Friday, September 23, 2011

The 1911 Jonathan Bulkley House -- No. 600 Park Avenue

photo by Alice Lum
In 1911 New York Times writer William A. Boring was excited about the high-end development of Park Avenue. The soot-belching trains into Grand Central Terminal had been converted to electricity and sent underground, creating a European-style boulevard rather than a train yard. “Park Avenue will be a residence street, and all the little markets, stores, etc., will be moved further eastward to cheaper property,” he predicted.

Boring noted that the moneyed New Yorkers were already beginning to build in the neighborhood. “The tide has already set in, and the increasing invasion of business in the Fifth Avenue district below Fifty-ninth Street is naturally driving the old-time residents there to the newer center…Park Avenue will eventually become the finest apartment thoroughfare in the city. In sharp contrast to the old time cheap flats that formerly monopolized the avenue everything of this nature now going up is of the best fireproof construction."

It would not be all apartment buildings though.

The “little markets, stores, etc.,” he spoke of had included Tscheppe & Schur’s pharmacy at the corner of Park Avenue and 64th Street, along with a small apartment building and a row house. By April 23, 1911 when Boring’s prophecy was read by New Yorkers, those buildings were gone.

“As one walks north from the lower Park Avenue apartment house section he enters the confines of the private house community at Sixty-fourth Street, where, on the northwest corner, a fine residence is nearly completed for Jonathan Bulkley.”

That same year other millionaires were building on Park Avenue, including Reginald DeKoven and Percy Rivington Pyne, indeed giving Boring something to be excited about.

Jonathan Bulkley was a busy man -- a principal of the paper manufacturing firm Bulkley, Dunton & Co.; Vice President of the Keith Paper Company; a trustee of the Washington Paper Power Company; and sat on the Board of Directors of the E. W. Bliss Company, the Home Life Insurance Company, the Ryegate Paper Company, the St. Regis Paper Company, the Massachusetts Corporation and the Turner Falls Electric Company.

To design their mansion at 600 Park Avenue, Buckley and his wife, the former Sarah Tod of Cleveland, chose James Gamble Rogers. The 44-year old architect produced a dignified white limestone structure in what has been called the Modern Renaissance style. Four small balconies at the second floor level, three on Park Avenue and one centered on 64th Street added dimension and interest to the gleaming white façade. The sloping slate roof above the stone balustrade that hid the fourth floor terminated in graceful pierced cresting.

The Bulkleys, who also kept a country home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, moved in with their three children, Jonathan, Sarah and David. Their doors were immediately thrown open to society. In December that year they hosted a dinner and dance for the debutante Alice Bulkley Moss. The home was also the setting for charity teas and lunches – both Jonathan (who was president of the East Side House Settlement) and Sarah were highly involved in philanthropic and social endeavors. Sarah was for several years the Vice President of the New York Y. W. C. A. and the Garden Club of America.

The 64th Street facade -- photo by Alice Lum
On February 22, 1927 Sarah Bulkley left the house at 3:00 to attend a tea. Around her neck hung a pearl necklace valued at $50,000 and her fingers were weighed down with several expensive rings. It was a fortunate choice of accessories for Mrs. Bulkley.

When she returned at 6:30 she found her safe opened and empty. Gone was all of Sarah’s jewelry – diamond bracelets, diamond and emerald rings and a lorgnette chain with 97 diamonds valued at $20,000.

Bulkley and his sons, who were 29 and 27 years old at the time, had been home all afternoon; none of the servants knew the combination to the safe other than Sarah’s personal maid, Ida Kaemfer; and police called it an “inside job.” All circumstantial evidence pointed to Ida.

Mrs. Bulkley, however, insisted that the maid was “above suspicion.” The case was never solved.

A taxicab sits on Park Avenue in front of the Bulkley mansion in 1929 -- photo NYPL Collection

The 83-year old Bulkley died of pneumonia on October 16, 1939. Two and a half years later, on June 21, 1943, Sarah Tod Bulkley died. The Bulkley children were grown and had long ago left No. 600 Park Avenue. The house was shuttered. The beautiful rooms, once the scene of brilliant dinners and dances, sat dark and silent for three years.

In June, 1946 the Royal Swedish Government purchased the house as the permanent residence of its Consul General. Concurrently, it obtained the abutting five-story mansion at 63 East 64th Street and would eventually collect three others.

Bas relief carvings grace the facade.  The decorative ironwork was originally painted black to contract with the stone -- photo by Alice Lum
 In 1999 the new Consul General of Sweden, Olle Wastberg, and his wife took up residency at No. 600 Park Avenue. It was time, they felt, to spruce things up.

The Wastbergs worked with Swedish interior designers to re-do the interiors. The Bulkley house was transformed, according to the Scandinavian press site Nordic Way, “into a showplace for modern Swedish design.” But despite the introduction of Swedish furnishings and art, the architectural detailing, paneling, and mantles were carefully preserved.

In 2004 a façade restoration was undertaken by Gertler Wente Kerbeykian Architects.

photo by Alice Lum
Five years later, as a cost-saving measure, the Swedish Government elected to discontinue its New York Consulate.  The handsome mansion, valued at around $12.2 million, now serves as the residence of the Swedish Ambassador to the United Nations.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to comment that the consulate was not located here prior to its closure 5 or so years ago -- it was located in an office suite in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (I think 49th street and 2nd ave if I'm not mistaken), distinctly less lavish. I sure would have loved to renew my Swedish passport here. Now I'm beginning to wonder if maybe the Swedish government never wanted me to know how lavishly some of its bureaucrats live!