Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Richard F. Hoyt House - 44 East 71st Street

The angled ground floor bay to the left is actually a cleverly-disguised garage door.

The Presbyterian Hospital engulfed the block between Madison and Park Avenues, and 70th to 71st Street until moving far uptown in the mid-1920's.  Suddenly valuable real estate was available.  Developer Alfred Rheinstein obtained a large midblock parcel extending from 70th to 71st containing seven building plots.  He chose architect Aymar Embury II to design his own house, at No. 44; and then convinced five of his buyers to go with the same architect in order to achieve continuity.  And he went a step further.  He wrote restrictions into the deeds to preserve one common park-like backyard for the use of all the homeowners--a similar plan to what had previously been done on Sutton Place.

Among his buyers was Richard Farnsworth Hoyt and his wife, the former Katharine Stone, who purchased the plot next door to Rheinstein at No. 44.   Construction on their 34-foot wide residence began in 1928 and was completed the following year.

Embury produced a five-story neo-Georgian mansion that melded into the enclave.  The marble base with its stately arched entrance surmounted by a swan's neck pediment supported four stories of ruddy red brick trimmed in marble.  A complex iron balcony stretched the width of the second floor.  A parapet broken by blind panels hid the roof garden from view.

The Hoyt residence fit in harmoniously with its Embury-designed neighbors. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
To house Hoyt's vehicles, Embury installed a three-car garage within the ground floor.  It was cleverly disguised by a folding door that matched the angled bay window on the opposite side of the entrance.  Unless the door was opened, no passerby would ever suppose that was anything other than a window.

The curb cut gives away the secret of the covert garage entrance.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When The New York Sun reported that the Hoyts had sold their former home at No. 32 East 67th Street "to Lady Laura Anne Allom and daughters of Totteridge, Herts, England," it added "Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt now reside at 44 East seventy-first street, which is one of the notable group of private houses that now occupy the site of the old Presbyterian Hospital."

Wealthy, adventurous and handsome, Hoyt was born on July 3, 1888 in Revere, Massachusetts.  He was a partner in the brokerage firm of his father-in-law, Hayden, Stone & Co., and a director in more scores of others.  The Hoyt summer estate, the Anchorage, was at Marion, Massachusetts, on Buzzard's Bay.  He and Katharine had four children, Eleanor, Virginia, Constance and Galen Stone Hoyt.

At the country house Hoyt let loose his passions--automobiles, airplanes and motor boats.  Following World War I, when he had been stationed at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio working on war aircraft and motor development, he became a director in the Wright Aeronautical Corporation.  He played an active part in developing powerful engines for airplanes and boats.  On August 16, 1929 The New York Times reported he had been elected chairman of the board of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

Hoyt's study was decidedly masculine with pine paneling, leather chairs and a hunting scene painting.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
His interest went further than merely an engineering or administrative point of view.  On July 20, 1928 The New York Times reported "Delivery of an amphibian plane with a Wright Cyclone engine and luxurious cabin accommodations to Richard F. Hoyt, broker and speedboat fan was announced yesterday...Mr. Hoyt plans to use the plane to commute between New York and a Summer home at Marion, Mass."

18th century furniture like the handsome highboy and the Chippendale ladder back chairs in the master bedroom carried on the architectural motif. photos by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

And, indeed, a month later, on August 20, Aeronautics wrote that between Manhattan and Massachusetts "Richard F. Hoyt commutes at 100 miles an hour.  He...sits lazily in a cabin finished in dark brown broadcloth and saddle leather, with built-in lockers containing pigskin picnic cases."  At times, said the article, Hoyt took the controls himself.

He was an avid motorboat racer and in 1929 set a speedboat record in the annual President's Cup Regatta.  He was invited to the White House where President Herbert Hoover presented him with a massive trophy cup on the lawn.

President Hoover presented Hoyt with the President's Cup on the White House lawn on October 10, 1929.  Daughter Eleanor is directly behind the President.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Katharine was athletic as well.  Her favorite sport was tennis and in 1931 she and six other socialites founded the Court House.   Their husbands funded the building of the $1 million clubhouse on East 65th Street which, according to Popular Photography magazine in January 1947, housed "the biggest indoor tennis court in New York, a swimming pool, squash courts, and a tremendous double-storied, wood-paneled sumptuously furnished reception room."

The Court House proved the perfect venue for Eleanor's debutante ball on December 27, 1930.  On the day of the party the New York Evening Post was frustratingly teasing in saying "several unique features are planned for the dance Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Hoyt of 44 East Seventy-first Street are giving tonight to introduce their daughter, Miss Eleanor Hoyt, at the Court House."

Eleanor, educated at the exclusive Miss Chapin's School, had grown up in the privileged surroundings of other debutantes.  But unlike most others, she had the adventurous spirit of her father.  She could fly an airplane, for instance.  And it may have been that connection that had sparked a connection between A. Felix du Pont and her a few evenings prior to the Court House ball.

Du Pont was a son of the vice-president of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co.  He was a guest at a dinner-dance for Eleanor where they met.   He was also a flyer.

Just two months after her coming-out, Eleanor's parents announced her engagement to du Pont.  The couple was married at The Anchorage on August 28, 1931.  The New York Evening Post remarked, "the wedding will climax a romance of flying fields.  Miss Hoyt is the only girl except Mrs Lindbergh to have piloted Colonel Charles a. Lindbergh.  Mr. du Pont was formerly as employed at the airport of the Ludington air lines in Washington."

The wedding came at an awkward time within the family.  Katharine had obtained a divorce from Richard that spring.  On June 22 Martha Nicholson Doubleday divorced her publisher husband, Nelson Doubleday in Reno.   Seven days later she and Richard F. Hoyt were married.

In the divorce Katharine received both the East 71st Street mansion and The Anchorage.  Richard and his new wife moved into No. 206 East 65th Street.  

Two views of Katharine's pretty boudoir with its hand-painted wallpaper and paneled fireplace wall. photos by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Katherine continued her social routine with no apparent bumps in the road.  She was visited by the New York Sun's "Garden Scout" in the spring of 1933.  The anonymous columnist informed readers "Mrs. K. Stone Hoyt's garden at 44 East Seventy-first street is entirely bordered with the most flourishing and richly green rhododendrons.  On this garden the pool was at the back and the borders held in by a low marble curb."

Virginia's coming-out would take place that winter season.  Known popularly as Ginny, her December 29 debut was as impressive as her sister's had been.  The New York Evening Post reported that before the ball, Katharine would host a dinner in the 71st Street house for "about one hundred" and "several hundred additional guests will attend the dance."  The writer expected the event to be "one of the smartest and most interesting of the debutante parties of the season."

Like Eleanor's, it was held at the Court House, described by the Post as "that most exclusive of city clubs."  The article noted "It is a rule of the club that when any one of the members is entertaining the entire house will be turned over to him and his guests, and since there are but seven, one for each day of the week, there is not likely to be any conflict among them."

Despite his earlier infidelity, Richard Hoyt and his former wife seem to have enjoyed an amiable relationship.  So much so that following his death on March 7, 1935, Katharine received $1.5 million from his estate--more than 20 times that much in today's dollars.

Katharine was at The Anchorage in July the following year when she unexpectedly died.  She was 45-years old.

No. 44 was purchased by David Sarnoff, businessman and American radio and television pioneer.   He was the founder and head of the Radio Corporation of America, known today as RCA.  He and his wife, the former Lizette Hemant had three sons, Robert, Edward and Thomas.

The garage door is slightly opened in this shot.  photo by Chang W. Lee, The New York Times December 20, 2012

The Sarnoffs were married on July 4, 1917.  Theirs was a touching love story.  Lizette's family had just arrived in the Bronx from France and were neighbors of David, his widowed mother, and brothers and sisters.  Years later The New York Times said "At that time she spoke little English, but recalled later that Mr. Sarnoff, who spoke no French, learned just enough from her to make his proposal in French."

The onset of World War II immensely affected the Sarnoff household.  David was appointed to General Dwight D. Eisenhower's communications staff and sons Robert and Edward joined the Navy and Army respectively.

Many engagements and marriages were fast-tracked by the possibility of deployment and such was the case with Robert.  A graduated of Philips Academy in Andover and Harvard University, he was attending the Naval Officers Training School in Washington, D.C. when, on March 25, 1942, the New York Sun reported that he had been married to Esme O'Brien in a civil service ceremony.  Only the couple's parents were there.

Before long both Robert and Edward were serving in the South Pacific.  Robert was by now a lieutenant and he was sent to an Army communications installation in Guadalcanal in April 1944 in relation to his Navy job.  When he bumped into a soldier in leaving the Quonset hut office and turned to apologize, he stood face-to-face with his brother.

Both, it turns out, were following closely in their father's footsteps.  The New York Sun wrote, on April 5, "more surprising, they learned that each was working on the same project--the development of regular broadcasts and radio news-copy transmission to the States--from different angles.  Robert is "more interested in the administrative end'--the arrangements for setting up field stations here and on other islands.  Edward, a Brown University-trained electrical engineer, helps to construct and maintain stations."

Their father was busy in the meantime.  He expanded radio circuits for NBC to transmit news from the invasion of France three months later, reestablished Radio France after its Paris station was bombed, and headed the construction of a powerful radio transmitter that could reach all European allied forces--Radio Free Europe.   His war work earned him the Legion of Merit in 1944 and the rank of Brigadier General in 1945.

Sarnoff was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1951.

Back home Lizette worked for the Red Cross and for the Free French cause.  For her efforts she was awarded the medal of honor of the French Women's Army.

Among Lizette's other worthy causes was, most notably, the New York Infirmary in which she first became actively involved in 1939.  She was hands-on, starting out as a nurse's aide.  She was as well a member of the executive committee of the United Hospital Fund.

Upon David Sarnoff's death on December 12, 1971 newspapers nationwide ran full page obituaries and printed tributes from the highest ranking men in politics, industry and communications.  His sizable estate was left, mostly, to Lizette.

Although she retained possession of No. 44 East 71st Street, Lizette moved to No. 1 Sutton Place where she died on January 9, 1974 at the age of 79.

The Sarnoff estate sold the house in the fall of 1977 to jeweler Jacques Mazard for $1.45 million.  In reporting the sale The New York Times remarked on the indoor swimming pool.

The mansion was sold again fifteen years later in what The New York Times called "the largest sale in 1992."  The Republic of Korean  spent $10.8 million on the house for its Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations.  The Mission remains in the house today.  Although most of the interiors have been preserved, expected alterations for offices and meetings rooms have been made.

photograph by the author


  1. That garage door is ingenious. What also is amazing for NYC, the last photo shows a townhouse grouping with bookend large scale apartment blocks that actually all work together forming a beautiful and appealing block of early 20th century architectural harmony. Too bad there ar far too few similar examples to cite.

    1. I am nuts over that garage door. By the way, the common rear yards are still intact and while today there are fences; they are open (i.e. link fences or similar) so the open feeling is preserved.

  2. I was most familiar with Hoyt as head of the Aviation Company of America,in which capacity,as described in Ralph A. O'Neill's A DREAM OF EAGLES,he worked to torpedo O'Neill's efforts to start an airline (O'Neill ultimately got his airline off the ground but was then forced to surrender it to Pan Am,run by O'Neill's rivals with whom Hoyt was working,by government officials determined to show Pan Am the utmost favoritism)...interesting to learn more of him.
    "Legion of Medal" should I assume be "Legion of Merit"...and RCA is long gone as a company today even if the brand is still licensed.
    David Sarnoff ran it from the beginning,and son Robert later did,but they never actually owned it.