Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The 1900 Alfred G. Jennings House -- No. 2 East 82nd Street

photo by Alice Lum

At the turn of the last century encroaching commerce pushed New York's millionaires northward up Fifth Avenue along Central Park.  Brothers William and Thomas Hall took full advantage of the lucrative opportunity.  Both contractors and developers, they bought up long swathes of real estate and built speculative high-end residences.

A generation earlier such developments would have appeared as long rows of identical or nearly-identical brownstone rowhouses.  The Halls were savvy enough to recognize that by now residents in this exclusive neighborhood wanted individuality in their homes.  They often worked with architect Alexander M. Welch of the firm Welch, Smith & Provot to achieve both harmony and individuality in their rows of mansions.

In 1898 construction was begun on adjoining mansions on Fifth Avenue between 81st and 82nd Streets, Nos. 1007, 1008 and 1009; as well as 2 East 82nd Street around the corner.   No. 2 East 82nd Street was completed in 1900 and, despite its ample size and commanding architecture, it was diminished by the sprawling No. 1009 FifthAvenue next door.

Welch simultaneously designed the three houses at Nos. 1007 through 1009 Fifth Avenue.  The corner mansion, No. 1009, would become home to Benjamin Duke. photo NYPL Collection 

Welch used matching materials—red brick and white limestone—to complement the two residences.  The rusticated bases were in near perfect alignment, the cornice of No. 1009 flowed smoothly into the fifth floor balcony of No. 2, and the iron railings of that balcony visually coursed into the stone balustrade next door.  The handsome and dignified No. 2 East 82nd Street with its tall iron fence held its own beside its massive big brother next door.

Four years before construction began on the homes, wealthy Brooklynite Albert Gould Jennings was married to the daughter of wealthier John D. Crimmins.  Suzanne Beatrix Crimmins, 22 years old, was described by The New York Times as “a handsome blonde.”  Susie, as she was known, had grown up amid luxury in a mansion at No. 40 East 68th Street. The 25-year old groom was the son of the founder of the Jennings Lace Works and had graduated from Princeton in 1890.  The New York Times noted that “He is the owner of a handsome brownstone residence 313 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn.”

The wedding was held in the Crimmins country home, Collender’s Point, in Darien, Connecticut.  The ceremony was officiated by Archbishop Corrigan, assisted by Bishop Tierney of Harford, Father Rogers of Stamford, “and a number of priests from that diocese,” said The Times.  “The ceremony closed with the Papal benediction.”

The seeming overkill of priests may have been John Crimmins’ way of making a statement.  The fervently Roman Catholic Crimmins was allowing his daughter to marry a Presbyterian.  The Times said “in order to have the ceremony performed under the rites of the Catholic Church [Jennings] had to promise that his wife should have the full freedom of practicing her religious faith, and to allow his children to be reared in the Roman Catholic faith.”

Although Jennings’ business was in Brooklyn, life in the outer borough apparently did not appeal to his new wife.  The couple purchased No. 2 East 82nd Street while the mansion was still under construction.  It was completed in 1900 and entertainments—often involving Crimmins family members—began.
The American Architect printed a photograph of the Jennings House in 1903.  A servant waits on the sidewalk for a carriage and greenery is planted on the 2nd floor balcony.  The periodical got the architect's name wrong, citing Ernest Flagg.  (copyright expired)

Susie’s sister, Constance, was introduced to society In 1902.  On December 12 the Jennings hosted a dinner for her in the house.  It was followed the next day by a “coming out reception” in the Crimmins mansion.

The following year Susie threw a dinner party for her brother, John D. Crimmins, Jr., and his fianc√©e, Lillian Stokes Holmes, in anticipation of their upcoming wedding later in the week.   The entire wedding party was invited.

Unlike many wealthy New Yorkers who built sumptuous summer cottages and estates, the Jennings preferred to lease impressive quarters in different resorts.  With daughter Janice and son Albert Gould Jr. they summered in Tuxedo Park, Bar Harbor, Newport and Southampton.   In 1910 they arrived in Bar Harbor, having rented “Bowling Green” for the season.

Despite appearances, not all was happy within No. 2 East 82nd Street.  Susie Crimmins Jennings was a modern woman, independent and opinionated.  Albert Gould Jennings had more old-fashioned ideas concerning a woman’s place in the home.  It all boiled over in July 1912.

As the summer season approached, Albert packed his bags and sailed to Paris.  He would not returned to New York a married man.  The New York Times reported that “He accused his wife of accepting invitations without consulting him and altogether showing a too independent spirit.”

Susie Jennings filed a counter-charge of incompatibility.   It would appear that John D. Crimmins used his substantial influence for, somewhat surprisingly considering the couple had two children, the marriage was annulled on October 22, 1913.

Apparently as part of the arrangement, four months earlier Suzanne Jennings sold the house on East 82nd Street to the "recently formed" Roxanne Realty Company.   The new company was owned by Albert Gould Jennings.

Alfred returned to the house on East 82nd Street and before very long married Marion Stoddard.  The marriage was, at least from a religious point of view, more compatible.  Marion was the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Charles Augustus Stoddard, an author and distinguished Presbyterian clergyman.

In 1917 a son was born in the house, Wyllys Burr Jennings.  In the meantime, the infant’s step-brother, Albert Junior, served in the United States Navy during the war.  Upon returning he moved back into the 82nd Street house with his father and stepmother.  Albert graduated from Princeton in 1919 and the athletic young man gained memberships to the Brook and Turf and Field, Racquet and Tennis Clubs.

Marion took the reins of social entertainments.  One again the house was the scene of receptions, teas and dinner parties.  On April 22, 1920 she gave a luncheon for Elizabeth Coleman who had recently become engaged to Marion’s relative Stoddard Hoffman.

Marion Jennings was a large stockholder in the Silver King Ginger Ale Company, presided over by State Senator James J. Walker.  Most likely through her influence, young Albert was made Secretary of the company.  A few years later Albert Junior struck out on his own, taking an apartment for himself at No. 146 East 49th Street.

No one on New York society was more shocked than Albert and Marion Jennings to learn in the spring of 1925 that Albert Gould Jennings, Jr., had been surreptitiously  married.  “The secret marriage last Fall of Albert Gould Jennings Jr…a member of a family socially prominent in this city, to Mrs. Helen B. Rueping, a wealthy divorcee, was reported yesterday and it was said that the couple were planning to go abroad,” reported The Times on March 8, 1925.

“Mr. Jennings Sr. and Mrs. Jennings, stepmother of the young man, said last night they knew nothing of the marriage.”

Young Albert provided more gossip to New York drawing rooms when the marriage fell apart.  A Special Cable to The New York Times arrived from Paris on June 27, 1929.  It read in part “Mrs. Albert Gould Jennings…filed today a petition for divorce in Paris from her husband, who is a wealthy New York resident and is prominent in the American colony here.” 

By the spring of 1937 Alfred Gould Jennings, Sr. was apparently leasing the mansion.  Broker John F. Bowles, Jr. was living in the house when, on April 8, he married Jeannette Horlick Simmons in the chapel of Riverside Church.  Both wealthy in their own right, The New York Times announced that “After their wedding trip, the couple will divide their time between this city and Greenwich.”

The following year Albert Gould Jennings sold the house that had been his home for nearly four decades.  The unnamed buyers paid the $95,000 asking price in cash.  In reporting the sale The Times noted that the house “contains an elevator, and at the rear looks out upon a permanent garden on Eighty-first Street.”  The article mentioned the elite neighbors.  “Near by are the homes of Orlando F. Weber, Ogden H. Hammond and Angelica T. Gerry.  Recently Garardo Machado, former President of Cuba, purchased a private house across the street.”

Within three years the house would be converted to furnished apartments.

The Alfred and Marion Jennings were now living at No. 4 East 95th Street and their son, Wyllys Burr Jennings became an Army pilot when the war in Europe broke out.  On August 26, 1944 the 27-year old navigator was shot down over Ludwigshafen, Germany.

In the late 1970s an apartment building was constructed at No. 1001 Fifth Avenue, extending down 81st Street where the Jennings gardens had once been.  It created a problem with zoning restrictions.  On April 29, 1979 The Times reported that “In March, workmen began blocking up rear windows and the doors in two floors of vacant apartments in the converted townhouse at 2 East 82nd Street.  This was in accordance with a requirement to bring the five-story building within the maximum allowable floor area for the site, which it shares with the recently constructed apartment house at 1001 Fifth Avenue.”

The windows of the upper floors of the mansion were sealed off with unsightly cinder blocks.  After several meetings between the construction company, the Buildings Department and the Planning Commission, an agreement was made whereby the blocks would be removed and curtains hung to block the windows.   It was a decidedly more attractive solution.

In 1982 the house was home to actress Meryl Streep’s character Brooke Reynolds in the psychological thriller film Still of the Night.   In the motion picture, Dr. Sam Rice, played by Roy Scheider, visited the house to discern if he could trust the mysterious woman.

Around half a century earlier Mother Joseph Butler of the Order of the Sacred Heart of Mary purchased the Jonathon Thorne mansion nearby at No. 1028 Fifth Avenue to be used as a “select school for girls in connection with Marymount College at Tarrytown-on-Hudson.”  In 1936 the school expanded by acquiring the mansion next door at No. 1027, and 14 years later purchased the adjoining house at No. 1026.

Now, in 1999, the Marymount School eyed the former Jennings house at No. 2 East 82nd Street for use as its Middle School.  The school was especially taken with the intact interiors of the house, which complemented the Fifth Avenue mansions it already owned. The problem was that developer Peter S. Kalikow had already purchased the mansion with intentions of converting it into a garage for the new apartment building at No. 1001 Fifth Avenue.

After six months of negotiations, the school purchased the property for $9.5 million.  A $7 million renovation was initiated with careful attention to the preservation of the intact interior detailing—ornamental plasterwork, mantels and wood paneling.

The renovations were completed in 2003, earning Richard Ciccarelli, independent architecture and planning professional the Lucy G. Moses Award for NYC Landmarks Preservation.  The private school continues to operate in the building.

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