Friday, November 16, 2012

The Scandalous Love Nest at No. 323 West 74th Street

Restoration continued in 2012 -- photo by Alice Lum
As the 20th century approached, sumptuous mansions—many of them free-standing—were rising along Riverside Drive.  The recently completed Riverside Park and the magnificent views across the Hudson River created a viable rival to upper Fifth Avenue as the city’s most exclusive address.

As mansions crept up the Drive, the New York Orphan Asylum was in the way.   The orphanage building filled the block between 73rd and 74th Streets, and the institution owned the block directly north, between 74th and 75th Streets.   In 1893 the Asylum put the block front on the northern side of 74th Street for sale.   Despite the institution across the street, it was a superb opportunity for developers or potential homeowners.

Grand houses quickly filled the northern side of 74th Street, despite the Orphan Asylum across the street -- photo Museum of the City of New York
A group of eight millionaires formed a syndicate and purchased the land with the intention of erecting fashionable residences for themselves and sharing the profits on any additional homes.  They divided the block into eleven building lots ranging according to their needs from 22 to 30 feet wide.   The syndicate then commissioned architect C. P. H. Gilbert to design the row of homes.  Each would be, according to an announcement in the Real Estate Record & Guide, “of the highest order.”

Gilbert had designed several mansions by now, and would soon be responsible for some of the most lavish homes in the city including the French Gothic Isaac Fletcher chateau.   For the row on 74th Street he would create eleven individually designed residences, none of which would hog the architectural spotlight.

Completed in 1896 they stretched from No. 303 to No. 323, nearest the Drive.  While each of the other mansions was faced in white limestone or buff-colored brick, No. 323 was dressed in red brick—a noticeable punctuation mark for the row.   The house sat on a white marble base above shallow steps leading back from the sidewalk.  Doric columns upheld two stories of bowed façade that created a sheltered portico.   White marble quoins ran zipper-like up with sides creating a pleasant contrast with the red brick.

photo by alice Lum
The mansion became home to William Crittenden Adams.   Born in San Francisco, Adams had a Civil Engineering degree from the Columbia University School of Mines.    Six years before the house on 74th Street was built, he formed a partnership with his brother, Samuel F. Adams, as operators and speculators in Manhattan real estate.   By now a millionaire, he moved in with his wife, Grace Fairchild James Adams, and their three impressively-named children, Crittenden Hull, James Fairchild and Darwin James Adams.   Adams was apparently busy in the neighborhood for in his will he bequeathed the house and lot at No. 259 West 74th Street, a block away, to his son.

photo "Universities and Their Sons" 1900 (copyright expired)
Adams was a member of several of the most exclusive men’s clubs in town, including the Union League Club.  But it was his love and expertise of yachting for which he was best known.  Adams was a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club and the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club.   

While Adams was busy sailing and developing real estate, the New York Orphan Asylum took advantage of soaring real estate values.   In 1901 it sold the entire block, from 73rd to 74th Streets and Riverside Drive to West End Avenue to steel magnate Charles M. Schwab.  The industrialist paid $865,000 for the block—the most ever spent on a building lot.   The houses along 74th Street which had faced the orphanage would, by 1906, overlook the largest, most sumptuous mansion ever constructed in New York City.

For a few years as his gargantuan French Renaissance chateau was being built, Schwab rented No. 323.  The location, directly across the street from the construction site, offered him unparalleled ability to oversee the massive project.

Gilbert focused attention on minute details like the lace-like carving along the window framing and the intricate fruit garland of the keystone -- photo by Alice Lum
Robert E. Tod purchased the house after Schwab moved into his new mansion.   Tod, with his brother John Kennedy Tod, ran the banking firm of J. S. Kennedy & Company which was founded by their uncle, John Stewart Kennedy.    Like Adams, Robert E. Tod was a major player in the yachting community.

While he was Commodore of the Atlantic Yacht Club at the turn of the century, he was instrumental in organizing an international yacht race that involved the German Emperor.  He offered prizes for the winners in a series of ocean races off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  The regatta caught the attention of Sir Thomas Lipton of England while he was visiting in 1903.

Sir Thomas was impressed with the fervent interest in the races and offered a cup for a transatlantic race managed by the Atlantic Yacht Club.   Tod was put in an uncomfortable situation when a representative of Emperor Wilhelm II arrived, offering an imperial cup as the main prize.  With apparently delicate diplomacy Tod convinced Sir Thomas Lipton to withdraw his offer of the silver cup so as not to offend the monarch.

In 1913 Tod offered the house at No. 323 West 74th Street to a real estate firm as partial payment for an apartment building.    The company quickly resold it in December for $125,000.   The purchaser’s name was kept secret, causing much speculation.    The Sun mused “There is one other real estate mystery in Manhattan.  It involves the ownership of the fine dwelling at 323 West Seventy-fourth street…Various stories have been heard as to the real buyer, but none of them could be verified.  In fact, as has been said, it is one of the mystery properties of the city.”

The mystery would not be solved for years; and it would result in delicious fodder for parlor gossip.

When industrialist Jay Gould died in 1892 he left a staggering fortune of approximately $72 million to be divided among his six children.  While daughter Helen remained in the Fifth Avenue mansion living quietly and devoting herself to charity, her siblings, as later reported in a newspaper, “went out in the world.”  Among them was brother George.

George married Edith Kingdon and the couple had seven children.  But by now Edith’s once-striking figure was gone.  The socialite was obese and George’s eye began to wander.    That wandering eye landed on showgirl Guinevere Sinclair, a “Gaiety Girl” dancer.  Despite her career choice, Sinclair had been reared in a prominent family and her grandfather, Sir Edward Sinclair, had been Provost of Trinity College in Dublin.

The young and beautiful Guinevere Sinclair was the recipient of the house at No. 323 West 74th Street—a gift of her new lover.   A son, George Sinclair, was born on April 15, 1915, then a daughter, Jane, in 1917.  Gould also purchased a magnificent Tudor-style country estate in Rye, New York for his lover.  The Gould family, including Edith, was well aware of the arrangement and the children were known among the family as “George’s bastards.”  Only New York society was kept in the dark. 

Edith tried valiantly to lose weight and regain her husband’s favor.  She went through diets and massages and took up golf.   Her attempts to appear thin included wearing a tortuously tight rubber suit under her clothing.    During a golf game in November 1921 with George, Edith suddenly dropped to the ground, dead of a heart attack.   Beneath her golf costume was the suffocating rubber suit.

Within six months George Gould married Guinevere Sinclair in a five-minute ceremony in Lakewood, New Jersey, about the time that another daughter, also named Guinevere, was born.    The newly-weds immediately sailed for Europe and clubrooms and ballrooms of New York society buzzed with rumors regarding the unknown bride.

Although the New-York Tribune reported that “All the mystery surrounding the marriage was swept away yesterday with the discovery of the records pertaining to the wedding on file at the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Trenton, New Jersey, “ it bemoaned that “Very little could be learned here yesterday about the new Mrs. Gould.”   The newspaper disclosed “It was said yesterday by friends of Mr. Gould that the marriage was no surprise to members of the Gould family, although none of them was present at the ceremony.”

The marriage would not last long.  A year later, in May 1923, the 59-year old George Gould died alone in France from heart disease.  It would be the beginning of a bitter fight for the $15 million estate.

The Gould family harbored bitter animosity against the former showgirl and her children.  Gould’s legitimate children fought in court for valuable paintings which they said were given to Edith during his lifetime, and the family mansions in Lakewood, New Jersey and Manhattan.    Finally on June 18, 1925 the estate was settled with Guinevere receiving $1 million in Liberty bonds which George had sent to her just before his death in Paris and a $4 million trust fund for the children.

Guinevere Sinclair Gould did not let grass grow under her feet.   Later that year she married the English viscount George St. John Broderick Dunsford.  Dunsford apparently had an eye for showgirls, for he had recently divorced another former actress.    By 1927 Guinevere, now Lady Dunsford, had purchased Estwell Park, a sprawling estate in Kent, England and lived there with her three children and new husband.

That same year, the house at No. 323 West 74th Street was divided into “non-housekeeping apartments.”  Five years later the designation was changed to simply “apartments.”  In 2002 architect Allen Strasen was commissioned by owner Van Velle to renovate the home.

Obscured by construction scaffolding are the white marble entrance steps and base -- photo by Alice Lum
A penthouse, invisible from the street, was added to the roof, creating a triplex apartment with the fourth and fifth floors.   Although no longer a private home; the impressive brick and marble exterior has been lovingly preserved.


  1. I have a house in Glen Cove, New York in an area called North Country Colony. It is considered of interest to architectural historians because it is a very early residential development targetted to the well-to-do. CPH Gilbert was the architect most intimately involved in designing many of the original houses. Among the early residents were William Crittenden Adams and Horatio Adams who had houses on ajoining properties. Horatio Adams was the son of Thomas Adams, widely credited as the man who invented chewing gum. I had always assumed that he and William Crittenden Adams were brothers. Now I think I may be wrong.

    1. Their wives were sisters.

    2. William Crittenden Adams was married to Grace Fairchild James. Horatio Adams (not the same Adams family) was married to Grace's sister, Mary Isabelle James. So I am not surprised to learn that their homes in Glen Cove were on adjoining properties.

  2. William Crittenden Adams was the son of Samuel and Alice White Adams -- both of New York City. The adjoining properties in Glen Cove must have been coincidental--unless there is a more distant family relationship between him and Horatio.

  3. I have rad above blog it is a very early residential development targetted to the well-to-do. CPH Gilbert was the architect most intimately involved in designing many of the original houses.