Thursday, April 14, 2011

Queen Anne Survivors on Park Avenue -- Nos. 709 and 711

Nos. 709 and 711 Park Avenue in 1912 -- photo NYPL Collection
 Before 1875 Cornelius Vanderbilt’s soot-coughing trains chugged down the center of Fourth Avenue towards Grand Central Terminal. The area north of the train station along the thoroughfare (which would be renamed Park Avenue in 1888) was considered uninhabitable by New York’s well-to-do.

Once the tracks were relocated below ground, however, residential development crept in from Fifth and Madison Avenues. It would be decades, however, before Park Avenue was accepted as a truly correct address among the upper classes.

In 1882, speculative developers William H. Browning and Charles T. Barney commissioned architect Bassett Jones to design 12 row houses along the avenue from 69th Street to 70th Street. While other residences and apartment buildings going up intended for middle-income families, these would be different.

Designed in the up-to-the-minute Queen Anne style, they were targeted for the upper-middle class. Sitting on solid bases of Manhattan brownstone, they formed an undulating line of red brick, angled bay windows and balconies. Wide, high brownstone stoops led to the entranceways where stained glass overlights streamed color light onto the foyer floors. Brownstone trim provided a warm contrast with the brick. The wide, prominent dormers were topped by unusual and ornate cast iron caps that gave a somewhat Flemish flavor to the homes.

As construction started a year later in 1883, Browning abandoned his partner; running away from $60,000 in debts to his native England where he had once been a champion wrestler. Two years later, Barney had pulled together the necessary $25,000 needed to finish the project. That year he sold No. 709 to sisters Laura and Cornelia Manley.

Of the two, Cornelia was the more outgoing, spending summers in Stamford among socially-prominent friends and supporting causes such as the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor.

photo by Alice Lum
The outspoken Rev. Dr. Abbott E. Kittredge moved in next door at No. 711. The year he began renting the house, 1885, was an election year and he used the pulpit in the Madison Avenue Reformed Church to instruct his flock on “How Christians Should Vote.” Railing against Tammany whom he called “organized iniquity,” he said “If the Republican Party had not the courage to place in its platform a word of commendation for those who have sought to restore to law its majesty in this community, you and I will not indorse such cowardice.”

The silver-tongued orator earned $10,000 a year as pastor. At his installation the church, which had a membership at the time of 250, was packed with over 1,200 persons.

F. T. Swift was staying at No. 711 in 1903 when he had the misfortune of riding along in the car of Veryl Preston, a Director of the American Steel Hoop Company. Mr. Preston was clocked by bicycle Policeman Whitman making the block in 10 seconds when it should have taken the car 22 seconds. Swift was arrested along with Preston who “denied that he had exceeded the legal limit of speed, and with his friends held an impromptu indignation meeting in the station house,” according to the New York Times.

The Kittredge family had four servants living with them during this time -- a staff which changed regularly, but remained mostly Irish.

The Kittredges left in 1912 when the house was sold to Lincoln Cromwell, an affluent textile merchant. The Cromwell children received the best schooling and privileges available to them. Unspeakable tragedy struck the family early in the summer of 1925. The Cromwell’s 21-year old daughter, Elizabeth Mary, a recent debutante, left on the steamship Veendam with her cousin Mrs. Stocks Miller of Chicago for a summer in Europe. The Junior League girl was drowned at sea on the crossing.

Five years later Gustave Nassauer was living next door in No. 709. A real estate operator and art collector, he was well known nationally in both fields.

By 1935, when Mrs. Lincolm Cromwell hosted a tea in honor of Lady Grenfell, wife of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, only Nos. 709 and 711 of the row of 12 houses remained standing – modern apartment buildings having replaced their neighbors. As Park Avenue was widened, the houses lost their brownstone stoops.

No. 709 was converted into apartments, however Mrs. Cromwell continued to live on in No. 711 until her death in May of 1963. Shortly thereafter the family sold the house to Texas philanthropist and art collector Robert Tobin. Tobin moved in and purchased No. 709 as a guesthouse for visiting friends.

When Tobin died in 2000, Alfred Naman purchased No. 709, moving into one of the apartments while starting an exterior renovation that included removing layers of paint from the brick and brownstone.

Nos. 709 and 711 as they appear today -- photo by Alice Lum
Meanwhile, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and his wife Robertina purchased the Cromwell residence next door. The couple filed for an interior renovation designed by architect David Hotson in partnership with the owner; as well as an exterior restoration.

No. 711 still retains the original, robust carved brownstone trim over the doorway -- photo by Alice Lum
The two lonely survivors of the once long row valiantly retain much of their 19th Century integrity – despite losing their stained glass, original windows and stoops. They are, however, a charming and delightful surprise along this section of Park Avenue.


  1. Thank you! Rev. Abbott Kittredge is my great-great-grandfather... and I carry his name as my first name. I found this wonderful article while doing research on my family history. I didn't know that he lived in such a grand home!

  2. Great! I love it when readers find personal history. You inherited a really good name, by the way!