Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The 1909 Arthur Sachs House -- No. 58 E. 66th Street

photo by Alice Lum
With the return of New York’s laborers at the end of the Civil War and the official completion of Central Park in 1873, the blocks just east of Fifth Avenue above 54th Street experienced a building boom.  In 1877 Ira E. Doying built a string of ten rowhouses on East 66th Street, stretching from No. 46 to No. 64.  Designed by J. H. Valentine, the comfortable brownstone residences were intended for the merchant class.  The mansions of New York’s wealthiest citizens were still 20 blocks to the south.

But by the turn of the century things had changed.  Hotels and retail shops were overtaking the Fifth Avenue mansions of the Astors, Vanderbilts and Goelets, and “Millionaires’ Row” had moved northward along the Park.  One by one the brownstone homes of a generation earlier were being replaced or altered.

In 1903 the brownstone house at No. 58 East 66th Street was owned by Samuel Adams, a 67-year old married man who had an eye for the younger ladies.  On July 14, of that year it landed him in the Yorkville Court.

The New York Times explained that Adams “has clung to the flirting habit, although the hair on the top of his head has long since let go.”  The proximity of his home to Central Park made his “flirting habit” easy.  “Naturally poetic and aesthetic, Adams has also the correlative—a fine discrimination of the value of the glint and sheen of sun and moon on leaves and foliage—and so has made the Ramble in the Park the scene of his attacks upon many hearts,” said the newspaper

The man with the wandering eye had finally been caught in his “heart-breaking campaign extending over a period of four years” when Annie Stein charged him with promising to marry her.  Having told the woman that he was 49-years old, he led her to believe he was rich; saying that he owned a brownstone worth $25,000.

When Annie Stein found out he was married, the jig was up.  Her lawyer told the judge, “He is not fair.  He flirts with girls so young that he might be their father’s father; and he makes promises which he cannot keep.  Just in this instance—to Miss Stein—he promised her a brownstone house.  He’s married too!”

Adams protested that it was all just a joke.  Explaining that his wife was at home, sick, he said “I did it merely for a little fun.  Just went into the park to have a little…”

The Magistrate finished the sentence for him.  “Flirtation.”

The judge then turned to the complainant and asked why Miss Stein “had not repulsed this aged wooer.”  She could not answer, so her attorney replied for her.

“You see this woman is single and thought the man a catch.”

The judge considered the case and ruled in Adams’ favor.  “The Magistrate decided that Miss Stein had met Adams freely of her own volition after he had first cast his magnetic glance upon her and discharged him,” said The Times.

Samuel Adams would have to find a new spot for flirting before long.  Five years later the house was purchased by financier Arthur Sachs.  A member of the firm Goldman, Sachs, Co., he had married the former Alice Goldschmidt two years earlier.  Now with their first child, James Henry Sachs, a year old it was time for a new home.

On December 23, 1908 The Times reported that plans had been filed for a five-story dwelling on the site of Adam’s brownstone.   Sachs commissioned the firm of Buchman & Fox to design his mansion.  The eight year old partnership had already produced apartment buildings in Manhattan and sprawling country homes.  The architects told the newspapers that “It is to be of limestone in the design of the French Renaissance, with a balcony with large casement windows over the central entrance.”  

The mansion was completed within the year at a cost of around $25,000—about $750,000 today.  As was common, the deed was put in Alice’s name, assuring her financial stability.  As promised, the limestone house smacked of France.  Formal and grand, it sat on a rusticated base where the centered, recessed entrance was framed in leafy carving.  A dramatic arched lintel over the French doors and flanking windows of the second floor was echoed in an elaborate arched pediment at the fourth story that burst through the cornice into the mansard roof.

The second story windows are boarded closed in 2013 as renovations are done -- photo by Alice Lum
The Sachs family would stay on at No. 58 until 1919.  That year Sachs purchased two brownstone homes on East 69th Street and built a mansion over twice the width of the 20-foot wide 66th Street house. 

The earlier mansion was purchased by Yale-educated banker Lewis Brown Gawtry and his wife, the former Olive Van Rensselaer.  The socially-prominent couple moved in with their two daughters, Olive and Beatrice.  Gawtry  was a significant figure in the power companies of New York.  He was Vice President of Consolidated Gas Co. of New York; secretary and director of New York Edison Company; and sat on the boards of the United Electric Light and Power Co., the Brush Electric Illuminating Company, Consolidated Telegraph and Electric Subway Company, National Code and Coal Company, Mutual Gas Light, Company, and several others.

But it was his work with the Boy Scouts of America for which he would be remembered.

In 1910 when the Boy Scouts was founded child labor was common.  Most workers had only six years of formal schooling and 1.7 million children between the ages of 10 and 15 were full-time workers.  Boy Scouts were recruited in the schools, so working boys had little chance of joining the organization.

In 1914 Gawtry was a member of the BSA’s National Council and it occurred to him that a troop could be formed within his Consolidated Gas Co. for its young workers.  On May 1 that year he founded the first of what would be known as the “industrial troops” for office boys and clerks in three utility companies.  Consolidated Gas Co. then paid for the establishment of Camp Gawtry 40 miles north of the city.

Here struggling youths spent weekends in the country, both summer and winter.  Calling themselves the “gas house gang,” they enjoyed a large building with a dormitory that housed thirty scouts, assembly room with a stone fireplace, and kitchen.  Most of the boys had never left the city and suddenly they were learning nature skills, sledding and taking field trips to a Pennsylvania mine to see where the gas for their company’s fuel came from.

Gawtry believed that the boys would be more efficient workers because their health would be improved by the outdoor live.  He further thought that the teamwork they learned at camp would carry through to the workplace and life in general.  His firm belief in the ideals of the scouting program and his interest in the welfare of the boys resulted in his position as National Treasurer of the Boy Scouts of America.

photo by Alice Lum
In the meantime, the house on East 66th Street continued to be the site of glittering entertainments, including the debutante teas and receptions for Olive and Beatrice.  None of the events was more noteworthy than the wedding of Olive to Robert Wallace Tilney in mansion on May 3, 1934.

With their daughters grown, the Gawtrys moved to a lavish apartment at No. 610 Park Avenue in 1942.  The house was leased for a year by Cecil Rhodes; then purchased by the Joseph L. Ennis & Co., operators.  The cash sale was one of six houses the firm bought simultaneously, possibly causing speculation among real estate watchers.

But any thoughts that the mansion would be razed for an apartment building were put to rest when Dr. Gerald O’Brien paid $57,000 in cash for the house in February 1944.  Before the 45-year old O’Brien moved in with his wife, Felice, he had some alterations done.  The first floor was converted to the doctor’s office, connected to the couple’s duplex apartment on the second and third stories.  The two floors above each became a luxurious rental apartment.  One of the windows flanking the entrance became a door to access the residences upstairs.

O’Brien was on the staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital and St. Clare’s Hospital;  but his income was fattened through other enterprises.

O’Brien was the medical director of the International Longshoremen’s Association—an organization notoriously connected at the time with gangland activities and corruption.   Unlike Lewis Gawtry’s ideals, the doctor’s may not have fallen along the lines of the Boy Scouts of America.

Among the patients visiting No. 58 West 66th Street was the infamous mobster Frank Costello.  The Italian-born gangster was known as “the Prime Minister” and had risen to the top of America’s underworld.    His testimony during the 1951 Senate Kefauver hearings caused a sensation since, by now, he was considered the number one gangster in the U.S.   He caused problems for himself when a committee member asked “What have you done for your country, Mr. Costello?”  The mobster spat back “Paid my tax!” and walked out of the chamber.

His defiance cost him an 18-month jail sentence for contempt, followed by a five-year sentence for tax evasion in 1954.  Although free on $50,000 bail, the 63-year old Costello was restricted from leaving the State of New York.  He sought the help of Dr. O’Brien to lengthen his leash.

On November 1, 1955 The New York Times reported that the physician recommended a month in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  His patient, he said, “was suffering from laryngitis and a post-nasal drip.”  The judge apparently did not agree with the treatment and a month later the same newspaper reported “Frank Costello will spend the winter in and around New York—by court order.”

On September 19, 1959 Dr. Gerald F. O’Brien died at his summer home in Croton Falls, New York.  The doctor was just 57-years old.

photo by Alice Lum
Today the French-inspired mansion is little changed.  Its reserved façade gives no hint at the three remarkably different families who lived inside.

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