Friday, March 11, 2011

The Often-Sold 1888 William Nobel House - No. 247 Central Park West

photo by The New York Observer
Sparked by the construction of the Dakota Apartment building in 1884, Central Park West was seeing rapid development when speculative builder William Noble purchased the land between 84th and 85th Street. Noble was a major player in late 19th Century New York real estate, responsible for scores of new buildings. The Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide said of him “…there is one builder whose name looms up as one of the particularly bright stars of the coterie of men who have done so much to improve and enrich our city.”

Working with architect Edward J. Agnell, Noble erected a row of nine townhouses on the site in 1887, called The Noble Houses. The upper-class residences were in the latest Queen Anne style, each different from the next, yet forming a unified and cohesive grouping. Among them, Noble chose No. 247 as his own home.

The buff brick and limestone mansion rose four stories over an English basement and, like the others in the row, had all the bells and whistles desired by well-to-do homeowners of the period – stained glass, carved stone, projecting bays, gables, dormers and eccentric angles and contrasting colors and lines.

Noble lived here for five years; one of the last grand entertainments in the house being a reception for his niece’s wedding on March 25, 1892. Shortly thereafter the house was briefly owned by Samuel McMillan, another important building and real estate mogul. Not only did McMillan run a large real estate concern from 327 W. 42nd Street, he was Vice President of the Mutual Bank at 821 8th Avenue, President of the New York Building and Land Appraisement Company, a member of the Board of Examiners of the Building Department and sat on the board of the Park Commissioners.

In the short time McMillan owned No. 247 he spent about $10,000 on interior renovations, including the unusual choice of tufted silk wall coverings. In doing so, he would be set a precedent and the house would repeatedly undergo substantial renovations.

On September 13, 1893 McMillan traded the house for the Morris Heights estate of former Mayor Franklin Edson. In exchange for the home, McMillan received Edson’s homestead including a “handsome residence, stable, barns, etc.,” according to The New York Times.

Edson, who had amassed a fortune during the Civil War, had been elected mayor in 1882 and under his administration the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, the Croton Aqueduct contracts were awarded and several parks were established.

A year after purchasing the mansion, Edson sold it to another realty operator and politician, Hugh N. Camp on November 10, 1894. Almost a year to the day later, Franklin Edson attended Camp’s funeral.

The estate of Hugh Camp sold No. 247 for $55,000 in February 1899. Elizabeth A. Williams was living here until 1901 when she died in the house. When Dr. George Frederick Brooks purchased the home on April 9, 1903 he set about modernizing. A month later three striking construction workers were arrested by bicycle policemen after they made threats and threw stones at workmen doing renovations on the house.

The esteemed doctor, whose brother, the Rev. Arthur Brooks was rector of the Church of the Incarnation at Madison Avenue and 35th Street, died in the house on April 26, 1918.

As the Jazz Age swept New York in the 1920s, the Victorian homes on Central Park West began falling, being replaced by massive Art Deco-style apartment buildings. The Noble Houses were hungrily eyed by developers for such a project.

Architect W. Gedney Beatty lived in No. 247 at the time and while many contemporary architects decried the busy architecture of the 19th Century, Beatty was not among them. A important collector of rare architectural books and antique building hardware such as hinges, locks, knockers and door handles, his collection of manuscripts would become an important part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Print Room collection in the 1940s. Beatty refused to sell his home and subsequently No. 247 Central Park West survives today.

No. 247 with the two last surviving of the Noble Houses -- photo by Teri Tynes, Walking Off the Big Apple
In1948 the house was converted again, this time to apartments -- one per floor plus a doctor's office on the first floor.  Then, in 2001 it was restored to a single-family home by Abigail Disney, the grandniece of Walt Disney.  Disney lived here for five years, selling the home in 2006 to then-President and COO of Coach, Keith Monda for $15.5 million.

Inside No. 247 any trace of the 19th Century is gone -- photo by The New York Observer
Monda commissioned an architect to bring the 1887 mansion into the 20th Century, essentially gutting the space while retaining the exterior integrity. The year-long renovation resulted in an ultra-modern home with clean lines and little trace of the Victorian detailing original to the home. The house, with its five bedrooms, six baths, theatre and 60-foot indoor lap pool was offered for sale in 2010 for $32 million.

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