Thursday, July 7, 2011

The 1901 Adolphe Openhym House - 352 Riverside Drive

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In 1875, two years after his Central Park was completed, Frederick Law Olmsted designed Riverside Park high above the Hudson River. Before long millionaires bought up property facing the park, erecting massive mansions that took advantage of the stunning views and the clean country air.

While marble and limestone palaces were inching up Fifth at the base of Central Park, these wealthy pioneers were settling far to the north on Riverside Drive.

Grand residences were already erected two blocks away on Riverside Drive at 110th Street in 1894 -- photo NYPL Collection

Among these was Adolphe Openhym, a wealthy silk merchant and member of the family firm William Openhym & Sons whose business was located at Grand and Mercer Streets.

In 1899 architect Robert D. Kohn was commissioned to design a pair of connected townhouses at Nos. 352 and 353 Riverside Drive, between 107th and 108th Streets. Openhym would move into No. 352 with his wife and two sons upon its completion two years later.

The finished house was a five-story brick-and-limestone beauty. Its restrained Beaux Arts design featured a limestone base supporting a two-story bowed front. Above the double entrance doors, an ornate carved cartouche announced the address.  At the second floor, French doors opened to an elegant wrought iron balcony. A century later the AIA Guide to New York City would note “A grand entry portal bears a balcony for savoring Olmsted’s park.”

The matching bowed fronts of Nos. 353 and 352 with their heavy-bracketed graceful balconies -- photo

The gently bowed fa├žade created a second balcony at the fourth floor protected by a handsome stone balustrade. A limestone dormer with an arched pediment broke the mansard roof of the top level. The luxurious side yard between the mansion to the south afforded unusual sunlight.

The garden between No. 352 and the mansion next door let sunlight flood into the southern windows -- photo NYPL Collection

The matching residences were a slice of Paris facing the Hudson River.

Inside was a wide, majestic wooden staircase the hugged the wall below a Tiffany glass skylight, a baronial dining room with beamed ceilings, heavily carved fireplaces, intricate plasterwork and sweeping views of the river. But none of this was enough to remedy Adolphe Openhym’s inner turmoil.

The bold, sweeping paneled staircase -- photo

Although his business was reportedly “highly prosperous,” he was an active member of at least six clubs, his health was good and his family life seemed happy; something was wrong.

Every morning the 49-year old Openhym would leave No. 352 and take a horseback ride in the park before heading downtown to his office. On the morning of March 30, 1903 his routine changed.

At 9:30, after his ride, rather than going downtown, he boarded an Amsterdam Avenue car going north. An hour and a half later a man was noticed by Frank McConville, a bridge tender at the High Bridge – the great stone span that connected Manhattan with The Bronx, rising 140 feet over the Harlem River. The gentleman walked quickly to the middle of the bridge, laid his hat and umbrella carefully on the pavement, and jumped over the side.

Inside the hat was Adolphe Openhym’s business card.

Six boats were employed in the search of the river, traveling up and down seven times. The family offered a $2000 reward for the recovery of the body, which was later raised to $5000. Finally, a few days later, the body of Adolphe Openhym was found. The recovery efforts cost the family, including reward, $9,640.

On Wednesday, April 29, 1903 at 10:00 am funeral services were held in the parlor of No. 352.

Mrs. Openhym and her sons remained in the house. Her husband’s estate, at just under $850,000, afforded her to continue her lifestyle, including her several philanthropies. She was a member of the National Arts Club, Women’s Health Protective, Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York and the Consumers’ League of New York.


Ardently supportive of health causes, she hosted a meeting of the Managing Committee of the Bloomingdale District Nurse Association here in 1905. The group supplied trained nurses for the very poor in the far upper west side.

Mrs. Openhym died in 1933 and shortly afterwards Amos Canfield and his wife were living in No. 352. Rosa Murphy Canfield had been private secretary to John D. Rockefeller. The Canfields cautiously updated the house, including installing elevators in 1939. After Amos Canfield’s death in 1939, the house became the residence of young Jesuit priests.

Little was changed with this new use of the structure. On the first floor were the kitchen, reception and lobby. The second floor was used for the dining room and the “chapel lounge,” while above were bedrooms, offices, studies and “servants quarters.”

The circular sitting room follows the lines of the bowed facade -- photo

Almost three decades later, the order sold the house to Alabama native Jim Rogers – the former hedge fund broker who co-founded Quantum Fund and retired at the age of 37. Rogers paid $107,300 for the nearly-untouched vintage property.

Rogers’ investment sense paid off. After moving his family overseas, he sold No. 352 to Helen LaKelly Hunt, daughter of oil magnate H. L. Hunt in October of 2006 for $15.5 million.

With her husband, clinical pastoral counselor Harville Hendrix, Ms. Hunt conducted couples workshops and was a founder of the Sister Fund whose goal is to empower women and girls in all areas – financial, spiritual, political and social.

The pristine property, astonishingly never broken into apartments or disfigured, was put back on the market in 2011 for $61.9 million.

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