Saturday, April 16, 2011

The 1913 Ogdan Codman Jr. House - No. 7 East 96th Street

photo by Manhattan Country School
Although Ogden Codman, Jr. was born in Boston to a prestigious family, he grew up in Paris. Upon his return to the States, he decorated the mansions of New York’s old guard, refusing commissions from the nouveau riche, and wrote the widely-read "Decoration of Houses" in partnership with Edith Wharton.

Codman’s Parisian background left deep impressions on him and when he began designing houses as well as decorating them, his love for all things French was obvious.

In 1907 he purchased the lot at 7 East 96th Street, still several blocks north of the area where the main thrust of mansion building was going on. While they were still contemplating their new home, Codman’s wife of only six years died in 1910. Now alone, Codman set about designing the elegant residence his wife would never share.

Completed in 1913, it was a slice of Paris set down on 96th Street. Half a century later the Landmarks Preservation Commission would comment “On approaching the house Paris and the Champs Elysee immediately comes to mind.”

Codman sat the house on a rusticated base above which a stone balcony with an elegant iron railing stretched along the full width of the home. Three sets of arched French doors opened to the balcony. From the sloping Mansard roof three deep, hooded dormers lined up along the cornice. The structure echoed perfectly Ogden’s manifesto “proportion is the good breeding of architecture.”

Ogden Codman lived in his grand home with six servants and his chauffeur until 1920 when he left for his beloved Paris. In December of that year he negotiated a lease by cable to rent the house furnished to George Edward Kent. Kent paid an annual rent of $25,000.

The following year Ronald Tree, cousin of Marshall Field III, and his decorator wife who professional was known as Nancy Lancaster, moved in.

By 1924 the family of E. Oliver Iselin owned the house. Iselin was a dynamic force in the New York Yacht Club and the America’s Cup races. The family also had a summer cottage in Saratoga, a winter home in Aiken, South Carolina, an estate in Upper Brookville, Long Island called Wolver Hollow, and a race horse farm in Mount Vernon, New York.

Here on January 10, 1925, Mrs. Iselin, who was the daughter of millionaire William Goddard, hosted a glittering dance after a dinner at Sherry’s in honor of their debutante daughter, Edith Hope Iselin, and their niece, Dorothy Iselin.
No. 7 East 96th Street temporarily boarded up in 1927 after the departure of the Iselin family -- photo NYPL Collection
Following the Iselin family in the house were William Scoville Moore and his wife the former Edith Pulitzer, daughter of millionaire publisher Joseph Pulitzer.  The Moores purchased the house in 1927.

Although William and Edith Moore would retain possession of the property until 1948, they apparently spent little time here; instead leasing it to other moneyed New Yorkers.  By 1932 attorney James Randall Creel was living here when he secretly married Alexandra Diodati Gardiner in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, Long Island. Hearing of the elopement, the bride’s mother, Mrs. Robert Alexander Gardiner, rushed to the church to stop the ceremony.

Mrs. Gardiner caused such an uproar that the Dean of the Cathedral had to summons the police to “calm the society leader,” as reported in the press. The marriage went on despite the commotion; however two weeks later Mrs. Gardiner was not yet “calm.”

“Mrs. Robert Alexander Gardiner, Park Avenue society matron, forwarded by registered mail to the Long Island diocese of the Episcopal church charges against the Very Rev. G. T. P. Sargent, dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation at Garden City, who, on Friday night last, officiated at the wedding of her daughter,” reported The New York Times on June 13, 1932.

Another lawyer, Richard Allen Knight, and his wife moved in after the Creels moved on. Knight had been a respected attorney until he was unsuccessful in litigation connected to the $14 million estate of his father-in-law, Lewis Cass Ledyard, Jr. The incident unnerved him and he sent a string of harassing letters to many prominent lawyers and a judge.

Knight pled guilty in July 1942, was disbarred and sentenced to three months in the workhouse. In the meantime Dorothy Ledyard Knight filed for divorce, charging cruelty.

It was all too much for Knight. His peculiar behavior in public drew wide-spread attention. When his butler found him dead in the house at No. 7 East 96th Street on January 10, 1948, The Times remembered his “many eccentricities, including standing on his head in the foyer at a Metropolitan Opera performance.”

Not long afterward William and Edith Moore sold the mansion.

For several years the Nippon Club was headquartered here, its Japanese Flower Show being an annually-anticipated event.
architectural rendering provided by Andrew J. Hickes (
The Manhattan Country School purchased the house in 1965. In 2000 a restoration of the façade, including slate roof and copper dormer replacement, and masonry cleaning was completed. The interiors remain almost perfectly intact. The little slice of Paris created by Ogden Codman, Jr. looks much today as it did when he moved in nearly a century ago.


  1. Those green shutters were not part of Codman's original design, correct?