Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Ludwig Dreyfuss House -- No. 52 East 68th Street


photo by Alice Lum

Brothers David and John Jardine were highly active in the development of the Upper East Side where they erected rows of speculative rowhouses following the end of the Civil War .  The developers acted as their own architects and in 1879 completed a row of five brownstone clad homes at Nos. 52 through 60 East 68th Street, just two blocks from Fifth Avenue.  Four stories tall over high English basements, they featured dignified neo-Grec elements.

The houses at No. 52 and 54 were purchased by millionaire Anderson Fowler as investment properties.  Fowler had made his fortune in the West in the packing business and upon his retirement he invested heavily in mining and other industrial enterprises.  For his own family (which included nine children) Fowler chose another Jardine house, completed the same year, across the street at No. 41 East 68th.

On April 14, 1888 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that “Ludwig Dreyfuss has purchased the four-story stone front dwelling No. 52 East 68th street.”  Dreyfuss had married one of the daughters of Marcus Goldman.  Goldman made his fortune providing diamond merchants and hide and leather dealers with ready cash in exchange for a note promising repayment plus interest.  The dealers in such promissory notes were known as “note shavers.”  Goldman was trading in as much as $5 million a year.

By 1885 Marcus Goldman had already taken Sam Sachs as a partner (Sam had married Goldman’s daughter, Louisa).  Now he also took his son, Henry, and Ludwig Dreyfuss into the firm, changing the name to Goldman Sachs & Co.

While Ludwig worked at the banking firm, his wife busied herself in worthy causes.  One of these was the Children’s Charitable Union, of which she was Treasurer.  The organization was founded in 1876 “to provide kindergarten instruction and classes in sewing for children of the poorer classes, without means to pay for tuition, giving them a warm noon meal.”

As the turn of the century arrived the brownstone house and its neighbors had become architecturally passé.  Dreyfuss commissioned architect John H. Duncan to modernize the home in 1900.  Duncan had designed impressive mansions, like the Philip Lehman house at No. 7 West 54th Street; but he was best known for his imposing Grant’s Tomb and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.

Unlike some of the other radical make-overs on the block, Duncan’s renovations would leave no question that this was Victorian brownstone wearing new clothes.   The brownstone stoop remained, but was given new iron railings with a swirling French design.  Duncan carried out the Beaux Arts motif on the first and second floors.  The parlor received a vast arched French-styled window behind an ornamental grill.  At the second floor the original trio of openings was replaced by a curved oriel window.

A swirling grill protects the interesting French-inspired window at the parlor level -- photo by Alice Lum

There is little doubt that Dreyfuss instructed his architect to take the renovations no further.  The upper two floors retained their neo-Grec windows and the original bracketed cornice.  The result is a residence straddling two architectural eras; looking much like an unfinished project.

The Dreyfuss family lived on in the house for another decade.  Then on March 25, 1911 the Record & Guide announced that Ludwig had sold the house.   “The buyer will occupy,” reported the newspaper.

“The buyer” was Albert B. Ashforth, President of the Real Estate Board, President and Director of the Albert B. Ashford real estate company, and a director and trustee in other firms and banks.  Ashforth was not merely wealthy, he was descended from what The New York Times would deem a “distinguished old New York” family.  He was a relative of historian and intellectual Henry Adams, and he held memberships in several clubs, including the Union League, Bankers, and Automobile Club.  His love for golf was reflected in his memberships in the Greenwich Country Club, the Garden City Golf Club and the Blin Brook Club.

On January 3, 1925 the Ashforths' son, Henry, married Elizabeth Milbank Anderson in a fashionable ceremony in the Park Avenue Baptist Church.  A reception at the Colony Club followed.  The New York Times remarked that “The bride’s grandmother, Mrs. Milbank Anderson, was noted for her benefactions, having made large gifts to Columbia University.”

Three years later Albert B. Ashforth sold the house to his neighbor Margaretta C. Clark.  She lived across the street in No. 49 and bought Ashforth’s property “to prevent the erection of a high building which would seriously affect the light and air of her residence,” explained The Times on April 20, 1928.  The $125,000 she spent on the house would amount to about $1.6 million today.

A year later, on October 30, 1930, Silas M. Newton married journalist Nan O’Reilly.  O’Reilly’s astonishing career began at the age of 14 when she submitted a real estate article to the New-York Tribune.  For the next five years she was on the Tribune staff; then moved on to The Evening Post.  While there she wrote her first column on golf and forever after she would be associated with that game.  A year before her marriage to Newton she was made golf editor of The Evening Journal.  The newspaper introduced her to its readers as “The only female in captivity who has conducted a daily golf column.”

Silas Newton was an oil company official and a high ranking amateur golfer—the latter having resulted in the pair’s meeting and romance.  Although Newton was apparently highly successful, his fortune paled to that of his wife.  The New York Times said that “At the time of the marriage…it was said that Miss O’Reilly was heiress to an estimate of about $40,000,000.”

Above the updated lower floors, the Victorian house remained unchanged.  photo by Alice Lum
The Newtons moved into No. 52 East 68th Street.  As what was apparently a wedding present of sorts, Newton purchased jewelry for his new wife at the auction of the estate of Rita De Acosta Lydig. 

Then, on Tuesday evening, February 10, Nan removed her jewelry and placed it in a case on her dressing table in the second floor bedroom.  The next night, while dressing for dinner, she attempted to open the case but found one of the catches stuck.  “One of her maids assisted her,” reported The New York Times.  “When it was opened Mrs. Newton found ten of the most valuable pieces of jewelry were missing.”

Some of the items were those Silas had purchased at the Lydig auction.  The Times said the total value of the ten missing pieces was about $15,000—about $215,000 today and quite a haul in the Great Depression years.  “The ten missing pieces included a pearl necklace, two bracelets and rings,” said the newspaper.

More trouble would come to the Newton household five months later.  On July 8 Silas was arrested “on a charge of conspiring with two others to defraud a 74-year-old man of his life savings, amounting to $25,000,” according to The New York Times on the following day.  Newton dismissed the incident to reporters, insisting it was all a misunderstanding.

“He took his arrest lightly and said the entire matter would be cleared up.  He denied any wrongdoing, and told the detectives that if the complainant thought there was anything wrong, he should have called at his office,” said The Times.

Silas Newton most likely began taking the affair less lightly when the state of New Jersey began extradition proceedings two days later.  In addition to the fraud charges, he was being charged with being a fugitive from justice in New Jersey.

The scandal was no doubt an embarrassment to Nan O’Reilly who, according to The Times in 1937, “contributed to, or otherwise worked for, every newspaper published in New York in the last twenty-five years.”  The couple’s marriage did not survive significantly longer.  Divorced, Nan died in 1937 at the age of just 41.

By 1943 No. 52 was the home of Dr. Francis D. Gulliver and his family.  Gulliver was a specialist in diseases of the eye and was the author of articles such as his 1942 “Particles of Steel Within the Globe of the Eye” published in a medical journal. 

The year 1943 was especially noteworthy for the family.  On September 5 daughter Ruth Ann was married to Charles Daniel Sullivan; and a few months later the engagement of Frances was announced. 

A year earlier President Franklin D. Roosevelt had created the SPARS—the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve.  Among the first enlistees was Frances Gulliver and by the time her engagement was announced she had risen to the rank of Lieutenant.  Interestingly, Frances outranked her husband-to-be.  Richard O. Jordan was an ensign in the United States Coast Guard Reserve.

photo by Alice Lum
In 1952 the house was purchased by the Marquise Margaret de Cuevas and in 1984 it was converted to offices.  Today the house with the architectural split personality is owned by the Center for Inter-American Relations.

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