Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Hope Hampton House -- No. 1145 Park Avenue

Emery Roth transformed the old brownstone into a Jazz Age mansion in 1920.

In 1920 Park Avenue was much-changed.  Once a mixed bag of small houses and businesses like butcher shops and groceries; it now saw the rise of modern apartment buildings and mansions.  The soot-belching locomotives had years ago been moved below street level, making the avenue acceptable to well-heeled residents.

No. 1145 Park Avenue was a narrow three story brownstone, just 16 feet wide.   By 1898 it was home to Doctor Jennie E. Gore, a permanent member of the Homoeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York and a member of the staff of the Hospital of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women.   Dr. Gore leased the house from another physician, Dr. James V. S. Wooley, who owned several other properties.  Unlike many doctors at the time, she preferred to operate her medical office not from the house, but at No. 615 East 79th Street (office hours were 11 to 2 “except Sundays’).

On November 5, 1912 The Sun pointed out the feverish buying and redevelopment of the area around No. 1145 Park Avenue.  No. 1215 Park Avenue, “a three-story high stoop dwelling,” had just been sold, and Mrs. Frederick Bronson purchased the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 91st Street, abutting No. 1145, “where she is building two private residences.”  She then acquired and resold No. 1145.  The newspaper said that almost simultaneously “Robert S. Minturn acquired for the site of two residences, one for himself, the old Ursuline Convent property at the northwest corner of Ninety-third street and Park avenue.  Last month the sale of the northeast cor5ner of Park avenue and Ninety-fourth street was reported, and the purchaser will alter the building, a dwelling of the American basement type for his own use.”

No. 1145 became home to Horatio N. Gardner.  Ignoring the flurry of redevelopment, Gardener seems to have been satisfied with the Victorian appearance of his old brownstone. 

In the meantime silent films had evolved from nickelodeon attractions to “photo plays” and lavish motion picture theaters were being constructed.  The star status of stage actors and actresses was suddenly being shared by motion picture artists.   Far away in Dallas, Texas, young Mae Elizabeth Hampton longed for the live of a silver screen star.

Despite family reservations (she later told a reporter “but you should have seen my grandmother! She was a Quakeress and she brought me up), she traveled to New Orleans where she enrolled in the Sophie Newcomb School.  After she won a newspaper beauty contest “there were several immediate and flattering offers to act in the silent drama,” reported the New-York Tribune several years later.  But Hampton (she took the name Hope for professional purposes) held out.  “Miss Hampton, conscious of her own limitations, realized wisely that without experience, as she was, her career on the screen would be disappointingly brief.”

Hope Hampton relocated to New York City, the epicenter of the film industry, and enrolled in Sargent’s Drama School—a two year course.  After a single year, in 1919, the faculty graduated her, feeling “she had made herself ready.”

Part of the graduation process was an “annual presentation of the dramatic talent of the school.”  Forty-eight-year old Jules E. Brulatour was in the audience that year and Hope Hampton caught his attention.  Brulatour was, as described by the New-York Tribune, “one of the deans of the motion picture industry.”  Hope Hampton was on the way to stardom.

The silent screen star would become famous for her wardrobe -- photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.
While the 21-year old actress’s dreams were beginning to come true, Horatio N. Gardener’s were crashing.   On August 29, 1918 The Sun had reported on his petition of voluntary bankruptcy.  In September 1920 his old brownstone house on Park Avenue was purchased by Holborn Realty Co. and a month later the New-York Tribune reported that the firm was “reconstructing the house into a whitestone American basement dwelling.”

As Park Avenue was being transformed into an upscale, modern thoroughfare, Holborn Realty had commissioned esteemed architect Emery Roth give the house a total make-over.   The result was a dignified four-story mansion with one expansive window at each of the upper levels.  Roth introduced the 19th century building to the Roaring Twenties with straight lines, sparse ornamentation and up-to-the-minute interiors.

No. 1145 is third from right in this 1929 photograph.  Only one unaltered brownstone remains on the block.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

As the house was being completed, the Texas girl who longed for fame and fortune was on a whirlwind ride.  On March 14, 1920 the New-York Tribune had reported “her very first picture, ‘A Modern Salome,’ has been completed only recently and Miss Hampton herself has just returned from a two months’ trip to England, France and Italy.”  

Jules Brulatour had no intention of letting her rise lose momentum.  “The production of a second picture waits only on the discovery of a story that both Mr. Brulatour and Miss Hampton consider suitable,” wrote the New-York Tribune.  The newspaper noted “the difficulty of the search, a difficulty caused by the demands of both.”  As she had earlier proved, Hope Hampton was not simply a pretty face.  “For Miss Hampton knows full well that she is at the mere beginning of her screen career; it is for this reason that she is so concerned with the future and so careless of the past.”

The explosive success of Hope Hampton appeared obvious when the New-York Tribune ran the headline “Hope Hampton, Actress, Buys Home on Park Avenue” on October 23, 1921.  The $20,000 mortgage would translate to about $260,000 today.  Decades later The New York Times would reveal that the house was a gift from her manager, Jules Brulatour.

Hope Hampton may have been new to the silent screen, but she was quick to absorb the flashy lifestyle of 1920s stars.  The New York Times later described the décor of her new 10-room home.  “Its interior is almost completely covered with mirrors.  The furniture and decorations are French, of the Louis XV period.  The floors and the winding banisters, are covered with English leopard-spotted carpeting.”

Not content with merely acting, the silent screen star turned to song as well.  She began studying operatic singing under Isadore Luckstone, with some success.   Four months before the purchase of her Park Avenue mansion, the New-York Tribune reported “Miss Hampton has a beautiful soprano voice which is quite wasted in the silent drama, as it is heard only when she makes personal appearances.  Alf. T. Wilton heard her sing the ‘Ave Maria’ on such an occasion and has ever since been trying to persuade Miss Hampton to remain silent no longer.”  Wilton gave her a “flattering vaudeville offer” which she refused.

Nevertheless, Harriette Underhill, the New-York Tribune’s version of Hedda Hopper, reported on July 9, 1922 that Luckstone “tells her that if she studies hard perhaps in four or five years she might try for grand opera.”  Until that day, the aggressive and ambitious actress worked on her command of foreign languages.

“As soon as I began to sing I realized that I never could amount to anything unless I knew some of the languages, so I started with Italian, and now I’m studying French, too.  It is as easy to learn two as one while you are about it,” she told Underhill.

The beautiful Hope Hampton broke the hearts of men worldwide who sat in the darkened theaters and watched her on screen.  The Evening World said on September 13, 1921 that every ship that pulled into New York Harbor “brings her a number of ‘mash notes.’”  The newspaper copied one, from the Philippines, for its readers:

Dear Madame:  I am in great pleasure when this reaches you.  I can tell you I have seen you in the movies and was moved by a strong heartfull of desire to be your acquaintanceship.  In delight I would have a fine picture of you and am I not very bold?  But there is no blame in it when one is so pretty good like you—Andrea Crispina.

Sadly for Crispina and the other “mash note” writers, Hope already had a love interest—none other than her manager, Jules E. Brulatour.   Falling in love with Brulatour was a risk for the young woman.  The New York Times tried to untangle his romantic history for its readers on November 8, 1923.

“Under the terms of a preliminary separation agreement with his first wife in 1915, she was to receive $20,000 a year.  In April of that year the first Mrs. Brulatour made an application in the Supreme Court to compel her husband to insure his life for $65,000 in her favor.  Mr. Brulatour delayed insuring himself, and while he was still fighting the pressure brought against him he was sued by Mrs. Julia Smith for $20,000 for injuries received when she was hit by Mr. Brulatour’s automobile.  When the damage action came up in court testimony revealed the fact that at the time of the accident Mr. Brulatour’s car was being drive by Miss Dorothy Gibson, who was then studying for the operatic stage.  Miss Gibson was one of the Titanic survivors, and she became Mr. Brulatour’s second wife, a divorce having been obtained on incompatible grounds in the Kentucky courts.  The second Mrs. Brulatour attained fame as the original ‘Harrison Fisher Girl.’  She later became a motion picture actress.”

Dorothy Gibson Brulatour filed for divorce in August 1919, asking for $48,000 alimony.  That was the same year that Jule Brulatour sat in the audience of the Sargent Drama School presentation and first saw the 19-year old Hope Hampton.

Now, on November 8, 1923 friends of Brulatour and Hampton were shocked to find out that they had been married for three months.  The secret ceremony took place in Baltimore on August 22, 1923.  Hope had stayed in her Park Avenue house, while her new husband officially remained in his residence, No. 1207 Park Avenue about three blocks north.

Hope and Jules pose before a shiny new automobile in 1922 -- photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress

Brulatour explained the ruse saying “We kept it dark just because we wanted to be a little different.  We thought we would reveal it in one year, but it became known, you see.  We imagined that it would be rather original for a well-known motion picture actress not to make known the fact that she had been married.”

At the time, Hope’s latest film The Gold Diggers, “in which she made her most successful screen effort,” according to The Times, had just come out.

Now that the marriage was public knowledge, the pair moved into Hope’s mansion.   While the actors and actresses followed the movie industry to Hollywood, they preferred New York. 

The year 1927 turned out to be a litigious one for the couple.  It began on December 20, 1926 when Hope, like a true 1920s movie star, emerged on the street with her Russian wolfhound in tow.   According to Fred Palmer, the dog “attacked him and bit him on the right cheek.”  Hope was in court on March 9 answering his charges of “permanent injuries and disfigurement.”  He wanted $3,000 in damages.

Later that year Brulatour’s film My Princess premiered.  Produced by Alfred E. Aarons, it starred Hope Hampton and poked gentle fun at the opera business.   Their mistake was to use the actual name of Italian tenor Guido Ciccolini in the dialogue.

Ciccolini’s wife sat in the audience one evening “and heard her husband’s name used to describe a roustabout singer, who was called ‘you big wop’ by the actress and who in one scene tried to attack Miss Hampton,” reported The New York Times on December 20, 1927.  The tenor sued all three—Brulatour, Aarons and Hampton.  Although Justice Cotillo decided in their favor, he lambasted them for their “shockingly bad taste.”

It was not long after this that Hope essentially retired from the film business; no doubt prompted in part by her blossoming operatic career.  In 1928 she opened with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company in Massenet’s Manon; and the following year on May 25 sailed from New York on the Leviathan headed to Paris “to begin a season with the Opera Comique,” reported The New York Times.  The newspaper added “She said she would sing the leading roles in ‘Manon’ and ‘La Boheme.’  After Paris, Miss Hampton will be in concert at Deauville and Cannes.”

The service entrance sits to the right of the main doorway.

By 1939 both Hampton and her husband were, for all purposes, retired.  They nevertheless remained a larger-than-life couple and newspapers nationwide covered the mysterious shooting of Jules E. Brulatour in the Park Avenue mansion on January 22, 1939.

Shortly before 11 p.m. that Sunday, one of the maids “ran screaming” into a nearby drugstore.  According to the clerk, David Fine, she frantically told him that “Brulatour fell and cut himself.”  When Dr. Carl Theobald arrived at the house, he found Brulatour with a bloody towel wrapped around his head.

The wounded man was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital where he was treated for a “wound and a nick on the ear made by the bullet that lodged under the skin of his neck,” as reported by The Times several days later.  The police did not find out about the shooting until two days after the incident.

On Thursday, January 26 The Chicago Daily Tribune reported “Brulatour, who made millions in the sale of film to movie companies, was arrested in bed in Lenox Hill hospital this afternoon on a felony charge of possessing a loaded gun.  After he was fingerprinted and posted $530 bond, a patrolman left his bedside.”   The newspaper said “Hope Hampton, actress and singer, frustrated police and prosecutors today in their feverish attempts to rip the veil of mystery from the shooting of her wealthy husband” and she “flatly refused to testify before the grand jury under a waiver of immunity.”

Joining Hope in the grand jury room were three maids, a chauffeur and her lawyer.  Brulatour deepened the mystery by telling detectives he had two guns, but “I destroyed them—also the bullet.”  Then he contradicted himself saying, according to Assistant Chief Inspector Francis J. Kear “he had locked the guns in a vault and would produce them later.”

In the end Jules Brulatour pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of possessing a weapon without a license and before long the public had forgotten about the entire murky incident.

While her aging husband appeared in public attired in non-descript tan suits and fedoras, Hope Hampton was ever the silent screen star years after her last picture.  Tagged by Walter Winchell “the duchess of Park Avenue” she was later described by actor George Hamilton in his 2008 autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do, as “a sophisticated Mae West.”

The couple attended every opening night, either at the theater or the opera, and Hope was always draped in sequins, jewels and furs.   The New York Times would later mention that with the opening season after their marriage “Mr. and Mrs. Brulatour began their custom of regular attendance at opening night performances on Broadway.”  Drama critic Burton Rascoe described them as “models of manners for playgoers…they were always in their seats five or ten minutes before the curtain goes up.  They never rattle their programs or converse while a play is in progress.  They do not light cigarettes while going up the aisles.  They come to a show to see the show and not to be seen.  They usually speak French in the lobby, but in a low tone.”

The appearance of Hope Hampton was expected and gossip columnists and movie magazine journalists waited to get a glimpse of her dazzling ensembles.

The couple was routed from their home on December 20, 1942 when fire broke out in Schmidt’s Pharmacy on the ground floor of No. 1143 Park Avenue next door.  The flames spread upward through the walls and into the rafters of the Brulatour mansion.  Smoke filled the house and the pair was forced to spend the evening at the nearby home of columnist Arthur (Bugs) Baer.  Brulatour called the damage the following day “considerable.”

After an illness of several weeks, Jules E. Brulatour died in Mount Sinai Hospital on October 26, 1946 at the age of 85.  His more than $2 million estate was divided among Hope, and Brulatour’s three children (one of which, Yvonne Brulatour, lived in the Park Avenue home).

In 1951 Hope, now 53 years old, was concerned about the Cold War.  She began construction on a country house in Greenwich, Connecticut to, as she explained, “get away from a possible atomic bombing.”   On the weekend of April 14, she left New York to inspect the ranch-type house with her lawyer, Sinclair Robinson.

Hope’s butler, 41-year old Charles Joseph Mourey had left the house Saturday night.   A gay man, Hope Hampton would later describe him, according to the 1998 book Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder, as preferring “frisky young men.”  When he returned to the house around 3:30 Sunday morning, he found the front door open and a light on in Hope’s third floor bedroom.

Opening her door, he found the room ransacked.   Hope had most of her jewelry in a small safe, about 15 inches square, that weighed around 150 pounds.  The burglars walked out of the house with the safe.   The New York Times said “The gems, which had added luster to numerous social events and theatrical first nights, were valued at $300,000.  They were not insured.”

Hope was upset to find that other items were missing as well.  Included were her $15,000 silver blue milk coat and $15,000 in cash.  She estimated that 40 pieces of jewelry were gone, including “four diamond-and-emerald bracelets valued altogether at $90,000; two diamond clips worth $50,000; diamond earrings worth $15,000, and other assorted pendants, rings, necklaces and gems.”  In reporting on the robbery The Times mentioned that the house “is one of the showplaces of the area.”

Although the three thugs who committed the burglary were arrested in October, none of the loot was recovered.  Although the amount of the loss was lowered to $150,000 after a careful inventory; that amount would still translate to about $1.35 million today.

Hope Hampton and her staff were grief-stricken in 1960.  Long-time butler Charles Mourney, who had discovered the burglary nine years earlier, left for vacation in Miami in August.  A week after his arrival, on August 10, six gunshots were heard on North Biscayne River Drive.  Police arriving at the scene found Mourney dead on the dirt road.

Evidence pointed to a struggle before the butler was hit with three .22 caliber bullets.  It would be 26 years before the murderer was sentenced to 10 years in prison

The flamboyant former film star continued making her dramatic lobby appearances at the opera and the theater even as she grew older.    Her good friend and companion Tony Carlyle later told reporters “They would hold the curtain until she arrived, and wherever she went she would be in the newsreels that night or the papers the next day, especially in the 60s.”  She was unafraid to appear at nightclubs as well and haunted the Peppermint Lounge where the dance The Twist was born.  In 1962, at the age of 64, she was named Miss Twist at the club.

In 1977 she showed up at a gala benefit “swathed in a floor-length chinchilla coat, complete with train,” said Joyce Purnick of The New York Times later.  The following year a reporter approached her on opening night of the Metropolitan Opera.  She was wearing a “black broadtail with a black mink collar” and he asked “What happened to the chinchilla?”

Hope Hampton casually explained “I wore it last year.  It would be repetitious.”

Joyce Purnick said of her “Hope Hampton loved all that glittered, and would display her sparkling wares—diamonds and emeralds to offset the sequins—everywhere.”   But opening night at the Metropolitan Opera in 1978 would be the last time the opera crowd would be dazzled by her presence.

That night she spotted a young woman in “dungarees.”  Dashed, she told her escort “Glamour is finished, I don’t want my picture in the papers next to a girl with jeans on.”  It was the last Metropolitan Opera opening night attended by Hope Hampton.

On Saturday, January 23, 1982, 84-year old Hope Hampton suffered a fatal heart attack.   The Eugene Oregon Register-Guard noted that she had appeared in 28 silent films.  “She also appeared in ‘Road to Reno,’ a talkie with Randolph Scott and in several movies with then child star Milton Berle.”

Upon her death Tony Carlyle said “She was the first lady to be photographed with Norell dresses.  She had one of the greatest collections of Norell  gowns.  I just hope something is done with the clothes.  She would have liked that.”

Little has changed to the block since the 1929 photograph above.

Indeed, Hope Hampton would have approved of what happened to her wardrobe.  On March 26, 1983 a four-day auction was held at the prestigious William Doyle Galleries.  The auction house announced the auction of “The fabulous fashions of Hope Hampton, ‘The Duchess of Park Avenue.”  The announcement mentioned “from the 60s: Gowns by Norell, sequined jackets, evening dresses, coats, furs, capes—about 100 lots in all.”

The current interiors are a bit toned-down from Hope Hampton's leopard and mirror decors.  photohttp://streeteasy.com/sale/1130740-townhouse-1145-park-avenue-carnegie-hill-new-york 

Hope Hampton’s Park Avenue mansion remained a single family house—reportedly one of only two on the avenue.   When it came on the market in 2013 (without the mirrors and leopard skin carpeting), it was listed for $18.9 million.

non-credited photographs taken by the author
many thanks to reader "Heather" for suggesting this post


  1. For those of you interested, the leopard and mirror decor was supplied to Hope Hampton by Elsie De Wolf and there are extensive views of the interior of the house in all it's De Wolf lux in Penny Sparks book, Elsie de Wolf: the Birth of Modern Interior Decoration.
    A brief walk down memory lane to your Jan 31st post on 42-48 East 20th Street: I just received my copy of the 1888 Mott plumbing catalog reprint. Pretty much every bathroom in the catalog is illustrated with a small tub identical to the one in the Pierce ad in your post. The Mott catalog describes it as a "seat bath"- which I was able to determine on line. The text of the catalog describes the seat bath as a useful addition to any bathroom and adds that it is also versatile as it can serve as a foot bath. The catalog illustrates "children's baths" and straight "foot baths" as well, but none of these has the raised back that is ubiquitous to the "seat baths" illustrated. My knees hurt just contemplating lowering myself into the damn thing. No wonder it went the way of the Dodo bird.

  2. What a fascinating woman she was. Tom, thank you for writing such a lovely and informative article.