|from the collection of the New York Public Library|
By the first decade of the 20th century Park Avenue above Grand Central Terminal was no longer the marginal residential thoroughfare of a generation earlier. Mansions rivaling those on Fifth and Madison Avenue were rising at a rapid rate.
On April 20, 1912 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported on a significant deal. Geraldyn Redmond and his wife’s sister, Countess de Langiers Villars had bought up six Victorian houses stretching northward from the corner of Park Avenue and 69th Street. “The buyers will erect a large dwelling on the site,” said the Guide. It was a momentous transaction (deemed by the Guide “the largest reported on Park Avenue for private house purposes since that of the Union Theological Seminary block front directly opposite); and one that garnered much attention.
A month later the New-York Tribune, on May 15, noted “Mr. Redmond bought the plot to build a residence for himself on the corner, and another for his sister [sic], the Countess de L. Angier-Villars, on the adjoining Park avenue lot.”
Redmond’s significant fortune came from his banking firm, Redmond & Co.; and the linen business he had inherited from his father, William Redmond. His wife, Estelle, was the daughter of Johnston Livingston and Sylvia Livingston Livingston. She was, as repeatedly noted in newspapers “a member of one of New York’s oldest families.” The New York Times later would report that she “was directly descended from Robert Livingston, who received a grant of land from Queen Anne in what was then the Province of New York, and which became the Manor of Livingston. He came here in 1673, and was known as the First Lord of the Manor.”
Estelle’s sister, Carola, did what so many of New York socialites hoped their daughters would do—she married a title. In 1893 she wed the Count Langier-Villars and, according to William H. Chambliss two years later in his somewhat catty Chambliss Diary: Or, Society as it Really Is, she “took abroad with her $500,000.”
Geraldyn and Estelle sailed off to Europe for the summer; but not before putting the wheels in motion for the new paired mansions. By the end of the year plans were nearly completed. On December 7 The Record & Guide reported that McKim, Mead & White were the architects of the “two 5-story stone residences.”
Construction of the double residence would continue for several years. In the meantime, Estelle and her sister, who no longer lived in Paris or with her titled husband, were inseparable in their social and charitable lives. On November 23, 1913 The Sun noted “The Countess de Laugier-Villars and her sister, Mrs. Geraldyn Redmond, are interested in a sale for the benefit of St. Sylvia’s Cottage Industries, which will be held in the ballroom of the Plaza on December 1 and 2. These industries were organized several years ago by Mrs. Redmond for the wives and daughters of farmers in the vicinity of Tivoli, N. Y., for whom she provided instruction in lace making and fine needlework.”
Two months later, in January 1914, it was reported that the sisters “are arranging a concert for the benefit of the Little Sisters of the Assumption, to be given at Carnegie Hall on the afternoon of January 21.” The world-famous soprano Alma Gluck was the headliner.
The close relationship between the Redmonds and the Countess extended even to travel and leisure. On September 2, 1914 the New-York Tribune reported “Mr. and Mrs. Geraldyn Redmond and the Countess de Laugier-Villars, sister of Mrs. Redmond, who arrived from Europe on the Olympic, are at the Plaza for a few days before going to their country place at Tivioli-on-the-Hudson.”
The “country place” was Callendar House “one of the fine country seats at Tivoli,” according to The Sun. Built in 1794 by Henry Gilbert Livingston, it had been inherited by Estelle and redesigned by McKim, Mead & White in 1910.
|photo from the Yearbook of the Architectural League of New York, 1915 (copyright expired)|
While the Redmonds and the Countess were at Tivoli that fall, the finishing touches were being put on the Park Avenue mansions. McKim, Mead & White had produced a French country estate in an urban environment. Stone magazine noted “This is built of French limestone…and presents a very rich and warm effect.” The architects skillfully disguised the two homes as a single imposing residence. The separate entrances flanked a shared service door on the Park Avenue side. The six-story structure cost around $200,000; more in the neighborhood of $4.8 million today.
Art and architecture critic Royal Cortissoz tepidly approved of the distinctive design. On February 14, 1915 he wrote “The urban architecture shown this year is not, in the main, imposing. One city house makes a persuasive appeal, the French mansion erected in New York for Mr. Geraldyn Redmond by McKim, Mead & White. Though the facades have no special distinction the high-pitched roof is a joy in itself, a rich jet of audacious design in what, when it comes to the roofs of New York dwellings, is but a sea of prose.”
The Redmonds moved into the corner house at No. 701 Park Avenue with their three sons, Johnston, Roland and Geraldyn; while the Countess took the mansion next door. Roland Livingston Redmond would not enjoy the new mansion for long. In May 1915 invitations were sent out for his wedding to Sara Delano. The socially-important ceremony took place at the Delano country estate Steen Valetje.
Shockingly, it would be the last grand social event witnessed by Estelle Redmond. The social leader died in the Park Avenue mansion on June 17, 1916, leaving a personal estate of between $3 and $4 million.
The United States entered World War I the following year and Geraldyn Jr. was made Chief Quartermaster, U. S. Navy Aviation, on August 4, 1917. He served in that capacity until November 1918 when his 64-year old father “died suddenly of paralysis” in the mansion on November 27.
Only two weeks later, on December 18, 1918, Geraldyn Jr. was married to Katharine Register. War had put an end to the grand European honeymoons enjoyed by wealthy newlyweds only a few years earlier. The couple spent theirs in California, and then returned to the Park Avenue mansion.
Before long, however, the brothers leased the house. On July 14, 1920 The Times noted that it had been taken “fully furnished” by Moses Taylor and his family. The newspaper called it “one of the finest private residences in that locality.” Taylor was the son of Henry A. C. Taylor, a financier and corporation director. Moses and his wife were well known in both Manhattan and Newport society.
The year 1921 was especially busy for the Taylors. In January a dance for daughter Marion was given in the house. “It was preceded by a number of dinners, and the guests on their arrival at the dance were received by Mrs. Taylor and her daughter. The dance was interrupted at midnight, when supper was served,” reported the New-York Tribune. Only a month later it was daughter Edith’s turn to be feted. On February 9 her mother “entertained…with a small dance at her home” for the debutante.
In 1922 the Redmond house was leased by William Rhinelander Stewart. Like the Livingstons, Stewart’s roots included the oldest families in New York. He was a descendant of the Lispenard family who arrived around 1693; and of Robert Stewart who settled in New York prior to the Revolutionary War. Divorced, the 71-year old multimillionaire shared the house with his son, William Jr. Stewart’s only daughter, Anita, had married Prince Miguel de Braganza, eldest son of the Pretender to the throne of Portugal, in 1909. The wedding, held at Tuloch Castle in Scotland, had been deemed “a brilliant event” by The New York Times.
Like so many other royals, the Prince had a title but no money. Two years after the marriage he became a broker’s clerk in London; then in 1921 joined the insurance firm of John C. Paige & Co.--most likely through the efforts of William Jr. who was a member of the firm. The Times somewhat undiplomatically announced “the Prince’s status was simply that of a salesman.”
In February 1923 the Princess went to Newport “to inspect her Summer estate there,” according to a newspaper. Prince Miguel was staying at the Park Avenue mansion with his father-in-law when, on February 20, he contracted influenza. Overnight it developed into pneumonia and his condition was deemed critical. The Princess was summoned home by telephone.
The Times reported on February 22 “Princess Braganza hurried back from Newport, and her brother, William Rhinelander Stewart, Jr., made a quick run up from Palm Beach. Count Laszlo Szechenyi, Hungarian Minister to the United States, a friend of many years, came up from Washington. They were at the bedside when the end came shortly after 2 o’clock yesterday morning.”
Funeral services were held in the Park Avenue mansion a few days later. On April 18, 1923 the Prince’s estate was made public. If New York, Newport and Tuxedo Park society had ever thought that the couple’s luxurious lifestyle was made possible by the Prince’s fortune, they now knew better. The New York Times headline read “Prince Left Estate of Only $2,000.”
Princess de Braganza remained in the Park Avenue mansion with her aging father; while William Jr. moved on to No. 1088 Park Avenue.
On June 20, 1927 rather shocking news was reported. The exclusive Union Club had chosen to abandon its venerable clubhouse on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street and move to Park Avenue, away from the clamor of commerce. The site it had chosen was the Redmond mansions, for which it paid $1.265 million. “Construction will be delayed until the expiration of leases on three residences now on the property,” said The Times.
Former Senator Frelinghuysen of New Jersey was leasing the house of Countess de Langier-Villars. The third house mentioned in the article was Johnston Redmond’s home directly to the north.
The Union Club would wait several years. On September 4, 1929 William Rhinelander Stewart suffered a fatal heart attack in the house at the age of 78. Within two years the leases had run their course and McKim, Mead & White’s handsome French edifice was demolished.
Reportedly, Stanford White’s son, architect Lawrence Grant White, fired off a heated note to the architects of the new clubhouse, Delano & Aldrich. In it he suggested that an inscription be carved above the Union Club’s entrance: "Conceived by the Genius of McKim, Mead & White. Destroyed by the Fury of Delano & Aldrich."