Monday, February 18, 2013

The Lost 1901 Wm. Hall Mansion -- No. 1008 5th Avenue

Montgomery Schuyler pronounced Welch's over-the-top architecture "vulgar" -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The approaching tide of New York’s millionaires up Fifth Avenue was well under way when brothers William and Thomas Hall purchased the blockfront between 81st and 82nd Streets with the intention of erecting four speculative and spectacular mansions.  The developers commissioned Alexander Welch of Welch, Smith and Provot to design the residences

Completed in 1901, each stood on its own architecturally; but they created a harmonious whole.   The grandest, a brick and limestone beauty that stretched down 82nd Street, would become the home of Benjamin and Sarah Duke.  The mansion next door, at No. 1008, was purchased by William A. Hall.

Benjamin Duke would move into the house on the corner, next door to William and Sarah Hall -- photo NYPL Collection
William Hall was Director of the Publishers’ Paper Co.  He and his wife, the former Sarah Jewett Adams, had one son, Melvin.   Their robust Beaux Arts house was deemed by architectural critic Montgomery Schyler “vulgar,” but its location and neighbors firmly established the Halls’ social standing.   The deed was placed in Sarah’s name, and she filled the house with the expected French furniture, antique tapestries and expensive turn-of-the-century bric-a-brac.

Sarah Hall filled the entrance with a variety of furnishings--including a table placed oddly in front of the fireplace.  -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Just seven years after moving in, the Halls leased the house with all its furnishings.  The Sun, on September 15, 1908, noted that “Capt. James Pierre. Drouillard, a newcomer to the wealthy colony east of Central Park leased a handsome fireproof residence at No. 1008 Fifth avenue, contracting to pay $20,000 a year rental.”

The Drouillards leased the house with all the furnishings, including those in the dining room as pictured in 1905-- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Captain Drouillard, who had distinguished himself in the Boxer Rebellion and Spanish-American War, could afford the rent—which amounted to about $360,000 today.  His new bride, the former Ada Sorg had inherited a hefty $10 million from her father, Ohio tobacco manufacturer and politician Paul J. Sorg.  The captain entered the steel and fiber industry when he left the army and, according to The New York Times, “is also rich.”

Their move, said The Tribune, “practically completes the severance of the family of the late Congressman Paul J. Sorg from their old home in Middletown Ohio."  Sarah’s only brother, Arthur had already made New York City his legal residence and Captain Drouillard was in the process of doing the same.

The newlyweds moved into the Fifth Avenue mansion in 1909; but the honeymoon would not last long.  A few months later storm clouds gathered.  Ada would later relate that her husband had chosen the house and signed the lease without her knowledge.  “I had nothing to say about it,” she told reporters.

Tensions between the pair came to a head in September 1910.   Later, in July 1914, Ada would tell the court that “there was a misunderstanding between us that resulted in Capt. Drouillard leaving.”  As she explained it, “We had gone to a certain affair together and came back separately.  After that my husband never stayed there over night, but we attended dinners and teas together and my husband went to the theatre with me as late as last September.  After we separated I paid the household accounts and the rent.  Before that my husband paid them.”

Ada Sorg Drouillard remained in the house along with her brother-in-law until 1912.  She moved up the avenue to No. 1014 Fifth Avenue and continued her odd relationship with her husband.  “We never knew…whether we would live together again,” she later recalled.  “It was just one of those cases where we might have made up any day and again we might not.”   She frequently consulted him regarding household and business matters and he was in charge not only of the Drouillard estate, but the Sorg estate as well.

In the meantime the Hall family was enjoying their wealth and traveling extensively.  On January 23, 1913 Sarah and her son Melvin “steered their car into its Broadway garage,” as reported in the New-York Tribune.  Parking one’s car would normally not induce press coverage; but in this case it signaled the end of a 33-country road trip—the first ever attempted by amateur drivers.

When the Halls sailed from New York on June 10, 1911 they took along their 4-cylinder phaeton motorcar.   Sarah and her son did not originally intend do a two-year global automobile tour.  “They motored through England and Wales and then through nearly every country in Europe,” said The Tribune.  “From Naples their automobile was shipped to Bombay, and they spent several weeks driving through India.  They wore out dozens of tires on the roads to Ceylon, Sumatra, Java and the Malay Peninsula.  They motored up through Cochin China and southern China to Hong Kong, then through Japan and the Philippines.”

Now that they were in the Far East, the closest port to New York was California.  “Landing in San Francisco, the motorists traveled through northern Mexico, and then came home by way of the Santa Fe trail and through Denver, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Washington.”   Their 40,000-mile trip “wore out 117 tires and burned up 5,000 gallons of gasoline, but suffered no serious mishaps,” said the newspaper.

Now home, Sarah checked on her vacant house at No. 1008 Fifth Avenue.  And she was not pleased with her findings.

Not only did Captain Drouillard receive a divorce suit that year, he was sued by Sarah Hall for damages inflicted on the house and furnishings.  The New York Times reported that the complaint claimed “that through carelessness and inefficiency $9,000 worth of damage was done to the furnishings.  An extra $850 is demanded in order to restore the billiard room to its former condition, Capt. And Mrs. Drouillard, according to the complaint, having divided it into bedrooms.”

Ada Drouillard described Sarah Hall's antique chairs as "rotten." -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Because the Drouillards were now amicably divorced, Ada was sued as well.  She appeared in court on July 6, 1914 and scoffed at the allegations.  She had, she said, made a “mental inventory” upon leaving and all was in proper order.  “The only thing that was broken was a plaster bust of a lady, which was smashed by my maid a few days before we left, and the broken pieces were left there,” she said.

While Sarah listed damages and losses including holes in the rugs, stains on the upholstery, a missing tea set, artwork and a lamp; Ada vehemently accused her landlady of providing shoddy furnishings.

The holes in the entrance rug were already there, she insisted, and she hid them with jardinieres.   She described the two leather screens in the dining room as “on their last legs” and told of the rickety condition of other pieces.  “A month after she occupied the house she gave a party and in the midst of the gayeties the divan in the library broke and the guests went through to the floor.  Then Mrs. Drouillard had new springs put in, she said,” reported The Sun.

She testified that she had never seen a “brass smoking lamp, a number of ivory miniatures or a South American tea set,” reported missing.  She complained that the draperies were “just in shreds,” and she had to cover a stained leather couch with a silk rug.  A desk had lost its gilt and couldn't be used in a strong light.

“The mahogany piano was so stained it showed just plain wood.  It was out of tune and sounded tinny.  The keys were yellow, the legs were scratched and it was absolutely a disgrace.  It was even better looking when we came out than when we went in.”

Interesting electric light fixtures in the form of opaque glass seashells hang in the second floor stair hall -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Sarah Hall no doubt bristled in the courtroom when Ada Drouillard described a number of antique chairs as “rotten.”

After the war, William and Sarah spent less and less time in New York, preferring their Paris home.  Melvin, who graduated from Princeton in 1910 and rose to the rank of major in the army, was now employed in the American Embassy in London.  He married Josephine Johnson in Paris on November 14, 1922.   The Hall ties to New York were essentially severed.

The mansion was acquired by the Scoville School for Girls in 1927.  The exclusive school was founded in 1882 as the Classical School for Girls.  Its name change came in 1905 when it was purchased by Mrs. Helen M. Scoville.   Helen Scoville instructed her well-heeled students in “music, art, household economics.”  Girls could participate in “gymnasium, riding, outdoor exercise” and social recreation.  An annual “European travel party” introduced the girls to a lifestyle they could expect.

Only five years later, however, the house was sold at auction.  It was purchased by the National Association of Audubon Societies.   The interiors that had already been significantly altered into classrooms and sleeping rooms, were now converted to exhibition halls, a library and committee rooms, and offices.  This new arrangement, too, would be short-lived.

In 1945 The New York Times reported that the house, assessed at $135,000, was sold; to “be altered into doctor’s suites.”

By now the two houses at the southern end of the block had been demolished for a tall apartment building.   The William Hall mansion and its rich history would survive until 1979 when a modern apartment building, not especially attractive, took the place of No. 1008 and its next door neighbor.  The sole remaining survivor of the 1901 row—the Duke mansion—amazingly endures as a private residence.

The Duke mansion sits uncomfortably next to the soaring skyscraper where William Hall mansion stood -- photo by Alice Lum


  1. I think the evil monstrosity took the place of 3, not 2 townhouses as it, the Duke mansion and 998 Fifth are the only remaining buildings on the block. (The side of 998 shows in your photo of the 4 townhouses.)

    What a terrible loss. How could it have been allowed to happen?

  2. You left out Paine Hall in the 1940’s, when it was a school for teaching women as medical assistants, and introducing them to EKGs. My mother was one of them.