Friday, March 8, 2013

The Ludlow-Parish Houses -- Nos. 6 and 8 E. 76th St.

The Ludlows lived at No. 6 (right) and the Parishes at No. 8 -- photo by Alice Lum
Margaret Tonnele Hall Ludlow had an impressive New York pedigree. She was closely related to the Roosevelt family and in 1863 she married Edward Philip Livingston Ludlow--a direct descendant of Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of Gabriel Ludlow who was named by King William III as a Vestryman of Trinity Church in 1697.

By the time Ludlow’s daughter, Susan, married the wealthy banker Henry Parish, Jr. in 1884 New York’s wealthy citizens were building imposing mansions along the east side of Central Park. The Ludlows and Parishes would join the trend in 1895 when Edward and Margaret Ludlow laid plans for a double mansion on East 76th Street, just off the Fifth Avenue.

The Ludlows commissioned architects Parish & Schroeder to design two side-by-side homes—one for themselves and the other for their daughter and son-in-law.  By designing the houses as mirror images, the firm created what appeared to be a single Italian Renaissance palazzo—two mansions pretending to be one.  Sitting squarely at sidewalk level above two shallow steps, the separate entrances were disguised by a single portico supported by paired columns.

The limestone base gave way to four stories of beige-grey Roman brick trimmed in limestone.  Parish & Schroeder resisted the gushing ornament popular on other mansions of the period; instead relying on restrained decoration—brick quoins, simple iron railings and just two Renaissance-inspired triangular window pediments.

The houses were completed in 1896, the title of both being recorded in Margaret’s name.  The Ludlows moved into No. 6 East 76th Street, with the Parishes next door at No. 8.  The houses were connected internally by “wide sliding doors” between the drawing rooms, according to The New York Times.  While Margaret Ludlow gave the expected entertainments here and in her Newport cottage, Mount Airie, it would be Susan Parish who attracted the social spotlight.

On December 4, 1897 the Parish home was ready to receive guests.  The following day the New-York Tribune noted that “Mrs. Henry Parish, Jr., of No. 8 East Seventy-sixth-st., gave a housewarming yesterday afternoon, in her new home, which was one of the largest and most brilliant receptions of the day.”

For her afternoon housewarming Susan wore “a gown of mauve velvet,” and assisting her in receiving the throng of guests were five wealthy socialites:  Mrs.Goodhue Livingston, Mrs. Douglas Robinson, Mrs. Benjamin Welles, Mrs. William S. Cowles, and, of course, her mother who, the Tribune mentioned, “lives in the communicating house.”

Susan and Henry had just one child, Julia, a fact that did not stop them from hosting several debutante affairs, weddings and receptions in the house.  Henry’s sister, Edith married her “kinsman,” Daniel Parish Kingsford, in a wedding in July 1898 that the Vermont Phoenix deemed “notable because it involved some of the best blood of old New York.”  The ensuing wedding breakfast was held at No. 8 East 76th.  The following year, on December 14, Susan gave a dinner for her relative Kitty Hall.  “The guests were all debutantes,” mentioned The New York Times.
Henry Parish, Jr. -- "Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York" 1914 (copyright expired)
But none of the events held in the house at No. 8 East 76th Street would outdo the wedding that took place here on St. Patrick’s Day, 1905.

At the turn of the century, both parents of Susan’s cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, had died.  Anna, who went by her middle name, moved in with the Parishes.  Eleanor’s uncle was President Theodore Roosevelt and following a reception and dinner at the White House in 1903, she was introduced to her distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt.

Much to the disgruntlement of his domineering mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin announced his plans to marry Eleanor in 1904.  Despite Sara’s efforts to stop it, the wedding took place in the Parish mansion.  The house was transformed for the ceremony.  The Los Angeles Herald said “A huge floral cluster of 1,000 pink roses, entwined with smilax and asparagus, was suspended in the center of the drawing room and formed a canopy.”  

The New York Times wrote “The two large drawing rooms on the second floor, done alike in pale amber-yellow satin brocade, were thrown into one large salon running the width of the two houses.”  With no father to give her away, Eleanor relied on her uncle, the President of the United States.

Getting to the Parish house for the President meant disrupting the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  The Los Angeles Herald said “On the way he met a big St. Patrick’s day parade, which was stopped, the participants and the thousands who crowded the sidewalks wildly cheering Mr. Roosevelt as he went through and passed up Park avenue.”

At 3:00 in the afternoon he arrived.  “The president, with his niece leaning on his arm, preceded by the bridesmaids, passed into the drawing room through an aisle of white ribbons held by the ushers,” said the newspaper.

In 1915 Henry Parish retired from the Bank of New York and Trust Company where he had been vice-president and trustee.  Unbendingly old-fashioned, The New York Times remarked that “he had never allowed a telephone in the institution and permitted typewriters only out of his own earshot.”

The Parish house continued to be the scene of numerous entertainments, including the wedding of cousin Elizabeth Livingston Hall to Norwood Rathbone on February 8, 1922.  The New York Times could not resist mentioning that “Mrs. Rathbone is a cousin of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wedding was also celebrated some years ago in the same house, long occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Parish.”

The Roosevelts and the Parishes had a close relationship and even after Franklin attained the presidency he and Eleanor were frequent guests on East 76th Street and in the Parish homes in Newport and Llewellyn Park, New Jersey.  Henry and Susan were guests, as well, at the White House.

On June 26, 1942 the 82-year old Henry Parish died of a heart attacked in the Llewellyn Park summer home.  Susan continued to live on in the house on East 76th Street and to maintain the New Jersey and Newport estates.

Four years after her husband’s death, Susan Parish was at home in New York while workman prepared the New Jersey house for her return in May 1946.  A lit cigarette was tossed onto the porch roof and before long the upper floors were on fire.  A gardener, William Kennedy, rushed into the burning house to rescue personal and historic items.  Among them were photographs “of the late President after his graduation from Harvard University and one of the Roosevelts at their wedding, which took place in the home of Mrs. Parish,” reported The Times.

The fire destroyed the second and third floors of the home, “one of the oldest residences in Llewellyn Park,” according to The Times; causing about $30,000 in damages.

Susan had the home restored.  By now the aging woman who had once been so socially prominent was a semi-invalid and spent her time in seclusion.  In 1950 she traveled to the Llewellyn Park estate for the summer and there, on July 9, she died at the age of 84.

The following year her estate sold the house on East 76th Street where she had lived for over half a century in a cash deal.  It was the end of the line for the Parish house as a private home.

Both homes were converted to multi-family residences; their historic significance largely lost -- photo by Alice Lum
After her mother’s death, the house next door had been purchased by Colonel Thomas H. Birch.  He died here in 1929 and Mrs. Birch remained on until the early 1930s.  In 1946 it had been converted to apartments and doctors’ offices.

The same fate would befall the Parish home.  Following the sale in 1951 it was converted to apartments with doctors’ offices on the ground floor.
The two once-grand homes give little hint of their former lives.  No one remembers that here a President of the United States gave away a future First Lady in marriage, under a canopy of 1,000 pink roses.


  1. Most interesting that the double townhouse seems to have been a Roosevelt family predeliction:In 1908, Sara Delano Roosevelt comissioned a similar double house for herself and her son and daughter in law at 47-49 East 65th Street. The story goes that Sara Roosevelt, the quintessential domineering "mother in law from Hell" presented plans for the house to Franklin and Eleanor as a Christmas present and then added something to the effect of " and I'll be moving in right next door". Apparently, the upper floors had connecting doors so the reception rooms of both houses could be thrown together for entertaining. It is said that they were never closed. Interesting that this somewhat odd construct had a family history.

  2. Also the Astor Ballroom was shared and essentially joined the great Astor house on upper 5th Ave so maybe this was not so odd in a day when ones extended family, ones social circle, clubs, religious affliations and business partners lived and played in close proximity to one another both at home, on vacation and in business?