Daniel Gray Reid did nothing in a small way.
Born in Richmond, Indiana in 1858, he had little formal education. His father was a farmer and ran the country store. At the age of 11 Reid took a job as a messenger for the Second National Bank in Richmond. The ambitious Reid eventually became Vice President and, in 1892, made an unlikely business move that would change his life.
A small tin plate mill in Elwood, Indiana was failing and, hence, a problem for the Richmond bank which had financed it. Contemporary thought was that tin plate businesses could not succeed in America and that only the Welsh could make a go of it. Reid surprisingly purchased the mill and revamped the process—combining Welsh workmanship methods with American production and business systems.
Within only three years the mill was so successful that Reid and his associates were able to combine every tin plate firm in the country into the American Tin Plate Company, of which Reid was president. For the underwriting services of the new company alone Reid received $10 million.
He was on a roll. Before long he had organized the National Steel Company, the American Steel Hoop Company and the American Sheet Steel Company in order to insure supplies of steel for the manufacture of tin plate. Daniel G. Reid became known nationwide as “The Tin Plate King.”
In 1901, the same year that Reid took control of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad; J. P. Morgan organized the United States Steel Corporation and bought up Reid’s tin plate holdings. Reid walked away from the deal with $18 million and a seat on the board of directors of the steel corporation.
The man who had started out as messenger making $12.50 a month was now on the way to New York City as a multimillionaire.
Reid’s wife, the former Ella Dunn, had died about 6 years earlier. In 1900 he married an actress, Clarisse Agnew, whom The New York Times labeled “a theatrical beauty.” They moved into a mansion on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park with his daughter where the needs of family were taken care of by 20 live-in servants. But there was the matter of a carriage house to attend to.
Daniel Reid did things in a splashy way. Not long after arriving in New York he had a sleek steel yacht, The Rheclair, built. The yacht held a crew of 35, boasted ten staterooms and was 213-feet long. He approached his plans for a carriage house with the same conspicuous show.
|The uncontainable Daniel G. Reid looked every bit the part of a turn-of-the-century millionaire--photo Library of Congress|
Private stables were normally two stories tall – the ground floor housed the horses and vehicles while upstairs were rooms for servants. Reid’s would be bigger and grander. He commissioned mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert--responsible for the magnificent Isaac Fletcher and F. W. Woolworth mansions—to design a palace for horses.
In 1901 three brownstone residences built just after the Civil War were demolished to make way for Reid’s new building. Completed in 1902, the granite-faced structure stretched 58-feet wide at 170 East 70th Street. Sitting imposingly behind an iron fence with heavy masonry posts, it was entered through a grand arched span with sliding oak doors that disappeared into the wall. Crowning its third story was a carved stone cornice and balustrade.
The new carriage house could accommodate 14 vehicles on the first floor. Grooms, coachmen and other related servants were housed on the top floor. The second floor held the tack room and stalls for 16 horses that were led up and down a ramp from below.
Setting the elaborate carriage house even further apart from its more typical neighbors were the bowling alley and billiard room below ground. The completed structure cost Reid a staggering $95,000.
Reid’s luck in business was much better than his luck in love. His second wife died in 1904 and two years later he married another actress, Margaret Carrere. In 1920 she divorced him; a breakup that cost him $200,000 outright and $30,000 a year afterward.
In the meantime his fortune steadily increased. He built the General Hospital No. 1 on Gun Hill Road north of the city at his own expense, donated the Reid Memorial Hospital and the Reid Memorial Church, both in Richmond, and other substantial philanthropic gifts.
By 1918 Reid’s health began to deteriorate. Twice, in 1921 and 1922, he was treated in the psychiatric clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He tried repeatedly to restore his health, traveling by private car in January 1923 to Florida with three physicians, four nurses and a private secretary. In 1924 he visited a spa in Germany, taking along his barber, a valet, one doctor, four nurses and a secretary.
The cures were unsuccessful. On Wednesday January 14, 1925 the 66-year old mogul contracted a cold. He went to bed with constant attendance by two private nurses. By Thursday night his condition had seriously worsened and at 7:45 am on Friday he was dead. At the time of his death his fortune was estimated at around $50 million.
Four months later the Lawrence-Smith School for boys announced its intentions to renovate and move into Reid’s carriage house. The New York Times reported that the building “which is already thoroughly fireproof, will be converted this Summer into a modern school building. There will be two roof playgrounds, a gymnasium with its showers and lockers, and a large hall about 48 feet by 54 feet, with stage, for school assemblies and lectures.”
The school was highly regarded as a place for well-heeled young boys to be educated. Among its most noted features were the Latin plays, given once a year. The emphasis on the ancient language was such that the school’s head, Clement Lawrence Smith said “So great is the boys’ interest that I have often found them talking to each other in Latin during the recess hour.”
Architect Bradley Delehanty was hired to convert the open spaces of horse stalls, ramps and grooms’ apartments into a formal school for upper-class students.
While the Lawrence-Smith School was instructing wealthy boys, the Lenox School was doing the same for girls. The school had been founded in 1916 by Jessica Garretson Cosgrave to prepare girls for the Finch School. By the 1930's it had grown into four distinct parts: a pre-school for girls and boys; a primary school for grades one through three; a “middle school” that encompassed grades four, five and six; and the “upper school” for girls from seventh to twelfth grades.
The Lenox School had hopelessly outgrown its building at 52 East 72nd Street by the mid-1930's. It quickly took advantage of the opportunity offered when the Lawrence-Smith School for Boys merged with the Browning School at 50 East 62nd Street “because of economic reasons” in January 1939.
Two months later the Lenox School purchased the former carriage house on East 70th. The building was expanded upward with a four-room “penthouse” where the pre-school and primary departments were housed.The existing classrooms were enlarged, science laboratories and an art studio were introduced, and modern lighting was installed. Classes were offered in art, history, drama, business arithmetic, typing and languages.
In 1989 the Lenox School merged with the Birch Wathen School, becoming the Birch Wathen Lenox School. Four years later the institution moved to East 77th Street, selling the carriage house to the New York School of Interior Design for $3.9 million.
|The great oaken sliding doors, over the herringbone-pattern brick drive, are kept slightly open.|
The school initiated renovations of its own, converting the gymnasium into a design studio and creating sleek, modern spaces for its 600 full- and part-time students. During the reconstruction Daniel Reid’ s original oak sliding doors were discovered still intact; having been covered over by a modern entranceway. Today the Design School keeps the doors slightly exposed so that students and visitors can move them, getting a tactile sense of the building’s history.
non-credited photographs taken by the author
non-credited photographs taken by the author