Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The 1911 Julius Kayser House -- No. 18 East 71st

photo by Alice Lum
In 1818 Robert Lenox paid the exorbitant amount of $6,920 (about $130,000 today) for thirty acres of farmland far north of the city.  It was an area where, at the time, wealthy New Yorkers still maintained large summer estates; yet half a century later his land would face the developing Central Park.  Lenox knew he overpaid, but recognized the potential value.

Lenox established a farm on the property complete with “horses, cattle, and farming utensils” and urged his son, James, not to sell.  In his will he left “my farm at the Five-Mile Stone” saying it “may at no distant day be the site of a village.”  Robert Lenox was only half-wrong.

When his son James died in 1880 the land had indeed grown in value.  But there was no village growing up around it—it was New York City itself that was engulfing the property.  What had been a farm was now bordered by Fifth and Madison Avenues, from 68th to 74th Streets.   Mansions and rowhouses began replacing the cow barns and other farm buildings.

Before his death Lenox had donated the entire block between 70th to 71st Street, facing Fifth Avenue, for his Lenox Library.  When the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Library were consolidated and moved into the new Carrere & Hastings Public Library building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, the magnificent Lenox Library was demolished.  The Sun, on July 30, 1911, noted “In 1906 the block from Fifth to Madison avenues, Seventieth to Seventy-first streets, known as the Lenox Library block, was the only block in the entire choice resident portion of the city which had no residence thereon.  In the meantime values, because of the locating of Central Park, because of Fifth avenue and ‘Millionaires’ Row’ and because of the restrictive character of this section, had so increased that a single strip, 1x100 feet, or 100 square feet, approximately represented the first cost of the entire farm.”

Cornelius W. Lyster, Jr. purchased the lots at Nos. 16 and 18 East 71st Streets in 1909 and commissioned architect John H. Duncan to design two near-matching commodious homes in their place.  Duncan produced two limestone-clad residences in the neo-French Classic style.  The wealthy home buyers who were moving into the exclusive neighborhood were no longer content with cookie-cutter rowhouses built by speculative developers.  Many chose their own architects and gave input on the designs.  Duncan therefore individualized the two mansions while retaining their harmonious flow—most evident at the second floor window treatments and balconies.   Six stories tall including the two-story mansards, the millionaire-ready homes were completed in 1911.

Duncan individualized the designs through the treatments of the balconies and the second floor windows -- photo by Alice Lum
Luyster had spared no expense in creating homes worthy of New York’s wealthiest merchant class; a fact reflected in the $250,000 price tag he put on No. 18—about $4 million in today’s money.   When he sold it just over a year after completion, in January 1913, The New York Times described it as “of fire-proof construction, and built with all the conveniences for a Manhattan residence in the best residential section of the city.”  The article noted that “The greater part of the block has been improved with some of the finest homes in the city, and the Fifth Avenue end, formerly occupied by the Lenox Library building, is now being improved with the $5,000,000 home for Henry Clay Frick.”

The buyer of No. 18 was “a New York merchant,” Julius Kayser, President of Julius Kayser & Co., manufacturers of underwear and gloves.  The millionaire moved into the house with his wife, Henrietta Bache Kayser, daughter Alice, and a household staff.  There were 28 rooms, seven baths and an electric elevator. The Kayser’s other daughter, Laura, was married to Edward S. Bayer and would live nearby on the opposite side of the Lenox Block at No. 32 East 70th Street.

Despite his age--he was 77 years old when he bought the mansion--Kayser remained active in his business and social life.  Seven years later, on March 8, 1920 he and Henrietta went to the theater.  Upon returning he was “attacked by heart trouble,” according to The Times and the following day died in the house.  The extent of his charitable generosity was reflected in the list of beneficiaries in his will.

The Times reported “He gave $72,000 in stock of his corporation for the benefit of the Kayser Girls’ Auxiliary, and $50,000 in stock to the Julius Kayser Mutual Aid Association.  Bequests of $10,000 each went to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, Montefiore Home, and the Hebrew Technical School for Girls.”  Kayser did not overlook his household staff.  “Mr. Kayser gave $10,000 to Ellen Drake for faithful services and $250 to each servant in his employ.”
photo by Alice Lum
Henrietta lived on in the house which, on March 17, 1938 was the scene of a wedding that was as much a stellar concert as nuptial ceremony.  Constance Hope and Dr. Milton L. Berliner were married in the parlor of the house that afternoon.  Constance was the daughter of the deceased Eugene Bernstein, a concert pianist, and his former musical colleagues contributed to the service in his honor.

Prior to the ceremony, Metropolitan Opera diva Lotte Lehmann sang “Wo du Hingehst,” followed by Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchoir’s “To the Bride” accompanied by composer-pianist Erno Balogh.  Then the pair sang a duet from “Tristan und Isolde,” accompanied by Fritz Reiner.  Yet another celebrated pianist, Leopold Godowsky, was on hand to play the wedding march from “Lohengrin.”  Following the ceremony, famed opera star Lily Pons sang Mozart’s “Alleluia,” and Metropolitan Opera basso Emanuel List sang a group of Viennese songs during the reception.

As Henrietta grew older, daughter Laura and the Bayer family moved into the house with her.  Henrietta's
 grandson, Edwin S. Bayer, Jr. was 42-years old in April 1940 when he left the house to go fishing upstate.  A World War I veteran, he was dressed, oddly enough, in one of his old khaki uniforms when his automobile and a truck were involved in a head-on collision around Waverly, New York.  Bayer was held in serious condition in the hospital there.

After thirty years in the house, Henrietta Bache Kayser died in her bed in December 1943 after a short illness.  A year later, on December 25, 1944, The New York Times reported on the sale of the Kayser mansion.  “Dr. I. Daniel Shorell, the plastic surgeon, has purchased the six-story dwelling…and plans to occupy it for his office and private hospital.”

Shorell saw no conflict between his opening of a private hospital in the house and his application for a stay against Katherine Dunham’s buying the house next door at No. 14 for her dance school.  Shorell’s appeal to the court “set forth that the dancer should be stopped from completing on Monday the purchase of the property, since she intends to use the premises as a dance studio in violation of the zoning laws,” reported The New York Times.  The judge did not agree.

Dance studios and private hospitals, however, were lamented by The New York Times’ Lucy Greenbaum on December 1, 1946.  She recalled that New York’s millionaires “built their homes as showplaces, importing the finest of marbles and the rarest of woods and decorating the enormous rooms with hand-cut glittering chandeliers, impressive paintings and book collections.”  Now, specifically including the house at No. 18, she lamented their fate.

“The Felix Warburg home at Ninety-second Street and Fifth Avenue now belongs to the Jewish Theological Seminary.  The old Kayser home at 18 East Seventy-first Street has been sold to a doctor and turned into a private hospital.  The Frick mansion at 1 East Seventieth Street is now a nationally known museum.”

Although Shorell was a pioneer in the field of reconstructive and plastic cosmetic surgery, his facility, the Manhattan Sanitarium, was termed by The New York Times “a nursing home.”  It provided care to wealthy patients who sought individualized care in luxurious surroundings.  One such patient was William H. Siebert who stayed here for five weeks in 1950.  The 66-year old had been with Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co. for 46 years when he died in the sanitarium on June 22.

In December 1956 the house was sold to the Youth Consultation Service, a private organization assisting adolescent girls.  Founded in 1909, it was affiliated with the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of New York and was a favorite charity of New York socialites.  The Times reported on May 27, 1960 that the association “seeks to help troubled girls and young women between the ages of 14 and 25 who are referred to it by churches, schools, colleges, hospitals and doctors or who have heard about the service.  Some are unmarried expectant mothers who are cared for at the agency’s shelter, Dana House.”

For over two decades the once-grand rooms of the Kayser family housed troubled girls and provided them counseling, care and guidance.  Then in 1977 the house was converted to a school and day care facility.  The first two floors were adapted as nurseries, classrooms, day care, multipurpose rooms and offices.

photo by Alice Lum
In 1992 a major renovation brought the Kayser house back to a single-family residence.  Despite replacement windows and doors, it looks much as it did in 1913 when the first cartfuls of the Kayer family’s furniture, oriental carpets and artwork were brought inside.


  1. 18 East 71st St. was purchased in 1987 by Bill Cosby. Renovation of the building into a single-family residence was completed in early 1991. Mr. Cosby still owns and occupies the building.

    1. thanks for that information. Very cool to know.

  2. Movin' on up - to the East Side. Finally got a piece of the rock.

  3. Laura Bayer, who was a great art collector, was widowed in 1929 and remarried in 1931 in London to Count Antoine Frederic Adolphe Sala. Count Sala was the grandson of John F A Sanford who was the son-in-law of Thomas E Davis, builder of several houses in the New York area. Sanford is remembered now for his involvement in a landmark court case: "Dred Scott v John F A Sandford" (mis-spelling was a clerical error in the court and has remained on the records). The word Salaïste was created by Marcel Proust and a friend with reference to Antoine Sala (Cite: Adam Watt; Marcel Proust; Reaktion Books, p.90; 1 Jun 2013)

  4. Fascinating. I am writing about the American architect Barry Dierks who built or remodelled around 70 houses on the French Riviera in the first part of the last century. I am just beginning the story of Amiral Count Antoine Sala who, with his wife Laura Bayer Sala, commissioned the charming Villa Lilliput on the Cap d'Antibes in 1936. So I was delighted to discover this site. Thank you.
    Maureen Emerson.