Marshall Orme Wilson, Jr. was 17 years old when his parents moved into their sumptuous new mansion at No. 3 East 64th Street. There were few young men in New York who could compete with his social status. His mother was the former Caroline "Carrie" Schermerhorn Astor (daughter of William Backhouse and Caroline Schermerhorn Astor), and his father was banker and railroad mogul Marshall Orme Wilson. His aunt had married Ogden Goelet, his uncle was John Jacob Astor IV, and other aunts had the married names of Roosevelt, Drayton, and Haig.
Following his graduation from Harvard, Wilson went into the banking business. Then, in the summer of 1910, one of America's most eligible bachelors was off the market. On June 10 The Washington Post reported "Society turned out in large numbers to attend the wedding of Miss Alice Borland to Marshall Orme Wilson, jr....The bride is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Nelson Borland, and the granddaughter of George Griswold Haven. The bridegroom is the son of Mr. and Mrs. M. Orme Wilson, and the grandson of Mrs. Astor."
Three years later Wilson purchased and demolished the former Charles Steele house at No. 11 East 64th Street, steps away from his parents' home. He hired the architectural firm of Trowbridge & Livingston to design a modern replacement mansion on the site. On June 21, 1913 The Sun announced "The proposed dwelling, plans for which were filed yesterday...will be a five story fireproof structure, 29x80, with an extension, its façade being in limestone and brick. It will cost $75,000." That amount would translate to about $2 million today.
Construction on the limestone-faced residence would take two years. The architects produced a sedate neo-French Classical style mansion that stressed sophistication over ornamentation. The understated entrance within the rusticated base was decorated with only a scrolled keystone. Three sets of graceful French doors at the second floor, or piano nobile, were fronted by stone balustrades and set within arches. Intermediate cornices separated the two-story mid-section from the first and fourth floors. The fifth floor took the form of a dormered mansard, set back behind a stone balustrade.
The house was, of course, used only during the winter social season. During the warmer months the couple made the rounds of fashionable "watering-holes." On May 24, 1915, for instance, The New York Press announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Orme Wilson, Jr., will close their house, No. 11 East Sixty-fourth street, on Wednesday and go out to Bay Shore, L. I., where they have leased a place for the summer. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson will pass part of August in Newport." The couple had barely arrived back home that year when they left again to spend Thanksgiving with Wilson's sister and her family. On November 23 The New York Press reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Orme Wilson, Jr...left last evening for the Greenbrier, at White Sulphur Springs, where they will spend Thanksgiving with Mrs. Ogden Goelet."
The mansion was shuttered in 1917 after the United States entered World War I. Marshall joined the army and was sent to Washington D.C. It would be a decisive moment in the lives of the Wilsons. With peace achieved in 1919, the couple returned briefly to East 64th Street. On April 6 the New York Herald reported that they "have returned from Washington and opened their house at No. 11 East Sixty-fourth street, which they closed two years ago."
The Wilsons' only child, Orme, was born in the mansion in August 1920. In announcing the birth The Evening Telegram noted, "Mr. Wilson has recently been appointed to a secretaryship at the United States Embassy at Brussels and will leave for Europe in two weeks."
Marshall, Alice and the newborn sailed around September 15 and the following week the New York Herald reported that "Mr. and Mrs. G. N. Ormsby, who are at the Ritz-Carlton, have taken Mr. Wilson's house at 11 East Sixty-fourth street for the winter."
What initially was a one-season lease extended through the summer of 1923. George Newell Armsby was the chairman of Curtiss-Wright and sat on the boards of numerous corporations. His wife, the former Leonora Chestnut Wood, was the daughter of Colorado mining magnate Tingley Sylvanus Wood.
Armsby's decision not to renew the lease on No. 11 no doubt had to do with worsening domestic problems. A few months later Leonora would claim abandonment. Her divorce, granted in San Francisco, earned her a $1 million settlement--more than 18 times that much in today's money.
The 64th Street mansion was briefly leased to millionaire Moses Taylor, and then, following a remodeling in the spring of 1924, to Standard Oil executive Henry Huddleston Rogers and his wife, the former Mary Benjamin. Moving in with his parents was Henry H. Huddleston, Jr., but not his sister, Mary Millicent Abigail (who went by Millicent). She was currently "away."
Her elopement to Austrian Count Ludwig von Salm-Hoogstraeten in January that year had enraged her parents (most notably her father). The count had a title, but no money, and was almost twice Millicent's age. Rogers immediately cut off his daughter's allowance.
Pregnant and without funds, Millicent was lured back to New York by her father--without the count. It was not the end, but merely the beginning of the long drama. On November 13, 1924 The New York Times reported that the count was considering a trip to America "for a reconciliation with his wife, if such a reconciliation is possible." The article added, "It was said at the home of the mother of the Countess, Mrs. Henry H. Rogers, 11 East Sixty-fourth Street, that the count was not expected in New York."
As the count steamed toward New York the following year, Millicent took her baby boy to Palm Beach. Her parents "did not care to comment on the Count's arrival," said The New York Times on December 3, 1925, and in Palm Beach Millicent told reporters, "I do not care to talk with the press."
The count was back in New York the following year, the Daily News reporting on November 26, 1926, "The Austrian nobleman came back to stay. Or so he said."
Upon arriving he almost immediately telephoned the Rogers house. The newspaper reported, "He wanted to see his golden-haired son, Peter, who is living with his mother. Salm asked that the child's nurse be allowed to bring little Peter to his father's presence. But Peter was having his Thanksgiving dinner in the Rogers's nursery. Or something."
In April 1927 Millicent filed for divorce in Paris, her father offering Count Salm a $300,000 settlement. Little Peter was left home with his grandfather while Mary accompanied her daughter to France. Already the press was suggesting that Millicent had a second husband in the wings, but she underplayed that, telling a reporter "My future plans are indefinite. I won't say that I will never marry again, at least, I have no one in mind now."
In fact, she married Argentinian aristocrat Arturo Peralta-Ramos on November 8 that year. This time her father approved, giving the couple a $500,000 trust fund (with the provision that the groom "lay no future claim" to the Rogers fortune, then estimated at about $40 million).
The wedding was "particularly quiet," as described by The Knickerbocker Press, due Millicent's grandfather, Dr. George Hilliard Benjamin, being gravely ill. An eminent electrical scientist, he died two days later, early on the morning of November 10. His funeral was held in the 64th Street mansion.
In the meantime Millicent's brother was living a much more low-profile existence. He attended preparatory schools in the U.S. before entering Oxford University in 1924. Upon his graduation he returned to begin his career as an electrical engineer.
On July 28, 1928 Dr. William R. Lincoln of Cleveland, Ohio, announced the engagement of his daughter, Virginia, to Henry. The New York Times reported "The engagement is one of the most important of the year and is of interest to society not only here and in Cleveland, but in Washington, D. C., and in Europe."
A month earlier a dramatic fracas had broken out in the 64th Street mansion. On June 7 Henry Huddleston Rogers's valet, William Mackay, opened a clothes closet to find a burglar hiding inside. Rogers kept a revolver in the bedroom (which was not loaded) and Mackay grabbed it, ordering Haywood Edwards "to precede him to the basement," as reported by The Daily Star. They never made it that far before an out-and-out brawl broke out among the staff and the intruder.
"When they got downstairs, however, Edwards bolted. Harry Caslow, the chauffeur; Charles Roth, the second man, and a maid servant struggled to hold him. They were being bested in the scuffle but Patrolman Woods arrived in time to place the [burglar] under arrest." Detectives believed him to be the "window-cleaning" burglar who had been entering the homes of the wealthy in the neighborhood. Justice came quickly and on July 16 Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in Sing Sing prison.
As had been the case with the Armsbys, domestic bliss in the Rogers household began to deteriorate. They left East 64th Street in 1928 before Mary filed for divorce in January 1929.
At the same time, Marshall Orme Wilson, Jr. was appointed Second Secretary of the American Embassy at Buenos Aires. On October 9, 1928 the New York Evening Post reported, "During his leave of absence they will be in their home at 11 East Sixty-fourth Street."
In January 11, 1929 the Wilsons sold the mansion to art dealer George Wildenstein and his family. It was conveniently located to the Wildenstein Gallery at 19 east 64th Street, erected in 1931.
On June 3, 1946 the house was the scene of Miriam Wildenstein's wedding to Gerard R. Pereire, son of Jacques Pereire of Paris. In reporting on the wedding, The New York Times mentioned that the bride's father "an art critic, is owner of one of the leading galleries in this city, Paris, London and Buenos Aires. He is director of Gazette Des Beaux-Arts, editor and publisher of art magazines and books, and a Commander of the Legion of Honor."
Daniel Wildenstein inherited the mansion following his father's death in 1963. His son, Alec N. married Jocelyn Périsset in 1978 and the couple moved into the third floor. Alec's brother, Guy and his wife, Kristina, lived on the fourth floor and the children of both couples had rooms on the fifth floor.
With drama that surpassed that of Millicent Rogers Salm, Alec and Jocelyn each filed for divorce in June 1997--but both refused to leave the mansion. Things boiled over three months later. On September 4 The New York Times reported "A prominent New York City art dealer was arrested early yesterday on charges of menacing his wife with a handgun." Jocelyn had charged him with waving a loaded 9-millimeter pistol at her. Although Wilderstein claimed he was defending himself from intruders, she succeeded at having an order of protection issued "that bars him from his home and orders him to stay away from his wife."
As part of the couple's divorce agreement in 1999 Jocelyn vacated the 64th Street house and Wildenstein moved back in. He sold the mansion in 2008 for a reported $42.4 million to Oleg Deripaska, the Soviet-born aluminum tycoon and major GOP donor.
On October 8, 2018 the New York Post reported that, following sanctions imposed against Deripaska by the Treasury Department in April, authorities had "frozen his Upper East Side mansion, occupied by the ex-wife of his business partner Roman Abramovich." The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project added "Deripaska has lost billions after the US sanctioned him on alleged bribery, money laundering, murder and racketeering charges."
The report said "This might be a problem for Abramovich's ex-wife Dasha Zhukova, a Russian-American businesswoman, art collector, magazine editor, and philanthropist," who was occupying No. 11 East 64th Street.
Dasha Zhukova had become close friends with her former across-the-street neighbor, Ivanka Trump. According to the New York Post, "While they were together, Zhukova and Abramovich travelled with Trump and Kusher to Russia, Croatia, Aspen and New York."
Despite having had more than its fair share of drama, the Wilson mansion continues to exude its architectural serenity after 115 years.
photographs by the author