Monday, June 29, 2015

The Lost 1883 Hoyt Mansion, No. 934 5th Avenue




The mansion looked slightly out of place on the east side of the Park -- sketch from "Our firemen : a history of New York Fire Department" 1887 (copyright expired)
A young and ambitious Alfred Miller Hoyt left his native city of Manhattan to study at Kenyon College.  There surrounded by the farmlands of Ohio he met Rosina Elizabeth Reese and the pair was married on October 20, 1858 in Lancaster, Ohio.

The Midwest appealed to Hoyt and he briefly went into the dry goods business in Ohio, then worked in the lumber regions of Michigan.  But eventually he returned to New York where he and his brother formed the commission firm of Jesse Hoyt & Co.   By the time the Civil War drew to a close, the brothers had each amassed a fortune. 

When Alfred retired in 1881 he had established his own banking firm, A. M. Hoyt & Co. and was also a trustees in the Bank for Savings in the City of New York, a trustee in the Continental Trust Company, a director in the Fidelity and Casualty Company, a director in the Merchants’ Exchange National Bank, and a trustee of the New York Produce Exchange Safe Deposit and Storage Company.  He also had interest in the Consolidated Ice Company and the Bowling Green Safe Deposit Company.

Alfred and Rosalina Hoyt were socially prominent and Alfred held memberships in an exhausting list of the most respected mens' clubs in town—the Metropolitan, the Union League, the Harvard, the University, the Ardsley, the Riding, the Racquet and Tennis, the Grolier, the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club, and the Century Association.  He was also active in operations of the National Academy of Design, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Geographical Society, and the American Museum of Natural History.  

Now retired, Hoyt laid plans for a new home along Central Park where New York's millionaires were just beginning to venture.  The Hoyts would be among the first of the wealthy families to venture as far north as 75th Street.   By the 1890s the migration would be in full swing; but in 1881 the Hoyts’ building site near the corner of 75th Street was still somewhat undeveloped other a few brownstone townhouses erected a decade earlier.   

Hoyt commissioned the firm of McKim, Mead & White to design his residence..   It was a relatively early commission for the three--Stanford White had just joined the firm in 1879.  And yet the resultant townhouse smacked of the style of Clarence Fagan True who would be busy filling the Upper West Side with similar structures through the turn of the century.

As Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance palaces clad in limestone or marble crowded around it, the Hoyt mansion looked rather out of place--as though it belonged on the other side of the Park.  Built of buff-colored brick, limestone and terra cotta it rose over an English basement guarded by a stone wall with an attractive lacy iron gate.  Construction began in 1882 and was completed a year later.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called it "plain but elegant."

Like so many of Clarence True’s rowhouses, it featured rounded bays, a central section of brick sitting on a variegated base, a highly-decorative terra cotta top floor, surmounted by a tiara-like balustrade.  A Juliette balcony with a waist-high ornamental railing added a touch of Venice.  Clever manipulation of the design created the illusion of symmetry at first glance; but a closer view revealed that the southern bay was significantly wider and the doorway slightly offset.

When the Hoyts and their servants moved in to No. 934 5th Avenue, at least three of their five children were with them.  Alfred W. Hoyt was attending Harvard, his brother John Sherman Hoyt was still a student at Columbia College, and Rosina was still unmarried.

The house, as well as their Southampton estate, was the scene of society teas and dinner parties given by Rosina and the Hoyt name appeared in the society pages often.   As the turn of the century approached and the 5th Avenue neighborhood filled with costly mansions, the Hoyts remained busy in political as well as social endeavors.  Both Alfred and Rosina signed the Woman Suffrage Amendment petition in 1894.

In June 1903 Alfred Miller Hoyt was taken ill.  A few days later, on June 18, he died in his bed at No. 934 5th Avenue.   After the appropriate mourning period, the family reentered the social scene.  In January 1908 Rosina gave a dance at the elegant Sherry’s in honor of her granddaughter, Rosina Otis.   But mourning crepe would reappear on the door before the decade was out.

On November 20, 1911 48-year old bachelor Alfred W. Hoyt—now head of the family banking firm—died in the house after battling typhoid fever for two weeks.  Like his father he held multiple directorships including a seat on the board of the Belnord Realty Company that built the Belnord Apartments at 86th Street and Broadway, and the Fidelity and Casualty Company.

The two Rosina Hoyts—mother and daughter—remained on in their beloved house catered to by a sizable staff.   Young Rosina immersed herself in club activities becoming secretary of the Garden Club of America and hosting the meetings of the Colonial Dames Sewing Class in the house in 1914.  

By now Alfred and Rosina’s grandchildren were reaching adulthood and a year later the house was the scene of a wedding reception for son Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth Sherman Hoyt, following her marriage to Thomas H. Frothingham of Philadelphia in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  Rosina’s buffet lunch was catered by Sherry’s and among the socially-prominent guests included Percy R. Pyne and his family, Mr. and Mrs. George B. Post and daughter, and the John R. Suydam family.

On October 19, 1920 the mansion was boarded shut.  photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWYS49JY&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=629#/SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWYS49JY&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=629&PN=2

The two women lived on in the mansion until February 26, 1922 when Mrs. Rosina M. Hoyt died upstairs in her bedroom.   Daughter Rosina received the house, as well as half of her mother’s estate.  Mrs. Hoyt expressed her appreciation to her faithful servants in her will.  Longtime coachman, Hugh McGuire, received $10,000.  Chauffeur Herman Hartmeyer and butler Axel Swenson both received $5,000.  And every employee of within the household who had been in service for over three years received $2,000—about $21,500 today.

Rosina sold the house to George E. Mitchell, nicknamed “Sunshine Charley” who had been elected president of National City Bank (now Citibank).  The millionaire banker demolished Alfred Hoyt’s architecturally-incongruous mansion and commissioned architects Walker & Gillette to design a $500,000 Renaissance-inspired limestone mansion on the site.   The mansion exists, complete with Mitchell’s furnishings and artworks, as the Consulate General of France.

Mitchell replaced the Hoyt mansion with a more geographically-appropriate structure -- photo by te author

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