "the look will be formal--as will your attire.")

Indeed, Maxim's double-level restaurant was a near carbon-copy of the Paris original.  On February 10, 1985, while work was ongoing, The New York Times reported, "some patrons, no doubt, will recognize its stained-glass ceilings, deep-red upholstery, fleur-de-lis sconces and framed Sem cartoons as signatures of Maxim's de Paris, one of France's best-known-restaurants."  Interior designers Janko Rasic of New York and Pierre Porthier of Paris collaborated on the décor. 

Two views of the Art Nouveau interiors of Maxim's.  images via

The lower level, L'Omnibus, a "bistro-style restaurant and bar," accommodated 150 patrons; while Maxim's on the second floor sat 225 guests.  On that level, too, was a banquet room for about 200 guests.

In 2010, the Helmsley Carlton House was sold and plans were laid to convert it to condominium residences.  On June 2, 2011, Amanda Kludt of Eater New York reported, "And now it's finally time to dismantle the restaurant."  The architectural savage company Demolition Depot had purchased Maxim's art nouveau interiors.  Spokesman Evan Blum told The Post, "We are hoping [the room] will be bought by someone who will appreciate it in its entirety." 

image via

The conversion, headed by the architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, was completed in 2014.  The interiors were reconfigured, the facade restored, and the main entrance moved to 21 East 61st Street.  There are now 68 units in the building

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
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