Friday, October 25, 2019

The Philip Rhinelander House - 16 East 55th Street




On April 15, 1904 the American Carbonator and American Bottler reported that "Max Schaefer, the oldest lager beer brewer in the United States, died at his residence, 16 East Fifty-fifth street, [on March 23rd] in his 85th year, and though possessed of wonderful vitality was unable to survive an attack of pneumonia, which developed on the previous Sunday."  The house in which the wealthy brewer died sat between Fifth and Madison Avenues, steps away from the elegant St. Regis Hotel still under construction.

Schaefer's son, Rudolph, sold the four-story house in December that year to developer Thomas J. McLaughlin for $73,000.  Within two months architect Clement B. Brun had filed plans for a modern "five and six-story" residence on the site.  The $30,000 construction costs brought the total outlay for McLaughlin to $3 million in today's money.

The structure was completed late in 1906.  Brun had created a red brick neo-Federal residence trimmed in limestone.  The stone-faced first floor sat above a short stoop flanked by hefty limestone newels.  An iron-railed balcony fronting two sets of French doors stretched the width of the house at the second floor.  The fifth floor took the form of a mansard roof with two stone dormers above the substantial stone cornice.  A partial sixth floor sat back, unseen from the street to preserve the proportions of the house.

An advertisement in the New York Evening Post on January 26, 1907 described a "New modern English basement house" with "Otis elevator."  The advertisement assured potential buyers that the St. Regis Hotel would be their only possible commercial neighbor:  "Restricted private house location in front, rear and sides."

No. 16 became home to Philip Jacob Rhinelander and his family.   The Rhinelanders were one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York.  Philip's father, William, had grown up in the refined brick and marble mansion at No. 14 Washington Square and the family could trace its American roots to Philip J. Rhinelander who arrived in 1689.

Philip and his wife, the former Adelaide Kip, had four children, 11-year old Philip Kip, 9-year old Thomas Jackson Oakley, 7-year old Adelaide, and Leonard Kip, who was just 4.   The couple's first child, Isaac Leonard Kip Rhinelander, died in infancy in 1895.

Adelaide's pedigree was no less impressive than that of her husband.  She was the daughter of Dr. Isaac Lewis Kip and Cornelia Brady Kip and their first ancestor in America was Hendrick Hendricksen de Kype, who arrived in New Amsterdam around 1637.  Her grandfather, William V. Brady had been elected mayor of New York in 1847.


No. 16 (with the American flag) sat within a row of refined residences.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The family's summer home was in fashionable Tuxedo Lake, New York.  It was there on September 10, 1915 that an unspeakable tragedy occurred.  Adelaide was in her dressing room at around 1:00 that afternoon preparing to go out.  Her maid had just left the room.  The New York Times reported "Mrs. Rhinelander, wearing a loose-fitting house gown, was engaged in dressing her hair.  For this purpose she lighted the small spirit lamp that stood upon the dresser beside her."

The maid heard screams and rushed back.  Before she reached the room the screams had stopped.  The lamp had exploded, covering Adelaide with burning fuel.  The maid "found Mrs. Rhinelander unconscious, with her hair burned off and her clothing blackened by fire."  She had apparently first tried to tear her gown off, then wrapped herself in the bedspread to extinguish the flames.

Local physicians and the Rhinelander family doctor from New York City were summoned.  They worked over Adelaide throughout the night, but she died just after 1:00 on the morning of September 11.

Although he retained possession of the 55th Street house, Philip Rhinelander never returned following his wife's death.  He leased it within a few weeks to Mrs. John W. Blodgett; the following season he rented it to Harriet Alexander (who had grown up in the massive mansion at No. 4 West 58th Street, next door to Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt).  Following her marriage to Winthrop Aldrich, head of Chase National Bank, that year the couple remained through 1917.  In 1918 it was home to Marshall Field, of Chicago, and his wife.

By then the neighborhood around No. 16 was growing increasingly commercial.  on June 28, 1919 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide advised that Rhinelander had leased the house to society milliner and dressmaker Peggy Hoyt.  

The article noted "its interior is done in French Renaissance, representing the best efforts of the late Stanford White, the marble staircase and the marble mantel in the foyer being particularly notable examples."  While the writer described the style accurately, it is doubtful that Stanford White worked on another architect's interiors at the height of his career; not to mention the fact that he died in June 1906 while the house was still under construction.


A Peggy Hoyt advertisement featured a sketch showing the original stoop and first floor appearance.

Peggy Hoyt worked with the original domestic configuration of the house for three years.  Then, in March 1922 Philip Rhinelander hired architect J. H. O'Brien to extend the building to the rear, remove walls and update the plumbing.


Peggy Hoyt posed for this drawing of her wearing one of her signature hats in 1922.  Women's Home Companion, September 1922 (copyright expired)
Peggy Hoyt was, in fact, Mrs. Aubrey L. Eads.  On February 18, 1922 the Watertown Daily Times said "She is a former society girl, who, when she had to earn her living in the business world, decided to attempt millinery designing.  Within two years the best dressed women in New York were buying their hats from Peggy Hoyt instead of from Paris.  Last season Mrs. Hoyt began to design costumes as well, and her success has already made her the supreme arbiter of American fashion."


The Peggy Hoyt showrooms retained much of the Rhinelander interiors--including the sweeping marble staircase.  from the collection of the Henry Ford Museum

Peggy Hoyt died in 1937 but her husband continued running the business; at least for a while.  He quickly made a decision which raised eyebrows.  On September 22 that year The Herald Statesman reported that he had hired notorious playboy Tommy Manville at the staggering salary of $175,000 per month by today's standards.  "The merry asbestos heir, who has millions of his own, said he was glad to get the job because the firm employed 36 models," said the article.

Eads put a positive spin on the appointment.  "Mr. Manville wants to go into a woman's business and he starts with us Monday...He is going to sell, do press agent work and act as a contact man.  He is really a swell egg."

Before very long Peggy Hoyt, Inc. was no more.  After submitting fake accounts for the company to the Madison Industrial Corporation and receiving $17,000 in fraudulent loans, the 47-year old Eads skipped town in 1940.  He was found in Hollywood and brought back to New York for trial.   He pleaded guilty on March 6, 1941.

When Eads bolted, the Rhinelander estate sold No. 16 to Prince and Princess Gourielli in the fall of 1940.  The New York Times noted on September 21, "The buyers will occupy the property after remodeling work is carried out."

The renovations were completed the following year and The New York Sun reported "An establishment where men may improve their looks--the Old World Apothecary Shop--opened in town today, but if you think it's designed for sissies you're mistaken."  Princess Gourielli, who was also known as Helena Rubenstein, explained,"There's a difference between beautifying men and grooming them.  We're going to groom them, scientifically."

The couple catered to women as well.  Their cosmetics included "herbal compounds of the ancient apothecaries and new pharmaceutical formulas."  Men were offered "lotion for rough hands, after-shaving talcum and a product to keep the hair in place."

The article noted "The three floor establishment at 16 East 55th street includes a main floor, a reproduction of a white marble-floored apothecary shop (complete with those globes of colored water so dear to all old-time drug stores) and a gift shop dominated by a display of the Princess's collection of early American glassware which is not for sale.  The men's scalp and hair clinic and the Men's Shop are on the second floor."


The "Old World Apothecary Shop" still retained the Rhinelander ceilings and plasterwork.  photograph by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The New York Times did not mention Prince Gourielli in reporting on the opening of "Mme. Helena Rubinstein's Old World apothecary shop" on September 21.  "The shop occupies the entire building on the site and has been decorated with works of art including American and Mexican primitive portraits, collections of glassware and other objects d'art."  The opening preview celebration included a benefit dinner.  "Five hundred persons are expected to attend the supper party," said The Times.


As apparel items were added to the offerings, the store became known as The House of Gourielli.  The Sun, May 16, 1946,
In 1947 the Gourellis leased the building to fashion designer Oleg Cassini.  He opened with a fashion show on September 16 that year.  The Times described the event saying "Emphasis was placed on the glamorous and picturesque in a collection of custom evening and cocktail fashions...This designer, who recently returned from Hollywood, used heavy satins in combinations of rich colors."  It was the first of many fashion shows to come in the Cassini salon over the next few years.

Then, in 1954 the Gourellis were back.  On November 16 The New York Times announced "A masculine version of that female sanctum, the beauty shop, will open today.  Called the Gourielli Men's Shop, it is behind a discreet town house facade at 16 East Fifty-fifth Street."

The store was more than a grooming spot, however, and offered clothing as well.  The newspaper said the apparel "is conservative, strongly influenced by Savile Row with a trend to the Edwardian style, with the exception of the 'bright but not loud' sports wear."

It was a male-only domain.  "Finished with a black and white marble floor and counters in the Roman bath tradition, the entrance lobby to the shop is the only room that women will be permitted to enter," said The Times article.

The four-chair barber shop area resembled a men's club with thick carpets, a ticker-tape machine, plus "an oxygen machine, to which men can resort for a pick-me-up, said to alleviate a hang-0ver."  

Shopping at Gourielli's was not an inexpensive venture.  In the summer of 1955 striped broadcloth shorts went for $12.50--about $117 today.

Gourielli's was replaced the following year by Richard Cheatham's "salon for gentlemen," which opened on December 3.   The New York Times said "It looks like a men's club" and like its predecessor, offered both apparel and grooming services.  Upstairs was a salon "where a man can get a haircut, shoeshine, steam bath, manicure or electric massage."

A press preview marked the opening of "a luxurious salon" in the house on January 3, 1961.  Michel Kazan had opened his first salon in Paris in 1934.  By now he was well-known among beauty editors and Manhattan's socially elite.

The Times said "Michel Kazan's new salon is a six-story house with magnificent decor that was supervised by Gene Moore."  Moore had left much of the Rhinelander interiors intact, as revealed in opening day photographs.



On April 22, 2017 the Anton Kern Gallery opened in the somewhat miraculously-surviving former mansion.   While the exterior of the Rhinelander house is remarkably intact, the interiors were less fortunate.



photographs by the author

5 comments:

  1. Love the history of the men's salons---"not for sissies".
    A clarification: 1916's tenant, Harriet Alexander, was also 1917's "and wife" of Winthrop Aldrich.

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  2. Yet another case of a well preserved historic interior being thoughtlessly ripped out and updated into sterile, characterless, basement. Do foolish people actually pay for the design services from such untalented hacks?

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    1. Exactly what I was thinking. Ruined the interior entirely. It looks so cheap and tacky now. What a shame.

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  3. So many people simply can't be reached in understanding good from bad in design. What we have and have had for at least 40 years is the availability of wall-to-wall cheap. They should offer Cheap-Revival as a catalog item. Make sure bolts and staples are clearly highlighted. Then a layer of shoddy can be applied with contempt for the old folks who used to waste their time carving alabaster and mahogany. This is, unfortunately, what we've been conditioned to expect.

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