Friday, February 10, 2012

The 1907 Charles Guggenheimer House - No. 129 E 73rd Street

photo by Alice Lum
On October 4, 1906 W. H. Woodin sold the plot of land at 129 East 73rd Street to “a client, who will erect thereon a five-story American basement dwelling,” as reported in The New York Times.  The article added that the “property adjoins the house built by Charles Dana Gibson.”

When the hugely successful illustrator commissioned Stanford White to design his neo-Georgian townhouse two years earlier, the block between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue gained prestige.  Soon other handsome residences would begin rising, including the sumptuous house next door at No. 129.

Charles S. Guggenheimer was “the client” who purchased the lot.  A wealthy attorney, he commissioned architect Henry Allan Jacobs to design his new home.  Jacobs was born and educated in New York City and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  Returning to New York, he made his mark designing both residences and hotels, including the notable Seville Hotel at Madison Avenue and 29th Street that was completed the same year as Gibson’s house.

In stark contrast to Stanford White’s brick-and-limestone Colonial structure, Jacobs produced a lavish neo-Italian Renaissance townhouse clad in limestone.  Completed in 1907, it rose five stories, including the mansard roof, above an American basement.   Above the restrained, rusticated base with a centered entranceway a graceful loggia served as the focal point of the design.   Its triple arches framed three sets of French doors.

photo by Alice Lum
At the third floor a single carved limestone balcony connected the three windows and at the fourth floor the windows were flanked by two massive and elaborate carved panels.

Carved panels of graceful figures, twining flowers and urns sit above a delicate wave-crest course -- photo by Alice Lum
The Guggenheimers were still newly-weds when they moved in.  Charles and his wife, Minnie, had been married in 1903.  With them on moving day was baby daughter, Elizabeth, born a year earlier in 1906.  Minnie was well-known in music circles, an active supporter of the New Symphony Orchestra and the Music League of the People’s Institute.

The Guggenheimers were struck a tragic blow six years later when little Elizabeth, now 7 years old, was hospitalized at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in 1913.  On April 28, the little girl succumbed.  Her funeral was held in the parlor of No. 129 East 73rd at 9:30 am on April 30.

The heart-broken Guggenheimers sold the house almost immediately.  E. Mortimer Ward purchased it just in time for the coming-out entertainments for his step-daughter, Dorothy Clapp.   On December 23, 1914, Mrs. Ward hosted a tea, followed by dinner at the Plaza Hotel.  Afterwards 200 guests were invited to the dance that would introduce young Dorothy.

Three years later Dorothy would be the maid of honor at her sister’s wedding on March 28, 1917.   The wedding day was originally planned for June 6; but World War I suddenly changed all that.  “Another of the many weddings hastened by the prospects of war was that yesterday of Bradish Johnson Carroll, Jr., a member of the Seventh Regiment, N.Y.N.G., who has been at the Mexican border, and Miss Mary Eunice Clapp,” said The Times.

Following the society wedding at St. James Protestant Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue, the reception was held at the 73rd Street house “which was gay with pink roses and Easter lilies.”

The entrance features an elaborately-carved marble frame -- photo by Alice Lum
By 1921 E. Mortimer Ward had died and Mrs. Ward left East 73rd Street for an apartment at 830 Park Avenue.  William Medlicott Fleitmann purchased No. 129.  The 61-year old Fleitmann was a partner in Fleitmann and Company which was founded by his father.   The firm was one of the largest mercantile banking and commission houses in the country.  Quite the clubman, he was a member of the New York Athletic Club, New York Yacht Club, Deutscher Verein, Merchants Club, Riding Club, Piping Rock Club, Suburban Riding and Driving Club and Columbia Yacht Clubs.

The Fleitmann’s daughter, however, was the star of the family.   Lida Louise Fleitmann was 27 years old when the family bought the house.  Still unmarried, she was well noted as a horsewoman both in America and Europe and was the author of “Comments on Hacks and Hunters,” published by Scribner’s.

The New York Times commented that “Miss Fleitmann is one of the best known riders in the Long Island hunting set.  She has a string of hunters and has won many blue ribbons and silver trophies in the annual horse shows in this city and elsewhere…Her silver trophies include salvers and candelabra, the later including the Berlin Cooks Memorial plate, which she won as the best cross-country rider to the Meadow Brook Hounds in 1916.”

The 1916 trophy came just a year after her horse, Cygnet, crushed her right leg in a jumping contest, fracturing it in two places.  The Times said, somewhat apologetically, “She is a member of the Junior League, but her interest in outdoor sports and her horses have kept her from active participation in the indoors entertainments of that organization.”

Lida eventually found a man who could compete with the horses for her affection and on February 1, 1922 her engagement to clubman John Van Schaick Bloodgood was announced.

With Lida successfully married, William Medlicott Fleitmann and his wife, the former Lida M. Heinze of Brooklyn, retired to Paris where he died in 1929.

The house on East 73rd Street became home to  Dr. and Mrs. Harry E. Isaacs and their son, Frederick Lampke Isaacs.  Isaacs was Chief of Surgical Services at Beth Israel Hospital.  The family remained in the house until 1942 when it was leased to Henry W. Jarrett.

photo by Alice Lum
Following World War II the house became the Leo Baeck Institute.  Founded in 1955, its library and archives seek to preserve all records of the German-speaking Jewish culture that was annihilated during the war.  By the 1970s the library had amassed over 50,000 volumes, mostly in German, as well as unpublished memoirs, and newspapers and periodicals.

Henry Allan Jacobs’ sophisticated façade remains unchanged since the Guggenheimer family first walked in the door in 1907—a remarkable building on an equally-remarkable block of Manhattan.

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