Monday, September 2, 2013

The Lost Kerochan Mansion -- No. 824 Fifth Avenue

The house as it appeared on August 26, 1896 -- Architecture and Building News (copyright expired)
In the last years of the 1890s the march of Manhattan’s millionaires northward on Fifth Avenue along Central Park was well underway.    As coal magnate Edward J. Berwind’s magnificent mansion at the corner of 64th Street and Fifth Avenue was nearing completion in the last months of 1895 millionaire James Powell Kernochan moved into his new mansion three doors south at No. 824 Fifth Avenue.

Kernochan was the son of a wealthy Louisiana sugar plantation owner who spent his winters in New York City.  It was here that James P. Kernochan was born, in October 1831.  His personal fortune was greatly increased when he married Katharine Lorillard, the daughter of Peter Lorillard.  The New York Times remarked that “Mr. Kernochan’s business career consisted mainly of the management of his wife’s and his own estates.”

Now as the turn of the century neared, James and  Katharine moved into the mansion alone with their staff of servants.   Fourteen years earlier their daughter, Katharine Lorillard Kerochan scandalized the family by eloping with Herbert Pell; although by now, as explained by The Times, she “with her husband has long since been reconciled to her parents.”  Son James had married Eloise Stevenson and now lived on an estate in Hempstead, Long Island.

Like Edward Berwind, Kerochan’s choice of architects was a bit surprising.   Although Henry Franklin Kilburn was responsible for a wide variety of structures in Manhattan—stables, theaters, industrial buildings and private homes—he was most active in the design of churches.  Within the past six years he had designed the West-Park Presbyterian Church, the St. James Episcopal Church Parish House, and the West End Presbyterian Church.

Katherine Lorillard Kerochan costumed for a fancy dress ball -- photo by Mora, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,
There would be nothing ecclesiastic, however, in the finished Kerochan mansion.  Constructed by the Andrew J. Robinson Company, the five story stone-clad house was elegant and restrained.  A two story bay, topped by a balustraded balcony, was supported by a columned portico that smacked of London’s Mayfair district.  A stone balustrade above the cornice matched the third floor balcony; and a centered tripart opening at the fourth floor added a touch of Palladio.

Life seemed ill-fated for the Koernochan’s in their new mansion, however.   On January 10, 1896 son James and his wife came into the city to attend the theater, then stayed overnight at the new Fifth Avenue mansion.  Back home in Hempstead six servants were on hand to watch over their house.

Like his father, James Junior was better known as a sportsman and clubman than a businessman.  His horse Retribution had won the Dumblane Cup in 1891 and the Ivy City Cup two days later.  His show horses and dogs had earned him a room full of silver cups and he himself had won trophies as an accomplished polo player.

While the Kerochan family slept in the New York mansion, thieves were busy ransacking the Hempstead estate.  None of the servants were awakened as the burglars emptied the dining room of a silver tea set, a sterling silver vegetable dish and two silver punch bowls, the racing cups and several flasks and other cups won by Kernochan’s ponies and dogs.  In their hurry they overlooked the chest of heavy silverware and several heavy silver candelabra.  Although the intrinsic value of the silverware taken was estimated to be about $2,000; The New York Times noted that “In other parts of the house to which the thieves could have easily gained access were paintings and other valuables worth thousands of dollars.”

No. 824 is seen at far right.  Among the wealthy neighbors were William Vail Brokaw, directly next door in one of the twin mansions, and Edward J. Berwind on the corner. --photo NYPL Collection
Six months later while James and Katherine were in Newport misfortune again befell the family.   The Fifth Avenue mansion was put in charge of their 60-year old housekeeper.  One of watchman James Lafferty’s duties was to check in with her every night before she locked up the house and went to bed.

On the night of July 23 he looked for her at the basement door.  She normally waited for him there or on the stoop.   By 10:00 when she had not appeared, he notified Policeman Michaels.  After some efforts, they managed to get into the basement of the Kernochan mansion.

“Going through the hallway of the basement floor they stumbled over the body of the housekeeper,” reported The New York Times the following day.  “they lit the gas and discovered that the woman had a severe wound over the left eye, and that she was unconscious.”

Deliveries of milk and other items were still in the areaway from that morning and it appeared that the housekeeper had been lying on the basement floor unconscious all day, having fallen down the stairs.   She was still comatose the following day.

Tragedy struck again on Monday March 1, 1897.  James Kernochan was casually walking down Fifth Avenue around 10:00 a.m.  Simultaneously, and oddly enough, the daughter of George F. Baker, President of the First National Bank, was driving a “light wagon” on the avenue towards 41st Street.  An unidentified man rode beside her.  The paths of James Kernochan and Miss Baker would soon disastrously intersect.

According to a witness, tailor F. N. Hall, “The woman turned sharply into the side street, and as Mr. Kernochan did not pause, he was struck by one of the shafts, and was knocked about four feet, falling and striking on the back of his head.”

The millionaire lay unconscious in the street as George Baker’s daughter said she would go to get a doctor; but never returned.   He was taken home in a carriage early in the afternoon where Dr. Paul Allen diagnosed a concussion “and that there was nothing worse.”

The Times said that for the first day he “slept as peacefully as a child, but early Tuesday morning he became delirious and tried to get out of bed.”   For days he slipped in and out of consciousness, but was never lucid.   Finally, around 8:00 on the night of March 5, the 66-year old James Powell Kernochan died in his bed.

Katherine soon left the house she and her husband had shared for just over a year.  In October 1899 The Sun reported that she leased the house for two years to Howard and Viola Gould.  “The house will be occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Gould pending the erection of their house at Fifth avenue and Seventy-third street,” it said.

The son of multi-millionaire Jay Gould, Howard had married Viola Katherine Clemmons, the former actress who went by the stage name Katerine Clemmons, exactly a year previously.   The newlyweds had just returned from a nearly year-long cruise “in European waters” according to The New York Times on Gould’s magnificent private yacht, the Niagara.

Among Katherine Gould’s first entertainments in the house was one for “one hundred children of many nationalities from the lower section of this city,” as reported in The Sun on April 15, 1900.  “Mrs. Gould’s guests were selected from the various mission churches connected with the Women’s Branch of the New York City Mission and Tract Society.  They were assembled at the churches and were taken to her home in six buses.”

The grand mansion with its tapestries, masterful oil paintings and rare antiques suddenly echoed with the clamor of impoverished children of the Lower East Side.  “Mrs. Gould wisely considered that the best way to begin the afternoon’s pleasure was to appease the appetite of her youthful guests,” said the newspaper.  The children filed into the lavish dining room and were served soup, plates of sandwiches and cakes, “hills of ice cream and baskets of fruit,” which were “disappearing as if by magic.”

The children were given a Punch and Judy show in the parlor, then “soon they were romping through the entire house.  They had the run of the establishment and every nook and corner in it was duly explored.”

There was a magic show, a concert by an Italian band, and songs and recitations for Mrs. Gould by the children.  Around 6:00 in the evening they were given parcels of new summer clothes and a potted plant for Easter.  “As they got into the buses they gave three cheers for their hostess,” said the newspaper.

If Katherine Gould was lenient in letting destitute immigrant children run rampant through her house, she was less indulgent with her staff.   In November 1901 Eric Hamilton, an English butler, was hired by Katherine and given the rules of the household—including one that “he was not to remain out later than 10 o’clock on his night out, except by special permission.”  The very next day was his first night out and he did not return to his room in the mansion until 2:00 in the morning.

The Sun reported “He went before Mrs. Gould later and begged for another chance.  He got it.”

That same day, a Friday, the household was preparing to leave for the Gould country estate, Castlegould, in Port Washington for Thanksgiving.  Hamilton was instructed to go to a drug store to fill a prescription for one of the female servants.  “He was asked to hurry back…and that he had just about time to get back to go to the train with the rest of the servants.  He went, but he did not return.  The rest went to Port Washington.”

When he finally reappeared on Saturday morning, he was informed that the household had gone.  The caretaker of the Fifth Avenue house telephoned ahead warning the staff at Port Washington that the butler was on his way.  “Hamilton walked up to the front door and was hurled out upon the lawn by two men who had for two short days been his official inferiors.”

The butler hid in the shrubbery until nightfall, then pushed his way into the kitchen, demanding to be fed.  While he ate “cold baked meats” a servant rushed to inform Katherine Gould.

Katherine demanded that he leave, informing Hamilton that he was no longer employed by her.  He refused.  “The cook and the scullery man organized an ejection posse and had got Hamilton as far as the door, with some sacrifice of furniture and crockery,” reported The Sun, “when Mrs. Gould succeeded in making herself heard above the din.  She said she wanted a policeman called.”

When Hamilton appeared before the judge days later, Katherine was there.  “Mrs. Gould was present in a Gainsborough hat with flamingo plumes and a long sable robe.”  Although her lawyer wanted to charge him with larceny for the $10 he was given to go to the drug store, Katherine “said that she thought he had troubles enough.”  He was held at $400 bonds for disturbing the peace, trespassing, intoxication and disorderly conduct.

Not long after the Goulds left the house at No. 824 Fifth Avenue they separated.  Howard later filed for divorce on the grounds that Katherine was unfaithful.

The mansion became home to Henry W. Lowe, his wife and two daughters.    With wealthy New Yorkers doing all they could for the war effort, Mrs. Lowe was somewhat embarrassed when she was informed in December 1918 that her butler had refused Red Cross volunteers access to the mansion.    “Red Cross workers were unable to persuade her butler that it would be proper to summon the servants to be interviewed for the Red Cross.  So they appealed to Mrs. Lowe, who had the servants enrolled,” reported The Sun on December 20.

The most publicized entertainments in the Lowe household revolved mainly around the young girls.   1920 was the year that daughter Dorothy was introduced to society and on February 20 the house was the scene of “a large dinner” prior to a dance in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton.    Four years later, on New Year’s Day, she gave a dance for her “sub-debutante daughter, Miss Muriel Lowe.”

Muriel was still a young teen and The Times reported that “Mrs. Henry W. Lowe gave a dance for school girls and boys at her home, 824 Fifth Avenue, her school girl daughter, Miss Muriel Lowe, being the guest of honor.”

Muriel’s introduction to society came the following year.  Her debutante dance in the mansion on January 1, 1925 would be one of the last grand affairs.   Even before the advent of the Great Depression, the great single family homes of a generation earlier were seen a hulking, expensive white elephants.  Modern Art Deco apartment buildings began replacing the old mansions.  Many of Manhattan’s millionaires preferred the convenience apartment living to supporting a full staff and dealing with the constant maintenance of the aging structures.

The house was razed in 1927.  On December 1, 1929, in an article entitled “Fifth Avenue’s Private Home Row Giving Way to More Apartments,” The New York Times mentioned “A twenty-three-story and basement apartment hotel was recently finished on a plot 70.5 by 200 at 824 Fifth Avenue.”  After standing just over three decades, the elegant home of the Kernochans, Goulds and Lowes was gone.


  1. Looks like the Duke mansion in the final picture, opposite the Metropolitan Museum, not the Berwind place

    1. While they appear similar and I can see your comparison with their slender profile and brick material, it is the Berwind home. The prominent bow on the 82nd Street front and French mansard roof of the Duke Mansion renders the easiest comparison of the two.

  2. Agree with Anonymous. The final picture is of 1001 and 1009 Fifth, at the southeast corner of 82nd. The building replacing 824 is the distinguished 825, not the Johnson/Burgee embarrassment up the avenue.

    1. oopes! you're right! removed!!! we'll get the right photo. Thanks