Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Gift from Father - No. 4 East 80th Street

The grand entrance hall -- photo Brown Harris Stevens
 Although Frank Winfield Woolworth grew up on his family’s modest potato farm in Rodman, New York; by the beginning of the 20th Century he was living in a massive Gothic mansion at the corner of 5th Avenue and 80th Street, one of the wealthiest men in America.

Woolworth commissioned mansion designer Charles P. H. Gilbert, responsible for Woolworth’s own house, to design adjoining residences for his three married daughters. Built between 1911 and 1915, the center mansion, at No. 4 East 80th Street and similar in style to Woolworth’s, was for his eldest daughter Helena Woolworth McCann.

The three sisters' houses in 1916 with Helena Woolworth McCann's house in the center - photo NYPL Collection
The wide limestone façade rose six stories, with understated embellishments of finials, tracery and two monumental dormers rising above the 6th floor roofline from the fifth floor balcony. Around the entrance were carved woodland creatures including frogs and squirrels.

Lena, as she was popularly known, and her husband, lawyer Charles E. F. McCann, lived quietly in the French Gothic mansion with their three children, Constance, Helena and Fraiser. The couple was active in charity events and divided their time between the 80th Street house and their country estate, Sunken Orchard, in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

The interiors of the Manhattan house were filled with European artworks, antiques and Helena’s well-known collection of export porcelain. The entrance hall featured intricate mosaic floors, a massive stone fireplace and a grand staircase rising five stories below a stained glass skylight. On the second floor was the 35-foot drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, the dining room with its large fireplace and a solarium.

Part of the second floor as it appears today -- photo Brown Harris Stevens
Helena McCann died in 1938, three years after giving her children more than $15 million. The mansion was sold in July 1943 to the Congregation of the Holy Cross, known as the Holy Cross Fathers, to become a novitiate house for young men studying for the priesthood. The order ran various Catholic institutions throughout the Midwest, including Notre Dame University.

The staircase hall with its 14-foot ceilings -- photo Brown Harris Stevens
The Holy Cross Fathers remained in the house until August of 1955 when they sold it to the Young Men’s Philanthropic League. Forty years later Lucille Roberts purchased the mansion for $6 million. The health-club doyenne commissioned architectural firm Hottenroth + Joseph to restore and renovate the home. The five-year project resulted in vintage interiors being brought back to their original grandeur, as well as adding 20th Century amenities. Roberts’ private closets featured electronic clothing racks – similar to those in a dry cleaners – which required reducing the size of an extra bedroom to accommodate the machinery. Lucille Roberts’ personal bathroom was modeled after one she approved of in the Ritz Hotel in Paris. An additional floor, invisible from street level, contained a private office with full bath and staff suite. In addition to two bedrooms on the fifth floor, a gym was added.

photo ny.curbed.com
Three years after her renovations were completed, Lucille Roberts died in 2003. In 2011 the family put the house on the market, with its 10 bedrooms 11.5 bathrooms and 3 kitchens, for $90 million.


  1. what a gift... :)
    gorgeous interior...
    the staircases are divine...

  2. Why would they sell it?!? Id sell my soul for that! Sigh...