Monday, June 10, 2019

The Lost E. Farrar Bateson House - 129-131 East 79th Street


photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


Rosina Hoyt Otis was 19-years old when her illustrious father, Dr. William Kelly Otis, died of pneumonia at the age of 47 on September 22, 1907.  With her mother in mourning, Rosina's wealthy grandmother, Rosina Hoyt, took charge of her introduction to society in January 1908.  Tragically, the debutante's mother, Florence Cecelia Otis, died four months later, on April 18.

Suddenly orphaned, she moved into her grandmother's mansion at No. 934 Fifth Avenue.  On April 26, 1914 Rosina Hoyt announced Rosina Otis's engagement to Edgar Farrar Bateson.  It would be the joining of members of two well-known and moneyed families.  (The passing of decades since the end of the Civil War had dulled New Yorkers' prejudice against Southerners--Bateson was a grandnephew of Jefferson Davis.)

The wedding took place on November 4.  Five hundred guests filed into St. Bartholomew's Church. The New York Herald listed many of the high-level society names present, including Delafield, Crocker, Alexander, and Pulitzer.

On April 15, 1920 the New York Herald reported that Bateson had purchased the two 20-foot wide brownstones at Nos. 129 and 131 East 79th Street.   The New-York Tribune added "It is the intention of the buyer to raze the old structures and erect a modern dwelling for his own occupancy."

That may have been the couple's original intention, but they apparently changed their minds.  A common practice in the first quarter of the 20th century was instead to drastically remodel the outdated buildings.  The Batesons hired architect Mott B. Schmidt to do just that.  

Schmidt was already at work transforming an old brownstone on Sutton Place to a dignified Georgian-style residence for Elisabeth Marbury.  Before long he would do the same along that block for Anne Tracy Morgan and Anne Vanderbilt.  His neo-Georgian design for the Bateson house would have slipped comfortably into that enclave.

Schmidt filed plans on July 16, 1920.  Along with joining the houses, they called for increasing the height, adding an extension to the rear, and making "alterations."  The cost was projected at $100,000--about $1.25 million today.

Completed the following year, Nos. 129-131 West 79th Street was trademark Mott B. Schmidt.  Five stories tall, it was clad in red brick and sparingly trimmed in contrasting white stone.  The centered entrance was framed in stone and capped by an arched pediment.  The voussoirs of the splayed lintels of the second floor alternated between brick and stone.  Brick quoins ran up the sides to the cornice, which upheld a solid brick parapet that fronted the dormered mansard.

Because the couple were avid golfers, they not only spent time away from their town house at fashionable summer resorts, but at retreats with golf courses, like Hot Springs, Virginia.  On November 5, 1921, for instance, The New York Herald reported "Mr. and Mrs. E. Farrar Bateson, who arrived yesterday from New York, registered this morning at the Golf Club and played over the long course."

The 1920's saw old brownstones being demolished by the score, to be replaced by soaring modern apartment buildings.  Rosina Bateson took a proactive move in 1927 when a syndicate headed by Burrall Hoffman began buying up the group of houses at the southwest corner of 79th Street and Lexington Avenue.  According to the New York Evening Post on September 28, his intention was to build "another de luxe co-operative apartment."  

That proposed 14-story building could negatively affect the light and ventilation to the Bateson mansion.  Rosina scrambled to buy the house next door, No. 133, from Vincent Astor.  The New York Evening Post noted that the purchase "restricts 133 to its present height."

As did all wealthy New York families, the Batesons spent time in Europe.  On June 27, 1931 The New York Sun noted that among the passengers on the Mauretanis were "Mr. and Mrs. E. Farrar Bateson, Miss Florence M. Bateson, and "E. Farrar Bateson, Jr."  Almost assuredly daughter Rosina, who was about 8 at the time, was also on board, but too young to be mentioned.

In 1933 the Batesons again hired Mott B. Schmidt, this time to design their summer estate, Deramore, in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.  Once again he turned to 18th century English models.


The Bateson's 1933 country home, Deramore.  photo by James Hogarty via publicinsta.com

In the meantime, family was attended to in the 79th Street house by "two upstairs maids, two parlor maids, a cook, a kitchen maid, a laundress," and Edgar F. Bateman's orderly from World War I, according to a daughter later.

The winter season of 1934-35 saw Florence's debut.  She was introduced at a dance at the Hotel Pierre on December 23.  Now a socialite in her own right, her name appeared more regularly in print.  On February 11, 1937, for instance, The New York Sun reported that debutante Mildred P. Cartwright was the guest of honor at a luncheon in the 79th Street house.  The article noted it was "given by Mrs. E. Farrar Bateson and her daughter, Miss Florence Bateson."

Daughter Rosina finally had her time in the limelight in 1943 when her debutante season arrived.  Her coming-out was held in December at the Crystal Garden.

The Batesons sold the 79th Street residence in 1944 and moved to No. 791 Park Avenue.  A conversion was immediately begun.  Completed the following year, it resulted in a duplex apartment on the first and second floors, and one apartment each on the upper floors.  When Julian L. Marx purchased the building in October 1946, The New York Post described it as "a five-story apartment building."

In 1968 the former Bateson mansion was purchased by Hunter College to make way for its $4.15 million, 7-story building for its School of Social Work.  It was dedicated in March 1969.  That building was replaced in 2012 by architect William Sofield's 20-story apartment building.


photo via streeteasycom

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