Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Chas. Marshall Mansion -- No. 6 East 77th Street

Not only were Richard W. Buckley and Robert McCafferty developers, operating as McCafferty & Buckley; Buckley acted as the firm’s architect—a significant cost savings.  In 1895 the partners started construction of seven high-end homes at Nos. 4 through 16 East 77th Street.

Unlike the nearly identical high-stoop brownstones erected a generation earlier; McCafferty & Buckley’s handsome residences, completed in 1897, were limestone-faced, neo-Renaissance mansions; each with its own personality.

No. 6, was, like its neighbors, four stories high over a basement level.  The most eye-catching feature was the entrance portico above a wide flight of five stone steps.  Hefty consoles, looking like over-sized scrolled brackets, supported two short, fluted Ionic columns which, in turn, upheld the heavy stone entablature. The understated ornamentation of the façade included shallow, paneled pilasters, and handsome architrave-type frames of the openings.

McCafferty & Buckley did not have to wait long for a buyer.  On September 1, 1897 The New York Times reported that they had sold the 25-foot wide mansion for “something over $100,000.”  That price would translate to nearly $3 million in 2016.  “The buyer’s name could not be learned,” said the article.

The mystery would not last long.  Charles H. Marshall soon moved in with his wife, the former Josephine Banks and their two young adult children, Evelyn and Charles, Jr.

Marshall was the principal in the shipping company Charles H. Marshall & Co.   His father, Captain Charles H. Marshall, had risen from a seaman to the principal owner of the famous Black Ball Line of packet ships.  The younger Marshall was also appointed Dock Commissioner by Mayor Abraham Hewitt and had extensive holdings in transatlantic steamship companies and in the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company.

Like most millionaires, Marshall had assembled a fine art collection.  In addition to his paintings and sculptures, he also owned several valuable Sevres vases, along with miniatures and watches.  The 77th Street house was filled with antique furnishings.  And while all moneyed New Yorkers had country estates; the Marshall family maintained a home in Paris.

Ten years after purchasing the house, Marshall brought back Richard W. Buckley to design a harmonious penthouse floor. Buckley successfully melded the addition to his original design.  Only the now upset proportions and the non-matching cornice hint at the renovation.

Charles Marshall died at No. 6 East 77th Street in 1912 at the age of 75.   Although he bequeathed small amounts to several charities; the bulk of his nearly $5 million estate went to his immediate family.  Josephine was given “the use” of the 77th Street mansion.  It was appraised at $140,000.  Marshall’s will instructed “that his collections of works of art, books and antiques be kept intact in his home.”

There were certain valuable objects, especially family pieces, which Marshall specifically tagged for his children.  To his son he left the portrait of his father by Charles Crowell Ingham, “an ivory miniature of his father, an oil painting of his father, [and] by Pennington, a marble bust of his father by Launt Thompson.

The will broke up the pair of matching Sevres vases given to him by by the French Government in 1874.   Charles and Evelyn each received one.  Evelyn also received “the miniature of her grandmother, by Pennington; his collection of watches and miniatures, and an equal share of his collection of books and bric-a-brac.”

Marshall’s will, perhaps, hinted at a strained relationship with his two sisters, Mary and Helen.  While he bequeathed $2,000 each to his nieces, Charlotte Appleton and Fidelia M. Hoffman; his sisters each received $100.

On December 21, 1914 25-year old Evelyn Marshall gave a dinner dance in the family mansion.   Following the formal dinner, about 150 additional guests arrived for the dancing.  Society affairs were late night events and The New York Times commented that “a seated supper was served about 1 o’clock.”  Among the long list of guests were two young Chicago heirs, Lester Armour and Marshall Field.   Those reading the account of the party the next morning most likely had little clue to the significance of their appearance.

Earlier that year Evelyn was returning home from Europe.  The 21-year old Marshall Field III, who was in line to inherit a massive fortune of $200 million--three-fifths of the Marshall Field estate--was on the same ship.  The Evening World explained “He has lived abroad since boyhood with his widowed mother, who recently married a British nobleman.  Young Field has been brought up in the English fashion, and is a graduate of Eton and Oxford.”

A romance had blossomed aboard ship; and five days after Evelyn’s dinner party—on the day after Christmas--the couple went to City Hall to obtain a marriage license.   Newspaper reporters routinely camped out at City Hall in hopes of catching just such new stories.  This time they were frustrated.  The Evening World reported “They hurried away, refusing to tell the reporters when the wedding was to be.”

New York and Chicago society were abuzz with rumors.  Field left Chicago in January, having given his farewell bachelor dinner at the Blackstone Hotel, and headed to New York.  Stanley Field’s departure soon after “precipitated a premature announcement of the wedding day,” reported the Chicago Tribune.  “Following the denial of that day as the correct day by Miss Marshall’s family, February 4 was rumored as the day for the event.”

Socially-proper eyebrows in both cities were most likely raised when the groom-to-be did not head to the St. Regis Hotel as he normally did when in New York.  “This time he and his uncle, Stanley Field, went to the home of Mrs. And Miss Marshall,” reported The Evening World.

While the arrangement was convenient, it turned out to be problematic when both Evelyn and Marshall contracted a severe case of the flu.  On February 5 The Evening World reported that the wedding was postponed.  “He and she are ill with the grip [sic] at the home of Mrs. Marshall, but both are improving and may be well enough for the wedding in a few days.”

Much to the surprise of everyone, the couple was married in the Marshall mansion the next day.  Bishop Patrick J. Hayes, of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, performed the ceremony.  The low key service included only a few family members—Mrs. Marshall Field, grandmother of the groom; Mrs. James Lenox Banks, grandmother of the bride; and Evelyn’s mother and brother.  Stanley Field, Marshall’s cousin, was best man.

If socialites in both cities had expected a lavish ceremony, they were both surprised and disappointed.  Evelyn did not even have a bridal gown.  The Chicago Tribune noted “Miss Marshall wore a dress of dark blue silk and chiffon.  Her head was bare.”

As the newlyweds headed south for their honeymoon (the Chicago Tribune reported that following a stay in Hot Springs, Virginia, they “will go to Florida and pass much of their time on the houseboat Everglades”), Josephine Marshall resumed her social involvements.  She arranged an “afternoon of French music” two weeks later, on the afternoon of February 24, in the massive mansion of former Senator William Clark, directly across the street.

The event was for the benefit of the Villa Moliere, the French military hospital auxiliary in Paris.  The New-York Tribune noted that this was the first time the Clark mansion had been open to the public.  “The organ will be used, and M. Andre Tourret, violinist, from the Conservatoire in Paris, has aided in arranging the programme,” said the newspaper.

Evelyn and Marshall were back in the 77th Street house the following year for the birth of their son.  Little Marshall Field IV was born in the mansion on June 17, 1916.   It was the last important event Josephine Marshall would witness in the house.   A month later she sold it for $150,000 to a “prominent New Yorker,” Edmund Coffin.  In reporting on the sale, The Sun noted “Reginald Vanderbilt recently purchased the house at 14 East Seventy-seventh street, just a few doors east on the same block.”

Coffin did not hold the property long.  He resold it in March 1917 to William Chapman Potter and his wife the former Caroline Morton.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide, on March 24, reported that buyer “is one of the members of the Guggenheim Exploration Company.  Mr. Potter intends to use this house for his own occupancy, and will make extensive alterations.”

Caroline Potter was the daughter of financier Paul Morton.  William was a member in Guggenheim Bros., president of the Intercontinental Rubber Company, and a former vice-president of the Guaranty Trust Company.  He had heavy interests in copper mines both in the West and in Chile.  The couple had two daughters, Jean and Charlotte.

With the entry of the United States into World War I, Potter focused his expertise to military aid.   While the family spent much time in Washington DC as he worked with the Army, they leased the New York mansion to Rufus L. Patterson.  

Patterson and his wife and daughter, Lucy, summered in Southampton and took the 77th Street house for the winter season.  Like the Potters, their lives were heavily affected by the war.  On May 11, 1919 The Sun reported “The marriage of Miss Luncy Lathrop Patterson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Rufus L. Patterson of 6 East Seventy-seventh street, to Lieut. Casimir de Rham, U. S. A., will not take place until next autumn.”  Lt. de Rham was serving with the American Expeditionary Forces.

Later that year William C. Potter was awarded the Congressional Distinguished Service Medal “for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services.”  The Office of the Adjutant General of the Army explained “He reorganized the Equipment Division of the Signal Corps and organized and developed the Bureau of Aircraft Production.”

But if the Potters anticipated returning to East 77th Street directly after the war, they would have to delay it one more season.  In 1920 the house was leased to Professor and Mrs. John Dyneley Prince for the winter.  The couple entertained lavishly during their stay.

The Potters returned to New York just in time for William’s change of jobs.  In January 1921 he stepped down from his partnership with Guggenheim Bros. and accepted the position of Chairman of the Board of the Guaranty Trust Company.   Potter’s decision to leave Guggenheim Bros. may have been more domestic than professional.

In October 1922 Caroline obtained a divorce in Paris.  She told the court “that for fifteen years after their marriage they were very happy together, but that more recently he had allowed his business to crowd his family out of his thoughts.”  That was, it seems, not the only reason for the break up.   Less than four months later Caroline married Harry F. Guggenheim, of her former husband’s firm.

Caroline kept the house until 1925, when it was sold to 50-year old George Arents, Jr.   He was the son of the treasurer of the American Tobacco Company and a member of the New York Stock Exchange.  In 1900 he co-founded the American Machine and Foundry Company, one of the largest recreational equipment companies in the United States.  The AMF logo is still recognized in bowling alley equipment throughout the nation.  He later founded the International Cigar Machinery Company, and in 1918 patented the cigar-making machine by which most American cigars are still made today.

Arents and his wife, the former Lena Blake Richardson, moved into the 77th Street house with Dorothy, Lena’s daughter from her previous marriage; and their son George Jr.  (Arents had adopted Dorothy following his marriage to her mother.)

The family traveled extensively; but entertainments in the New York mansion were exceptional.  On January 20, 1928, for instance, they hosted a “cabaret” dinner and dance in the house.  The New York Times reported “An orchestra played for dancing, which was general, being interrupted at midnight for supper, during which Rubini entertained the guests with card tricks and mental telepathy.  The other artists were Barth Bartholomew Doyle, Scotch and Irish monologues; Peggy Zane, songs, and William Dick, guitarist.”  The guest list totaled approximately 130.

The family maintained a summer estate, Hillbrook, in Westchester County.  It was there on May 31, 1930 that Dorothy was married to Julius de Konkoly-Thege whom The New York Times described as “an engineer, who belongs to the old Hungarian nobility.”  Following their brief honeymoon, the newlyweds arrived in Budapest on June 18.  On July 6 the 23-year old bride was found unconscious and was taken to a sanatorium where she died without regaining consciousness.

A telegram to The Times reported that her death was the “result of swallowing poison.  It is uncertain whether the case was suicide or an accident.”

Lena and George Arents traveled to Europe where they persuaded their grieving son-in-law to accompany them to Scandinavia.  The tragedy continued when, on August 11, Julius committed suicide.  The Arents accompanied his body back to Budapest where he was buried alongside Dorothy.

Three years after the tragic incident, the 77th Street house was the scene of a much happier event.  Amelia Earhart was being applauded world-wide for being the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.  On the evening of January 5, 1933 the Arents hosted a reception for the aviator, during which she was awarded the gold medal of the Society of Women Geographers.

George Arents died on December 13, 1960 in the 77th Street house at the age of 85.  His philanthropies had included the 21-bell carillon in St. Thomas Protestant Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, as well as a new organ in 1956 in memory of Lena.  In the 1940s he had began donating first editions to the New York Public Library until finally a special room was established to handle them.  At Syracuse University he had installed the Lena R. Arents Rare Book Room.

His estate was estimated at around $50 million; millions of which went to institutions like the New York Public Library and Syracuse University.

Within the year No. 6 East 77th Street—to date always a private home—was sold to the Mongolian People’s Republic.  Today it remains that government’s consulate to the United Nations.  Outwardly, essentially nothing has changed to the limestone mansion since the original owner added a penthouse in 1907.

photographs by the author

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