Monday, January 13, 2014

The Lost Kernochan Mansion -- No. 862 Park Avenue

The Kernochan mansion was surrounded by private carriage houses -- photograph "Architecture" July 1914 (copyright expired

Joseph Frederick Kernochan enjoyed the privileged life of a wealthy Manhattan child in the 1850s.  Born to Joseph and Margaret S. Kernochan, he was privately tutored by respected professors.  The one-on-one education was successful—he entered Columbia College Law School in 1863 and graduated as valedictorian two years later.  On April 15, 1869 the already-successful lawyer married Mary Stuart Whitney, daughter of William and Mary Whitney.  The first of five children would arrive a year later on March 14.

The Kernochans lived in a large old house at No. 11 East 26th Street, facing Madison Square.  Next door at No. 13 was the home of Frank Work, a well-known banker and “horse fancier.”   Once one of the most exclusive residential enclaves in the city; Madison Square was being taken over by business buildings in 1911 when Frank Work died.  Now the Work and Kernochan mansions were among the last relics of that gilded age.

On April 2, 1912 The New York Times reported on the sale of the two houses to make way for a new commercial structure.  “Only one of the old-time residences will remain in the block when the Kernochan and Work houses are torn down—the old Field dwelling at 21 East Twenty-sixth Street.”  The newspaper reminisced “When Mr. Work took up his residence there Madison Square was the centre of fashionable residences, and he lived long enough to see the majority of them give way to towering commercial structures.”

Just over a week later the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that architects Cross & Cross had filed plans for a five-story mansion for J. F. Kernochan at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 77th Street.  The once-marginal thoroughfare had lately lured affluent homeowners who only recently would not have ventured farther east of Madison Avenue.

The mansion was completed in 1914—a distinguished red brick neo-Georgian beauty that sat on a rusticated limestone base.  The 18th century motif was carried out in splayed stone lintels, handsome carved panels between the second and third floors, an imposing broken pediment above the balcony over the entrance portico, and a stone balustrade above the bracketed cornice.

The intricate entrance portico supported a balcony with wrought iron railing -- photograph "Architecture" July 1914 (copyright expired)
The commanding mansion spread itself over 90 feet along Park Avenue and stood in stark contrast to the rows of utilitarian carriage houses that surrounded it on both sides.

J. Frederick and Mary Kernochan were highly visible in society.  Kernochan was an influential and highly regarded attorney, causing Yale College’s “History” to say “He has the management of many large estates and has been engaged in several important causes, with marked success.”

In July 1914 "Architecture" published the floor plans of the three main levels (copyright expired)

Nevertheless, it was son Frederic who garnered most of the attention.  A lawyer like his father, he became City Magistrate and later a Chief Justice of the New York County Supreme Court and a co-founder of the Association of the Bar of New York City.

And so when a small fire broke out in the house on November 26, 1916 The New York Times ignored the homeowners and focused on the judge.  “During the dinner hour last night at Justice Frederic Kernochan’s home at 862 Park Avenue a slight blaze was discovered in the breakfast room.  It was extinguished by the firemen before much damage resulted.  The cause is not known.”

The Kernochan dining room was fully-paneled -- photograph "Architecture" July 1914 (copyright expired)
On January 7, 1921 son Whitney married Helen Gaynor Bedford--the daughter of the later Mayor William Jay Gaynor.  Society pages focused less on the bride’s relationship to the former mayor and more on her recent divorce from Edward Thomas Bedford in Nevada four months earlier.

It would be among the last joyous events for the residents of 862 Park Avenue.  The following summer, as they were accustomed to doing, the Kernochans closed the mansion and went to their estate at Bernardsville, New Jersey.  There, following a long illness, the 70-year old Mary Stuart Kernochan died on August 11, 1922.

The family living room was, perhaps, unexpectedly inviting -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The title to the Park Avenue mansion was in Mary’s name and, oddly enough, her will did not include her husband in its handling.  “Mrs. Kernochan bequeathed her furniture, furs, laces, engravings, books and automobiles to her daughters, the Misses Eweretta and Mary S. Kernochan, to whom she also gave the use of the Park Avenue residence during their lives,” reported the New-York Tribune on October 10, 1922.  “Upon the death of the daughters the residence is to revert to Justice Kernochan and another son, Whitney Kernochan, of East Norwich, L.I.”

Mary left $500 each to three of the household servants—a generous $6,500 today.  Perhaps she felt J. Frederick’s personal fortune was enough to keep him comfortable; for the will instructed that the “residuary estate is to be divided equally among the decedent’s husband, sons and daughters.”

The mansion cleverly wrapped around the family garage -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Mary’s death signaled the end of Kernochan residency in the mansion.  On November 14, 1922 the New-York Tribune noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Geoge Arents, Jr. have taken the Frederick Kernochan house…and will make their home there this winter.”

Just prior to moving into the Park Avenue mansion Arents had become a Director of the American Tobacco Company, of which his father was Treasurer.  Within a few months he would inherit one third of his father’s $10 million estate. 

The 1920s saw the rise of glamorous apartment buildings along Park Avenue and the Kernochan mansion soon became a victim of one.  On July 17, 1925 construction was completed on what the Department of Buildings deemed a 14-story “tenement”—an upscale Jazz Age apartment building that survives today. 

Amazingly, next door is another survivor, albeit much altered: one of the string of vintage carriage houses that once swarmed around the Kernochan mansion. 
A close look reveals an much-altered carriage house that still stands next to the 1925 apartment building which replaced the decade-old Kernochan mansion.  photo

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