The stories behind the buildings, statues and other points of interest that make Manhattan fascinating.
Monday, March 1, 2010
The Joseph De Lamar Mansion
By the turn of the last century, Manhattan’s wealthiest
citizens had abandoned most of the once-elegant residential neighborhoods below
50th Street.A few stalwart
old guard families remained along Washington Square; and despite increased
commercial invasion the Murray Hill neighborhood retained its prestige.That district was about to get a booster
shot of prestige.
On April 17, 1901 a casual mention of a real estate sale
appeared in The New York Times.“The
Noyes estate has sold to J. R. De Lamar the four-story brownstone-front
dwelling 233 Madison Avenue, northeast corner of Thirty-seventh Street, 25 by
Joseph Raphael de Lamar was a relative newcomer to Manhattan
society.A Dutch-born merchant mariner,
he was lured to the far West in the 1870s by the prospects of mining.Unlike most of the hopeful miners, he struck
moved New York in the early 1890s laden with money and high hopes of entering
society.He married Nellie Sands and
the pair produced a daughter, Alice, in 1895.De Lamar bought the necessities--a yacht and cottage in Newport—and
joined the exclusive clubs.Now he
wanted a palace that reflected his financial station.
Three days after
the Times reported on the Madison Avenue sale, mansion architect C. P. H.
Gilbert filed plans “for the new fireproof residence” for De Lamar.Four months later the millionaire purchased
the property next door, No. 235 Madison, which now gave him a plot 100 feet
along 37th Street and 49 feet along Madison Avenue.Directly across the street was the staid
brownstone mansion of J. P. Morgan and it was soon to be overwhelmed.
Murray Hill residents at the turn of the century were busily razing or
radically remodeling their old Civil War period homes; transforming their
property into stylish, up-to-date residences.De Lamar would go much farther.
magnate had already embraced the new automobile over carriages and on August
22, 1902 as the house was rising, The Times reported on an innovation.“A unique feature of the new residence to be
erected by J. R. De Lamar…is to be an automobile storage room in the vaults
under the sidewalk, with an electric elevator for raising the vehicles to the
street level.”The millionaire’s
chauffeur would need only to drive up onto the sidewalk and the limousine would
be lowered to a garage below street level.
the mansion was completed in 1905 the De Lamars had divorced.Joseph moved into the new house with his
daughter, Alice, now ten years old, and their nine servants.Gilbert had produced a gargantuan French
palace six stories tall with a commanding mansard roof that overshadowed the
fashionable old homes around it.
Lamars haunted the auctions, hauling back rare vases, tapestries and paintings
to the mansion.Young Alice was
regularly mentioned in the society pages as she passed the age of her debut
into society.But reportedly she was
never really happy in the cavernous castle that was her father’s most overt
attempt at social inclusion.
In 1917 the
city assessed the De Lamar house at $400,000—about $4.5 million in today’s
years after moving into his new mansion, Joseph De Lamars died on December 1,
1918 of gall stones.Alice had already
left Madison Avenue to serve in World War I as a volunteer mechanic and driver
for the Red Cross Motor Corps.
Alice would be a staunch advocate for affordable housing for working
women.Having inherited an estate of
about $10 million (her father left at least that much to medical charities),
Alice moved uptown to a 20-room, 7-bath flat at No. 270 Park Avenue.In 1920 the artwork, rare carpets and
tapestries, and furnishings of the mansion were auctioned off—ironically
similar to the auctions Joseph De Lamar attended.
mansion would never again be a private residence.It became the clubhouse of the National
Democratic Club until the Polish Government purchased it in 1973 for $900,000
as its New York Consulate.
The consulate initiated extensive restoration of
both the exterior and interior of the house and it still demands attention on
the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street.
The two Morgan mansions with the De Lamar Mansion behind (NYPL Collection)