Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Henry Randel House -- No. 38 E.38th Street

photo by Alice Lum
As the Civil War drew to a close, the Murray Hill neighborhood attracted wealthy merchant class residents who moved into wide brownstone rowhouses.  The south side of East 38th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues was lined with four-story Italianate homes including No. 38, the home of Henry Randel and his wife, the former Caroline Malvina Perrine.

Earlier, in 1840, Randel had partnered with James Baremore to form the high-end jewelry company Randel & Baremore.  The pair opened their first store at No. 32 North Moore Street.  In 1851 they hired Chester Billings as a clerk.  Fifteen years later Billings became a partner and the firm was renamed Randel, Baremore &amp Billings; Co.

The firm would probably have been lost in the tangle of upscale jewelers at the time if it were not for a daring step Randel and Baremore took shortly after opening.  At a time when wealthy women were judged by their pearls, Randel and Baremore focused on diamonds.  Years later the New-York Tribune would remember “they determined to make diamonds their specialty, and in this they were pioneers, as no diamond specialists existed here at that time.”

It was a risky move.  Americans were largely disinterested in cut gemstones; however Randel,  Baremore & Billings now held a near-monopoly in the diamond trade in New York.  The partners amassed personal fortunes. 

James Baremore traveled to France in 1867.   New York was shocked to receive the news that the 48-year old died in Paris on Friday, September 27.   The body had to be transported home on a steamer, and almost a month later, on Friday October 18 at 2:00 in the afternoon, Baremore’s funeral was held in the parlor of the Randel home at 38 East 38th Street.

The home would be the scene of another unexpected funeral on Wednesday, January 28, 1874.  Caroline’s brother, Isaac C. Perrine, died near Omaha on January 23.  His body was brought back to New York for the 38th Street funeral.

Henry Randel and Chester Billings took another bold step in 1880.  The New-York Tribune said “they took up diamond cutting, and this they carried on in the American style…This method aims at producing effect rather than conserving the weight of the gems.”  Their pioneering method focused on brilliance rather than size.  Once again their daring paid off; prompting the Tribune to say their “enterprise was most successful.”

The successful firm owned its own building -- King's Views of New York (copyright expired)

By now the firm now had two branches overseas.  The Tribune noted that “But, besides diamonds, this house deals largely through its London and Amsterdam offices in rubies, sapphires, opals, emeralds and pearls and their designs for the settings and arrangements of these gems give them high rank as manufacturers of jewelry.”

The Randel family received a scare on March 30, 1885.  While traveling in Washington DC the 68-year old Henry Randel “was suddenly prostrated at dinner,” as reported in The Sun.  The resilient jeweler recovered however and it would be another twelve years before he finally retired.

On February 23, 1897 Henry Randel and Chester Billings issued a Notice of Dissolution.  The partnership was dissolved “by mutual consent” and continued business under the name of Chester Billings & Son.  Ironically, it was Billings who died later that same year.

The Randel’s daughter, Emelie, was no longer in the house by now.  Divorced, she married the staggeringly-wealthy director of the Standard Oil Company, Henry Huttleston Rogers, in 1896.  Her aging parents kept up their annual pilgrimages to various summer resorts, along with the rest of New York’s wealthy citizens.  For the summer season of 1900 they took “the Hathorn Cottage” in Saratoga and the following year leased the William Kent Cottage in Tuxedo, New York.

But Henry’s age was showing.  In 1900, on the advice of H. H. Rogers, he traveled to Georgia for medical attention.  It was an idea that annoyed Samuel Clemens.  On April 8 of that year the author wrote a fiery letter to Rogers from London which said in part:

"Now you get some Plasmon of Butters, and give it to Mrs. Rogers and her father, and you will find good results.  In any case it will do away with indigestions, and that is something. Why did you send Mr. Randel to Georgia?  There was no use in it.  You should have sent him to Dr. Helmer, corner of 36th and Madison avenue—osteopath.  Can’t I beat it into your head that physicians are only useful up to a certain point?  There their art fails, and then one osteopath is worth two of them.”

While the Randels were in Tuxedo Park the following year, Henry fell ill again.  The New York Times reported on July 28, 1901 that “Mr. Henry Randel, who occupies the William Kent cottage, lies seriously ill at Tuxedo, having suffered a stroke of apoplexy last week.  Fears are entertained for his recovery and the family have been sent for, and are now constantly with him.”

The Times was a bit tardy in its reporting.  Henry Randel had been dead for two days when the article came out.  The body of the 84-year old was brought back to the house on 38th Street, where his funeral was held on Monday, July 29 at 10:30 a.m.

Within the year Caroline Randel left the house she and her husband had shared for over half a century.  She moved to No. 667 Madison Avenue and the 38th Street house was offered for sale.  It was undoubtedly no coincidence that the buyer of the family home was Emelie Rogers’ step-son, H. H. Rogers, Jr.

photo by Alice Lum

Rogers lost no time in updating the architecturally out-of-fashion home.  Like other wealthy homeowners in the still-upscale neighborhood, he gave the old house a facelift.  Rogers commissioned architect Charles Brigham to design an entirely new façade.  What resulted was an imposing limestone mansion overflowing with classical details—scrolled broken pediments embracing carved urns over the parlor windows, two-story fluted pilasters at the upper floors, menacing carved lions heads in the brackets of the limestone balcony and elaborate oversized volutes that rolled away from the free-standing Corinthian entrance columns.

photo by Alice Lum

Unusual for the East Side of Manhattan, Brigham used a dog-leg stoop.  But unlike its West Side counterparts, he treated it imperiously.  Squared columns with Ionic pilasters supported four classical urns.  Ornate ironwork provided a screen and regal iron gates protected the service entrance.

The handsome treatment of the dog-leg stoop created an even more regal appearance -- photo by Alice Lum

As 38 East 38th Street was receiving its make-over, Hugo Baring was arriving in New York.  On May 18, 1902 The New York Times reported that “Hugo Baring, a brother of Lord Revelstoke and Cecil Baring, will take the latter’s place in the banking house in this city.  Cecil Baring returns to England.”

The 26-year old was already a member of the firm Baring & Co. at No. 15 Wall Street and before long would hold memberships in New York’s most exclusive clubs—The Union, Racquet and Riding, and Tuxedo Clubs among them.  He was quickly established as one of society’s most eligible bachelors.

That bachelorship ended in March 1905 when he married.  The renovated house on 38th Street was now worthy of titled British and the following year The Times noted that “Hugo Baring and his wife, Lady Evelyn Baring, are at 38 East Thirty-eighth Street for the Winter.”

Following the Barings, the family of Winthrop Burr took the house.  1907 was an important year for the Burrs as daughter Rosamond was being introduced to society.  On December 5 Mrs. Burr hosted an afternoon tea for Rosamond, followed by a dinner “of fourteen covers.”  Helping Rosamond and her mother receive were six other young socialites.

The following evening twenty-eight guests dined in the Burr mansion.  Afterward Mrs. Burr gave a dance in the Assembly Room of the Colony Club.  The impressive guest list included the top names in New York society:  Fish, Roosevelt, Harriman, Gould, Morgan, Sloane, Townsend among them.   Guests expected favors and Mrs. Burr’s seem somewhat surprising to modern minds.  “There were four sets of favors, including fancy lace bags and jardinières of ferns, assorted baskets trimmed with roses, toy monkeys holding ferns, carved Japanese daggers, hand mirrors tied with ribbons, velvet cat pin cushions and shaving pads,” noted The Times.

After the cotillion supper was served for the 210 guests.

In 1909 the Burrs moved to No. 20 West 58th Street for the winter season.  Before long the magnificent house would be leased as upscale furnished apartments.  In 1919 Walter Franklin took an apartment here and a year later newspapers reported that “William Alpheus Nettleton has taken an apartment for the Winter at 38 East Thirty-eighth Street.”

Through the 1920s well-to-do tenants included Mrs. F. Stanhope Philips, who also lived in Santa Barbara, California; Dr. John P. A. Lang, and Dr. Samuel Gottesman.  Dr. Gottesman was living here in 1925 when he married Lillie Simmonds and the couple was still here in 1929 when they announced the arrival of their baby daughter on January 28.

In 1936 the house was structurally converted to apartments—just two per floor with a doctor’s office in the basement level.   Among the tenants was Leonard M. Holland who had been wine steward at the Waldorf-Astoria for 12 years when he died in his sleep in his apartment in 1945.

In 2006 the house was renovated once again.  The doctor’s office remains in the basement level; but now the house is divided into a triplex stretching from the parlor through the third floor, and three apartments above.  Today the exterior of the imposing house is little changed from the 1902 renovation.
No. 38 sits among other turn-of-the-century updates.  Down the street an Italianate survivor from the 1860s is a reminder of how No. 38 appeared when Henry Randel lived here. -- photo by Alice Lum

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