Friday, August 26, 2011

C. Ledyard Blair's Lavish 1901 Carriage House -- 123 E. 63rd Street


photo by Alice Lum
In 1900 the wealthy and socially prominent Clinton Ledyard Blair began construction of his carriage house at 123 East 63rd Street. It was a busy time for construction for the financier and yachtsman. His enormous Louis XIII-style mansion, “Blairsden,” designed by Carerre & Hastings, was rising across the river in Peapack-Gladstone, New Jersey. The lavish home was begun in 1898 and would not be completed until 1903.

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
Alexander’s two-story sun-washed studio was at this level, rising into the mansard roof which was punctuated by two copper-framed oculi.

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.
John W. Alexander died on May 31, 1915. Four years after Clinton Ledyard Blair died in 1949, the carriage house was purchased by the newly-formed Gurdjieff Foundation, Inc., a non-profit philanthropic organization, and converted to its headquarters. The ground floor became a private gymnasium with a library, committee room and trustees offices on the second floor. John Alexander’s studio was reborn as the Board Room and Conference Room.

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.

7 comments:

  1. I recently discovered your blog and since then, have spent more time than I should reading past posts.
    Blair's stable is wonderful, and reflects elements of Blairsden - one of my favorite houses. What a miracle it still stands.

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  2. I haven't had the chance to visit Blairsden yet, although I've seen photos of it. Incredible place. Glad you're enjoying the blog.

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  3. Hi - I am writing a blog post about Blairsden because it's for sale. Do you know if Alexander painted the murals in this home? They are really beautiful. Let me know if you can!! Thanks

    Here's a link to the home for sale.

    http://www.turpinrealtors.com/property/11297983

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  4. unfortunately, I do not know much about Blairsden. However some of my readers know that estate and hopefully they'll be able to give some input.

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  5. Blairsden is a private home. All non invited guests will be charged with trespassing. MBW

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  6. From what I just read, Alexander only painted his portraits here during the 14 yrs. that he used this carriage house/studio.

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  7. Haha. I got that info from the text of this story. His murals were painted at his Carnegie Hall Studios.

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