Thursday, January 31, 2013

The J. A. Murray House -- No. 57 E. 66th Street

photo by Alice Lum
Among the row of comfortable brownstone residences built in the decade after the end of the Civil War along East 66th Street near Central Park was No. 57.  Designed by J. H. Valentine and completed in 1877, it was originally the home of Ira E. Doying.   Henry V. D. Black and his wife, Jennie Prince Black, moved into the house in 1890.  It was Mrs. Black who was most well-known.  A composer and musician, she penned nearly 100 compositions.

The block was populated by upper class citizens and one can imagine an Irish-born servant girl pushing open the pocket doors to the Black’s parlor and arranging the silver card tray on the entrance hall table in preparation for Jennie Black’s afternoon teas.  The New York Times made note on January 25, 1893 that “Mrs. Black will receive on Fridays in January and February.”

But by the turn of the century, things were changing in the neighborhood.  On December 22, 1900 The New York Times reported on movements in the Fifth Avenue district.  William Sloane, it said, had bought four lots from Andrew Carnegie on 91st Street and hinted that “he has bought the lots as the site for two fine residences which he will build for members of his family.”  The article gave an update on the Carnegie mansion “now in course of construction,” and a purchase by John Jacob Astor.

Along with other transactions, the newspaper reported that Mrs. Jennie P. Black had sold “the four-story brownstone-front dwelling, 57 East Sixty-sixth Street.”

The rising neo-Georgian Carnegie mansion would be among the first of the grand homes that departed from the lush Italian or French palaces with limestone or marble facades.   Its red brick with contrasting white stone trim would set a trend of dignity and reserve.

The same materials would be used in the new house John Archibald Murray would erect on the site of the Black residence.   Murray commissioned architect Augustus N. Allen to design the mansion.  Construction on the four-story home began in 1901.  Allen’s design melded neo-French Classic with English Georgian styling to produce a distinguished result.  The rusticated base with its columned portico would be at home in the Mayfair section of London; while the limestone frames of the second story windows dripped with carved swags.

Construction was completed in 1902.  Before long Murray and his wife, the former Alice Rathbone of Albany, had two daughters, Leslie and Barbara.   The socially-prominent Murrays would entertain some of New York’s most elite families in the house; including the debutante receptions and teas for both girls.

After Leslie’s introduction to society in 1917, she busied herself as a nurse’s aide in various hospitals throughout the city during the war years.   A member of the Junior League, she caught the eye of the dashing and eligible Major Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, Jr.—a descendant of John Jacob Astor.

On February 8, 1920 the New-York Tribune mentioned that “One of the interesting engagements announced during the week was that of Miss Leslie Murray, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Archibald Murray, of 57 East Sixty-sixth Street, to Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, Jr.”  Chanler, who was a member of exclusive Knickerbocker and Racquet Clubs, had served in the 321st Field Artillery.

When the pair was married on April 17 of that year, the Tribune noted that the “wedding united two of New York’s oldest families.”  The social importance of the event was emphasized by the appearance of Flora Payne Whitney as a bridesmaid.  The reception was held in the 66th Street house.

The following year, in December, the Murrays hosted a dinner party for debutante daughter Barbara.  It was followed by a dance at the John Henry Hammond mansion.

With both daughters gone in 1927 John and Alice Murray sold their house.   It became home to Francis D. Bartow, his wife and two sons.  Bartow was a Vice President of J. P. Morgan and would soon hold a directorship with the General Electric Company.

Two years after the Bartows moved in the Great Depression swept the country.   In stark contrast to the their stately brick and limestone home, shanties of the homeless began appearing in small groups under bridges and in parks.   As part of its “war-against depression campaign,” the American Federation of Labor initiated a “block aid” movement.   Pledges were sought from between 10 cents to $1 per week for twenty weeks “to assist those of the needy unemployed who have not been aided by public or private agencies.” 

The Times reported on April 1, 1932 “From ‘Tin Mountain City,’ comprising four acres of shacks and emergency shelters in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, to the towering apartments of Beekman Hill in Manhattan the work of recruiting block-aiders and of obtaining pledges went on at an accelerated pace.”  The article said that the first three days of the campaign had resulted in $2,214,395 in pledges.

“The first family to be placed officially on the honor list was that of F. B. Bartow, 57 East Sixty-sixth Street,” said The Times.  “Mr. and Mrs. Bartow, their two children and eight servants had subscribed.”

Change to Francis Bartow’s professional career came in 1941.  On June 28 it was announced that Charles D. Dickey, also a Vice President of J. P. Morgan & Co., had succeeded him as director of General Electric—a post Bartow had held since 1934.  Three days later Bartow resigned his vice presidency of J. P. Morgan; although he retained his directorship.

Francis Dwight Bartow’s retirement would be short-lived.  In 1945 he died at the family’s winter home, Brewton Plantation, near Charleston, South Carolina.    His widow lived on in the 66th Street house with her two sons until Clarence Whittemore Bartow married Elizabeth Vaux Ingersoll Woolston in Tuxedo Park on November 12, 1949.  Clarence had served for four and a half years in the Pacific and Japan with the Army, earning the rank of captain.  By now was a partner in Drexel & Co. and a vice president of the Bond Club of New York.

Clarence’s brother, Francis D. Bartow, Jr., however, never married.  A partner in Bartow, Leeds & Co., dealers in Federal, state and municipal bonds, he remained in the house on 66th Street with his mother.   He died in New York Hospital at the age of 54 on March, 17, 1962.

A starkly different chapter in the life of the venerable home at No. 57 East 66th Street in 1974 when it was purchased by artist Andy Warhol for $310,000.  The mansion was found for him by Jed Johnson, a young man from Sacramento who had swept floors in Warhol’s “Factory” and eventually moved in with the artist and his mother on Lexington Avenue.  

He shared the 66th Street house with Warhol, who gave him carte blanche to decorate it with antique furniture and vintage art objects.  Warhol did not hang any of his own artwork in his house.  (This was Jed Johnson’s first real attempt at decorating and it would lead to his working with first-ranked architects and clients like Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, and Barbra Streisand.)

Johnson, who would die in the crash of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound in 1996, moved out after a few years.  Andy Warhol now lived here alone, making it his private, personal territory.  Few were invited into the house, including his most personal friends.  Warhol’s love of collecting soon overran Johnson’s stately interiors.  One friend, Ed Hayes, told New York Magazine in 1988 that “you had to climb over things” to move through the house.

After Warhol’s death in 1987 four curators spent months going through the items, cataloguing more than 6,000 pieces ranging from cookie jars to Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell paintings.

The real estate listing in 1991 defended the $3 million price tag: four bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, two kitchens, two parlors, library, entrance gallery, 11 fireplaces, two roof terraces and an elevator.

The price seemed reasonable to Spanish couple Adolfo Barnaton and Elena Benaroche who purchased the house that same year.  But they never moved in.  Two years later they sold it for $3.35 million, and in January 2000 it was sold again, this time to Chairman of MTV Tom Freston, for $6.5 million.

A plaque commemorated 13 of the 121-years of history in the house in 1998.
On August 6, 1998 to mark Andy Warhol’s 70th birthday a plaque was affixed to the fa├žade to remember his residency here.   The snub to the Murray and Bartow families is, perhaps, expected.


  1. Great post, as always. One minor correction though- as you point out, Warhol died in 1987 and Jed Johnson in1996. Was it Johnson who lived here alone after Warhol's death?

    1. That was badly worded, indeed! Thanks for catching that. should make more sense now!