Thursday, July 5, 2012

The 1932 John J. Sloane Mansion -- Nos. 48-50 East 92nd Street

photo by Alice Lum
In October 1930 John J. Sloane took title to two three-story Victorian brownstone houses at Nos. 48 and 50 East 92nd Street.   Sloane was president of the W. &. J. Sloane company and a member of the socially prominent and extremely wealthy family that had amassed fortunes from the carpeting and decorating firm.   The family-owned company was among the foremost custom furniture makers, carpeting suppliers and interior design firms in the country.

The Sloanes lived ten blocks south at the time and joined other millionaires who were building restrained French and English mansions in the area.  Earlier that year Virginia Fair Vanderbilt had completed her grand limestone Louis XV-style mansion on East 93rd Street, next door to the plot where William Goadby Loew was erecting his massive Regency-style home.

Like these, the Sloane mansion would be elegant and chaste—a distinct departure from the overly-ornamented confections of a generation earlier.  Architect James C. MacKenzie Jr. was commissioned to replace the two middle-class brownstones with a 40-foot wide residence worthy of London’s Mayfair district.

photo by Alice Lum
Completed in 1932, the five-story, plus penthouse, limestone-clad residence oozed cultivated taste.  Sitting aloofly behind a tall wrought iron fence on a marble wall, its architectural decoration was understated and refined.   Four stylized Corinthian pilasters defined the first floor which was accessed by a short flight of three marble steps.  The fifth floor, according to the Department of Buildings, was devoted to servants’ quarters.

In 1886, through funds donated by William D. Sloane and his wife, Emily Thorn Vanderbilt Sloane, the Sloane Maternity Hospital had been founded.  Childbirth in the 19th century was a significant risk and infant mortality rates were high.  The Sloane family's tradition of combating the problem continued through Mrs. John Sloane.

President of the Maternity Center Association, which was founded in 1918 to reduce extreme maternal and infant mortality rates, Mrs. Sloane immediately opened the new house for her charity work.   One of these events she may have later regretted.

On the afternoon of January 22, 1933 she hosted a reception for the cast members of the play “Evensong” which would stage a performance for the benefit of the Association.    Among the guests was British actor Frederick Manthorp who lived in a furnished room at 265 West 81st Street.  When Manthorp later attempted to extort $2000 from Mrs. Sloane by threatening to murder her, his plan failed miserably.  The intrepid Mrs. Sloane went to detectives and the actor was arrested and held at $10,000 bail.  He explained that he merely “sought money to aid his destitute parents.”

In addition to the 92nd Street house, the Sloanes maintained a country estate, Pastureland, in Far Hills, New Jersey.  A month after they gave a dance there for “members of the younger set” in anticipation of daughter Grace Elsie’s debut, Mrs. Sloane hosted an afternoon reception at No. 48.  That event was significant for the family, for not only was Grace Elsie introduced to society, but her cousins Alma Nicoll and Elizabeth Nicoll Lawrence were as well.
photo by Alice Lum

One of the most memorable events in the house occurred in 1938 when John was made a member of the French Legion of Honor during a dinner.  The award was presented by Count Rene Doynel de Saint-Quentin, the French Ambassador to the United States.

Unlike the society dinners and balls thrown by Sloane’s turn-of-the-century relatives, affairs in the 92nd Street house were most often charity affairs.  In addition to the Maternity Center, one of the favored causes was the Union Settlement that worked to educate and assist underprivileged youths.   On April 13, 1943 the Sloanes hosted a concert in the house “to advance the musical education work” at the Settlement, as The Times reported.

Musicales, teas, dinners and receptions were slowly coming to an end here, however.

After Grace Elisie was married to Cyrus Roberts Vance in 1947 the house was, perhaps, a bit too much for the Sloanes.  A few years later, in 1953, the house was turned over to Mrs. Sloane’s most passionate cause, the Maternity Center Association.  The house was renovated as headquarters, with one-family apartments on the fifth and penthouse levels.  The Association worked from the house for half a century, producing the first film on family life and sex education, which was nominated for an Academy Award, publishing pamphlets and guides on childbirth and establishing a nurse-midwife school.
photo by Alice Lum

In 1996 the house was sold to George McFadden of the McFadden Brothers investment firm for $5.5 million.  After McFadden and his wife, Carol, did a multi-million dollar renovation, the mansion was returned to a single family residence.

The interiors, after years of being used by the Maternity Center then renovated into a single family home, would be quite unfamiliar to Mrs. John Sloane -- photo
In March 1998 the couple put the house back on the market and it caught the eye of filmmaker Woody Allen.  Allen, 63-years old at the time, was said to have realized his 4,000 square foot duplex penthouse on Fifth Avenue was too small for him, his 28-year old wife Soon-Yi-Previn and their newborn Bechet Dumaine Allen.   Allen paid $17.7 million for the Sloane house in August 1999.

John Sloane’s sedate English mansion was for sale again in 2012 with the somewhat jarring price tag of $43.1 million.  The exterior remains pristinely preserved; an reminder of a time when the fabulously rich built incredible homes in the midst of the Great Depression.


  1. Hopefully someone gets the chance to renovate those awful interiors out of existence and restore something that is more in keeping with the dignified and classic facade.

    1. I agree!! The interior is absolutely GHASTLY.

  2. It is so great to learn the history of this home (I'm glad I found this blog). I was born here in 1979, when it was still a maternity center. In 1997 when I was senior in high school, I went to visit, not knowing (and not checking first) that the maternity center had moved to St. Vincent's. What a gorgeous and special place to be able to say that I was born.

  3. I worked at the MCA mailroom in the mid 80s. Rumor among the staff was that the building was haunted. Items would disappear and show mysteriously weeks later. Heard some strange stories from colleagues. Weirdest thing I personally witnessed was pulling a bathroom door closed on the fifth floor and having the door pulled in the other direction. The bathroom was empty as I had just left it. I quit the next morning.