Thursday, April 11, 2013

The 1904 Arthur Scribner House -- No. 39 E. 67th Street

photo by Alice Lum

Between 1876 and 1877 brothers David and John Jardine designed a row of brownstone-fronted rowhouses on East 67th Street for busy developers Breen & Nason.   While Manhattan’s wealthiest families were just beginning to invade the blocks along the recently completed Central Park, the speculative homes between Madison and Park Avenues filled with financially secure families.

Among them were Richard J. Thompson and his wife, Helen A. Soffe.  Members of the fashionable Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, the Thompson family lived at No. 39 until moving to Connecticut around 1890.   The house then became home to Frederick Hazleton.

In the meantime, the Scribner brothers, Charles and Arthur, were expanding their father’s publishing business, founded in 1846.  When Charles married Louisa Flagg the Scribners acquired a family architect in Louisa’s brother Ernest Flagg.  In 1893, two years before Frederick Hazleton would die in the house on 67th Street, Flagg designed the new Scribner Building at No. 155 Fifth Avenue.

Arthur Hawley Scribner married the cultured and educated Helen Culbertson Annan in 1900.  By now the blocks branching off Fifth Avenue along Central Park were filling with much grander mansions and the old brownstones had become architecturally obsolete.   In 1903 Arthur set his brother-in-law to work redesigning the old Thompson house at No. 39 East 67th.

Completed a year later, the renovation left no traces of the stuffy Victorian rowhouse.  Instead, a grand limestone-fronted Beaux Arts palais rose five stories above the street. 

Flagg would become known for his forward-thinking innovations that increased ventilation and light in buildings like the Mills Houses--resident hotels for unemployed men.  But he took a much different approach for the Scribners.  The rusticated base supported a stone balcony with delicate iron railings that stretched the width of the structure.  Here two grand windows flooded light into the second floor.  Above, carved swags, iron railings and a copper-trimmed mansard completed the French design.
photo by Alice Lum

Helen Scribner, a graduate of Bryn Mawr, gave musical entertainments in the mansion, the guest lists of which were often interspersed with literary names.    On February 6, 1908 The New York Times reported on one such event. 

“Mrs. Arthur H. Scribner gave a musical, followed by a supper last night at her home, 39 East Sixty-seventh Street.  Miss Clara Clemens, daughter of Samuel L. Clemens, (Mark Twain) and Francis Rogers, baritone, sang, with Charles Wark at the piano.”

Another “reception with music” on February 15, 1925 brought a diverse social mix together.  Old social names like Sheppard and Sloan chatted with an architect (Mr. and Mrs. James Gamble Rogers), a sculptor (Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Chester French), and noted attorney and brother of the former U.S. President, Mr. and Mrs. Henry W. Taft.

In 1932, just two years after assuming the presidency of the publishing firm following Charles' death, Arthur suffered a fatal heart attack.   Helen remained in the house until her death in 1949.   The following year, on February 27, an auction was held in the mansion of the Scribner artwork and furnishings.

On July 7, 1951 The New York Times reported on the sale of the house by Helen’s estate.   “Plans for converting the Scribner family residence at 39 East Sixty-seventh Street into apartments were announced yesterday,” it said.  Within the year it was renovated to a doctor’s office and apartment on the ground floor, and two spacious apartments per floor above.

The fashionable address and luxurious apartments attracted wealthy tenants like popular motion picture actress and singer Jane Froman.    Early in December 1957 two men, 27 year old Robert Goller and 23 year old Eugene Bolger broke into the entertainer’s apartment and made off with $12,000 worth of furs and jewelry.

Three days later, on December 5, police had arrested both men on burglary charges.  They also arrested Anthony Facci, a 33-year old furrier who was charged with grand larceny and receiving stolen goods.
photo by Alice Lum
Another conversion, in 1980, doubled the size of the apartments--now just one per floor.   Today some well-to-do tenant occupies rooms in Ernest Flagg’s impressive Beaux Arts mansion where the daughter of Mark Twain once sang.


  1. Love the photo--spent many years in this house with a former friend and employer Mrs. Oliver Wilson Bivins who has since passed away in 2010. I believe Mr. O. W. Bivins still owns the house today and he is well in his 90's and mentally incompetent. I miss visiting the house daily where the business office was.

  2. The Charles Wark mentioned during the 1908 performance of Clara Clemens (dau. of Mark Twain) is my great uncle.

  3. At the family's request the super of the guilding has been dumping all of the late Mrs. Bivins fine china, limoges porcelaine and stemware for garbage collection. Neighbors have been salvaging what they can.

    1. What a shame, the young Oliver Bivins has sold the house and is off to god know where, he doesn't speak with anyone from his childhood. I find the whole situation very sad.