Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 1907 Anson McCook Beard House -- No. 47 E. 68th Street

photo by Alice Lum
At high noon on April 3, 1902, New York attorney Anson McCook Beard was in the St. Paul mansion of James J. Hill, President of the Great Northern Railway and Northern Securities Company.  Beard was about to marry Hill’s daughter, Ruth.

The headline in the New York Times society pages that day remarked “Well-Known Capitalist’s Daughter Is Bride of New Yorker”   It was one of the first hints that Anson McCook Beard would forever play second-stage to his powerful father-in-law.

It was what The Times called a “quiet wedding” with only 130 guests, officiated by the St. Paul Archbishop.    As he had done for his eldest daughter, James Hill allowed Ruth to select a painting from “his splendid gallery.”  The newspaper added that “The bride, among other presents, received $250,000 in bonds from her father for pin money.”  J. P. Morgan added to the pile by giving Ruth a solid gold salver.

There would be no long European tour for the couple’s honeymoon.  Instead they went directly to North Oaks, the summer estate of James Hill near St. Paul.    Although there were distinct advantages to marrying into the Hill family, Beard doubtlessly realized he had a task ahead of him in keeping up with his bride’s daddy.

He brought his new wife back to New York City and before long plans were underway for an appropriate residence.  Beard purchased the brownstone rowhouse at No. 47 East 68th Street in what was rapidly developing into a block of impressive mansions.   One-by-one the respectable but outdated homes of the 1870s were being altered or replaced by fashionable residences for the city’s upper class.  Beard intended his new home, just steps from Fifth Avenue and Central Park, to reflect his (and his wife’s) social and financial status.

The family ate in a Colonial-style dining room, watched over by a moose head -- photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The brownstone was razed in 1906 and construction began on the new mansion.  Designed by Adams & Warren, it would be a six-story Italian Renaissance showplace.   The house was completed in 1907 and, as was the customary among the upper classes, the title was in Ruth Beard’s name.  Three shallow stone steps led to the rusticated entrance under a handsome stone balcony that stretched nearly the width of the structure.  Deep, hefty pediments surmounted the second floor windows.  The top floor, in the steep mansard roof, sat behind a stone balustrade supported by a bracketed cornice.

The newly-completed house is flanked by still-surviving brownstones -- photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York
 The Beards settled in to the new mansion with their two children, Anson McCook Jr. and Mary, and became, as The New York Times would remark “well known in the social life of the city.”   The successful lawyer provided his family with summer estates in Tuxedo Park and Southampton.    He had been one of the leading athletes in his Yale class, and it was reflected in his choice of exclusive men’s clubs.   In addition to his membership in the Down Town club, a private men’s luncheon club, he was a member of the Racquet and Tennis Club and the Metropolitan Riding Club.

Ruth Beard's music room reflected the contemporary interest in Colonial Revival -- photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The advent of the Great Depression could not stop the elaborate preparations for the debut of daughter Mary Hill Beard in 1929.  The big night came on August 11 when the Beard’s presented their daughter with a dinner and dance at the Beach Club in Southampton.    It was a lavish affair with a extensive guest list peppered with society names like Belmont, Havemeyer, Carnegie, Whitney and Dodge.

Within weeks, however, the mood at the Beard Southampton estate grew less festive as Anson McCook Beard suffered “a stroke of apoplexy.”   He seemed briefly to improve and on September 8 The New York Times gave hope, still managing to put James J. Hill in the forefront.  “Anson Beard, son-in-law of the late James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad, is recovering at his home here after a serious illness, Mrs. Beard said today.”

The East 68th Street Conservatory -- photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The recovery was not to be.  Anson Beard was moved to his Tuxedo Park house where the 55-year old attorney died at 3:00 in the afternoon on November 9, 1929.  His obituary the following day made clear note of his father-in-law.

The widowed Ruth Hill Beard returned with her children to East 68th Street and observed the expected 12 months of mourning.  That being out of the way she announced her engagement, on December 30, 1930—exactly one year and 21 days after her husband’s death—to the fabulously wealthy Pierre Lorillard.   “The engagement is of wide interest, as it concerns families of much prominence here and in Tuxedo Park, where Mrs. Beard has a villa,” said The New York Times.  Lorillard’s father, incidentally, had founded that community.

Guest filed through the iron-grilled doors for the wedding of Ruth Beard to Pierre Lorillard --photo by Alice Lum
The wedding took place in the house on East 68th Street less than two months later, on February 3.  The house was decorated “with palms, smilax and Spring flowers,” noted The Times and the choir from the Church of St. Paul the Apostle provided the music.  “During the ceremony they hummed a thirteenth-century hymn,” said the newspaper.   The couple honeymooned in Palm Beach.

Daughter Mary married Frederick C. Havemeyer II, and in March 1934 young Anson Beard became engaged to Rosanne Hoar.   In announcing the betrothal, The New York Times made particular note that “He is a grandson of the late James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad.”  Even now, Anson McCook Beard could not get his proper recognition.

The second-story stair hall -- photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York
With the children grown and married Ruth Hill Beard Lorillard sold the house in which she had lived for nearly three decades.  It remained a private home until 1955 when the National Municipal League, Inc. purchased and renovated it for offices.   The organization, founded in 1894, was intended to unite reform groups in order to unseat corrupt local governments.

Somewhat surprisingly for a mid-20th century renovation, architect James E. Casale preserved most of the architectural detailing.  The paneling of the 18-foot high library and ballroom survived, as did the six-foot high mantels in both rooms.  In order to preserve the exquisite plastered ceilings, drop ceilings were installed.

photo by Alice Lum
Then in 1988 Dr. Samuel Mandel purchased No. 47 East 68th Street and reconverted it to residential purposes.   Mandel installed his dermatology office in the basement and transformed Ruth Beard’s mansion into two apartments—the first three floors became the home of the doctor and his wife, Annette; and the top two were now a luxurious rental duplex with two terraces.

Ten years later the doctor retired and rented the former medical offices to Keith de Lellis who established his vintage photography gallery here.    When Lellis left the space in 2006, Mandel put the house on the market for $26.8 million.   The 20-room mansion was reduced in price to $24, before Dr. Mandel finally accepted the surprisingly low offer of $19 million from 43-year old Carlos Aljandro Perz Davila.

The new owner began a one-year restoration and renovation.    Preservation architectural firm Preserv cleaned and repaired the stone fa├žade, restored the wrought and cast iron decoration, and replaced the copper two-story mansard cladding.

A workman from Preserv replaces the copper cladding on the mansard level --
Inside the 12,400 square foot mansion, designer Peter Marino created three condominium apartments.  Marino had already worked on the restoration of the Palazzo Sernagiotto in Venice and Britain’s Ascott House.   The designer promised that “the rooms are large, the ceilings are high, and there’s very ornate original detail—which will be kept.”

The house at No. 47 East 68th Street, home to the daughter of a railroad baron and wife of a less-famous attorney, is remarkably preserved—a page from an elegant and lost period along this block.
photo by Alice Lum


  1. Beautiful! Great pictures, too! Would luv to get inside this one!

  2. Great post! I would love to visit it.

  3. I was Mary's nurse, she was a delightful person; told so many wonderful stories Poet R.B.Rose