|photo by Alice Lum|
That year the Hanover Bank began construction of its new bank building. The firm worked with Richard F. Carman on the project. Carman was already amassing a fortune by rebuilding the downtown area. A carpenter/builder and developer, he would later purchase approximately 23 acres in northern Manhattan to develop an entirely new community called Carmansville—a picturesque village of freestanding homes and barns.
Whether Carman was the architect of the bank building is uncertain; however the result was an architectural gem. Completed three years later in 1854, the Italian Renaissance Revival building looked more like a brownstone mansion, perhaps, than a financial institution.
Located at No. 1 Hanover Square (the square took its name from the bank), it rose three stories with pedimented windows and a bracketed cornice that bespoke understated elegant and dignity. Two shallow porticoes served as entrances.
In August 1870 the New York Cotton Exchange was formed, starting out in small back rooms at 146 Pearl Street and trading around 15,000 bales of cotton per week. Only a year later the Exchange needed permanent headquarters and took over the building previously owned by Hanover Bank.
The New York Cotton Exchange updated the building. Architect Ebenezer L. Roberts removed the matching stoops and created a single, centered entrance, framed by an elegant portico upheld by non-fluted Corinthian columns. A Victorian parapet was added to the roof with a clock and flagpole, and cast iron gas lights were installed on either side of the entrance stairs. The renovations—inside and out—cost the exchange a staggering $160,000.
|Roberts made significant alterations to the old brownstone building -- NYPL Collection|
|In 1871 The Cotton Exchange was among the tallest buildings downtown -- NYPL Collection|
By now he had established both the W. R. Grace & Co. firm and the New York and Pacific Steamship Co., was president and director of the Ingersoll-Sergeant Drill Co., director of the Central and South America Telegraph Co., the City Trust Co., Eastern Insurance Co., The Evergreens, Lincoln National Bank, Terminal Improvement Co. and the New York Mall and Newspaper Transportation Co.
William Grace died in 1904 and around the time that W. R.
Grace & Co. moved out of the building, Joseph P. Grace, along with several
other moguls including Willard Straight, became interested in forming a society of
businessmen who were involved in foreign trade.
The result would be India House—a men’s club whose name gave a nod to
the Dutch West India Company that colonized Manhattan.
|The elegant centered portico replaced the original pair of entrances in 1871 -- photo by Alice Lum|
On July 7, 1914 The New York Times noted that “To afford a meeting place for those interested in American foreign trade, Indian House [sic], a down-town club, has been organized. The headquarters will be at 1 Hanover Square, the old New York Cotton Exchange building, which recently was occupied by W. R. Grace & Co.” The new club was not merely for New Yorkers; members were accepted nation-wide and “it is planned to form European connections.”
Renovations were begun to convert the former business building into a clubhouse “so that in foreign cities members will have a place in which to feel ‘at home’ and to entertain,” said The Times. Architects Delano & Aldrich were given the commission.
The officers of the new club were heavy hitters: James A. Farrell, President of United States Steel was elected president; Willard Straight of J. P. Morgan & Co. was secretary; J. P. Grace, treasurer; and the President of Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Alba B. Johnson, was secretary. The Sun noted “A roster of the regulars in fact is a list of the foremost business men of New York whose activities have to do with the foreign trade.”
To add ambiance, “a collection of prints and paintings of old merchant vessels and scenes in the distant ports to which they sailed will be placed in the club,” said the newspaper. It was the seed of what would become one of the most important maritime art collections in the country.
The architects took an Edwardian look at the Victorian changes Roberts had made in 1871 and, apparently, clucked their tongues. They stripped the façade and roof line back to its purer Italian Renaissance roots and, with brownstone construction long out of favor, painted over the chocolate-colored stone.
|A platform hangs from the roof as painters finish a coat of white-wash, covering the brownstone. A cafe-restaurant leases space in the cellar -- photo NYPL Collection|
Two years later the same newspaper would remark on what was now an impressive art collection. “These enthusiasts set about the making of India House in the right way. The first thing they did was to create an atmosphere. This they accomplished by gathering what is without doubt the most extensive and valuable collection of pictures relating to the sea glory of the United States in existence.
|India House in 1934 -- photo Library of Congress|
Willard Straight purchased the property in 1918 to ensure that the club would not lose control of it, giving India House a ten-year lease with the option to buy. On December 1st that same year he died.
On February 16, 1921 The Times reported that India House would purchase the building from Straight’s estate for $650,000. The club, as well as its collection, continued to grow and in 1925 architect William A. Delano, who was also a member of India House, was brought back to enlarge the clubhouse, adding the Marine Room. A maritime motif of sea creatures and shells reflected the seafaring theme of India House. Other alterations were made at the time with a focus on early American overseas trade in the decorations and architectural detailing.
|In 1944 the brownstone facade was still painted white -- photo NYPL Collection|
When the building was designated a New York City landmark in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said it “illustrates Anglo-Italianate architecture to perfection.”
In 2002 the club initiated an investigation into the scope of necessary restoration—including the removal of a stucco-like covering on the brownstone façade. Extensive restoration was completed in 2005.
India House remains the private club of businessmen involved in foreign trade. Members have included Franklin D. Roosevelt, W. Averell Harriman, George C. Marshall, Cyrus Vance, Henry Cabot Lodge, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and several mayors of New York. The art collection is considered among the finest privately-held maritime collections in the nation.
The magnificent brownstone building sits like an imperial
presence beneath towering skyscrapers, unimpressed by her lofty modern
|photo by Alice Lum|