Among the wealthy who settled on the block were banker George Whitney, his wife Martha and their family. Whitney, of the J. P. Morgan Company, chose Cross and Cross to design the new home at No. 120 in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. Despite the sudden upheaval in the country’s financial conditions, the Whitneys forged on with their project.
Cross and Cross, who had established a reputation as one of the favorite architectural firms of New York’s old guard, created an exceptionally dignified and beautifully proportioned home. Constructed of red brick with white marble accents, it harkened back to the refined Federal mansions of a century earlier. A nearly-vertical slate mansard is punctured by three shallow, arched dormers and crowned with a railing that smacks of Chinese Chippendale.
A white marble, half-circular porch is supported by fluted Doric columns upon which rests a graceful black metal railing, creating a balcony on the second floor.
The Whitney’s home was completed in 1930, a year in which twenty private homes in Manhattan were demolished for every one constructed. But while office buildings and apartment houses replaced the rows of brownstones, the East 80th Street block stood firm. Mrs. Whitney’s exceptional “hidden gardens” in the rear of the house were the object of annual charity tours.
The couple, who also owned a country estate, “Home Acres,” in Old Westbury, Long Island, lived on in No. 120 with their daughters Elizabeth Beatrice, Martha Phyllis and their son George until 1954. In June of that year, George Whitney sold the home, assessed at around $190,000, to a real estate operator who planned its conversion into apartments. Yet the sale and conversion did not mean that riff raff would be moving in.
Instead, socialites like Mrs. Otto Crouse, who was heavily involved in social charity events for decades, took up residence.
|photo by Jim Henderson|