Monday, March 26, 2012

The Lost 1899 R. Fulton Cutting Mansion -- No. 24 East 67th Street

The mansion in 1922, at the time the Cutting family was moving out -- photo NYPL Collection
Not all the mammoth residences of New York’s millionaires at the turn of the 20th century were rising along Fifth Avenue.  A block to the east on Madison Avenue the gargantuan homes of Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo and Louis Comfort Tiffany had been erected on opposite corners of 72nd Street in the 1880s.   Other grand mansions, including the Stuyvesant Fish house at 78th Street built in 1901, would make Madison a close rival to Fifth Avenue in opulent homes.

Among these was the grant French Renaissance palace designed by Ernest Flagg for Robert Fulton Cutting.  

Descended from Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston, Cutting had inherited a large fortune.  The year after his marriage to the former Natalie, C. P. Schenck in 1875, she died.    He married Helen Suydam in 1883 and a year later purchased for $190,000 a fine mansion at 724 Fifth Avenue along “Vanderbilt Row."   The price raised eyebrows up and down Fifth Avenue—it was reportedly the highest price ever paid for a house its size.

The Cutting family would not remain here long, however.  In February 1895, as commerce inched its way up Fifth Avenue, the multimillionaire purchased the house of John Livingston at No. 26 East 67th Street on the corner of Madison Avenue, and the home of Anthony Troescher next door at No. 24.  The New York Times noted that “the purchaser” intended to convert the two buildings into one at a projected cost of about $200,000.

That conversion never happened.  Instead Cutting started from scratch, giving Ernest Flagg his first domestic commission.   Flagg may have caught the eye of Cutting, who was an ardent supporter of social reform, through his designs of structures like the Mills House #1.  The 1895 hotel for out-of-work men reflected his progressive interest in advancing sanitation and health.

The massive, four-story mansion was not completed for several years.  The  limestone and brick chateau stretched back along Madison Avenue.  The aggressive Beaux Arts window embellishments at the second floor fought for attention with the near-matching fourth floor windows that broke through the cornice of the mansard roof.

The interiors were treated in a variety of styles and periods.  Inlaid, multicolored marble floors and a floor-to-ceiling carved mantle decorated the somewhat formidable entrance hall.  The drawing room, in the style of a French salon, featured an ornate plaster ceiling, parquet floors and French paneling with inset murals.  Cutting’s library seethed masculinity with a deeply-coffered ceiling, dark woodwork and brocade wall coverings.

Helen Cutting's drawing room was decidedly French -- Architectural Record 1901 (copyright expired)
Cutting sold the Fifth Avenue mansion to the widow of artist Albert Bierstadt, Mary E. Bierstadt, as the family (there would be six children in all) moved to East 67th Street and Madison Avenue.

The banker was probably better known for his social reform involvements than his highly-successful financial profession.  He was president of the New York Trade School that trained young men in various branches of skilled labor and chairman of the Citizens’ Union, a political group developed to fight the boss system and partisan politics.   The Union expressed its object as “Honest, efficient and intelligent city government” and said “it is a union of men in all employments: in business, in the trades, in the professions, standing on the common ground of good citizenship.”

On the other hand, Cutting was a true New York patrician who always wore evening dress to nighttime meetings and was a member of the elite Century and City Clubs.  The grand mansion, therefore, would lead a double life—one of glittering dances and dinners as well as the scene of passionate reform committee meetings.

Cutting's library was sumptuously masculine -- Architectural Record 1901 (copyright expired)
The Cuttings summered at their villa in Tuxedo Park, but the winter season ushered in grand entertainments.  On November 20, 1902 The Times noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fulton Cutting are in their house at 24 East Sixty-seventh Street for the Winter.  They will give a dance early next month.”  In December of the following year Helen Cutting gave “a small dinner” for 76 guests.

In contrast on December 22, 1908 Cutting hosted a meeting of the New York Milk Committee of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.  The group discussed the question of healthful milk supplies, the education of new mothers in using it, and ways to cut down on the infant mortality rate during hot summer months.

The years just prior to World War I were filled with joyous events in the Cutting mansion.  In May of 1914 son Fulton Cutting’s engagement to Boston debutante Mary Josephine Amory was announced.  In December 1915 Helen hosted a large dance and supper in the house.  To distinguish it from the many debutante functions taking place in December, The Times noted “The guests included married couples and the older girls and dancing men.”

In April, 1916, daughter Ruth Cutting married Reginal La Grange Auchincloss in St. George’s Church.   Whispered rumors filled society parlors two months later when her sister, Elizabeth McEvers Cutting, was married to Dr. Stafford McLean in the Cutting mansion with no prior announcement and no guests.  A rushed ceremony behind family doors could mean only one scandalous thing to society gossipers.

The happy times at No. 24 East 67th Street came to a tragic end in 1918.  With World War I raging, Fulton, a radio expert, had joined the Army and Charles Suydam Cutting was a Second Lieutenant in the intelligence department.

The Cutting's 42-year old son, Robert Bayard Cutting, was Associate Organizing Secretary of the Y.M.C.A.   He left for France in September 1917 to take charge of the Y.M.C.A. “hut” and to open new areas in advanced sections of the front.   In March he became ill with “intestinal problems,” and on April 1 underwent an operation.

On April 5, before the Cuttings received any official notice, The Sun reported “Robert Bayard Cutting…died at an American base hospital on Monday after an operation.  The burial took place on Tuesday…in France.”

One of the last large assemblies in the Cutting mansion was held on April 26, 1922 when 200 women heard James R. Sheffield speak on “Republican Issues.”  The former President of the National Republican Club urged the women “to become affiliated with one of the great political parties, at the same time stressing the superior qualities of the Republican Party,” reported The Times.

Two months later the Cuttings moved to 17 East 71st Street.  R. Fulton Cutting leased the 62nd Street mansion to Jerome C. and Mortimer G. Mayer.  The New York Times reported that “A Madison Avenue residential landmark will make way for business use soon.”

The contract allowed the home to be “altered for business purposes by the lessees,” who announced they would renovate the ground floor into stores.

The Evening Telegram mourned the coming loss, remembering the house as “the scene of some of the most notable incidents in the fashionable life of New York.”

After the renovation, stores fill the street level and retail signs are affixed to the facade -- photo NYPL Collection

The first floor was, indeed, converted to retail space and the upper floors became apartments.  Then, in 1962 the once-grand mansion was demolished to be replaced by a white brick box with windows.

1 comment:

  1. Why would they ever demolish a building like this? I realize the cost of upkeep and repairs, but I think that's part of the responsibility of purchasing such a historic building. Even if it's not deemed a landmark, it was so beautiful!