Monday, February 20, 2017

The Lost Jacob Ruppert Mansion - No. 1116 Fifth Avenue

A newspaper published the above photograph around 1900 (copyright expired)

When Andrew Carnegie purchased land between 90th and 91st Streets in 1899 as the site of his new mansion, other millionaires called him "foolish."  At least 20 blocks north of the mansion district, the plot seemed impossibly remote.

But Carnegie was not the first wealthy pioneer in the weedy district.  In 1880 Jacob Ruppert had put architect William Schickel to work designing a lavish mansion two blocks to the north, at the northeast corner of 93rd Street.   Construction began in 1881 and was not completed until 1883.

A four-story Victorian concoction of brick and stone, it melded several of the most popular architectural styles--Ruskinian  Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival, and even a splash of French Second Empire in the full-story mansard.  Despite dormers, quoins, arched first floor windows, and quaint bays, it was the corner tower that stole attention.  Decorated with carved panels and friezes, girded by a cast iron balcony at the third floor, and topped by a conical cap pierced by delightful pointy-topped dormers, it dominated the design.

The completed Ruppert mansion, seen from the rear above, sat amid a rather desolate landscape.  The little white building to the right is the Eagle Hotel, a roadhouse.  photograph by Peter Baab, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Jacob Ruppert had humble beginnings.  Born on March 4, 1842, he was one of seven children of German immigrant Franz Ruppert, who had arrived in America in 1836.  The senior Ruppert started business as a grocer, then opened a malt-house on 13th Street and Avenue C--making him the first malt brewer in New York City.  His tavern was so successful that in 1851 he established the Turtle Bay Brewery on 45th Street, between Second and Third Avenues.

Jacob was nine years old at the time.  The following year he left school to enter his father's beer business.  The New-York Tribune later noted he "served for years, working up from the bottom and learning every feature of the trade."  By the time Franz Ruppert retired in 1870 Jacob was well prepared to take over the operation of the brewery.

Franz Ruppert died in October 1883, the same year that Jacob and his wife, the former Anna Gillig, moved into the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The couple two daughters and three sons.  Living in the house with them were 13 servants including a butler, cook, laundress, Japanese valet and maid.  Behind the house were apple and peach trees.

The Ruppert mansion reflected its owner's millions.  The interiors not designed by Schickel himself were done by Herter Brothers, the decorating firm that had redone the White House for President Grant.  As the Ruppert house neared completion, Herter Brothers was simultaneously at work on William. H. Vanderbilt's massive "petite chateau" 40 blocks to the south, the mansion of Darius Ogden Mills, and Jay Gould's sumptuous summer estate, Lyndhurst.
A musicians' gallery looks out onto the dining room.  The Herter Brothers frieze depicts a procession of children and animals, including leopards.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

Costing $90,000--or about $2.2 million in 2017--the mansion included all the luxuries of the period.  The dining room, wainscoted in antique oak, included a small musicians' gallery behind a carved railing.  The walls were covered in embossed leather, its dark red design of grapes and vines touched in gold.
The chandelier is gilded bronze.  As in the dining room, the frieze (this one painted on canvas and applied to the walls) depicted children, these engaged in games.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

The drawing room was lighter, a modified take on Louis XVI with ivory-painted woodwork touched in gold leaf.  An intricately-stenciled ceiling hung over hand-enameled Herter Brothers furniture.

Critics were not impressed.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide derided “It is evident that there are a great many things in the house . . . and that the house cost a great deal of money.  But it is impossible to discern any more artistic purpose on the part of the designer than to exhibit these two facts.”

More in keeping with Ruppert's German roots was his kneipstube, or beer drinking room.  The New-York Tribune singled it out, saying "There is a room in the Fifth-ave. home of Jacob Ruppert, the brewer, that is as delightful as it is unique.  A peep inside the 'kneipstube,' as the quaint room is called, is, in imagination, a trip to the Fatherland."

A faithful copy of a rathskeller, it included bulls-eye glass windows, an iron chandelier, and antique oak paneling.  German tavern furniture was placed around a large oaken center table.  Bronze medallions of German characters graced the paneling, and inscriptions in German reflected the purpose of the room.  One, for example, translated loosely to:

Malt and hops
Make good drops.

At one end of the vaulted room, a wall painting surmounted what appeared to be a huge beer barrel, or hogshead, planted deeply within the wall.  In actuality, it was a cleverly-disguised cabinet, the spigot of which was one used in Franz Ruppert's 1851 brewery.

Steins and drinking cups line the plate rail, and a painting of a Taverne Madchen, or tavern waitress, adorns the wall.  New-York Tribune, December 6, 1903 (copyright expired)

Ruppert decorated his kneipstube with German steins and a tile stove.  The Tribune remarked "This is an old German stove, imported for Mr. Ruppert several years ago.  It is made of tile, and presents an appearance odd enough in this country, where most stoves are of iron.  This is one of the most highly valued articles in the room."

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery, now located on Third Avenue and 91st Street, was one of the largest in the nation, producing around 350,000 barrels of beer annually.  By the end of the century it provided employment to 400 men, and required 200 horses and 135 delivery wagons.

Along with his professional pursuits (he became president of the Delavergne Refrigerating machine Co., and a director in the Astoria Silk Works, for instance), Ruppert turned his attention to horse racing--a visible and expensive pastime of Manhattan millionaires.  In the fall of 1886 he bought the Hudson River Driving Park.  The New York Times noted in January 1887 that he "is arranging to have four trotting meetings there this Summer.  D. B. Herrington, well known as a turfman and trainer of trotters, is to have charge of the park, and has plans laid out to make it a most attractive spot as well as a fast track."  Ruppert's summer estate, Hudson Brook Farm, near Rhinebeck, New York, would soon be known for his impressive stable of pedigree steeds.

In the meantime, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. was enjoying the privileges not available to his father as a young man.  Born in 1867, he was educated at Columbia Grammar School.  He joined his father not only in the brewery, but in the Astoria Silk Works and the Delavergne Refrigerating Machine Co.   His advantaged upbringing as the eldest son of a millionaire was reflected in his staggering number of memberships to exclusive clubs: the Manhattan, New York Athletic, Larchmont Yacht, Atlantic Yacht, New York Yacht, Jockey, Lotos, Sagamore, and Algonquin among them.

He shared his father's interest in horses, and went a step further by breeding and showing Saint Bernard dogs.  He was, therefore, a member of the English Kennel and the American Kennel Clubs.

While her husband and sons involved themselves in business and sports, Anna focused on her growing daughters.  On February 4, 1893 The New York Times reported "A very large reception was given yesterday by Mrs. Jacob Ruppert and the Misses Ruppert of 1,116 Fifth Avenue."

Two years later, on May 3, the mansion was the setting of the wedding of daughter Anna to Herman Adolph Schalk.  The Tammany Times reported "The magnificent home of Mr. Jacob Ruppert, the millionaire brewer, No. 1116 Fifth avenue, was the scene of one of the most beautiful weddings of the season this week."

Ruppert had given society florist Hanft Brothers carte blanche in decorating the house, which, according to Tammany Times, was "transformed into a floral bower."  The newspaper called the mansion a "fairy scene of flowers," and reported "A marriage bell of white roses was suspended from the centre of this flowery canopy, and two immense baskets of white roses divided the bridal cortege from the guests.  The four immense mirrors were draped with smilax studded with white roses, orchids and lilies of the valley."

An orchestra played the music, which included the wedding march from "Lohengrin."  Among the guests were Archbishop Michael Corrigan (the ceremony, interestingly, was performed by the rector of St. Joseph's Church, Rev. Father Lemmel), Senator David B. Hill, former Governor Roswell P. Flower and his wife, millionaires John D. Crimmins and Thomas E. Crimmins, and the Duchess of Castelluccia,.  A wedding dinner followed the ceremony, after which was a reception from 8 to 11 p.m.

Two months later, almost to the day, Cornelia Ann Ruppert was married.  Hers, however, would not include thousands of dollars in flowers, an orchestra, nor wealthy guests with lavish gifts.  On July 2 she appeared at the Paterson, New Jersey City Hall with orchestra leader Nathan Franko.  The 33-year old groom routinely appeared in the mansions of Manhattan's millionaires to provide musical accompaniment to balls, elaborate dinners or weddings--not to court their daughters.

While Anna had been dressed in ivory satin trimmed with Venetian lace and dripping with diamonds, Cornelia wore "a light gray traveling skirt and a changeable silk blouse waist," according to The New York Times the following day.  The newspaper mentioned "The general understanding here is that the match was a runaway."

The bride and groom took a carriage to the United States Hotel where a dinner was waiting for them.  Cornelia told reporters that immediately afterward "she was going direct to her father's house."

If anyone wondered how smoothly that meeting went, it was obvious the following year when Cornelia died of typhoid fever.  Franko was barred from the Fifth Avenue mansion following the funeral and a bitter, public court battle played out over control of the body and place of burial.

By now Jacob, Jr. was the general manager of the brewery.  On January 30, 1897 the New-York Tribune noted that beyond competing in regattas in his steam yacht, the Albatross, "he finds further vent for his enthusiastic ardor in athletic and outdoor sports.  Before many years that ardor in outdoor sports would manifest itself in baseball.

In 1898 Jacob, Jr. was elected to Congress.  But he was back in the Fifth Avenue mansion the following March when he fell seriously ill.  The New York Times reported on March 14 that he "caught a severe cold about ten days ago while leaving the Metropolitan Opera."  His condition worsened, said the newspaper, to pneumonia.

His doctor, E. G. Janeway (who was "one of the physicians attending Rudyard Kipling") changed his diagnosis before long.  Two days later The Times said that Ruppert "is lying ill with typhoid fever" but "was said last night to be somewhat improved."

By 1911, when this photograph was taken, development was beginning to catch up to the Ruppert mansion.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Jacob Ruppert, Jr. did recover.  But his younger brother, Frank, contracted typhoid fever three years later.  The 30-year old had been accepted into Columbia University's School of Applied Sciences years earlier; but opted instead to go into the brewery.  After suffering with the disease for several weeks, he died in the mansion on October 20, 1902.  His funeral was held there two days later.

In reporting on his death The Evening World noted "He was unmarried" and "was looked upon as a good fellow."

Despite its love of horses, the family embraced the new automobile trend.  In 1914 Anna owned a Peerless, and Jacob, Jr. was driving a sportier Simplex, known for speed.

Anna Ruppert was driven around in a 1914 Peerless, similar to this model.  It retailed for up to $5,000--or about $110,000 today.  Country Life in America, December 1914 (copyright expired)
That same year, in December, The Evening World broke the story that Jacob Rupert, Jr. had purchased the National League baseball team, the New York Highlanders.  The newspaper said that rumors held that "Mr. Ruppert has long wanted to get into baseball."  He paid an astonishing half million dollars for the team.

But the Ruppert family was also dealing with a serious threat--the Temperance Movement.  The possibility of Prohibition was genuine, and its effects not only to America's brewers and distillers, but to the population at large, would be monumental.  On February 22, 1914 The Sun published a lengthy interview with Jacob Ruppert, Jr. in which he insisted that Prohibition would not promote temperance.  He went on to expound that legislating what one could drink was an invasion of personal rights.

Jacob Ruppert would not live to see Prohibition enacted.  On May 25, 1915 he died in the mansion with his entire family around him.  His more than $6 million estate was divided among the family; with Jacob, Jr. receiving the mansion while Anna had life-long rights to live there.

Jacob, Jr. was now the head of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, which was putting out 2 million barrels of beer a year.  He was also the owner of the New York American Ball Club, known as the New York Yankees two years later.

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery vats, several stories tall, were deemed the largest in the world in 1918. The Sun, October 6, 1918 (copyright expired)

In an ironic twist the Fenway Realty Trust took out a $300,000 mortgage on Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, in May 1920.  The mortgagee was Jacob Ruppert, Inc.  The attorney for the Boston team tried valiantly to distance the club from the Yankee's owner.  "There is no connection between the club and either Jacob Ruppert or the Jacob Ruppert corporation," he said.  The Boston Red Sox, Thomas J. Barry insisted, were "merely a tenant" or the ballpark.

Yankee Stadium has long been nicknamed The House That Ruth Built.  And while Babe Ruth may have been responsible for making the Yankees champions, it was, of course, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. who built the new stadium.  On April 1, 1922 he announced that after 18 months of negotiations, he had finally succeeded in having two Bronx streets closed to accommodate the site of the structure.

Now he embarked on finding contractors to erect Yankee Stadium.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 1, "Figuring as conservatively as possible, the stadium even without the upper tier, will be able to accommodate 60,000 fans in case of necessity during the early weeks of October."

On March 16, 1924 Anne Gillig Ruppert died in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  She was 82 years old.  In the four decades she had lived here, she had seen drastic change in the neighborhood.  Farms had given way to mansions, which were now being replaced by apartment buildings.  Jacob, Jr. and his family still lived in the house; a situation that would not last much longer.

In 1925, months before demolition, nothing had changed to the old house.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Within the year Ruppert sold the mansion to Anthony Campagna, who assembled the Fifth Avenue and Ninety-third Street Corporation to erect a high-end cooperative apartment building on the site.  But before it was totally demolished, Ruppert saved entire rooms of the family home.  Anna's bedroom was dismantled and installed intact in Ruppert's new Garrison, New York country estate.  Even her furniture and decorative objects were brought in, creating a sort of time-capsule shrine.

The Garrison house also received the dining room fireplace and musicians' gallery; and, like his mother's bedroom, his father's favorite room, the kneipstube was reinstalled in the new mansion.

The cover of a 1926 brochure pictured the new building.  (copyright expired)

Jacob Ruppert's massive mansion, which once defined the Fifth Avenue frontier, was replaced by 1115 Fifth Avenue, designed by J. E. R. Carpenter.  It survives.


  1. I live just outside Washington DC and this reminds me of DC's Heurich House built by our beer baron just a few years after the Ruppert mansion went up. Fortunately the Heurich House is still standing and is now a museum.

  2. Carowells99@gmail.comMay 9, 2021 at 8:23 PM

    Eagle’s Rest, Ruppert’s Tudor style granite home in Garrison, NY used to contain a private zoo, but was more recently featured on a finale for the show The Amazing Race.

  3. Great piece, as usual! One small correction: Ruppert bought only 1 New York baseball team. That was the Yankees, then still also known as the Highlanders.