Friday, May 20, 2011

The Edwin Cornell Jameson House - 16 East 69th Street

photo by Alex Citrin, The New York Observer

In the 1880's, as the area east of Central Park was drawing more and more New Yorkers north, the blocks leading off Fifth Avenue were being developed with elegant residences.  In 1882 developer and architect Charles Buek & Co. completed a row of three neo-Grec style houses at 16 through 20 East 69th Street.  

The 33-foot wide residence became home to C. Adolph Low, the cousin of Columbia University President Seth Low and it was here in August of 1897 that the socially important wedding reception of his daughter, Edith Westervelt Low was held.

Low sold the house a week before Christmas in 1899 to William E. Shepard, who had married Cettie Gwynn in 1888 (she was the sister of Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt, wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt II).  
The Shepards rubbed shoulders with New York’s most socially elite.

No. 16 East 69th Street was the scene of lavish dinners and receptions for years. Yet, after the death of William Edgar Shepard, Cettie’s circumstances became strained.  Alice Vanderbilt quietly stepped in, purchasing the house and in December 1914 transferring the title to what The New York Times referred to as “the costly residence” to her sister.

Cettie lived on at in the house until April 30, 1928 when she sold it to insurance executive Edwin Cornell Jameson for $250,000 (more than $3.75 million in 2022 dollars).  Plans to update the aging house were almost immediate.  Plans for alterations filed by architect A. Wallace McCrea in 1929 would result in a substantial facelift.  

McCrea removed the stoop and pulled the facade forward to the property line.  Faced in red brick with limestone trim, the prim neo-Georgian design was a stark departure from Buek's original Victorian front.  A fifth story, tucked behind a brick-and-stone balustrade, accommodated servants’ rooms. 

By 1940 the house was home to Walter J. Salmon and his family.  He was  would remain for nearly three decades.  That year the Salmons' son, 20-year old Burton D., a student at Yale University, struck and killed a 35-year old man at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  He was arrested on charges of assault and dangerous driving.

Salmon raised race horses and on December 12, 1948 Mrs. Salmon hosted a committee meeting at 16 East 69th Street to discuss plans for a Mid-Winter Ball in the Plaza Hotel which would include a horse auction to benefit the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals.

Walter J. Salmon died in the house in 1953 and three years later his widow sold the home to the English Speaking Union, which initiated a two-year renovation into a “clubhouse” which opened in January 1958.

The English Speaking Society shortly after renovating the house -- photo NYPL Collection

The organization holds classes in English as a second language and pairs native English speakers with persons newly arrived in New York.  After four decades in the building, the Union put the house on the market in the spring of 1999.  Explaining the decision, Executive Director Alice Boyne said, “it’s the largest asset that we hold.”  The Union felt the funds could be better used in funding scholarships and language programs. “We’re not about mortar and brick,” Boyne said.

In 2000 the Wall Street Journal reported that  investment banker Roger Barnett sold his web-based company,, to for $42 million.  That same year he and his author-heiress wife, Sloan Lindemann Barnett, purchased 16 East 69th Street for approximately $11 million.

The Barnetts hired Fred L. Sommer & Associates to reconvert the building to a single-family home, after which interior designer Peter Marino (who has designed for names like Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani) decorated the interiors.  According to real estate brokers, the renovations cost the Barnetts approximately the same amount they paid for the building.

Inside the entrance door, guests found themselves in a marble foyer. There were separate passenger and staff elevators. The second floor featured a living room, capable of entertaining 100 guests, that spanned the width of the house, and a dining room with 14-foot ceilings.

photo by Curbed New York

Seven years later the Barnetts were ready to move on. They quietly put the house on the market for $62 million.  Although there were no takers at that price, the house sold in 2010 for $48 million to their friend, Johnson & Johnson heiress Libet Johnson.

Like so many other grand mansions near the park which have recently been reconverted to private homes, No. 16 East 69th Street is a remarkable property with a stunning price tag.

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