|With the exception of the roof garden (Augusta Bliss would not have been caught on the roof of her home), No. 103 East 37th Street looks much as it did in 1911|
Very often in the 19th and early 20th centuries the title to residential property of the well-to-do was held in the wife’s name. Such was the case of the Augusta Bliss Reese house at 103 East 37th Street.
In 1907 William Willis Reese, a real estate broker and Columbia University graduate, married Augusta Bliss in Grace Church. The wealthy newlyweds summered abroad and, upon their return, began looking for a suitable residence.
At No. 103 East 37th Street in the fashionable Murray Hill section stood the home of Emily Henriques Myers, widow of Angelo L. Myers who had died suddenly on December 2, 1900. Myers had not only been a respected wine importer with offices at 61 Water Street, but was a director of the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad Company and, in 1891, a trustee of the “New York and Brooklyn Bridge.”
Mrs. Myers moved a block closer to 5th Avenue, at No. 17 East 37th Street, and the Reeses purchased her property at No. 103.
While the Murray Hill area was still exclusive, the staid old brownstone mansions were decidedly out of fashion. In 1901 James Lanier and his wife Harriet demolished two old houses to erect a grand limestone residence in the latest Beaux Arts style at No. 123 East 35th Street and a year later Thomas Benedict Clarke had Stanford White strip off the brownstone façade of No. 22 East 35th Street, replacing it with an updated Neo-Georgian design.
The Reeses followed suit.
On August 5, 1909 The New York Times mentioned that “Plans have been filed for a five-story residence to be built at 103 East Thirty-seventh Street from designs by Architects Foster, Gade & Graham for Augusta Bliss Reese. The house is to cost $50,000.”
Taking a full two years to complete, the house was worth the wait.
The rusticated limestone facade was treated as three parts, each separated by a shallow course of carved wave moldings. Polished wooden double entrance doors were approached by a shallow, broad set of three steps from the sidewalk. The tall French windows of the second and third floors opened to small ornate cast iron balconies. The fifth floor, nestled behind a stone balustrade over a bracketed cornice, featured a mansard roof punctuated by three copper-framed dormers.
Augusta Bliss Reese was not content to while away her time at society teas and receptions, despite her impressive dwelling. In 1915 (the same year that she inherited $25,000 from the estate of her sister, Catherine Anita Bliss who had lived on Park Avenue), she was the treasurer of the Bellevue Hospital Tuberculosis Clinic and a member of the National Tuberculosis Association. Mrs. Reese was fervently active in fund raising and charity events related to the dreaded disease.
In the meantime, William W. Bliss balanced his real estate business with his activities as the Senior Warden at the Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street – fondly referred to by New Yorkers as “The Little Church Around the Corner.”
Tragedy struck when, in March of 1942, the Reeses were traveling on the Taconic State Parkway in Millwood, New York when they were involved in an automobile accident. The 79-year old William Willis Reese was killed and Augusta, then 68, was critically injured. Funeral services for Reese were held a few days later at his beloved Little Church Around the Corner.
By the late 20th Century the Reese house had been converted to a two-family dwelling. Then in 1990 it was remodeled into offices for diplomatic use.
Renovated again in 2009, the handsome limestone mansion now has one apartment per floor. From the street, however, it appears very much as it did in 1911 when Augusta Bliss Reese’s new furniture was first moved in.
non-credited photograph taken by the author