Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 1911 Medieval Fantasy at No. 40 E. 62nd Street


Photo by Alice Lum
In the years just prior to World War I wealthy New Yorkers were altering or razing the old brownstone rowhouses on the Upper East Side blocks off Central Park.   Suddenly stuffy post-Civil War residences with high stone stoops were replaced with neo-Georgian or Italian Renaissance mansions.   But one group of investors had another idea.

Deeming themselves the 40-46 East 62nd Street Co., they bought up the three homes at those addresses in 1910 with an ambitious plan.  Rather than construct fine new homes for just three families; they would erect a luxury apartment building for eighteen.  

By now apartment living for the upper classes had become acceptable.    Apartment houses, once equated by polite society as refuges for those who could not afford their own homes, now offered an upscale lifestyle with spacious rooms, servants’ accommodations and modern luxuries.

The developers hired architect Albert Joseph Bodker to design the new structure.  His design, completed in 1911, promised to command attention.  Bodker produced a neo-Medieval fantasy in brick, stone and terra cotta, complete with battlements and many-paned casements.   The two-story base was a celebration of color and Medieval symbols—fearsome griffins, pointed arches and heraldic shields.

photo by Alice Lum
There were just two apartments per floor, each with seven rooms and three baths.  Residents were assured of the proper separation staff and family.  “It has all modern improvements and three elevators, one passenger and two service elevators opening directly into the kitchens,” promised an early advertisement.

For additional income the investors included “two doctors’ apartments of two rooms and bath each” on the ground floor.

photo "The World's New York Apartment House Album" 1911 (copyright expired)
The posh apartments filled with a wide array of moneyed tenants.   Architect Henry Hardenburg, who designed memorable New York buildings like the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota Apartments, was one—prompting the AIA Guide to New York City decades later to remark “no greater compliment necessary.”

The floor plans carefully ensured that staff and residents did not needlessly mingle -- The World's New York Apartment House Album 1911, (copyright expired)
Author George B. Middleton and his family moved in; as did the family of Henry Fairfield Osborn.  Osborn was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the New York Zoological Society and a prodigious author, himself.  Among his scholarly works were publications like “The Origin of the Mammalia,” “The Biological Problems of To-day, Palaeontological Problems,” and “The Characters and Phylogeny of the Amblypoda.”

Shortly before the wedding of his daughter, Grace, George Middleton died.  Although the wedding in the chantry of St. Bartholomew’s Church went on, it was subdued.  The Sun noted that “As the bride’s family is in mourning only relatives and intimate friends have been invited to witness the ceremony.”  Afterward a small reception was held in the 62nd Street apartment.

Later that year neighbors John W. Peale and his wife announced the engagement of their daughter, Betty.   It would be a socially-prominent match; Betty’s fiancé was Daniel Le Roy Dresser, the nephew of George W. Vanderbilt.  With World War I raging, Dresser was in France fighting with the 642nd Aero Squadron and Betty had recently joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.

Theirs was a typical wartime romance among the upper class young folks.  Another involved William Ford Goulding who lived in the building with his widowed mother, Mrs. William H. Goulding, when he left home to serve with the 93rd Squadron of the First Army.  The Gouldings came from a long-established and esteemed Massachusetts family.  Upon his return from the war, Goulding became engaged to Helen Rickert.  The New-York Tribune said “Miss Rickert is a Spence School girl and a member of the Junior League, and during the war was actively engaged in canteen work and connected with relief organizations.”

Through war and weddings the Osborns managed to be socially visible.  In September 1918 The Sun reported that “Mrs. H. Fairfield Osborn, Jr. will be at 40 East Sixty-second Street for the winter,” and in July, 1921 it advised that “Mr. and Mrs. H. Fairfield Osborn, Jr., have arrived from abroad and have gone to their summer home at Garrison-on-the-Hudson for the season.  On their return to town in the fall they will be at 40 East Sixty-second Street.”

At least two of the female residents in the first decades of the building were more memorable than their successful husbands. 

Williston B. Lockwood was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and a partner in Flower & Co.  But his indomitable wife, Janet Isabel Dominick Lockwood, was the face of the family.  Prior to the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the sale or manufacture of alcohol, Janet Lockwood was a fiery temperance leader.  She was president of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Church Temperance Society, and organized the Hand-in-Hand Society of the Kings Daughters.  She was also a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames. 

Janet Lockwood would continue to live on at No. 40 East 62nd Street after the death of her husband, until her own death at the age of 87 on October 10, 1938.

photo by Alice Lum
Equally interesting was Greta Pomeroy Phillips Allen Clark.  The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Coolidge Pomeroy, she was descended from William Burnet, a colonial governor of New York.   Growing up she was surrounded by wealth and privilege; her parents owned homes in New York, Boston and Newport.

On July 22, 1905 she married Phillips A. Clark in Newport.   He would soon discover that his wife was not your average diffident socialite.  Greta was drawn to animals and pursuits more often associated with men.  When the Monmouth Hounds were organized in Newport, she was named Assistant Master of Hounds—the first female to receive the post.  No doubt to the shock of other wealthy society women, she garnered fame as a big-game hunter.

Her attention turned from killing animals to saving them, however.  Along with her many philanthropies, she was active in the New York Women’s League for Animals and she was instrumental in the establishment of the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals.  In 1927 it came to Greta Clark’s attention that when families left the city for the summer, they would simply put their dogs and cats on the street and replace them in the fall.  She wrote a heart-felt letter to the editor of The New York Times on June 8.

She asked “all owners of pets who expect to spend their vacations in the country to make provision for these animals during their absence…Do not turn them out to shift for themselves.”

She penned another letter to the newspaper five years later when a heroic deed came to her attention.  In September 1932 motorman Joseph J. Krankoff noticed a small dog walking the tracks in front of his train.  Much to the disgruntlement of his passengers, Krankoff drove the train “at a snail’s pace for two miles rather than run over” the dog, Clark wrote.   The New York Women’s League for Animals sent the motorman its “distinguished humane service medal.”

Greta Phillips Allen Clark remained active in society, according to The New York Times, until her death in her apartment on 62nd Street two weeks before Janet Lockwood, on September 24, 1938, at the age of 72.
photo by Alice Lum
Unlike many turn of the century apartment buildings, No. 40 East 62nd Street never faded.   It retained its high-end reputation and its high-end tenant list.   The remarkable neo-Medieval façade has been lovingly maintained; a reminder of a time when wealthy women published the days when they would receive.

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