Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Unique 1930 Henry R. Winthrop House -- No. 120 East 78th Street

photo by Alice Lum
The announcement of millionaire banker Henry Rogers Winthrop's engagement to Alice Woodward Babcock on August 7, 1905 was, according to The New York Times, “not a surprise, for Mr. Winthrop has been devoted to Miss Babcock for several years.”

The wedding would be a society event.  Winthrop was directly descended from John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts and his mother was Sara Townsend, daughter of Isaac Townsend.  The Times noted that “Miss Babcock, like her fiancé, has been prominent in society since her debut.”

The Yale-educated Winthrop was, by now, a director in several banks, director and financial secretary of the Equitable Life Assurance Society and held memberships in the exclusive Knickerbocker, University, Union and other clubs. 
Twenty-four years later, in 1929, the couple’s daughter Alice married Robert G. Payne. The following year Winthrop commissioned architects Delano & Aldrich to design a new townhouse next door to the Winthrop’s existing mansion.

On February 5, 1930 the firm filed plans for a six-story house where Major W. de Lancy Kountze’s former home, a three-story brownstone house above an English basement, stood at No. 120 East 78th Street.  The new structure, estimated at filing to cost $100,000, would stand out among its neighbors.

Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia pavilions, the architects created a neo-Georgian house with a scene-stealing entrance niche.  Trading interior space for drama, Delano & Aldrich cut deeply into the façade and swept a curving marble staircase up to the offset entrance door.  The arms of the elegant iron fence bowed out to the property line, mirroring the shape of the entrance alcove.
photo by Alice Lum
The upper floors of red brick were subtly trimmed in limestone, allowing the first and basement floors to soak up the attention.  Inside, the rooms boasted French paneling, rich hardwoods and carved marble mantles.

Original detailing, like the French paneling, survives -- photo
When Henry and Alice Winthrop moved out of No. 120, they transferred the deed to their daughter.  In 1946 she sold the house to Jorge R. Andre, Jr.   Andre had married the former wife of Daniel E. Sickles and with her came her three young daughters.  For years the house would be the scene of all the entertaining, preparations and rituals associated with the debuts and weddings of wealthy society girls.

While the house was large and comfortable, it could not accommodate lavish entertaining such as was common in the double-wide Frederic Grosvenor Goodridge mansion next door at No. 122.   Mrs. Andre, therefore, chose the Ritz-Carlton for the supper dance on December 21, 1949 for daughter Carolyn’s debut.  The debutante had recently returned to New York from her studies at the Chateau Brilliantmont in Switzerland.
Exactly one year later to the day, Antoinette Sickles was introduced to society at a large supper dance in the Biltmore Roof; and in 1954 daughter Sonda made her debut.

Titled suitors seemed to be drawn to the Sickle girls.  In 1955 Antoinette became Donna Antoinette Guerrini-Maraldi of Rome when she married Nobile Demetrio.  Later that year, in September, Carolyn married Count Franco Lucioli Ottieri della Caja in Paris, where her father Daniel E. Sickles was living.

Sondra broke the string of titled marriages when she wed American James Phelan on June 22, 1959.  The reception was held in the East 78th Street house.
The recessed entrance makes the house unique in Manhattan -- photo by Alice Lum
Two years later Charles M. Spofford, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera’s executive committee, was living here.  It was Spofford who pushed the Met’s committee to accept Robert Moses’s offer to move its house to the West Side, resulting in Lincoln Center.
By the 1970s the house was home to Harold and Marjorie Reed.  After Mrs. Reed moved out in 1976, the couple divorced and Harold opened the Harold Reed Gallery here where Reed highlighted 20th century American artists.

By 2011 when the house was put on the market for $26 million, there had been changes made.  There was now a wine storage room for 630 bottles, an elevator and a “very inviting gym,” according to a real estate agent.
Delano & Aldrich’s bold design created a townhouse unique in Manhattan that, happily, remains intact.


  1. Wow, that's a new one on me. Singularly distinctive. Thanks for posting.

  2. never stop posting. it took me years to find people who blogged about the fine grand days of "Architecture Perfected" in my opinion. I always lament at the ones lost to us though but im thankful for what is still here

  3. I've seen this house many times and always thought it was a recent renovation that was responsible for the exceptionally conceived entryway. Turns out not so recent after all. It is a standout ....I'm not surprised at the prices being asked, despite it being on the narrow side..