Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Mistaken "Jim Brady" House --No. 7 West 46th Street

Sadly defiled, the house still manages to hint at its former elegance -- photo by Alice Lum

At the turn of the last century two of New York City’s wealthy citizens could not have been more dissimilar   James Buchanan Brady had made millions as a financier, investor and gambler and was one of the city’s most colorful personalities.  Known popularly as “Diamond Jim” Brady, he was well known for frequenting the city’s nightspots and restaurants, often with Lillian Russell at his side.

On the other hand, Dr. Charles S. Bull flew quietly under the radar of society.  The learned doctor spent his time teaching and writing medical tracts such as his “Demonstration of Models to Illustrate the Refraction of Light by Asymmetrical Surfaces.”  And so it is ironic that a century later Bull’s house at No. 7 West 46th Street would not be remembered for its physician owner; but for the millionaire playboy Brady.

The handsome brownstone-clad mansion was built, along with its neighbors, in the 1860s.  The entrance doors, above a tall stone stoop, sat within an arched enframement.  Elaborate foliate scrolled brackets upheld the pediment of the doorway.  Four spacious stories above the English basement, it was intended for the class of wealthy homeowners who were inching northward up Fifth Avenue.

The exquisite framing of the doorway survives relatively intact.  The odd sculpture guarding the stoop is a remnant of a Japanese restaurant of the late 20th century -- photo by Alice Lum

It was first home to Dr. H. Mortimer Brush and his family.  Born in the city in 1836, Brush was well established in the medical field by the time the Civil War broke out.  He joined the 16th New York Volunteers’ medical staff in 1861, seeing action in the battle of Bull Run.  But by 1865 he was back in the city and living at No 7 West 46th Street. 

Brush became physician in charge of the Northeastern Dispensary, was a member of the Citizens’ Association, and was in charge of the city’s sanitary conditions from 42nd Street to 86th Street, Sixth Avenue to the East River.  Also in the house were his wife, the former Annie Eliza Hutchinson, and their two children Florence and Frederick Mortimer Brush. 

Dr. Brush and his family had moved on by 1873, when the house was owned by another doctor, Charles S. Bull.  A specialist in diseases of the eyes and ears, he had studied in Vienna, Heidelberg, Utrecht, Paris and London before starting his practice in New York.  By now he was a professor at the Cornell Medical College, surgeon and director of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, consulting ophthalmic surgeon at the Presbyterian and St. Mary’s Hospitals and held memberships in a number of medical societies, including the American Ophthalmic Society of which he was president.

While Jim Brady was spending lavishly on dinners of oysters, pheasant and assorted wines, Dr. Bull’s leisure time was spent in his quieter clubs—the Huguenot Society of America, the Sons of the Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, the University and Century Clubs.

A bachelor, Dr. Bull shared his home by 1893 with Robert Jaffray and his adult daughter.  The 69-year old widower also had a grown son, Robert Jr., who lived a block away at No. 58 West 46th Street.  Jaffray had retired from the Bank of America in 1883 due to health problems; devoting his life to his position as elder in the West Presbyterian Church.

When a schism developed in the church, Jaffray’s name appeared in newspapers repeatedly.  On December 8, 1893 The Evening World hinted that he had accepted the resignation of Rev. Dr. Paxton as pastor; however the newspaper grumbled that “Elder Jaffray has been on the qui vive for the document for the past two days.”

New Yorkers interested in such things were shocked when the turmoil prompted Jaffray to resign his position of more than 30 years.  He became a member of the Collegiate Dutch Reform Church. 

When the fashionable New York City churches closed their doors for the summer season, Jaffray enjoyed his retirement most.  On July 2, 1899 the New-York Tribune reported that he had arrived at the exclusive summer resort of Paul Smith’s, New York; along with William Rockefeller, William G. Rockefeller, Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes and Anson Phelps Stokes Jr., and other moneyed New Yorkers.

Two years later Jaffray and his daughter summered in Lenox.  The New-York Tribune noted on October 4, 1901 that they were now back “at their house, in West Forty-sixth-st.”

It would be Robert Jaffray’s last summer season.  On April 12, 1902 he died in the house on West 46th Street.  After amply providing for his children, Jaffray’s will distributed his estate among many religious charities.  He also bequeathed $20,000 (about $525,000 today) to his already-wealthy sister Emily Boorman.

Jaffray’s unmarried daughter, Emily Meier Jaffray, continued to live on in Dr. Bull’s house; even after he died at the age of 66 on April 17, 1911.   Emily died in the house on March 16, 1927.  The neighborhood outside her windows was greatly changed from the tranquil residential street she had known in the 1890s.

In the meantime, James Buchanan Brady had died in Atlantic City of a heart attack while he slept on April 13, 1917.  The following day The New York Times reported that “The body was escorted to his house at 7 West Eighty-sixth Street.”  The address of the Brady mansion and the house in which Emily Jaffray was living was different by only one numeral—laying the foundation for a typo that would change the reputation of the 46th Street house for decades.

As with all the once-elegant homes along the block of West 46th Street, No. 7 was quickly altered for commercial purposes.  In 1948 Princeton graduate Dick Pleasant opened his publicity firm, Bennett & Pleasant, in the building.  Pleasant had until recently handled the public relations for Town Hall; and announced that the new firm would put its “emphasis on theatrical and artistic clientele.”

In 1952 the house was converted to accommodate a retail shop in the basement for “blending perfumes,” offices on the first floor, a commodious apartment on both the second and third floor, and two apartments on the top level.  In announcing the change, a New York Times researcher confused 7 West 46th Street and 7 West 86th Street.  “An old brownstone house at 7 West Forty-Sixth Street, once the home of ‘Diamond Jim’ Brady…is now occupied by the perfume firm of Michel Pasquier, who has a shop and offices in the building.”

In 1964 Edo Restaurant took over the space where Michel Pasquier blended his perfumes.  The small Japanese restaurant would operate in the building with a private dining room on the former parlor floor for years.  Then, in 1990, the building was converted to “offices.”

Of the row of converted 1860s mansions, only No. 7 suggests the block's Victorian residential nature -- photo by Alice Lum

Today the once-refined mansion suffers much abuse.  The Victorian entrance doors were long ago removed, the stoop was taken off and replaced by a space-saving sidewise set of steps, the detailing of the windows has been shaved flat and the brownstone covered in a stucco-like substance.  And although the celebrated Diamond Jim Brady never crossed its threshold, the urban legend lives on.  The current listing for No. 7 West 46th Street reads “As an historical accolade, the building was once home to Diamond Jim Brady.” 

Amazing what a mistake of one digit in an address can do.


  1. Well let the legend live on. In todays quasi preservation climate where the NYC landmarks Preservation Board continually turns a blind eye to making important designations and developers demolish landmark worthy buildings left and right, maybe the legend will save this forlorn brownstone survivor from demolition in the future. NYa

  2. Such a pity that this house, which must have been beautiful once, has been allowed to decay. This might not be realistic, but I cannot help but hope someone will restore it to its former elegance.

  3. By the way Tom, is the real Diamond Jim mansion on West 86th St. still standing?

    Titanic Bill

    1. No. There's an 18-story apartment building on the site.

  4. I used to live at 51 W. 46 St. (a building which sadly was torn down for a parking garage) in the late 1970's-1990's. I used to pass the so-called "Diamond Jim" Brady home which, as a lover of all things NYC history, thrilled me to think about It was at the time, the Japanese restaurant you mentioned with the gold painted lions out front and the plaque that denoted the place as being a residence of Diamond Jim. It is fascinating to learn the real history of the building but yes, oh so disappointing!