Monday, May 5, 2014

The Lost Juilliard Mansion -- No. 11 West 57th Street

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Among the wealthy urban pioneers who ventured as far north as West 57th Street in the post-Civil War years were John and Elizabeth Auchincloss.  John was the grandson of Hugh Auchincloss who arrived in New York City in 1803 and started the family dry goods business soon afterward.  By mid-century the Auchincloss family was among the wealthiest in Manhattan and the fine 30-foot wide brownstone rowhouse of John and Elizabeth at No. 11 West 57th Street reflected the fact.  Decades later The New York Times would remember “the couple lived for a time in Whitehall Street, but when crowded out by the encroachment of business houses, moved up to what was then the suburbs, now the very heart of the city.”

After John died in 1876, Elizabeth continued to live on in the 57th Street house.  She would see the neighborhood change as the mansions of the Vanderbilts, Goulds and Goelets rose along Fifth Avenue, just steps from her door.

Across the street from Elizabeth, by 1895, Augustus D. Juilliard and his wife Helen lived at No. 16 West 57th Street.  Juilliard had been born on at sea in 1836 as his Huguenot parents headed to the United States.  A self-made man, by now he was well-respected, highly successful and unbelievably wealthy.  The New York Times said of him on September 24, 1895 “Augustus D. Julliard is head of one of the most prominent dry goods commission houses in the city.  He is a Republican, a member of the Union League Club, and a leader in the High-Tariff League.  He is a trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company and a Director in the Central Trust Company, the Bank of Jamaica, and the United States Guaranty and Indemnity Company.”

Juilliard was also a Parks Commissioner at the time and would increase his fortune in railroads, as well.  He and Helen were childless and devoted much of their time and money to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera (of which Augustus was President), and the American Museum of Natural History.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Auchincloss continued her regime of summers in Newport.  In 1902 The New York Times mentioned “She returned last week from her Summer home in Newport, of which she was a pioneer Summer cottager more than half a century ago.”  Only days after her return she became ill and on October 27, 1902 the 80-year old socialite died in the 57th Street house.

A few months later, on January 24, 1903, the four-story house was sold to Augustus D. Juilliard for $215,000—a considerable $5.5 million in today’s dollars.  At the time the house sat squarely in Manhattan’s most exclusive residential neighborhood.  Few recognized the threat of the hotels and business buildings that were creeping up Fifth Avenue—already having claimed as victims the John and William Astor mansions twenty blocks below.  Most millionaire homeowners still believed that the commercial tide could be successfully held off.

Augustus D. Juilliard in 1910 -- The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (copyright expired)

Among those confident in the stability of the neighborhood were the aging Juilliards.  The architectural firm of Trowbridge & Livingston was commissioned to design a modern mansion to replace the outdated Victorian and by August 5, 1905 things were well under way.  The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that “Marc Eidlitz & son…have just obtained the general contract to build the 5-sty stone residence…which Augustus D. Juilliard, 16 West 57th st., will build at No. 11 West 57th st., at an estimated cost of $70,000.”  The Auchincloss mansion had already been demolished and the Guide said “operations will be pushed rapidly.”

As construction continued, the couple remained across the street and in their lavish summer estate in Tuxedo Park, New York.  Among the last gatherings in the old house was a somber one.  The funeral of Helen’s young nephew, Frederick Henry Cossitt, was held in the house on July 12, 1906.  Cossitt was killed in the infamous train wreck in Salisbury, England.  The Times reported “A large crowd gathered outside the house and looked on as the coffin, covered with orchids, was carried to the hearse.”

Helen soon erected an addition to the Young Men’s Christian Association on West 57th Street in memory of Frederick.

Trowbridge & Livingston’s completed five-story mansion was masterful.  The French Renaissance fa├žade was not overly-ornamented; relying on the broad oriel that rose floor-after-floor to a climax of finials, carved decoration and an arched pediment.  A steep mansard punctuated by two delightful pointy dormers and elaborate cresting completed the design.  Inside the 16th century motif continued, heightened by the Juilliards’ extensive collection of vintage tapestries and antiques.

Visitors entered a marble-walled foyer, beyond which was the staircase hall.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In July 1910 the Juilliards arrived in Europe and on August 7 were motoring from Geneva to Evian-les-Bains.  Their chauffeur, according to a Swiss reporter, was driving “at a rapid pace, when a girl on a bicycle appeared almost directly in front of them.”  The frightened girl lost control of her bicycle and zigzagged across the roadway.  In order not to hit her, the chauffeur “was compelled to swerve his machine sharply.”  The limousine landed in a ditch and both Augustus and Helen Juilliard were thrown out of the vehicle.  Augustus received a serious head wound.

The New York Times reported that “A passing automobile found the injured man lying by the roadside, his head supported by his wife.  The car was a wreck in the ditch.”
Compared to most over-decorated and crowded Edwardian interiors, the Juillard rooms were understated.  Huge tapestries cover the walls in this sitting room --   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Juilliard recovered and the accident did not discourage the couple from traveling.  The following summer they were back in Switzerland for the entire season.  Although warring in Egypt with what The Times called “its possible consequent inconveniences” had caused many wealthy Americans to forego trips to the Mediterranean; the idea of a European war was unthinkable.  Millionaire New Yorkers who were not idling their time away in Newport, Bar Harbour and other American summer resorts, were flocking to Paris, London, and Rome.

On October 28, 1911 the Juilliards boarded a luxury steamer back to New York.  Also on the passenger list was George Gould (he told a reporter that day “I do not take a very active interest in business myself.  My great hobby is traveling.”  The Goulds and the Juilliards steamed home on the RMS Lusitania—the civilian ship that would be torpedoed by the Germans in 1915.

In the dining room, too, tapestries are the chief decoration --   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Helen Cossitt Juilliard was more well-known for her philanthropy than her lavish entertaining.  Wealthy in her own right, for years she managed the Lincoln Hospital and Home and around 1895 gave the St. John’s Guild its first hospital boat, the Helen C. Juilliard.  Another hospital boat (with the same name) was launched in Wilmington, Delaware in 1915.  When her sister, Mrs. George E. Dodge, died in 1911 Helen paid for part of the new building of the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital on East 59th Street; and financed Colorado College’s “Frederick H. Cossitt Memorial” complex.  It contained a gymnasium, reading and club rooms, dining hall and stadium.

The upholstered furniture in the Library, with its built-in bookcases and stenciled beamed ceiling, give the room a homey feel --   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Helen’s health began failing in 1915 and on April 2, 1916 after a long illness she died in the house on West 57th Street.  Of her $5 million estate, one-fifth went to Augustus, as well as the Tuxedo Park estate and the carriage house at No. 111 West 51st Street.  The remainder went to relatives and to charitable and educational intuitions..After nearly 40 years of marriage, Augustus now lived on alone in the cavernous house surrounded by his staff. 

An antique Asian jardiniere serves as a cane stand in the entrance hall --   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Just three years later the 83-year old millionaire contracted pneumonia and died in the house on April 25, 1919.  Mourners at his funeral in St. Thomas Church five days later composed a virtual Who’s-Who of New York businessmen and tycoons.  The ten pallbears were among the city’s richest and most respected citizens:  Elihu Root, George F. Baker, Charles A. Peabody, W. Emlen Roosevelt, Edward J. Berwind, Adrian Iselin, Frederick de Peyster Foster, Frank K. Sturgis, Chester A. Braman, and Charles H. Sabin.  In the pews were businessmen like Rodman and John Wanamaker, J. Pierpont Morgan, Robert Fulton Cutting, Ogden Mills, Thomas F. Ryan and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Seligman.

Now New York and, indeed, the entire country paused to discover what would become of Augustus D. Juilliard’s vast millions.  Two months later the will was filed for probate.  After a few provisions for relatives and charitable institutions, Juilliard had left the bulk of his estate--$15 million—to found a fund “for the advancement of music in the United States.”  It was the beginning of the Juilliard Foundation, created in 1920 and the Juilliard School of Music.

Despite the valiant attempts of the Vanderbilts and other millionaires, the once-exclusive Fifth Avenue neighborhood, by now, had been lost to commerce.  Before long the Juilliard mansion was converted for business on the ground floor and rooms upstairs leased as apartments.  The Dudensing Gallery was an early tenant at street level.  It provided exposure to young American painters.  Here in 1927 Peter Evergood had his first one-man show.

As the Nazi Party gained power in Germany, the former Juillard house became headquarters of the German Railroads Information Office.  The director was Ernst Schmitz.  Later, as the United States was pulled into World War II, an investigation by Washington’s Special Committee on Un-American Activities discovered that Schmitz’s office was less benign that it seemed.

The investigation revealed “Although this agency was ostensibly a business enterprise set up for the purpose of promoting rail travel in Germany, it was in fact primarily a Nazi propaganda outlet.”  Among the evidence seized was a letter from Schmitz dated November 30, 1939 which read:

Dear Dr. Zapp:  On Wednesday, December 6th at 7 P. M. a number of people of the Intelligence Service of the Rome-Berlin Asix are meeting at my private apartment on the third floor of the house, 11 West 57th Street, for a very informal dinner.

I would be happy if you could join and I should be grateful if you could give me your answer by Monday afternoon, by telephoning by my office, using the number Wickersham 2-0224.

With kind Regards, Heil Hitler!

On June 16, 1941 the German Railroads Information Office was ordered to leave the United States.

The magnificent Juillard residence survived for another three decades.  For most of the time art galleries operated from its street level.  Then in 1974 it and several surrounding buildings were demolished to be replaced by George Bunshaft’s iconic Solow Building.  

The site of the Juilliard mansion is not occupied by the western portion of the sloping Solow Building.  photo by Alice Lum


  1. A beautiful residence. What your current photo captures however is today's senseless destruction of 29 West 57th St, Chickering Hall and the few remaining adjacent 57th street townhouses, including the beloved Rizzoli bookstore. A "do nothing" NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, ignored pleas to save the row of historic buildings. Chickering Halls, exquisite gilded spandrel panels, large legion of honor medallions and truly wonderful rooftop caryatids have all been removed or destroyed in recent months to make way for the buildings demolition. Photos from a few months ago show how the sloping glass Solow building, standing where the Julliard mansion stood, unintentionally captured the reflections of Chickering halls elaborate decorations, now unfortunately demolished. (see link for a view now forever lost) NYarch

  2. I think the last interior photo is actually the downstairs Foyer and not an upstairs hall.