Friday, September 19, 2014

The Daniel Kellogg Mansion -- No. 54 East 68th Street

Photo by Alice Lum

In the decade following the Civil War the Upper East Side saw dizzying development.  Among the men responsible for the rows of speculative brownstone rowhouses was Anderson Fowler.  In 1879 he erected five high-stooped homes on East 68th Street, Nos. 52 through 60, designed by brothers David and John Jardine.

A year later, on Saturday July 3, 1880, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide remarked on the stunning growth of the neighborhood.  “In many particulars, ‘Lenox Hill’ is already in advance of the still famous ‘Murray Hill;’ especially in the magnificence of its palatial architecture.”  The article listed the names of important residents, including John D. Crimmins and Robert L. Stuart; then mentioned Anderson Fowler, himself, as one of the new homeowners.

“The names of other gentlemen, besides those we have mentioned, above, occur to us as owning beautiful residences in the same vicinity; among them Mr. J. M. Fiske, Hon. H. C. Van Vorst, Mr. F. D. Tappan, Mr. Anderson Fowler, Mr. Parker Handy, Mr. B. B. Atterbury, and others equally prominent, whose names do not chance to be familiar to us.”

Parker Handy, mentioned as one of Fowler’s neighbors, had moved into No. 54 East 68th Street.  The title of the house was put in his wife Cornelia’s name.  Despite their significant move uptown, the Handy family retained its membership in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Handy had stepped down as vice-president of the Third National Bank of New York in 1870 when he purchased Peter Hayden’s firm, which dealt in precious metal bullion and coins.  Handy converted the business to banking, renaming it the Banking House of Parker Handy.  Before the end of the century the firm would be recognized as the standard for the determination of daily silver price quotations throughout the country.

But before then, Handy sold No. 54 to David H. Gould in April 1885 for $44,500.  As Handy had done, Gould put the property in the name of his wife, Mary.  The price the Goulds paid would just top $1 million today.

The Gould’s did not stay long on East 64th Street, however.  By 1888 it was the home of the Henry R. De Milt family.  The head of H. R. De Milt & Co. at No. 238 Water Street, Henry dealt in metals.  He was a member of the exclusive Union League Club, as well as the Republican Club, the Ohio Society, and sat on the Board of Trade and Transportation.

Social eyebrows may have been raised when an announcement was published in The New York Times on May 19, 1893 concerning daughter Ella Curtis De Milt’s upcoming marriage.  Ella was engaged to Charles Warren Ten Broeck, a member of an old Dutch family in New York.  The Times headline simply read “Miss De Milt’s Wedding To Be Private.”  It noted that invitations to the June 10 reception only had been sent out the previous day. 

It appears that Ella and Charles moved into the East 68th Street house, as she continued to entertain with her mother and sister here.  On January 3, 1895 The Times noted “Cards have been sent out by Mrs. Henry R. De Milt, Mrs. Charles Warren Ten Broeck, and Miss De Milt for a tea on the afternoon of January 10, from 4 until 7 o’clock, at 54 East Sixty-eighth Street.”

A few months later, in June, Henry heard rumors that the City was endeavoring to sell off Upper East Side properties for back taxes.  Apparently concerned about his property values and the upscale tone of his neighborhood, De Milt called a meeting of nearby homeowners on June 4.  The New York Times reported “Property owners interested in the east side lands met in the Continental Building, Court and Montague Streets, Brooklyn, last night, and discussed the questions as to the clouds upon the title of the property.”

De Milt’s proactive stance resulted in the organization of the East Side Lands Property Owners’ Association.

By the time Henry R. De Milt died in the first decade of the new century, the neighborhood was changing.  New homeowners either razed or drastically remodeled the old brownstones.  Where rows of chocolate-colored, carbon-copy houses had stood; now individual brick, marble or limestone mansions were rising.  And that was exactly what Daniel F. Kellogg had in mind when he purchased No. 54 East 68th Street from the De Milt estate in May 1910.

Kellogg commissioned architect Donn Barber to strip off the Victorian façade and create a modern Edwardian residence.  The result was a limestone-clad French Renaissance beauty .  With the stoop removed, the façade was moved forward a few feet and the entrance was now just one step up from the sidewalk.  The service entrance was guarded by an especially handsome iron fence.  Above, two sets of French doors surmounted by classical pediments opened onto stone Juliette balconies.  Barber reserved his most striking feature for the top two floors—a two-story slate-tiled mansard with overblown dormers at the fourth floor and charming copper-clad arched dormers at the fifth.  Barber had created a slice of France off Park Avenue.
photo by Alice Lum
The Sun later noted that it “is equipped with an elevator” and “with the land, cost approximately $150,000.”

Kellogg was unlike his banker, attorney and high-powered businessmen neighbors.  He was the City Editor and Financial Editor of the New York Sun.  Within a few years, however, he left the newspaper to take control of publicity for J. P. Morgan.

Along with Kellogg and his wife in the remodeled house was son Daniel Fiske Kellogg, Jr.  Like the previous young residents he would marry well.  On November 6, 1915 his engagement to Edythe Emily Milliken was announced.  The bride’s father, Charles Stuart Milliken was the President of the Guanajuato Consolidated Mining & Milling Co., one of the most productive silver and gold operations on the continent, according to The Mining Investor in 1908.

photo by Alice Lum
It would be more than a year before Daniel and Edythe married in the fashionable St. Thomas’s Church on Fifth Avenue.  The day following the wedding, on October 16, 1917, The New York Times noted that “On their return from their honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Kellogg will make their home at 54 East Sixty-eighth Street.”

Those plans did not work out.  Five months later The Sun reported that Kellogg had sold the house “to a buyer who is said to be a banker.”  A few weeks later, on April 11, 1918, the newspaper noted the Kelloggs had taken "an apartment at 555 Park Avenue.”

The buyer was 45-year old stockbroker Guy Richards McLane.  He had become widowed when his beloved wife, Dorothea, and their daughter died in childbirth on February 24, 1912.  Dorothea was active in the care for destitute Italian immigrants and a year later McLane and his father-in-law Dr. Henry van Dyke, established Dorothea’s House in Princeton, New Jersey in her memory.

The wealthy McLane was a member of the brokerage firm Jesup & Lamont at No. 26 Broadway; and Secretary and Director of Jeremiah Skidmore Sons, dealers in coal.  Almost three years to the day after purchasing the 68th Street house, on Sunday morning, April 10, 1921, Guy Richards McLane died there.

The estate quickly placed the house on the market for $150,000—closer to $1.85 million today.  It sold the first week of June 1921. 

The house would become home to the granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller—Margaret Strong De Cuevas and her husband George.  Society and the New York press questioned her husband’s claim at nobility.  On June 6, 1937 The New York Times mentioned that the Rockefeller family “did not refer to Mrs. De Cuevas by the title Marquise, but simply as Mrs. George De Cuevas.” 

“Several years ago Dr. Strong [Margaret’s father] and his daughter were reported to have become estranged,” said the newspaper.  “This estrangement was reported sometime previous to her marriage to George De Cuevas, who is referred to as the Marquis De Cuevas.  The title is not listed in the 1937 edition of the Almanach de Gotha.”

When Dr. Strong had been asked by reporters”to confirm a report that his daughter had been married secretly to George De Cuevas, he said ‘I’m not in close touch with her.  She is able to take care of herself.’”

When John D. Rockefeller died in 1937, The Times noted that the Social Register listed Margaret’s and George’s address as No. 54 68th Street but “have passed most of their time abroad” and were not well known in New York society.  As a matter of fact, in October that year it appeared that the family would abandon East 68th Street entirely.

“Brill & Brill will sell at auction at the residence formerly occupied by Marquis George De Cuevas, 54 East Sixty-eighth Street, a collection of furniture, furnishings, paintings, Oriental rugs, antique and modern silver, china, glassware and linens,” reported The Times on October 24.

The house was sold to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York as its new clubhouse.  The group quickly realized its mistake.  It later termed the townhouse “a white elephant” and quickly resold it for a bargain basement price of $90,000.  The New York Times reported on the sale on March 5, 1938, saying “A town house in an area of fashionable homes on the East Side passed to new hands yesterday.”

The hands were not all that new, however.  The buyer was Margaret Strong De Cuevas.  Margaret and George began buying up other property on the block.  In 1940 The Times reported that George De Cuevas “bought the adjoining house at No. 56” and in 1953 Margaret purchased No. 52 on the other side.

In 1953 Margaret owned both houses.  photo by Alice Lum
Margaret’s purchase may have been prompted by her son’s wedding on February 3 that year.  By now The Times had apparently accepted her title.  The day after the wedding it referred to John de Cuevas as the son of “the Marquis and Marquessa de Piedrablanca de Guana.”

Margaret’s concern for historic properties in the neighborhood was manifested when in 1965 she bought the two handsome neo-Federal mansions at Nos. 680 and 684 Park Avenue which were threatened with demolition.  She donated the houses to charity.

In 1980, reportedly through the nudging of her cousin David Rockefeller, Margaret donated her own house, along with No. 52, to charity.  No. 54 East 68th Street became the Center for African Art, a favorite area of interest of Rockefeller.

The handsome French-inspired mansion with its long and involved history survives unchanged on a block of remarkable houses.

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