Monday, August 26, 2019

The Lost Edward H. Raynolds House - 22 East 79th Street

The Madison Avenue elevation of the residence was somewhat surprisingly undecorated.  photograph by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On June 17, 1911 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that S. Edson Gage had filed plans for a five-story "brick and stone dwelling" at the southwest corner of 77th Street and Madison Avenue.  The anticipated construction costs were $30,000--or just under $820,000 today.  Simultaneously Gage had filed plans for two abutting residences; at No. 1020 Madison Avenue and No. 20 East 77th Street.

The developer, Charles Buek Construction Company, had purchased the last undeveloped plots on the block with the intention of erecting an apartment house.  But this was the Cook Block and all the deeds came with restrictive covenants that allowed only deluxe private homes to be built. 

As No. 22 neared completion in the spring of 1911, the Record & Guide said "the exterior is in the Spanish style."  In fact, only the elaborate stone enframement of the entrance was Spanish Baroque in style.  Elsewhere the spartan ornamentation--reserved for the third floor openings--was based on Renaissance and neo-Tudor designs.  

S. Edson Gage's rendering included an automobile.  Record & Guide, April 27, 1912 (copyright expired)
Two floors of planar limestone supported three floors of buff brick.  A hefty stone parapet sat above the cornice.  What the house lacked in width, it made up for in depth.  A single-story extension to the rear separated it from the Madison Avenue residence.  It may have been that extension that prompted the Record & Guide to write on April 27, 1912, "It is suited for a physician's use, but will be found also to be as well suited for the use of an ordinary family."

On January 12, 1913 an advertisement in the New-York Tribune described No. 22 as "very superior" and assured that its "substantial semi-fireproof construction insures against settling and cracking."  But there were no takers and ten months later Charles Buek leased the house to Richard Hudnut "for a term of years."  In reporting on the lease the Record & Guide noted "This is the last of three that were erected on a plot sold to Charles Buek, the well-known builder, about two years ago.  Of the remaining two houses, the one on 79th street was purchased by Dudley Olcott, Jr., and the other on Madison av was rented to Richard Trimble."

Hudnut, a wealthy perfumer, and his wife had been leasing the marble Abby Thompson mansion on Madison Avenue and 41st Street.  They were forced to find new accommodations when that house was purchased.   Two years after moving into No. 22 they faced the same problem.

On March 15, 1915 the New York Herald reported "Edward H. Raynolds of the paint manufacturing firm...has selected the one-time Cook estate block on Lenox Hill to be the site of his future home."  The article went on to explain that Raynolds had purchased No 22 East 79th Street from the Charles Buek Construction Company and had sold his former home on West 72nd Street the week before.

Edward Hidden Raynolds was the president and chairman of the board of the F. W. DeVoe & C. T. Raynolds Company, one of the largest paint and varnish manufacturers in the nation.  (It was later renamed the Devoe & Reynolds Company, Inc.)  He was first employed by the firm when he was 17-years old.

Raynolds's first wife, the former Mary Stella Fuller, had died around 1898.  The couple had two sons, Edward F., born on August 6, 1889, and Harold, born on October 29, 1894.

In 1900 Raynolds married Madeleine Taylor Taitt.  She reportedly treated her step-sons with a motherly kindness--at least until the birth of her first son, Arthur, in 1902.  Two more sons, Reginald and Lawrence, would soon follow.  According to court papers years later, "shortly after the birth of her first child, the attitude of Madeleine Taitt Raynolds changed.  With the happening of that event, she apparently lost interest in the welfare and happiness of her two step-children, and her affection for them waned."

By the time the family moved into No. 22 East 79th Street, Edward and Harold were young adults, 26 and 21 years old respectively, and had suffered their stepmother's disdain for most of their lives.  Their father, who had been a track star in college and was highly interested in sports, would promise the boys he would be present at their "athletic contests, concerts, military drills, graduations from schools and colleges," according to Superior Court papers later.  Each time, however, he failed to show up.  He would later explain "your stepmother objects and I want to keep peace in the family."

Madeleine's overt discrimination lent new meaning to "evil stepmother."  The court testimonies in 1942 recalled "objections to the children's birthday and Christmas parties, objections to assistance by their father in the preparation of school lessons, failure to give them proper care and attention during illness, and refusals to allow them to accompany their father, stepmother and half-brothers for automobile rides.  The three younger children were permitted a Christmas tree in their mother's room, but the two stepsons were neither permitted to participate in those festivities nor to have a tree of their own in the house."

As a matter of fact, Harold and Edward were not even allowed in the house during Christmastime.  They were sent to their aunt's house to celebrate.  Neither was ever permitted to have a birthday party.

As had been the case with his brother, Harold received a $100,000 inheritance from his mother's estate when he reached 21-years old (about half a million in today's dollars).  That was, coincidentally, the same year the family moved into No. 22 East 79th Street.  Madeleine resented their financial circumstances and reportedly "made frequent references to the wealth of both Harold and Edward, as contrasted with the position of her three sons."  She counter-attacked by charging them each $100 per month for room and board.

Both Edward and Harold served in World War I.  Harold was a First Lieutenant in the American Air Services in France and upon his discharge he came back to the 79th Street house.  But conditions were so unpleasant that he soon moved into the Cornell Club.

On December 3, 1922 Harold's engagement to Dorothy Smith, the daughter of Dean Albert W. Smith of Cornell University, was announced.  The wedding was held in Cornell's Sage Chapel on January 17, 1923.  Madeleine forbade her husband to attend the ceremony.  But this time--reportedly the first time--he defied her and went.

The wedding of Harold's step-brother, Arthur Hidden Raynolds, was less stressful.  His marriage to Mary Jeannette Archibald took place in the fashionable St. Thomas's Church on April 11,  1929.  The Columbia Alumni News announced "Dr. Reynolds and his bride sailed for a six week's trip in Europe.  On their return they will live at 22 East Seventy-ninth street."

Madeleine died on April 25, 1933.  Even in death she snubbed her stepsons, and her obituary in The New York Times said only "she leaves three sons, Arthur H., Reginald M. and Lawrence H. Raynolds."  But one more act went much further than ignoring that they had been a part of her life.

Edward Hidden Raynolds died on March 14, 1940 at the age of 83.  He had been sick with pneumonia only four days.  He was, according to court papers, "a man of considerable wealth."  

But when the will was probated, there was no mention of Edward nor Harold.  Both had been removed with the notation "I am mindful of the fact that my said sons, Edward F. and Harold, were beneficiaries under the wills of their mother and grandmother."  Edward and Harold went to court, contesting the will as having been executed under "undue influence."

There was little doubt that it was true.  On Madeleine's death bed, she made her husband promise he would never change "the elements" of his will.  He later told Edward (whom he fondly called Teddy), "Teddy, you know she led me a dog's life, but after all, she was my wife and I will always respect that promise."

In the end the boys lost the case.  Although the courts recognized that there was almost no doubt that Madeleine had forced her husband's hand, "there is no direct evidence of either undue influence or fraud."

Within two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into World War II, the Raynolds heirs offered the use of No. 22 East 79th Street for war relief.   On February 9, 1942 The New York Sun reported "A demonstration workroom to show how Bundles for America will turn remnant, sample and scrap material into garments for the families of men in the armed services was opened today at 22 East 79th street."  The article explained that materials would be collected from manufacturers, department stores and jobbers.  "The first garments are expected to be in readiness by the week's end."

Bundles for America operated from the mansion throughout the war.  Along with making clothing for military families, it provided dolls at Christmas time.  Donated dolls received new outfits made by volunteers and if they were damaged or needed "freshening," as The New York Sun worded it on December 11, 1944, they went to "the toy hospital at 22 East 79th street, another enterprise of Bundles for America."  There, said the article "women volunteers act as doll's surgeons and dressmakers, wigmakers and cosmeticians, and repair, disinfect and repaint all sorts of donated toys.  After the dolls have had their faces lifted and the toys are in perfect order and brightly groomed for the Santa Claus pack, they go to the distribution center."

Following the war's end, there was no need for the charity group and the house was vacated.  In 1948 a demolition permit was issued for the property.  The Raynolds house, with its unimaginable history of domestic cruelty and child abuse, was replaced with an architectural aberration.


  1. Well … when you posted the history of 1020 Madison Ave on Aug 8, 2019 I commented that one day I'd be fascinated to read the history of 22 East 79th Street … & now I know. Thanks, & what a terrible story. Reading between the lines I'm guessing things were not friendly between the stepbrothers. But you are very kind, Tom. You tactfully never identified neither owner nor architect responsible for what sits on that corner today.

    1. I almost credited you for spurring this post, but there's another reader who asked for it as well and I didn't want to initiate a spat! lol. Nevertheless you were a major force behind this one.

    2. Please credit Doug. His subtle hint about more info was probably more effective than my "More Cook Block!" emails!

  2. That was one scary woman. No wonder Mr. Raynolds was determined to keep his promise about the will. Probably afraid she would reach out from beyond the grave! Do the Cook Block covenants only apply to the first structure built on the site? I thought I read somewhere that they still apply today but this "architectural aberration" is definitely not residential! Thanks for a great post!

    1. I would have to delve deeper, but the new owners may have gone to court to reverse the restrictions, especially given that it bordered on the very commercial Madison Avenue.