|photo by Alice Lum|
Blair and his wife, Florence, lived with their four daughters in a mansion at 5th Avenue and 70th Street – also designed by Carerre & Hastings. But for their new carriage house, Blair turned to the architectural firm of Trowbridge & Livingston who, while they would go on to design important buildings like the marble B. Altman and Company store and the St. Regis Hotel, were still establishing themselves.
Blair gave the architects an unusual task. Not only was the building needed to house the Blair carriages; it would double as the studio of muralist and society portrait artist John White Alexander.
Both Blair and Alexander were directors of the Equitable Life Insurance Company and both were trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Additionally, their wives were involved in many of the same charities. No doubt these connections resulted in the symbiotic plans for the carriage house.
As construction got underway in 1900, Alexander returned triumphantly to New York from France on October 8 where he had been awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition for portraits; one of which was of Auguste Rodin.
“His studio, which is in process of construction, is at 123 East Sixty-third Street,” The New York Times added as a side note.
The carriage house and studio was completed in 1901 and it was a showstopper. The limestone and brick Beaux Arts structure sat on a rusticated base with a centered carriage door. Above a plain stone cornice, the second and third stories were faced in red brick with limestone quoins along the sides and a central limestone section serving as a base for a robust stone and wrought iron balcony under an ambitious stone hood.
|The deeply-recessed French doors of Alexander's studio led to an ornate wrought iron balcony -- photo by Alice Lum|
The artist used this studio for his portrait work; for his mural painting he had a second studio in Carnegie Hall. During the early days of the 20th Century a full-length portrait was a must for wealthy women and young, newly married socialites rushed to the studios of artists like Alexander, James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Sully and Howard Cushing.
|Mrs. Herman Duryea posed for her portrait in Alexander's studio.|
The lavish French carriage house stands essentially unchanged today. A remarkable example of the extravagant and elegant service buildings of the wealthy at the turn of the century.