Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Neo-Georgian Links Club -- No. 36-38 E. 62nd St.



photo by Alice Lum
In the years just prior to the United States entering World War I changes were taking place along East 62nd Street, between Madison and Park Avenues.   The block was lined with similar brownstone-fronted residences built in the 1880s, along with a few upscale private stables belonging to the mansions on nearby Fifth Avenue.  But now the stylishly-outdated buildings were mostly on their way out.

In the 1890s the area had been home to some of New York’s most important families.   The renowned Hungarian-born conductor, Anton Seidl lived in No. 38.   Seidl had been conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, and at the time of his death in the house in 1898 was conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

The house was besieged with visitors paying condolences on March 29 and delivery boys trudged up the brownstone stoop with wreaths and bouquets.  Telegrams were delivered from musicians and composers including Mr. and Mrs. Victor Herbert.  The impressive funeral was not held in the 62nd Street house, due to the large number of mourners; but was conducted in the Metropolitan Opera House with a full orchestra playing the funeral march from “Gotterdammerung” and other music being provided by the Arion and Liegerkranz clubs, the Musical Protective Union, the Musical Art Society, the choir of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and Philaharmonic and the Seidl orchestras.

Daniel B. Freedman bought the Seidl house two years later and in 1906 Edmund Coffin leased it.  By 1909 Eugene Outerbridge was living here.  Outerbridge had wide-flung business interests, being the Treasurer and Managing Director of the Pantasote Leather Company of New Jersey; a Director of the Pantasote Company of West Virginia; the Whitbridge Mills Company of Pennsylvania; the New York, Bermuda and Caribbean Steamshop Company; Director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  But for New Yorkers his name is forever connected with the bridge connecting New Jersey and Staten Island—the Outerbridge Crossing.

By 1911 the changes along the block could not be more evident.   Next door a fashionable apartment building in the neo-Medieval style was being completed.  It replaced four of the old buildings at Nos. 40 through 46.  At the corner of Park Avenue the first exclusive club for women, the Colony Club, erected its new clubhouse a year earlier.

T. Wyman Porter owned the two houses at Nos. 36 and 38; but as was customary at the time the deeds listed his wife, Lillian W. Porter as owner.  Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the AIA Guide to New York City both insist that the Porters commissioned Trowbridge & Livingston to remodel the two brownstones into a single home in 1902, period photographs show no change to the structures.  If plans were begun, they were never carried out.  In 1911 The New York Times reported that T. Wyman Porter leased out No. 38.

On January 21, 1916 the property was back in the news when The Times reported that Mrs. Porter had sold the 40-foot wide property encompassing the two plots to “a syndicate headed by Charles B. Macdonald, Charles H. Sabin, and others who have had plans prepared for improving the site with a four-story club house.”

On April 15, 1916 a New-York Tribune headline read “Plans Filed for Remodeling of Two Dwelling Houses in East 62d St.” and “A Luxurious ‘Nineteenth Hole’ for the Links Club.”    The Tribune article said plans were filed “for the making over of the two four story and basement private dwelling houses on East Sixty-second Street.  When completed, the building operations will have transformed the premises into a single building…The front stoops will be removed and the interior made over entirely at a cost of $100,000.”

The brownstone at No. 38 and the stoop of No. 36 are seen next to the new apartment building in 1911 -- The World's New York Apartment House Album (copyright expired)
Four years later the Links Club is under construction -- photo NYPL Collection
The club, said The New York Times would be “devoted to golfing interests” and the Tribune noted it would be “a social organization, composed mainly of golfing enthusiasts.”  And indeed it would be. 

The Links Club was the brainchild of Charles B. Macdonald, a wealthy stockbroker best remembered as “the father of American golf course architecture.”   Macdonald’s father was born in Scotland and in 1872 when the boy was 16 he was sent to St. Andrews University where he took up playing golf.

By the turn of the century he was Vice President of the newly-organized United States Golf Association, a tournament-winning golfer and the architect of courses based on famous holes overseas.   Macdonald was on a train heading south to the new Greenbrier course at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in the fall of 1915 with several other golfers when an idea hit him. 

“The former amateur champion was one of those who planned the layout of the Greenbrier links, and he thought an organization along the lines of the Links Club would be welcome by wealthy golfers here in New York,” said the Tribune.  “On cold and blustery nights, in the winters to come, when the streets outside are ice-covered and the snow drifts up against the window panes, the members of the Links Club will gather about the great open fireplace, and the talk will be of mashie and niblick, of bunker and water hazard, and it is said that only those able to discuss intelligently the intricate problems that arise on the links will be eligible to membership.”

The Links Club was founded with the objectives “to promote and conserve throughout the United States the best interests and true spirit of the game of golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions, endorsing the rules of the game as it is played in Scotland and as adopted by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.”

The syndicate commissioned architects John W. and Elliot Cross, of Cross & Cross, to design their clubhouse.   Completed within the year and opened in 1917, it reflected the Scottish and British roots of the club.  The neo-Georgian fa├žade was clad in an orange-tinted brick laid in English bond.   There were no grand entrance stairs; rather the entrance was quietly located a few steps below the sidewalk.  Stone quoins and window framing contrasted with the warm brickwork.  Taken as a whole, the clubhouse oozed impeccable taste.

photograph from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The architects and the club directors struggled briefly with the hopes of a rooftop driving range; but the idea was tossed aside in favor of what the New-York Tribune called “an extensive roof garden.”  Inside were the trappings of good breeding and exclusivity.  The Tribune called it “Probably the most luxurious ‘nineteenth hole’ in this country” as it took its place “among New York’s rendezvous for clubmen.”

Carved faces serve as keystones -- photo by Alice Lum
Charles Blair Macdonald was honored in April 1919 when Henry Clay Frick presented the Club with a large portrait of the founder by Carl Melchers.   The Tribune described the painting on April 13.  “It is an open air portrait, showing the noted golfer on the course which he helped to found and of which he is president, the National, at Southampton.  His caddie is shown standing beside him.”

Little has changed in the reserved Links Club nearly a century later.   The venerable Sir Christopher Wren room, the club’s library, was designed by the famous architect and shipped from England.   Oil portraits including a those of Abraham Lincoln, Captain James Lawrence, William Pitt and a Rembrandt Peale of George Washington hang throughout the room.   Jacketed staff serve the members in an refined atmosphere not found outside the 62nd Street windows.


photo by Alice Lum
There is no exterior hint that No. 36 East 62nd Street is the Links Club.  An inscribed keystone above the understated doorway is advertisement enough.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for presenting such well-researched histories of NYC's outstanding architecture. Your posts are a delightful part of my day.

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    1. Thanks so much. Glad you're enjoying the posts.

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  2. The brownstone that used to be next door was blown up by its owner in 2006:

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2006/07/10/breaking_34_east_62nd_before_the_fall.php#reader_comments

    Its current proposed replacement is not, to say it nicely, contextual:

    http://www.sothebyshomes.com/nyc/sales/0018597

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    1. Oh, my. May the "proposed" replacement remain just that. It looks like two elevator shafts that met in Dallas and moved to New York.

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