In 1928, Walter Ewing Hope and his wife, the former Florence Talcott, were planning a change. They owned an impressive five-story home at No. 123 East 80th Street; but now they were ready to move on. Within a year Hope’s life would take another course, as well.
The 49-year old lawyer had already built a remarkable career. The valedictorian of the 1901 Princeton University graduating class, he had left his legal practice to devote himself to war work in 1917. He took the position of director of State organizations for the United States Fuel Administration, then in October 1918, appointed by President Wilson, he sailed to Europe as chairman of the special Government commission to investigate fuel conditions in Great Britain, France and Italy.
Now with the war nearly a decade in the past, Hope was a partner at Milbank, Tweed & Hope as well as a director in several corporations. Wealthy, respected and a member of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club, he and Florence turned their focus on a new mansion.
The architect Mott B. Schmidt had recently made an impression on wealthy New Yorkers when he transformed outmoded Victorian rowhouses into Georgian-inspired mansions along Sutton Place. Now the Hopes commissioned him to design their home at No. 43 East 70th Street.
Construction began in 1928 and was completed the following year. Mott produced an elegant Regency Revival mansion faced in limestone. Its four stories of understated sophistication were capped by an attic floor with three tall dormers. The rusticated first floor with its double entrance doors flanked by columns supporting a grand fanlight would not be out of place on London’s Mayfair district.
|The Hope Mansion shortly after completion -- photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The Hope family would have little time to fully enjoy their new home. On March 4, 1929 Hebert Hoover began his term as 31st President of the United States. He appointed Walter E. Hope as Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury. Hope also accepted the chairmanship of the National Republican Finance Committee.
As Assistant Secretary, Hope was in charge of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Bureau of the Mint, and the Secret Service.
The two positions would require the Hopes to spend most of their time in Washington. On September 15, 1930 The New York Times remarked “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Hope and Miss Marian T. Hope will return from Europe Saturday and will be in their new home at 43 East Seventieth Street for part of the Winter. Mr. Hope’s duties as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury will keep his family in Washington when not at their home here.”
The juggling of addresses may have been frustrating to Florence. This was the year that daughter Helen was to make her debut. On November 28 the Hopes hosted a tea dance at the Colony Club for Helen, and on January 2, 1931 the house was the scene of a glittering dinner party for her.
The final entertainment connected with Helen Talcott Hope’s debutante season was an afternoon reception in the 73rd Street mansion on December 12. Helen, like her mother had been, was a student at Vassar at the time.
In the meantime, on February 20, 1931 Herbert Hoover announced “It is with extreme regret that I have to announce the resignation of Walter Ewing Hope as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, to become effective March 1, 1931.”
Walter E. Hope returned to private life; but public life had not abandoned him. In 1932 Hope hosted a dinner in the house for William D. Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States. A few months later, in March 1933, former President Hoover took a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria where he held meetings “clearing up personal matters,” according to The New York Times. That involved meetings with Hope.
Shocking to 21st century Americans, so accustomed to stringent security surrounding former Presidents, the newspaper reported on March 15 “Mr. Hoover continued his daily routine of early morning strolls. With his son Allan and Mr. Richey he walked briskly up Park Avenue to the home of Walter Hope…where they had breakfast.”
While Walter continued his political advisement and legal practice, Florence Hope was highly active in social and charitable events. Her involvement with the People’s Chorus of New York meant working closely with equally wealthy socialites. Other members of the committee for the Chorus’s Carnegie Hall Christmas festival that year were Mrs. John Henry Hammond, Mrs. Otto H. Kahn, William Jay Schieffelin, Mrs. Dunlevy Milbank and others at the topmost echelon of society.
Her entertainments often involved music and art. That same year she gave a reception for “many of those interested in the performance of ‘La Traviata’ to be given for the benefit of Vassar College Fund at te Metrpolitan Opera.” Another afternoon reception, in 1935, was for opera stars Elisabeth Rethberg, Lauritz Melchior, Lawrence Tibbett and Ludwig Hoffman of the Met. The guests of honor, of course, did not get away without performing.
On March 18, 1938 the house was the scene of Helen’s wedding reception. She married David Edward Austen in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church that day in a headline-worthy society wedding. The Times mentioned that Helen “numbers among her ancestors two early Governors of Connecticut, John Talcott and Thomas Hooker.”
Six years later, on April 14, 1944, Helen’s sister, Marian was married in the 70th Street mansion. Following the ceremony the guests left the house for a reception at the Colony Club.
Following Walter E. Hope’s death in 1948, Florence moved to an apartment at No. 765 Park Avenue where she lived until her death in 1956. She sold the 70th Street house to the 62-year old banker, publisher, and philanthropist Maurice Wertheim.
The avid art collector and his wife, Cecile Berlage Wertheim, were also active supporters of the performing arts. Wertheim founded the New York Theatre Guild and was a director; and he and Cecile were patrons of exhibitions of the Sculptors Guild. Maurice sat on the advisory committee of the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. The couple filled the mansion with a notable collection of modern French paintings.
Werteim had been publisher of The Nation, deemed by The New York Times as a “liberal weekly,” and founded the investment banking firm of Wertheim & Co. at No. 120 Broadway. Although he was, as well, a director of several industrial firms, he preferred to be considered a sportsman.
The Times later said “He was a trustee of the American Wildlife Foundation, a noted fisherman and a tournament chess player.” The year before the Wertheims purchased the Hope mansion, Walter donated 1,800 acres of land in Suffolk County as a wild life refuge.
Only two years after moving into the 70th Street house, Maurice Wertheim died of a heart attack at the family’s country estate in Cos Cob, Connecticut on May 27, 1950. His funeral was held in the New York mansion two days later.
Cecile Wertheim stayed on in East 70th Street. She hosted quiet entertainments for years, often on behalf of causes like the Women’s Division of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and the Girls Scouts of America. A more elaborate event took place in the house on November 27, 1960 when her granddaughter, Alma Morgenthau, was married to Robert Edward Simon, Jr.
On December 5, 1974 the 73-year old Cecile Berlage Wertheim died in the mansion. The magnificent art collection was willed to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Mauice Wertheim’s alma mater.
Today the refined townhouse is owned by Qatar’s permanent representative to the United Nations. Mott B. Schmidt’s gem is beautifully preserved; a splendid example good taste in early 20th century domestic architecture.
photographs by the author
photographs by the author