Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Jules S. Bache Mansion -- No. 10 East 67th Street





In the 1880s developer Ira E. Doying and his wife took sides.  He was busy on the Upper East Side, while at the same time his wife Sarah was erecting homes and tenements on the opposite side of Central Park.  

In 1880 Ira Doying hired architect James E. Ware to design three rowhouses on East 67th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenue.  The upscale homes, completed in 1881, were designed in the trendy Queen Anne style.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide was highly impressed, calling the houses “without their equal on Manhattan Island” on October 1, 1881.  The journal made special note of the heavy use of artistic stained glass throughout the homes.

No. 8 was purchased by L. Mesler, who resold it in 1886 for $69,647 (in the neighborhood of $1.8 million today).  The buyer, Lizzie A. Shaw, lived in Finderne, New Jersey and leased the house to C. Stevens O’Mahoney.

O’Mahoney spent much of his spare time solving riddles published in local newspapers.  His solitary diversion may have been prompted by a congenital skin condition.  On March 4, 1891 he published a testimonial in The Sun praising the results of Cuticura Remedies.  “My nose was of a most pronounced crimson hue, the result of inherited scrofula,” he wrote.  “I suffered untellable mortification daily and tried enough remedies to stock a drug store without deriving the slightest benefit.”

But Cuticura Remedies had done the trick, he said.  “I am all right now, and I cannot find encomiums enough to bestow upon what I know to be the greatest and grandest gifts given by science to man.”

By the time O’Mahoney wrote his glowing review, Lizzie Shaw had sold No. 8 to Edmund R. Converse and his wife, Jessie.  She made a handsome profit in February 1889 with a sale price of $95,000. Apparently the Converses allowed their inherited tenant’s lease to run out.

A wealthy industrialist, Converse and his wife would remain in the 67th Street house for only a few years.  In the spring of 1897 he and two other investors pooled $1 million to form the National Galvanizing Works, headquartered in Jersey City.  Later that year, in November, he sold the house to Jules Semon Bache “for about $100,000.”

Bache’s rise to incredible wealth had been relatively recent.  Born to an immigrant Jewish family, he started working at the age of 20 in 1881 as a clerk in his uncle’s brokerage firm.  Within five years he was made a minority partner and in 1892 he took over the firm.

Bache (who had added an “e” to his father’s surname Bach) renamed the brokerage house J. S. Bache & Co.  Under his leadership it became one of the top firms in the nation, garnering him an immense fortune.

Before he moved his family into the 16-year old house, Bache commissioned mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert to remodel it.  Jules Bache was setting a trend and within the next decade many of the brick and brownstone houses in the Central Park neighborhood would see dramatic renovations into modern residences.

Gilbert stripped off the playful Queen Anne front and replaced it with a dignified neo-Classical limestone facade.  The gleaming white mansion stood in stark contrast to its brick and brownstone neighbors.  A four-story swelled front provided a roomy balcony at the fifth floor.  The sparse decoration was limited; including two small iron balconettes at the parlor level, a centered stone balcony with an undulating railing above a handsome carved cartouche with palm fronds, and two large stone urns above the parapet.

Architectural Record, June 1903
Bache and his wife, Florence, had two daughters, Hazel and Kathryn.  Their house became a repository of fine art; a collection that would soon be enjoyed almost solely by Jules S. Bache as Florence and the growing girls spent the majority of their time in the Bache apartment at No. 38 Avenue Marceau in Paris.

With the female Baches mostly overseas, Jules spent his leisure time in manly pursuits.  In 1901 he rehired C. P. H. Gilbert back to design his carriage house at No. 163 East70th Street.  If he ever housed horse-drawn vehicles here, it was short-lived as automobiles caught his interest.

One of his automobiles, a Brewster laundaulet, cost him about $6,500—more than $181,000 in 2016 dollars.  Motorcars were sometimes problematic for the millionaire.  On March 26, 1905 Bache’s chauffeur, George Deaulieu, was pulled over by bicycle Policeman Brennan for speeding on Madison Avenue.  And a year later, on December 9, Bache was badly injured in an accident.

The New-York Tribune reported “J. S. Bache, the banker…narrowly escaped fatal injury yesterday when his touring car smashed into a dump cart at 187th street and Broadway, while going at a high speed.”  Bache’s chauffeur and his passenger escaped injury; but the millionaire was taken to the Washington Heights Hospital with severe lacerations and shock.


from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In the meantime, social columns tip-toed around the bi-continental living arrangements of Jules and Florence Bache.  On March 2, 1908 The New York Times reported “Mrs. J. S. Bache of 8 East Sixty-seventh Street will sail for Europe to-morrow on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, accompanied by her daughters.  They will spend the Summer abroad, returning in the Fall.  It is likely that Mr. Bache will join his family on the continent in the early Summer.”

Florence, however, made it quite clear in 1911 that she considered Paris her home.   When she refused to pay several thousand dollars in duty that year, she declared that she was exempt, as a resident of France.  She “reluctantly” paid the duty when Customs officials seized her trunks; but then took her case to the United States Court of Customs Appeals.

By now the girls were coming of age and return trips to New York were socially necessary.  Not long after the Customs incident, on January 7, 1912, The New York Times announced “Mrs. Jules S. Bache is giving a reception for debutante daughter, Miss Hazel Bache, on Wednesday at her home, 8 East Sixty-seventh Street.  She will give another reception for her daughter on January 17.”   These were followed on February 14 by a dance at Sherry’s.

It was a busy year at No. 8 East 67th Street.  On November 3 Hazel’s engagement to Fred Lloyd Richards was announced; and the wedding took place in the mansion a month later on December 16.   Florence and Kathryn were soon off again to Paris; but as 1913 was Kathryn’s debutante year so they would be back in the fall.  But before then her mother received disheartening news.

After two years of legal wrangling, the Board of United States General Appraisers had decided that Florence was a United States citizen and not exempt from duty.  Her problem, it turned out, was the publicly friendly, even loving, relationship with her husband.

“In denying Mrs. Bache’s contention, Judge Hays points out that the political status of a married woman follows that of her husband.”  Because the couple was not formally separated, her citizenship was defined by her husband’s.

Customs officials had argued that “Mrs. Bache and her husband live in amicable relations.  She visits her husband frequently at his New York residents…while Mr. Bache is often in Paris, where he lives at his wife’s apartment.”  The New York Times commented “Although Mr. and Mrs. Bache are in the New York Telephone Directory as occupying the same residence in New York, each is listed with a separate telephone number.”

War in Europe would bring Florence back to New York.  In March 1915 she donated an ambulance to the American Hospital in Paris.  The vehicle was sent to the Belgian battle front and by June had transported more 980 wounded soldiers.

Jules continued amassing his extensive art collection; and in 1916 made news when he commissioned the building of his new 58-foot yacht.  Capable of speeds of 30 miles an hour, newspaper reports noted “A feature of the craft which specially attracts notice is her adaptability for naval dispatch work or submarine chasing in case her services might be needed for more serious work than pleasure cruising.”

The couple’s concern over war issues extended to injured British Army Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson in 1917.  Severely wounded by shrapnel, he was transported to a New York hospital.   A newspaper reported that the convalescing soldier “is the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Jules S. Bache, of No. 8 East Sixty-seventh street, at their camp in the Adirondacks.”

Following the war things returned to normal.  Florence and Kathryn continued to spent the bulk of their time in Paris; returning to New York during the winter social season.  On January 8, 1922 they hosted an intimate dinner with a socially-enviable guest list.  The New York Herald reported “The guests included Prince and Princess Rospigliasi, Prince and Princess Boncompagni and Mr. Stephen Van Rensselaer.”  There was no mention made of Jules.

On November 15, 1924 Florence arrived in New York on the ocean liner Paris.   Once again she and Customs officials went head-to-head.  The Appraiser of the Port charged $17,000 duty on her $100,000 worth of jewelry and clothing in her trunks.  Florence bristled.

“Mrs. Bache maintained at the time of the ship’s arrival that she had been a resident of Paris for many years and was entitled to bring in her valuables as personal effects free of duty,” reported The New York Times.   And once again some of her possessions were seized.

She was allowed to take $83,000 in jewelry and clothing that were purchased in the United States.  But $11,000 in jewelry and $6,000 worth of clothing were held because she had not declared them.  On December 4 The Times reported “A fine of $26,000 was imposed at the Custom House yesterday in the legal division, which she will have to pay before she can recover the goods.”

The newspaper seemed to be as frustrated as the Customs staff.  “Mrs. Bache is familiar with the methods of the Custom House,” it said.

Jules Semon Bache died on March 24, 1944 at the age of 82.   By now the Bache mansion had been renumbered No. 10 as the addresses on the block shifted following the construction of the apartment building on Fifth Avenue that took No. 2.  It was a tentative time for the grand mansions of the Lenox Hill neighborhood.   For the past two decades many had been razed to make way for modern apartment buildings; while others were converted to apartments.

Such was the fate for No. 10 East 67th Street.  It was converted in 1956 to a doctor’s office on the street level, with two apartments each on the next three floors, and a single apartment on the top level.   But then, in 1989, it was reconverted to a single family home.


Like Jules Bache, Cataline Meyer filled the mansion with art.  Works by Alexander Calder, Jime Dine, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers hung on its walls.   Known as Kitty, she lived in the house with her husband, owner of a costume jewelry business, and their domestic staff.  The couple maintained houses in Southampton and London, as well.

Kitty Meyer’s entertainments were legendary.  A friend remarked in 1997 “She’s a social creature beyond belief, feeds 40 people every weekend.  Kitty, her tables looked like Dutch still lifes—8,000 things on the table, oversized fish, oversized fruit, lavish things.  It was beautiful.”

The block of East 67th Street had a Christmas tradition.  Each house was bedecked with giant wreaths with red bows and white lights.  The cooperative effort of the homeowners created a striking Yule time scene.

Moroccan-born actress and socialite Zohra Lahrizi Zondler was a regular house guest during the winter.  She was staying with the Meyers on December 17, 1997.  That night a servant closed one of the windows, catching the electric cord of a wreath and crimping it.  As the household slept, a short circuit sparked, setting a curtain on fire.

At 4:05 a.m. the automatic fire alarm sounded.  The house was equipped with sprinklers; but someone had turned off the valve from the sidewalk.  The fire spread with unbelievable speed.  Kitty, 58 years old, woke up her husband, who was in ill health, and helped him out of the house, along with servants and other house guests.

Suddenly Kitty realized that Zohra Lahrizi Zondler was still on the fifth floor.  A maid pleaded with her not to go back into the inferno, but Kitty responded “You get out.  Don’t make me nervous.  I have to get my friend.”

Kitty made it up to the fifth floor to her friend.  But the staircase, according to fire fighters, acted like a chimney, “drawing the fire upward with enormous force,” according to John Kifner, writing for the New York Times the following day.

With no way out, Kitty and Ms. Zondler escaped onto the fifth floor balcony.  A fire truck was just pulling up in front of the burning mansion when the two women jumped to their deaths.  A neighbor, David Shaw, told reporters “We saw the flames lapping up the side of the building and these two women standing outside.  They were yelling.”

Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen surmised they “jumped probably because they were in such pain.  There was a tremendous amount of fire.  It had to be like an oven up there.”

The heroic Kitty Meyer jumped to her death from the fifth floor balcony.

The renovation of the burned-out house was completed in 2003.   The 13,000-square foot single family mansion was placed on the market in 2006 for a staggering $32 million.   Other than the loss of the parlor-level balconettes, little has changed to its outward appearance; leaving no trace of the horrific tragedy that occurred here.

photographs by the author

2 comments:

  1. A beautiful and elegant townhouse with a very sad story.

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  2. How strange,
    The Kathryn Bache you mentioned was also called Kitty, and she married Gilbert Miller, with residences in New York and London. See Billy Baldwin Decorates, this book tells all about her! Great story on East 67th Street, I once lived in the same block only on E 66 St.
    Dean

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