Thursday, March 10, 2011

The 1912 DeKoven Mansion - No. 1025 Park Avenue

photo by Alice Lum

John Russell Pope is often remembered for his monumental, classically-inspired structures like the National Gallery of Art, the Jefferson Memorial and Richmond, Virginia's Union Station.  But the Jacobean Revival mansion he designed in 1911 for Reginald DeKoven and his wife on Park Avenue survives as one of his most striking accomplishments.

DeKoven was a prominent composer of light opera and popular songs. His “O, Promise Me,” became a staple at weddings, resulting in many tear-dampened hankies. Anna DeKoven was an author, among her works being “The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones,” and the pair was renowned in New York artistic and social circles.

When the train tracks to Grand Central in the deep channel down the center of Park Avenue were covered over in 1902, mansions began lining the broad boulevard. The DeKovens purchased the 60-foot wide plot at No. 1025 and consulted with Pope on designs for a new residence.

Anna DeKoven had an expressed fondness for 16th Century English architecture, as evidenced by the couple’s first home they had built in Chicago with its diamond-paned heraldic glass windows and paneled rooms. For the Park Avenue house she would request the same.

While the neighboring mansions would be Italian Renaissance, English Regency or French-inspired, the DeKovan house would be unique, or according to some opinions, “out of place.” An English country estate on Park Avenue, it featured a double-height room at the front for large social gatherings. The plaster ceiling of the music room (which doubled as a ballroom) was a copy of that in Haddon Hall. Pope used the magnificent Hatfield House in Hertfordshire as inspiration for the minstrel gallery, the stone doorways and the great carved stone mantle. Two-story bays small-paned windows with stained glass coats-of-arms visually dominated the exterior, contrasting starkly with the rusticated stone base.

The house was completed late in 1912 and on New Years Eve of that year the couple hosted a musical gathering, inviting some of the most prominent musical artists in New York. Later that season, the 17th Century-style main room was thrown open for an Elizabethan-period costume ball.

photo by Alice Lum
Eight years after moving in, Reginald DeKoven died in 1920. On January 11, 1945 the residence was sold and The New York Times reported that the composer’s mansion, known for the gala parties and dinners hosted there, was to become an apartment house.

George Beldock purchased the building on April 30 of the following year and the home was tenderly subdivided into 11 apartments. Wealthy socialites moved in, including Mr. and Mrs. John Bell Huhn who lived here in 1950 and Mr. and Mrs. Eric Moses Javits in 1956.

photo by Alice Lum
One by one, as the 20th Century progressed, Park Avenue’s grand mansions fell, to be replaced by glass-curtain offices and modern apartment buildings. No. 1025, somehow, managed to survive – delightfully even more “out of place” today than it was in 1912. The AIA Guide to New York City called it “A charming Tudor Revival town house that was opportunely overlooked in the serial redevelopment of Park Avenue.”

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