|photo by Gryffinor|
|Willard Straight -- photo Univ of Calif at Pomona|
On November 12 Straight, who was a financier with the J. P. Morgan Company as well as a publicist and diplomat, purchased the lot at the southeast corner of 5th Avenue and 94th Street for $300,000. Straight had already bought the lot on the opposite, northeast corner. The millionaire intended to “erect a fine residence,” said The New York Times, “while the other corner may be resold to a congenial neighbor who will improve with a large residence.”
Straight realized that the way to ensure the quality of his neighbors was to buy up the adjoining land and sell it only to those he cared to live near.
|The home shortly after completion -- photo downeastdilletante.com|
|The beautifully-proportioned entrance and juliette balcony of the second floor - photo Haus Fitzerald|
The house was completed in 1915 and, only three years later, while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces, Willard Straight died of influenza. Dorothy Straight, who was wealthy in her own right, continued to live on at No. 1130 5th Avenue for years.
Mrs. Straight was not only prominent socially – she helped found the Junior League of New York and, in January 1923, entertained the Rev. T. W. Pym, head of Cambridge House, London and the honorary chaplain to King George V, for instance – but she was deeply involved in social causes. She regularly spoke for women’s labor unions and hosted teas and other events in the house as fund raisers.
|The socially-active Mrs. Willard Straight -- photo Library of Congress|
Gary’s millions paled in comparison to the subsequent owner, Harrison Williams, who had built a vast electrical empire and whose fortune at one time was reputed to be $680 million. In July of 1952 Mrs. Williams sold the house to the National Audubon Society for its headquarters.
The Audubon Society gently used the grand mansion for over two decades, finally selling it in September 1973 to the International Center of Photography. The home would become the city’s first museum and educational facility dedicated solely to the art of photography.
Like the Audubon Society, the photography museum used the house without substantially altering its interiors. Then, in 2001, the notoriously private billionaire Bruce Kovner purchased the house for $17 million. The hedge fund magnate spent another $10 million in restoring and reconverting it to residential use.
The Willard Straight House is a gem of early-20th Century architecture and an important survivor along the avenue where luxury apartment buildings have replaced most of the grand mansions that once lined it.