Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The 1904 Auchincloss House -- No. 33 E. 67th St.

The wide service passage allowed for a rare side elevation -- Architecture, January 1904 (copyright expired)

In 1897 Hugh D. Auchincloss and his wife, Emma purchased Hammersmith Farm—the two million square foot estate and villa in Newport built in 1887 by John W. Auchincloss.  The New York Times said at the time that the mansion was “regarded as one of the most valuable here.”  They added a Tuxedo Park, New York estate to their residential holdings before the turn of the century; and then in 1902 began considering their city living arrangements.

Auchincloss was descended from Hugh Auchincloss of Paisley, Scotland who arrived in America in 1801 and established an importing business.   Now Hugh D. Auchincloss and his brother ran the firm as Auchincloss Brothers.  He was also a Director in the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, the Bank of the Manhattan Company, the Bowery Savings Bank and the Consolidated Gas Company.

In the early part of 1902 he purchased the high-stooped houses at Nos. 31 and 33 East 67th Street from Dr. George A. MacDonald and D. L. Newborg, respectively.  He paid a total of $126,500 for the properties--just over $3.8 million in today's money.  As happened to so many of the outdated brownstones at the turn of the century, he demolished them to built a modern residence on the site.

Auchincloss hired the architectural firm Robertson & Potter for the project.  During the past decade an interest in things Colonial had erupted; a trend reflected in part in the red brick and limestone neo-Georgian mansions that cropped up among the Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance palaces near Central Park.  Robertson & Potter would follow suit.  Their plans, filed on May 9, 1902, called for a five-story brick structure to cost $62,000 (interestingly, less than half the price Auchincloss had paid for the site).

The firm created a dignified neo-Georgian mansion five stories tall.   A service passage allowed for windows on three sides—an exceptional luxury even among Manhattan’s wealthiest.  Completed in 1904, the house sat back from the sidewalk, protected by a decorative iron fence with stone posts.  The stylized carved pineapples atop the fence posts signified hospitality—however the sharp, spiky points of the ironwork announced that the hospitality went only so far.
photo by Alice Lum
A graduate of Yale, Auchincloss had a sizable fortune and was a member of the Metropolitan and New York Yacht Clubs, the Century Association and the New England and St. Andrews Societies.  The couple had three children—Hugh Junior, Esther, and Annie Burr Auchincloss.

The Library carried on the Colonial American theme -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Six years after moving into the new home, Hugh Auchincloss became ill.  A combination of diseases troubled him for three years until on the afternoon of April 21, 1913 he died in the 67th Street mansion.  The New York Times reported that “the direct cause was a stroke of apoplexy.”

The scope of the Auchincloss wealth was evident in Emma’s property taxes the following year—over $100,000 or around $2.5 million in 2020 dollars.
Emma Auchincloss married crystal lighting fixtures, colonial chairs and bear rugs in the stair hall -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Like his father, Hugh Auchincloss, Jr. attended Yale and on November 13, 1915 his mother and her friend, Elizabeth F. Gallaudet, headed to New Haven to the Yale-Princeton football game.  Things went wrong in the Connecticut countryside.

They “had been making good time, when the chauffeur was forced to make a sudden turn to avoid crashing into a vehicle coming down a side road,” reported The Times.  “The limousine ran onto the unmetaled road and capsized.”

Residents of a nearby farm rushed to their assistance and carried the socialites into the farmhouse.  The chauffeur telephoned for help.

The sister of Emma Auchincloss, Annie Burr Jennings was at her summer house in Fairfield.  She arrived first.  Before long Esther J. Auchincloss and Hamilton F. Armstrong arrived, followed by Emma’s brothers, Walter and Oliver Gould Jennings, and Otto T. Bannard. 

The Connecticut farmer found his house crowded with New York millionaires.

Dr. Walter B. James, Emma’s brother-in-law, traveled from Manhattan to tend to her broken collarbone and two ribs, and treat Miss Gallaudet’s injuries.
The architects employed carved band courses, inset panels, splayed lintels and an intricate cornice -- photo by Alice Lum

Perhaps the upheaval of football games and overturned limousines taxed Emma's nerves; for in March she arrived at the Greenbrier resort “to take the cure,” as reported in The Times.  She took her daughters along with her.    It was the beginning of a particularly busy season for Emma.

As the summer social season began, the Auchincloss family was, of course, in Newport.  On July 3 Emma announced the engagement of Esther to Edmund Witherell Nash, “a guest now at Hammersmith Farm,” noted the newspapers.   The following month was young Hugh’s eighteenth birthday, celebrated by a dinner for 40.
Emma's French drawing room included a polar bear, black bear and tiger skin rug -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Esther’s wedding in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on February 17, 1917 was a society affair and The Times was taken with the floral arrangements.  “Pots of growing daisies arranged in rows set the pulpit end of the church aside like a garden, and tall palms and Easter lilies filled the space back of the pulpit, while clusters of white Spring blossoms marked each pew.”  Following the ceremony guests were received at the Auchincloss mansion where the newlyweds would live following their honeymoon.

Two years later, on October 31, Esther gave birth to a baby boy in the house.
Esther lived on in the house with her mother after she married -- photo Library of Congress
1920 was another busy year in the Auchincloss residence as preparations were made for the debut of Annie Burr.     As the summer season ended, plans for debutante events were laid.  On September 26 Emma announced plans for a dance at the Ritz-Carlton to be held on January 3 for Annie; and on December 3 Emma gave a tea in the 67th Street house “to introduce her daughter.”

In 1925 the house was abuzz again with wedding plans.  The engagement of Hugh Auchincloss to Maya de Chrapovitsky had been announced in April 1924.   Now the wedding in the Russian Cathedral on East 97th Street was slated to take place on June 4.  The bride, born in St. Petersburg to Russian nobility, fled with her mother when the Revolution broke out.  Her father had died in the Russo-Japanese War.
The first floor hall featured beautifully-paned French doors and windows--and a bear rug. -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The wedding was impressive even by New York society standards.   The bride was escorted by several ushers including two Russian barons; “preceded by the icon bearer, little Prince Gagarin, son of the Prince and Princess Gagarin of Russia,” reported The Times.

The couple moved to Washington DC where Hugh became a special agent of the Department of Commerce.   They were back in New York in January 1928 for the wedding of Annie Burr Auchincloss to Wilmarch S. Lewis.  Hugh gave his sister away, as he had done for Esther.

Near tragedy struck six months later when Hugh and Maya took a few friends for a pleasure flight from the Naval Air Station.  After the craft had landed on the beach at the air station, Maya Auchincloss stepped from the airplane and hurried to the other side to thank the pilot.  She walked directly into a spinning propeller.

The unconscious woman suffered a skull fracture and a deep head cut.  “Her hat was cut in two by the force of the blow,” The New York Times felt compelled to report.  The newspaper added “Dr. James F. Mitchell then performed an operation, and her condition tonight was reported as critical with but slight chances of recovery.”

Maya did recover and four years later moved to Reno in order to divorce Auchincloss on grounds of incompatibility.
Delicately carved balustrades, an exquisite plaster ceiling and brocade wallpaper decorated the 2nd floor stairhall.  In the room at the far end is a bear rug. -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In the meantime, about the time of the accident, Emma Auchincloss sold the 67th Street mansion she built with her husband.   It was purchased by wealthy financier W. Thorn Kissel.

While Maya Auchincloss was filing for divorce in Reno, the Kissel’s were dealing with a burglary epidemic on East 67th Street.    While the Great Depression raged on, the homes of Manhattan’s millionaires were a temptation for thieves.  Four homes on the block would be hit by burglars within the first six months of that year—among the first was the Kissel residence.

On January 4 The New York Times noted that “A sneak thief pried open the window of the home of Mrs. W. Thorn Kissel, wife of the Wall Street banker, at 33 East Sixty-seventh Street, and stole two diamond brooches and a cigarette case valued at $10,000.” 

Mrs. Kissel was the great granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a fact repeatedly dredged up by the press on occasions like the wedding of the Kissel’s son, W. Thorn Kissel, Jr., on June 17, 1943.  Young Kissel was married in his naval uniform, cutting a dashing image leaving St. James Episcopal Church with his bride, Barbara Eldred Case.   The Harvard graduate honored his father by asking him to serve as best man.

Shortly after the Kissel’s other son, Peter, married Phyllis Ashburn in August 1949 (Peter’s first wife tragically died) the family left the East 67th Street house for good.  In September 1950 the New York Labor Israel, Inc. purchased the home.

The mansion was converted to offices—up to 15 per floor.   The new owners established offices for the National Committee for Labor Israel here, as well as for the Histadrut Foundation, a Jewish educational group.

By 1986 the house was owned by the Italian Trade Commission, also known as the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade.  The organization promotes Italian trade, business and industry with other countries. 

After nearly two decades in the mansion, the Trade Commission was ready to move on and put the house on the market in the spring of 2011 for $32.2 million.   On September 7 that year a closed bid auction was held for the property.

Robertson & Potter’s exceptional neo-Georgian mansion is outwardly little changed from its 1904 appearance—a wonderful example of a time when early 20th century Americans reflected on their country’s origins.
photo by Alice Lum


  1. I have to figure out something else to say beyond, "wonderful post". But it is.

    One observation that you often see in interiors of the early 20th century and very apparent in the photograph of the French Drawing Room and 1st floor hall: the seat furniture is arranged around the circumference of the room- almost as if to admire something in the center of the room. It couln't have mde for easy conversation.

  2. Great post - beautiful posts of an obviously beautiful building - in and out. Would luv to get inside to see it!

  3. Whoa - sold at the bargain price of...only $32M! http://streeteasy.com/nyc/sale/603439-townhouse-33-east-67th-st-lenox-hill-new-york

  4. Do you know how the building is being used now? Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were returned to it's original state?

  5. What an intriguing history! It doesn't surprise me that it was made into offices, although as Gilt Edge Girl says, it would be really interesting to see it with the original large state rooms!

    1. Why those of significant wealth would choose to live in one of the 110 story "Pencil" buildings going up in Manhattan, when they could live in a gem like 33E67 is beyond comprehension.

  6. Interestingly, The Patch, in Newport, Rhode Island. just announced that Hugh D. Auchincloss III has just died. Although the article doesn't state, I believe he was at the Mansion stable on Hammersmith Farm.