Monday, June 9, 2014

The Lost Irving T. Bush Mansion -- No. 28 East 64th Street

Like an Elizabethan sore thumb, the new house starkly stood out between its Queen Anne neighbors -- photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1881 developer and architect Theodore Weston began construction of four harmonious Queen Anne style residences stretching along East 64th Street from the southwest corner of Madison Avenue towards Central Park.  The brick-and-brownstone mansions burst forth with the balconies, quirky dormers and turrets expected of the visually-entertaining style.

No. 28 had at least two owners before the turn of the century.  The Williams family was here in the 1880s and that of George Henry Warren was in the house in the 1890s.  The architectural harmony of Weston’s string of homes was about to come to an end when, on October 24, 1900, The New York Times reported that G. H. Warren had sold “to a Mr. Bush the four-story dwelling 28 East Sixty-fourth Street.”

The following day the mysterious Mr. Bush was identified as “Mr. G. A. Bush, who will occupy [the house] with his family."  In fact, both facts were wrong.  The buyer was Irving T. Bush and if he had any intentions at all of living in the Queen Anne mansion, they would be short-lived.

Irving T. Bush -- photograph Library of Congress
The 31-year old businessman was the son of wealthy industrialist and oil refinery owner Rufus T. Bush.  Like his father, Bush was an avid yachtsman and the two had circumnavigated the globe in 1888.  When Rufus Bush died two years later, leaving his wife and two sons an estate of about $2 million, Irving could have lived off his inheritance.  Instead, the 21-year old went to work for Standard Oil as a clerk.

The large bank account did not hurt, however.  In the mid-1890s Bush envisioned a gigantic warehouse, manufacturing and shipping complex on the site of his father’s Brooklyn oil refinery.  He constructed the Bush Terminal—the first industrial complex of its kind in New York and the largest multiple-tenant industrial park in the country.  It was his first personal business success.

The title to the 64th Street property was not transferred until August 1901.  Bush put the mansion in his wife, Bella’s name, as was customary.  At the time of the transfer the New-York Tribune made note of the exclusive neighborhood.  In the corner mansion next door to the new Bush house, at No. 30, lived Seth Low, one of the city’s most recognized educators and politicians, and among its wealthiest.

If the Bush family lived in No. 28 at all, they had packed up by Christmas 1904 and were living at their Lakewood, New Jersey estate.  On December 24 that year the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide announced that the architectural firm of Kirby, Petit & Green was at work on plans for a 6-story dwelling costing $60,000 (about $1.5 million today).  The Guide hinted at the appearance, describing “a brick and terra cotta front, metal and glass skylights, tin roof, elevator, terra cotta cornices and coping, steam heat, electric light, etc.”  The out-of-date Queen Anne mansion was demolished and in its place rose an Edwardian dream home. 

Victorian houses obsessed with the damaging effects of sunlight on expensive textiles and artwork.  Interior shutters, window blinds and heavy velvet hangings shut out the direct rays of the sun, creating what must have been dusk-like interiors.  By now, however, doctors stressed fresh air and sunlight as the two major components of a healthful environment and the trend carried over into residential architecture.  The new Bush mansion was as much glass as it was masonry.

The architects drew heavily on Elizabethan country house designs, lining the brick fa├žade with limestone quoins and clustering windows.  The deeply recessed entranceway sat behind four large stone columns on a porch just above the sidewalk.  Inside there were seven bedrooms and baths (three fewer than the number of servants bedrooms), a conservatory that extended to the rear, a 24 by 22 foot library, and an elevator.

The house was put on the market in 1908 (New-York Tribune, October 28, 1908 copyright expired)

For some unknown reason the mansion was put on the market in 1908 with the architects as brokers.  A sale never materialized, however, and the Bush family stayed on.  Irving and Bella maintained the expected routine of wealthy New Yorkers and in February 1915 newspapers noted they were spending the winter season in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  A month earlier they had announced the engagement of Bella’s daughter, Rose Howard Bush, to Arthur Tucker Ellsworth.  Rose had taken the Bush name when her widowed mother married Irving.

By now Europe was embroiled in world war and New York debutantes were volunteering for war relief work.  Rose’s sister, Maud, worked with the Red Cross and related causes as the United States was pulled into the conflict.  And like many other society girls doing such work, she fell in love with a dashing (and wealthy) military man.  On December 26, 1919 Irving and Bella announced Maud’s engagement to Ensign Arthur Lincoln McElroy. 

Irving T. Bush retained ownership of the house on East 64th Street; but he and Bella moved on.  By early 1921 he had converted the mansion to apartments with a gallery space at street level.  On March 20 that year the New-York Tribune reported “There is a new gallery to be added to the already long list in the city, the Mesnard gallery, at 28 East Sixty-fourth Street.  It makes a creditable start, with American paintings among which good examples of Emil Carlsen, Childe Hassam and the late William M. Chase are conspicuous.” 

Irving Bush sold the house in 1927 to Roland Moore who intended to move his Chinese antiques business into the mansion.  But after owning the property for a year, he decided to remain at his East 57th Street location.  When he sold No. 28 to Halsey & Flint in September 1928, the new owners already controlled the adjoining property at the corner of Madison Avenue.

The end of the line for the Irving T. Bush house was on the horizon.  In 1932 construction began on architect Morrell Smith’s neo-Georgian Bank of the Manhattan Company building, which survives today.  The last slice of Theodore Weston’s 1882 Queen Anne row remains at No. 26—Bush’s former next door neighbor—sadly altered and out of context.

A handsome bank structure replaces both  the Bush mansion and the corner house.  No. 26, the last slice of Theodore Weston's row still stands.  (photo by the author)

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating that the sales add list 10 servants bedrooms. Had to be the smallest rooms imaginable.

    Would love to see the interiors of this lost townhouse.