Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Henry M. Field House -- No. 22 Gramercy Park

On February 3, 1854 a young woman placed an advertisement in The New York Herald:  “Wanted—A situation by a respectable girl, as a waiter; she understands her business.  Can be seen at her present employer’s, 22 Gramercy park.”  The term “waiter” in the 19th century referred to the maid who served in the dining room, brought tea, and performed other similar tasks.  Her position was a step above the servant girls who scrubbed floors, washed dishes and emptied ash bins.  Because she had been permitted to see potential employers in the home, it is obvious that the separation between the waiter and her wealthy mistress was mutual.

The house where the maid would have placed French china soup plates on Irish linen tablecloths had been built about seven years earlier.  The recently-completed Gramercy Park was one of the most exclusive residential sections of the city, encircled by 60 upscale residences.  No. 22 boasted four stories of red brick above a rusticated brownstone English basement.  An attic floor, cleverly illuminated by small windows which peeked through the ornate cornice, included two tall dormers, architectural holdovers from a generation earlier.  While the architect designed the house in the tried-and-true Greek Revival style; his handsome cornice was in the up-and-coming Italianate style.

The elegant home blended Greek Revival and Italianate styles.  Unique attic windows pierce the cornice.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The mistress of No. 22 Gramercy Park would be looking for a different type servant in 1859.  On April 13 she placed an advertisement seeking “A first class cook; one who thoroughly understands her business in all its branches.  Best of city references required.”

The affluent family's country estate was apparently not far from the city.  On March 14, 1867 an ad read, "Wanted--To go a short distance in the country, a woman to do cooking, washing and ironing, for a moderate sized family."

Directly across the park from No. 22 were the adjoining mansions of brothers Cyrus and David Dudley Field.  Cyrus Field earned fame for successfully laying the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866.  His attorney brother was responsible for the Field Code—the move away from common law pleading towards code pleading—and represented New York as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

At some point No. 22 became the city home of their brother, the Reverend Henry M. Field.  Following the unexpected death of Dudley Field, the only son of David Dudley Field, in 1880, his widow Laura Belden Field moved into No. 22 with her uncle by marriage.  She remained here until June 1884 when her father-in-law gave her the nearby house at No. 83 Irving Place.

Rev. Henry M. Field left Gramercy Park following his brother's death and retired to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  photo from Notable New Yorkers (copyright expired)

David Dudley Field’s third wife, Mary E. Carr, had died in 1874.  Alone in his sprawling mansion and with failing health, he moved into his brother’s house across the park by 1890. 

That year, in May, reporters visited the house to question the famed jurist regarding what The Sun called “outrageous census questions.”  While citizens accepted that the Federal government had the right to count the population; they were shocked when census takers asked “impudent questions as to private debts and disease.”  Field was clear in his opinion.  “I should not tell whether my farm was mortgaged, and as for the Government’s sending out men to inquire into the diseases of its citizens, it is ridiculous.  It is none of the Government’s business, and Congress, in authorizing it, has in my opinion overstepped its authority.”

David Dudley Field sat for famed photographer Mathew Brady for this portrait.  from the collection of the Library of Congress 

Field suffered from what The Sun deemed “chronic disease of the heart.”  The newspaper gently chided him for disobeying his doctor’s orders on May 2, 1891.  The article said he “was somewhat weaker yesterday morning, on account of work which he undertook on Thursday afternoon against his physician’s advice.”  The Sun held out hopes of his recovery, reporting that “He ate for dinner a dish of soup and two chops.”

Field did recover and three years later the New-York Tribune noted “his health seemed restored.  Within the past few years he had pursued his natural activities in the direction of law literature.”  The lawyer’s only surviving child, the widow of Sir Anthony Musgrave, lived in London.   His health was hearty enough that he visited her early in 1894 to celebrate his grandson’s 21st birthday,

Field returned to New York on the Columbia on Wednesday morning, April 11.   The Tribune reported “his younger brother, the Rev. Dr. Henry M. Field, Editor of ‘The Evangelist,’ who had driven to the pier to meet him, found himself half an hour late, and welcomed his returning brother at No. 22 Gramercy Park, where David Dudley Field had maintained his apartments since his retirement from the house on the opposite side of the park.”

Field’s health seemed fine to his brother.  He told a reporter “I found him in the dining-room, and he arose and stretched out his arms and embraced me in a most loving way.  He said he never felt better in his life.  We sat down and talked in a most cheerful manner.”

When David Dudley Field arose on the morning of April 12 he said he had caught a cold and a doctor was called.  The problem was worse than a cold.  Field had contracted pneumonia and he died that evening.

On the day of his funeral, April 15, The New York Times reported “All day Friday and yesterday telegrams of condolence from all parts of the country were received by the family.  Hundreds of people called at the home of the Rev. Henry M. Field, 22 Gramercy Park, where Mr. Field died, and left their cards.  Among the number were nearly all the prominent lawyers of New-York City.”
The newspaper said that at “22 Gramercy Park, the Field home, ostentatious display of mourning trappings was avoided.  Heavy crape over the front door bell was about the only concession to conventional exhibition of woe.”

Unexpectedly, “It was decided not to place the body in one of the parlors down stairs, but to put the coffin on trestles near a front window of the second-floor parlor overlooking Gramercy Park.

“Around the bier were cherished family souvenirs…The coffin was covered with heliotrope, violets, maidenhair fern, roses, and palms, and elsewhere in the room was a profusion of fragrant blossoms.  But for the coffin the apartment was a boudoir.”

The pall bearers were chosen from the most esteemed names in politics and jurisprudence, including Chief Justice Fuller of the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice Andrews of the Court of Appeals, and U.S. Congressman and New York City Mayor Abram S. Hewitt.

Henry M. Field left Gramercy Park within the year and his elegant home was operated as a boarding house for well-to-do bachelors.  On January 13, 1895 an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune offering available rooms on the same floor where David Dudley Field had died.  “Gentlemen only; large, handsomely furnished second floor rooms, en suite or separate; private bath, breakfast.”

Among the respectable boarders in 1895 were Duncan Gray and W. B. Northrop.  The affluence of Gray was evidenced that year when the family of John Corbett arrived at Port Jefferson, Long Island on October 17.  The Sun reported “The family came to this village on the yacht Gitchie Gumee, which is said to have been stolen from Duncan Gray of 22 Gramercy Park.”

In the meantime Northrop was adding to his fortune by selling real estate in St. Augustine.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted on December 14 1895 “This is a privilege that was much and vainly sought hitherto owing to the scarcity of suitable sites, and as a consequent cottages owned by private parties are not as numerous in this delightful Florida town as they would otherwise have been.”  The Guide warned that Northop’s two plots near the Ponce de Leon Hotel and the Flagler mansion “will soon disappear from the market through rapid sales.”

Also boarding in the house was Assistant District Attorney Allen and Rushton Peabody, described by The New York Times as “a member of the old Peabody family, being a nephew of ex-Judge Peabody.”

On the night of April 10, 1896 the 27-year old Peabody found himself behind bars.  Earlier that evening he was traveling uptown on a Broadway cable car.  Robert Green, who lived in Mount Vernon, New York, sat down next to him and, according to Peabody, “continually rubbed against him.”

At 23rd Street Peabody left the car and entered the fashionable Fifth Avenue Hotel.  As he sat in the lobby, he was surprised to see Green enter.  The man sat next to him and “annoyed him in the same manner as in the car.” 

Rushton Peabody, offended at the apparent homosexual advances, forgot his mannerly upbringing.  Amid millionaires and socialites, he “pummeled” his abuser.  The New York Times reported “A crowd collected, and Policeman Pomeroy arrested Mr. Peabody and took him to the station house, where he was locked up on Green’s complaint.”

The mansion continued to be operated as a bachelor boarding house; although as it had been in 1896, the only meal provided was breakfast.  On September 25, 1900 an advertisement read “Gentlemen only; handsomely furnished suite; also front room; private bath in both; basement, hot, cold water; hall room; breakfast.”

In the last week of December 1904 a new boarder arrived, giving his name as James G. Walker.  What the landlady did not know was that Walker, who also went by alias Lawrence Macy, was described by police as the “most notorious furnished room thief in America.”

He was recognized by detectives on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and “arrested at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street…after an exciting chase and a jump through a window in his effort to escape,” according to The Times.   His capture solved the cases of “twelve or fifteen mysterious furnished room robberies.”  Among his targets had been No. 22 Gramercy Park where “after being there several days he managed to ‘clean out’ four apartments occupied by Messrs. Donald Appenzeller, C. B. Caper, J. R. Royal, and F. B. Johnson.  Clothing valued at more than $500 was taken from the Gramercy Park house.”

Among the more upstanding boarders that year was 23-year old E. A. McManus.  He drew the attention and admiration of ladies city-wide when The Evening World journalist Catherine King performed an undercover investigation on September 29.

King, like many female subway riders, was offended by the lack of manners shown by male passengers.  She entered a crowded car on the Lexington line hoping to find a man courteous enough to give her a seat.  Finally, in the fourth car she tried, E. A. McManus stood up.  King reported the following day “In addition to making way for me, his action caused other young men in the car to follow suit to the advantage of three other women who were standing—and this all before I handed the astonished young man the envelope containing The Evening World’s order for $10, payable to the first man who complied with the rules laid down by this paper in the Diogenesque hunt for a polite man.”

McManus told Catherine King that he was on his way to the 71st Regiment Armory where he was a member of Company B. and way trying out for the basketball team. 

Early the next year, in March 1906, the building’s owner Mrs. Mary Seymour, who lived on Park Avenue, updated the aging structure.  The $10,000 worth of improvements (nearly a quarter of a million dollars in 2016) included new plumbing, an electric elevator, and hot water heating.

No. 22 returned to life as a single-family home when it was purchased by Emily N. Vanderpoel around 1910.  The daughter of lawyer William Curtis Noyes, whose family arrived in Massachusetts in 1634, she was the widow of John A. Vanderpoel.  Like his wife’s family, the Vanderpoels were long established in America, arriving in America by 1657.

Emily Vanderpoel -- Litchfield Historical Society

Well-known as an author and artist, she was best known for her painting “Ypres,” a World War I scene which was acquired by the National Museum in Washington D.C.  She earned a bronze medal during the 1893 Chicago Exposition and was a member of the New York Watercolor Club and the Woman’s Art Club of New York.

The main parlor as it appeared during Emily Vanderpoel's residency.  The large painting over the fireplace may be her work.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As an author, her topics were diverse.  In 1902 she published Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792-1833, which related the history of Sarah Pierce and her school in Litchfield, Connecticut.  She wrote another book in `1924 on the same general topic.  She also penned several books concerning color problems in painting, and about American lace and lacemakers.

Emily converted the fourth floor as her studio.  She removed the flooring of the attic and extended the center window into the cornice.  To accommodate the enormous skylight, the quaint dormers were removed.

Emily's studio was flooded with light from above and behind.  It was the essence of stylish Edwardian clutter. photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel divided her time between the Gramercy Park house and her Leitchfield, Connecticut “cottage” for decades.  She died at No. 22 at the age of 96 on February 20, 1939.

The following year, on February 4, The New York Times reported the house had sold, “one of the dwindling list of remaining private homes around this park.”  It would not be a private home for long. 

A conversion was completed later that year, resulting in eight apartments, some duplexes.  Residents throughout the next decade would include architect Cino Costa; James W. Brown, Foreign Secretary of the International Y.M.C.A.; and Robert T. Lansdale, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Welfare.  Max Lerner, famed editorial writer and author moved into an apartment in 1943.

During the war years, Brigadier General Herbert D. Gibson and his wife lived in the building; as did the family of Colonel Thomas M. Tarpley, Jr.  He received the bronze star medal in 1945 for his action in Bataan.

In 2008 another conversion began which resulted in two expansive condominium apartments.  One, a triplex with three bedrooms and five baths was listed for $11.5 million before the renovations were completed. 
The cast iron balcony, while period-appropriate, is a recent addition, as is the stoop ironwork.
Owner Eric Ellenborgen, CEO of Marvel Comics, sold the top three floors in May 2010; retaining the lower floors as his own home.  In July 2011 the owners of both condos joined forces and put the building on the market for $23.9 million.  The offer, noted Adam Fusfeld of The Real Deal, gave the potential buyer “the opportunity to purchase all six floors, 16 rooms and seven bedrooms.”

Neither Henry Field nor Emily Vanderpoel would recognize the house today.  photograph by Corcoran

Instead, the former mansion continues to house two massive apartments.  The 1840s elements have been ripped out and replaced by 21st century interiors.  The landmarked exterior, however, is not greatly changed since Emily Vanderpoel installed her artist studio in the first decades of the 20th century.

photographs by the author


  1. Definitely prefer the original interior. The 'modern' decor looks tacky in old buildings. I know we have to put up with it so the beautiful buildings don't get torn down, but I'm sick of cheap furniture and white walls as the only form of 'modern' interior design.

    1. I completely agree! That hideous office modern decor is an offense to what was there before! Interiors should be respected as well as exteriors.

  2. The picture of Emily's Studio is quite interesting. Obviously not what would be an artist's 'working' studio! But what in the world is that STUFF hanging from the ceiling? It looks like fish nets - very odd décor.

    1. I am wondering if that is a sort of drapery that could be pulled over the skylight to protect the upholstery and carpeting, etc. from the direct sunlight. It appears to be on a rod of sort at the rear.