|Two houses were remodeled and melded together as one -- photo by Alice Lum|
Mowbray’s row of four-story brownstone houses stretched from No. 12 to No. 22 and for two decades they sat quietly in the comfortable setting. By the turn of the century, however, Manhattan’s wealthy were moving steadily northward on Fifth Avenue along the Park, building on the undeveloped plots or razing existing structures for their marble and limestone palaces.
Change would come to the block before long.
Justice H. W. Bookstaver was living in No. 14 until December of 1900 when he sold it to Edward C. Hoyt. Within two years William Post and his wife would take up residence in the house.
Next door to the Posts at No. 16 were Charles Henry Adams, his wife and their three daughters. Adams sold the property in 1905 to C. W. Luyster, Jr., a real estate developer who recognized the financial potential of old brownstone houses in a neighborhood filling with Astors, Havemeyers and Beekmans.
Luyster demolished the old residence and commissioned architect John H. Duncan to design a new, stately house on the site. The result was a five-story stone-clad residence with an American basement; much more up-to-date than the old-fashioned brownstone stoop.
The developer sold the newly completed house in 1906 to Benjamin F. Yoakum who moved in with his wife and daughter, Bessie.
The Director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Jeremiah Milbank, purchased both houses in 1919. He hired architects Dodge & Morrison to combine the two, melding them into a single grand mansion. Milbank spent $38,000 on the renovations which resulted in a limestone clad, 48-foot wide mansion that still looked suspiciously like two houses.
|Despite valiant attempts by the architects, the newly-formed single residence still looked like two houses -- photo by Alice Lum|
|Graceful limestone carvings swathe the entrance -- photo by Alice Lum|
Jeremiah Milbank had other things to do with his money than invest in moving pictures. DeMille’s biographer Scott Eyman noted that “Milbank was evincing only polite interest in investing in a proposed company until DeMille mentioned that his great dream was to make a movie about the life of Christ.”
The director would later recall “The only thing that moved Jeremiah Milbank to put his resources behind me was that first mention of The King of Kings.”
When DeMille walked away from the meeting an important chapter in motion picture history had begun.
The Milbank house glittered as New York’s elite passed through its doors. In December 1932 the couple gave “an old-fashioned reception,” as The Times referred to it, to introduce their daughter Margaret to society. When their niece Ella D. Milbank became engaged in January 1938 they hosted an elegant dinner and theater party here. And three decades after moving in Mrs. Milbank was still giving teas and socials to benefit charities.
|The 1919 renovation include delicate details like the lions' heads above the carved scrolled brackets -- photo by Alice Lum|
While Guccione left the historic exterior intact, he personalized the living space in Penthouse style with, for instance, a Roman-inspired indoor pool with marble columns (with his face etched into them) and “classic” statuary. Although he managed to live relatively quietly here; one “Pet of the Year” sued him for keeping her as a sex slave in the house.
|Guccione "updated" the interiors with a Mediterranean touch -- photo The New York Observer|
It was the sort of thing that had never happened while the Milbanks lived here.
Penthouse Magazine along with the rest of Guccione’s empire came crashing down as the internet took over the off-color industry. In 2006 the Milbank mansion was put on the market for $59 million and purchased by investment banker J. Christopher Flowers.
|A Mediterranean courtyard was created on the set-back -- photo Curbed New York|
While Lisa Falcone insisted to BusinessWeek Magazine that they intended to “restore it to its pre-Guccione elegant,” the renovations included a movie theater, sauna, gym, plunge pool and walk-in closet with a bar.
|In 2011 renovations continue, with fiberglass and cast-stone elements replacing lost stonework -- photo by Alice Lum|