Friday, February 14, 2014

The 1897 Carroll Mansion -- No. 86 Riverside Drive

photo by Alice Lum

Clarence True worked in the office of esteemed architect Richard M. Upjohn until 1884 when he struck out on his own.  A few years later, around 1890, real estate developer Charles G. Judson hired True.  The two men had offices in the same building.

At the time the Upper West Side was emerging as Manhattan newest residential frontier as rows of eccentric townhouses sprouted on the streets and hefty mansions appeared on the avenues.  Clarence True threw himself headlong into the frenzy and by the turn of the century would be among the most prolific architects of the Upper West Side.

As the turn of the century approached, Riverside Drive rivaled Fifth and Madison Avenues with its spectacular mansions.  In 1897 Clarence True initiated his own project—acting as both speculator and architect for six lavish residences that wrapped the corner of 81st Street and Riverside Drive.

True often drew on historical styles for his charismatic works and for this group he turned to Elizabethan Renaissance Revival.  Serving as the focal point for the six homes was the hulking No. 86 Riverside Drive at the corner.  The imposing structure rose five stories and stretched 50 feet along the Drive. 

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
High pointed gables marked both elevations of the rough-cut granite fa├žade.  Romantic stone balconies harkened to chivalrous times.  A deep, arched portico sheltered arriving guests and provided another balcony at the second story.  Commanding attention was the hefty round pavilion at the corner, surmounted by a stone parapet.  A thin two-story chimney rose above the surrounding rooftops.

Inside True carried out the Elizabethan motif with period-inspired plastered ceilings and intricately-carved woodwork.

Intricate woodwork and ceilings reflected the historical style -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The houses were completed in 1898 and in 1899 No. 86 Riverside Drive was purchased by William Carroll, the principal in William Carroll & Co., manufacturers of fur, wool and straw hats.  Carroll’s family consisted of his wife, Grace, daughter Elsa and son Ralph.  Ralph C. Carroll was enrolled in the private Cutler School at No. 49 East 61st Street where he was the captain of the golf team.
True's Elizabeth motif was especially evident in the portico and second floor window framing -- photo by Alice Lum

Two years later, on January 2, the house was the scene of the wedding reception of Elsa and her new husband, Henry Rowland.  The New York Times described the house as being “decorated with pink roses and foliage” and said “The young couple received in a bower of pink roses, with garlands of the same flowers overhead.”  Among the moneyed guests that afternoon were J. C. Havemeyer, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Auchincloss and Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Barnes.

The newlyweds moved into the Riverside Drive mansion and the Social Register would list them living here with the family at least until 1914.

Following William Carroll’s death on November 2, 1910, Grace continued living at No. 86 Riverside Drive with her daughter and son-in-law until 1922.   On August 30 of that year, she sold it for $125,000 (about $1.6 million today) to “a New York merchant.”  In reporting the sale The New York Times called the residence “one of the most modern houses on the west side.”
photo by Alice Lum

The “New York merchant” was William H. Barnard, the Treasurer of the International Salt Company, President of the Aiken Investment Company, a director in the Avery Rock Sale Company and an officer in many others.  The Times referred to Barnard as a “pioneer and leader in the American salt industry.”

Barnard and his wife, the former Lillie Cohu, moved into the Riverside Drive mansion.  Their only child, 24-year old daughter Lilybel, who had married James W. Salisbury in 1913, lived in Bristol, Rhode Island.  Five years after moving in, following an illness of several weeks, Lillie Barnard died in the house on February 10, 1927.

By the mid 1920s apartment buildings had already crept into the area.  The Barnards were living in no. 86 (right) -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
William Barnard would live alone here only a few months before Lilybel moved in.  Her unhappy marriage had come to a highly-publicized end when she obtained a Reno divorce in August 1927.  She explained her forlorn condition to the court, saying she was interested in art, literature and outdoor sports; but her husband had no such interests.  A Nevada newspaper reported “he criticized her every comment, she told the Court.”

The newspaper added “Salisbury objected to her friends, she said and when she had arranged a dinner party at their home at Bristol, R. I., in August, 1926, he demanded that she cancel it at the last minute, and when she refused, charged her with being interested in one of the invited guests, her complaint says.”

Actually, it seems quite possible that Lilybel was interested in someone other than her husband; for five months after her divorce was granted, so was the divorce of Andrew Weeks Anthony a Boston manufacturer.  A few days later, on January 19, 1928 Anthony obtained a marriage license in Boston.  The New York Times sub-headline blared “Boston Manufacturer, Divorced on Wednesday, to Wed Mrs. Lilybel B. Salisbury.  She is Reno Divorcee.”

The vaguely scandalous wedding took place in St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church on West End Avenue at 86th Street at noon on January 22, 1928 with William Barnard escorting his 35-year old daughter down the aisle.  Afterward the understated reception was held in the Riverside Drive mansion.

In describing the wedding, The New York Times could not help commenting with “Both Mr. Anthony and his bride have been married previously and have been divorced.”

Years after the house was converted for institutional use some architectural details survived. -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On October 15, 1929 William H. Barnard died in the house at No. 86 Riverside Drive.  The Great Depression coupled with changing attitudes concerning hulking private homes meant the end of the road for many of Manhattan’s great mansions.  Blocks of properties were razed to make way for luxurious Art Deco apartment houses; while other homes were converted to apartments or commercial structures.

The house at No. 86 Riverside Drive, however, would hold on for a few more years.  It became home to Kathryn E. Henessey until 1940 when she leased it a political organization with the ungainly name of the 7th Assembly District Regular Republican Organization Club, Inc.  The mansion was used as the group’s clubhouse and headquarters until 1945.

That year it was sold to the Chinese Delegation for International Cooperation and Cultural Relations, along with the house next door at No. 85.  The Times said the group intended “to remodel the buildings for its own use.”  The Delegation moved in along with related organizations; among them the International League for the Rights of Man, the Woochefee Institute which staged exhibitions of contemporary Asian artists, and the Rochdale Institute and the Institute of International Cooperation School.  The two institutes held classes for the “training of cooperative educators and executives.”

Grace Carroll's elaborate interiors were stripped for in-ceiling lighting and modern wall sconces -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Only four years later, on February 10, 1949 The Times reported that “The twenty-room residence at 86 Riverside Drive, formerly the home of Katherine E. Henessey and now owned by the Woochefee Institute of New York, has been leased to the Royal Consulate of Iraq for its quarters here.”

When the Consulate of Iraq left, the building once again filled with Asian-related organizations:  The Sino-American Amity Fund, the Free Pacific Association and the East Asian Research Institute.  Then, later, in the 1980s and ‘90s it was home to the National Catholic Press.

Today the Carroll mansion has been dissected into apartments.  The castle-like building that the AIA Guide to New York City calls a “dour and forbidding essay in rock-face granite” still demands attention at the corner of 81st Street and Riverside Drive.

photo by Alice Lum


  1. I hope someone buys this and restores it to its former splendor.

  2. I would love to restore this home

  3. Pass by so often but had no clue what the Sino-American Amity Fund (small wood weathered sign outside) was or does/did. It's now for Sale on Compass!

  4. Lilybel, the Reno Divorcee, is my great grandmother. I've heard some of the stories and thanks for writing this up. Her father William Howard Barnard only moved from down the street when he purchased this house in 1922. Previously, he was living in the Bishop Potter Mansion which was much bigger and he thought ripe for development. Hence the move to a more modest abode. Lilybel was kinda nuts and died penniless despite growing up in the equivalent of Billionaire status.

  5. William and Grace Carroll were my great grandparents, whom I did not know. Ralph Carroll was my grandfather, and I did know him ~ a very nice gentleman! I had no idea growing up that they all had lived in the Carroll Mansion at one time. It was quite interesting to discover that information several years ago. The Carroll family has since moved out of New York City of course and live in other parts of the USA. Needless to say, life (in NYC) and homes ("mansions") were very different that long ago. Today living in a small, quite modest home out in the country with green fields, clear lakes and fresh air seems far more preferable!