Saturday, April 14, 2012

The 1931 Charles C. Auchincloss House -- No. 120 East 70th Street

At the turn of the last century things were changing on East 70th Street block between Park and Lexington Avenues.   The noisy, dirty trains that ran down the middle of Park Avenue were being moved underground and covered by park-like boulevards.  Many of the merchant-class brownstones of a generation earlier were being replaced by more fashionable homes as the neighborhood became more acceptable.

On May 6, 1902 the three-story brownstone house at No. 120 East 70th Street was sold and in December plans were filed by architect W. S. Post for a new five-story “brick dwelling” with a projected cost of $30,000.  Before construction of the house was completed in 1903 it had been sold to Clinton H. Crane.

Crane was a well-respected yacht designer and broker, a partner in the firm Tams, Lemoine & Crane.   The company designed and built some of the best-known yachts of the time, including large ocean-worthy steam yachts.  Crane’s specialty was the “race-about class” of boats, designed for speed in regattas and cup races.  When the America’s Cup was lost in 1912, Forest and Stream magazine complained “Had Crane been given an order for a cup defender, it is pretty certain we still would have had the trophy in this country.”

Crane and his wife lived in No. 120 until 1911 when it was sold to Edgar Stirling Auchincloss.  At the time of the sale The New York Times remarked “The house contains an electric elevator, and was carefully built throughout, being one of the handsomest dwellings in the residential streets between Park and Lexington Avenue.”

Auchincloss, who had married Catherine Sanford Agnew in 1903, was a broker with the firm of C. E. Welles & Company that had succeeded Welles, Auchincloss & West.  The wealthy family spent their winters on East 70th Street while idling the summers away in Rye, New York; Kennebunkport, Maine; or Darien, Connecticut.

A year after the family moved in Edgar's brother, Gordon, married Janet House.  The newlyweds made their home in the East 70th Street resident.   Apparently such an arrangement was expected within the family because their brother Samuel Sloan Auchincloss, who had married Mrs. Emma Guidet Duryee in 1910, was living here with his wife as well.

In 1930 the Auchincloss family moved on and Edgar's third brother, Charles Crooke Auchincloss took over the property.  Charles and his wife, the former Rosamond Saltonstall of Boston, had been fixture in New York society since their marriage in 1906.   For about a decade they had been living in a mansion at 12 East 71st Street, just off Fifth Avenue.

Carved Adams-style woodwork adorned the stairhall -- photo
An attorney and stockbroker, Charles was also an ardent collector of rare books.   On October 19, 1930 The Times announced his plans to replace the 70th Street house with “a five-story, brick, marble and granite trim resident…from plans by Edward S. Hewitt.”   Completed a year later, the new house was a prim, stylized neo-Georgian design in keeping with the upscale homes on what Fortune Magazine would nine-years later dub “the most beautiful residential block” in the city.  The elegant interiors were decorated with period antique furnishings, tapestries, oriental rugs and imported antique mantles.  Mrs. Auchincloss poured tea in a Louis V drawing room and to house Charles’s extensive book collection there was a wood-paneled Georgian library.

Gas lamps glow on either side of the marble entrance steps shortly after the house was completed -- photo Library of Congress
Apparently impressed, four years later Dr. John Erdmann hired Hewitt to create a new, near matching fa├žade for his house next door at No. 122.

The Auchinclosses owned a summer estate in Roslyn, Long Island and, aside from their charity interests, were active members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Zoological Society.  They stayed on in the house until Charles’s death on May 14, 1961.

In 2012 the 16-room Auchincloss mansion was put on the market for $32 million.   It has been lovingly preserved;an important link in the chain of impressive homes that make up this block. 

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