Monday, April 4, 2016

The Lost J. Hooker Hamersley Mansion - No. 1030 Fifth Avenue




One of the rare photographs of the mansion was this one, published in The Inland Architect in 1899. (copyright expired)
James Hooker Hamersley had the two things necessary for acceptance in Manhattan high society: an impressive pedigree and immense wealth.   He traced his American roots to Robert Livingston the Elder who arrived in 1673 and was granted the Livingston Manor, and to Thomas Gordon who emigrated to America in 1684.

On April 31, 1888 Hamersley married Margaret Willing Chisolm in the Chisholm mansion at No. 76 Clinton Place, Brooklyn.  The California newspaper the Marin Journal described the bride as “a handsome Southern girl.”  The social status of the couple was evidenced in the bridal party.  Among Margaret’s bridesmaids was Mary Schieffelin, granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt; and Hamersley’s ushers were Oakley Rhinelander, Lispenard Stewart, B. O. Chisolm, and John Hudden.

Five years earlier Hamersley’s cousin, Louis Carre Hamersley had died.  His unusual will would eventually cause social and legal drama for decades.   Louis was married to Lillian Price (known in society, according to the New-York Tribune, as “Lily”).   That marital alliance was not without its own drama—Lillian had originally been wooed by Andrew Gordon Hamersley, Louis’s father.

Louis was especially fond of J. Hooker Hamersley; and so his will directed that Lily would enjoy his $7 million fortune until her death.  Then it was to be distributed among charities unless his favorite cousin had “a male issue.”  If that were the case, the fortunate boy would inherit the millions.

Now Hamersley purchased the four-story brownstone at No 414 Madison Avenue for his bride.  Before long a baby was born—a daughter.  Margaret Rogers Hamersley died in infancy.   Two years later another baby was born and it too, was a girl.  The Marin Journal reported “There was woe in the household after this second disappointment.”
In the meantime, in 1886 Lillian Hamersley had married the 8th Duke of Marlborough (her stepson, Charles Spencer-Churchill would marry Consuelo Vanderbilt in 1895).   The New-York Tribune noted “She was the first American woman to marry an Englishman of such rank, and the union attracted wide attention.”
Five years after the marriage the Duke in 1892 died in a bizarre incident.  The Tribune explained his death occurred “from the effects of chloroform fumes given off by liniment with which he was bathing the head of the duchess.”
And across the Atlantic that year the Hamersley family and society in general was ecstatic.  On August 6, 1892 The Illustrated American reported “Newport, R. I., had its aristocratic quiet disturbed a few days ago in a most unwonted fashion.  The coachman of Mr. J. Hooker Hammersley [sic], one of the members of the fashionable colony at the elegant capital, was seen to drive through the town at an early hour in the morning, waving his hat frantically and shouting with the enthusiasm of an Indian in warpaint: ‘Hip, hip, hurrah! We’ve got a seven million dollar baby up to our house.'”
Louis Gordon Hamersley was born on July 21, 1892.  The President of the Chemical National Bank, which managed the Hamersley estate, issued a lengthy telegram that said in part “Great joy has come to us in the shape of a bouncing boy, who, from all appearances, is here to stay.”  As far away as California newspapers carried the news of the heir-to-be.  “A halo of romance hangs over the millions of this tiny bit of humanity, and were he to die a vast estate would be dismembered and the portions dropped into the coffers of a score of big charitable institutions,” reminded the Marin Journal.

J. Hooker Hamersley in 1895  His vast wealth would be eclipsed by that of his son.  America's Successful Men of Affairs (copyright expired)
While his own two children were being raised in privileged surroundings, J. Hooker Hamersley was deeply interested in the welfare of the poor and orphaned.  He was a long-time financial supporter of the Newsboys’ Lodging House; and the Children’s Aid Society.
The Society opened its new Summer Home in Bath Beach, Brooklyn on June 18, 1895.  The New York Times said “It is a picturesque little village, this vacation home for New-York’s little waifs, with beautiful views on sea and land in all directions.”  Its dormitory cottages were donated by the likes of John Jacob Astor, Mrs. William Astor and Mrs. William Waldorf Astor.  And the main building was a gift of J. Hooker Hamersley.
The New York Times wrote of it, “The entrance to the park in which the home is situated is through the driveway of a building which, on a private estate, would be the lodge…it is of graceful architecture and finished outside with shingles left in their natural condition.”
The plot of the Louis C. Hamersley millions thickened that same year when the widowed dowager Duchess of Manchester remarried yet again.  Her new husband was Lord William Beresford “of the ancient family of Waterford, Ireland,” according to the Tribune.  Two years later, in 1897, a son was born. 
By now Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens were erecting lavish palaces along Fifth Avenue across from Central Park.  Even Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and her son, John Jacob Astor, had abandoned the brownstone mansion that had been the center of New York society for decades; moving north to Fifth Avenue and 65th Street.
Hamersley followed suit and in February 1897--the same year that William Beresford was born in England--he purchased the old four-story brownstone house on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 84th Street.   Hamersley commissioned architect William B. Tuthill to transform the corner property into a limestone palace.  The nearly two-year project resulted in a massive mansion opening onto 84th Street.  A happy blend of French and Italian Renaissance, the residence was five stories tall, including the steep mansard roof.   Ornate dormers with spiky finials poked through the roof along with the towering chimneys.  Angled bays on the Fifth Avenue end, petite stone balconies and a Corinthian portico added dimension to the fa├žade.  A tall, elegant iron fence surrounded the property, interrupted only by the stone posts on either side of the entrance steps.
On November 2, 1898 Hamersley sold the Madison Avenue house for $75,000—more than $2 million in 2016.   The New York Times announced the family “will move into their new residence next week.”  It would be four months before the mansion was ready to receive guests.  On March 22, 1899 The New York Times reported on the first entertainment, held the evening before.
“The guests at Mr. and Mrs. Hamersley’s dinner last evening, and who numbered over twenty, inspected the new house with much interest.  The feature of the house is the splendid hall, which is fitted in dark woods and hung with old portraits.  A portrait of Sir Hugh Hamersley, Lord Mayor of London, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, hangs at the foot of the grand staircase, while the surrounding walls are covered with other portraits of ancestors and relatives.”
The Hamersleys spent their summers at their sprawling country seat, Brookhurst, at Garrison-on-Hudson.  Margaret was busy during the winter season with dinners and receptions.  On January 16, 1901 The New York Times noted “Mr. and Mrs. J. Hooker Hamersley have planned to give a series of dinners at their residence, 1,030 Fifth Avenue.”  They would be among the last entertainments James H. Hamersley would enjoy in his home.
On Sunday, September 15 that year he died suddenly at the Garrison-on-Hudson house at the age of 57.  His funeral was held in Grace Church the following Thursday.  In reporting his death The Times noted “Mr. Hamersley’s city home was a new and handsome house he built recently at 1,030 Fifth Avenue.”  The newspaper reminded readers that little Louis C. Hamersley, now nine years old, was in line to inherit not only his father’s fortune; but the $7 million of Louis Carre Hamersley.
Less than three years later, on January 5, 1904, Margaret Chisolm Hamersley died.  Louis and Katherine were now two of the wealthiest orphans in the country.  “In addition to their mother’s estate,” reported The New York Times, “they will also inherit the fortune of their father, James Hooker Hamersley.  They also have a large interest in the estate of their grandfather, John W. Hamersley.”
Margaret had taken steps to ensure that her children would not grow up in someone else’s house.  “Mrs. Hamersley desired that her children should always have a home of their own, and they are now living in the family residence at Fifth Avenue and Eighty-fourth Street,” reported The Times on May 1.
Indeed, the children’s guardian, Katherine Winthrop Kean, had already gone to court to guarantee her wishes.  She asked the Supreme Court to allow them to live in the gigantic house “notwithstanding the necessarily large expense.”  Katherine Kean argued that their incomes from their “considerable fortunes” should be used “so as to allow them to continue to maintain the Fifth avenue household.”
The household would entail eight live-in servants and the continuance of their “companion,” Mrs. Sarah Lowrie.  Sarah, whose enviable position made her the de facto head of the household while the children were minors, put her foot down on a romantic rumor regarding the children in 1908.
Louis and Catherine continued their father’s support of the Newsboys’ Lodging House at No. 14 Chambers Street, and every year they financed the Christmas celebrations.   When Sarah Lowrie suspected that the rumors about the Hamersley children were stemming from the Lodging House, she threatened “It must stop, or it is probable that some patronage will be withdrawn from it.”
The New York Times explained “The story was that the two orphan children, whose father died in 1901 and mother in 1904, had never been told that they were each worth about $50,000,000; and that they had been secluded; that their companions had been strictly chosen, and that they imagined that the big family house belonged to Mrs. Lowrie.”  Sarah dismissed the story as “foolishly ridiculous.”
On January 11, 1909 Lady William Beresford, whom old New Yorkers remembered as Lillian Warren Price, died in Dorking England.  The New-York Tribune reported “The present Louis Hamersley will, accordingly, inherit the entire fortune.  The children…live at No. 1030 Fifth avenue.  Their parents are dead, and both children already possess considerable fortunes in their own names.”
More than 100 relatives had been waiting for Lillian’s death.   The Albany Court of Appeal was inundated with law suits seeking to overturn Louis Carre Hamersley’s will, thereby stripping the teen-aged boy of his massive inheritance.  The main point of contention was that “it was illegal to make provision in a will for some person not yet born.”  The Times noted that as many as 25 lawyers were engaged at one point.
While the legal battle dragged on, the Hamersley children lived on in their lavish home.  In December 1909 Katherine Kean, still guardian, gave a dinner dance in the mansion for Catherine’s introduction to society. 
Finally, on June 3, 1913 newspapers reported that Louis Hamersley had won his inheritance, which after litigation was now $5.785 million—in the neighborhood of $145 million today.  Louis was legally an adult the following year and a sophomore at Harvard.  He purchased a large estate, Maizeland, on Cruger Island near Barrytown, New York where he and his sister intended to spend their summers.
On April 8, 1914 the 21-year old announced the engagement of his sister to Samuel Neilson Hinckley.  The New York Times called the upcoming marriage “of widespread social importance.”  It noted “She has traveled extensively is a talented musician, and has devoted much of her time since her formal debut to her pet philanthropies.”  The newspaper mentioned that she would be spending the early part of the summer at the Barrytown estate, before going to Bar Harbor and Southampton “later in the season.”
The Fifth Avenue mansion was, perhaps, a bit too large for the now-solitary Louis.  In 1916 he leased it furnished to Moses Taylor; in 1919 to J. Carr Dunn of London; and in 1920 to millionaire C. F. Rogers.  In the meantime, Louis Hamersley was spending much time racing his yacht, the Acushia, and entertaining the troops at his country estate.
On September 2, 1921 1,200 crippled war veterans boarded a steamer up the Hudson to Maizeland.  “It’s going to be one glorious old outing for the boys who came back from the war, some of them in sound health and a lot of them without legs or arms, gassed and crippled for life,” wrote The Evening World.   Hamersley had two boatloads of provisions shipped in for the three-day outing.
The following year he gave another massive party.  On September 3, 1922 the New York Herald reported “He has invited all the First Division men who served overseas to be his guests over the holiday.”

Wurtz Bros. photographed the replacement building on November 2, 1942.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By now Louis C. Hamersley had not lived at No. 1030 Fifth Avenue for at least six years.  In 1923 he commissioned architects James Carpenter and Rosario Candela to design a modern apartment building on the site.  It would include a 23-room penthouse for Hamersley.  The new structure was completed in 1924 and the Hamersley mansion disappeared from memory—unknown to some of the most fervent New York history buffs.

1 comment:

  1. Never knew anything about this home. Once again, it's fun finding out the incredible background story of the family that built this little known mansion. Great information as always.

    ReplyDelete