Monday, March 13, 2017

The Lost Daly Mansion - 725 Fifth Avenue

The Daly mansion appears to sit on a corner.  In fact, what appears to be a street is the service alley to the hulking C. P. Huntington mansion.  Collins' Both Sides of Fifth Avenue, 1910 (copyright expired)

In 1854 Marcus Daly came to New York with his family at the age of 13 from the famine-ravaged County Cavan, Ireland.  After selling newspapers on street corners for seven years, the young man set off to find his fortune in California gold.

Aggressive, ambitious and tough, Daly soon was working Nevada's Comstock Lode, and then was a foreman in silver mines in Utah.  His employer, J. B. Haggin, sent him to Montana to check on claims, and while there he used his saved money to buy a small silver mine, called the Anaconda.  The mine produced minimal silver; but to Daly's happy surprise, seemingly endless copper veins were discovered.

The once penniless Irish immigrant boy was garnering a staggering fortune.  At its peak miners were digging $17 million in copper a year from Anaconda.  By the 1890s Daly was known as the Copper King and wielded immense power, both financially and politically, in the West.

Daly had early on become embroiled in a vicious feud with another mining baron--William Andrews Clark, who was among the most hated persons in America.  The San Francisco Call intimated that the manicured, well-dressed Clark was up against a formidable opponent.  It described Daly as "big, broad-shouldered, deep chested and powerful.  He is of mercurial and choleric Irish temperament, genial to friends, vindictive to an enemy, quick of speech and given to a lusty swear word on occasions."

Clark lost two elections before finally becoming senator.  Daly was publicly accused of bribing state legislators to fix the first results.  The bitter rivalry would continue until one of them was dead.

Daly married Margaret Price Evans and they had four children, Mary, Margaret, Harriot and Marcus, Jr.   The Cooper King sold the Anaconda to Standard Oil in 1899.  With a massive fortune and three daughters approaching marrying age, he and Margaret had already begun planning a New York City mansion (although Daly would always consider their 50-acre estate in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana his home).

At the time William Waldorf Astor and George Vanderbilt were leading the battle against the incursion of commerce into the Fifth Avenue mansion district below 59th Street.  When properties became available either of the millionaires rushed in, erecting upscale homes or selling the plots with strict covenants.  On December 3, 1898 the Real Estate Record & Guide noted that Astor's recent purchase of "5th avenue lots, near 56th street" was "of sensational interest."

A month later, on January 14, the journal reported that Astor had commissioned architects Clinton & Russell to design two five-story brick and limestone mansions on the plots, Nos. 723 and 725 Fifth Avenue.  The estimated cost of the project was $80,000--about $2.4 million.

Construction progressed swiftly and only nine months later, on October 13, 1899, the Associated Press announced "Marcus Daly of Montana has taken a ten-year lease on a fine house recently built by William Waldorf Astor on Fifth Avenue between Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh streets."

Clinton & Russell had produced a pair of French Gothic homes that complimented one another.  The Daly house was a relatively restrained take on the style--foregoing the explosion of spiky finials and elaborate Francois I ornamentation.  The brick facade was selectively trimmed in limestone, including the paneled surrounds of the windows, the double bandcourses separating each story, and the striking carved balcony at the second floor.

Marcus Daly would not enjoy his Manhattan palace for long.  The Leadville, Colorado newspaper, The Herald Democrat explained that "Breathing fumes of arsenic, in smelters where copper ore from his mines were treated, and living in the high altitudes of Montana weakened his heart."

The millionaire consulted three New York physicians, each of which warned him to "foresake active business life."  Refusing to do so, he traveled to Bad Nauheim, Germany to take the restorative baths.  His self-treatment hastened his death.  The Herald Democrat wrote "These are said to be too stimulating in cases of dilation of the heart."

German doctors told him that death was imminent.  He boarded a steamship back to the States and, according to the newspaper, "wished to be taken to his new home at 725 Fifth avenue, but it was thought best that he should remain in the apartments of the Hotel Netherland, whither he had been taken from the steamship."

Marcus Daly - from the collection of the Montana Historical Society
Told that his survival was "day to day," he "accepted the decision with full resignation, asking only that he might live until his family could be with him."  Word was sent to the two his daughters who were in Europe.  While the family waited, Daly wrote a new will.

Finally, the entire family was at the hotel.  At 4:00 on the morning of November 12, 1900, after having been unconscious, Daly awoke and asked for his wife and children.  When Margaret came to his bedside, she asked if he were feeling any better.  He uttered his final words "Only a little while more; only a little while more and then peace."

Daly's body was taken to the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The San Francisco Call reported "The funeral will be held from that place, the services including a solemn high mass of requiem in St. Patrick's Cathedral at 11 o'clock on Thursday morning."

Daly's estate was valued at $11 million--a massive $316 million in today's dollars.  Margaret received one-third of the estate, the remainder being divided equally among the four children.  The will demanded that the bequests to the three girls be put in trust.  The Los Angeles Times explained this was "to guard against fortune hunters seeking marriage with his daughters" and noted he was had "suspicion as to their motives."

On January 2, 1901, less than two months after Daly's death, the wedding of daughter Margaret was held in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The groom was Henry Carroll Brown, a Baltimore stockbroker and partner in H. C. Brown & Co.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the marriage "was celebrated the home of the bride's mother."

Because the family was in mourning there were no attendants other than her sister, Mary, and the bride's gown was "quite simply made."  "There were no ushers," said the Tribune, and "Only the members of the families of the bride and bridegroom were present at the ceremony."

The understated affair did not prevent Margaret from decorating the mansion for the event.  "All of the rooms on the ground and the drawing-room floors were trimmed with flowers and green plants," reported the Chicago Tribune.  "The drawing-room was arranged with a chancel marked by palms and white roses.  The satin covered 'prie dieu,' on which lilies of the valley were strewn was placed for the couple to kneel upon."

Only five months later, on June 4, another wedding took place in the mansion.  Mary Augusta was married to attorney James Watson Gerard by the socially-powerful Episcopal Bishop Henry C. Potter.  Once again the house was filled with floral decorations.  The New York Times said "Spring flowers and peonies trimmed the halls, and in the main drawing room a large shell-shaped canopy of pink peonies was built by Small, and under it the ceremony was performed.  The tapestried walls of this room were hung with garlands of brown leaves and pink roses."

The florist mentioned by the newspaper was Small & Sons, whose shop was in the Waldorf-Astoria.  Their creations decorated the dining rooms and ballrooms of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  The Times explained that "There were about 125 guests at the wedding, which was a small one because of the family are still in mourning."

The affair was nevertheless, much more elaborate than Margaret's had been.  The choir from Grace Church sang and after the ceremony a wedding breakfast was served.  "There were twenty small tables for the guests, each with a centrepiece of a different flower and coloring."  Among the guests were some of Manhattan's most socially-elite--families with names like Rockefeller, Barney, Alexander, de Forest, Mackay, Schieffelin and Cutting among them.

The Gerards moved into the Fifth Avenue house with Margaret and the still-unmarried Harriot and Marcus, Jr.  The Times reported that "Extensive repairs are being made to the Gerard family mansion, in Gramercy Park, and it is probable that the young could will reside there."  While the renovations were being done, the newlyweds and Margaret Daly went to the Montana estate, Riverside.

The Daly home in Hamilton, Montana, known as Riverside.  photo by "Dan"

As it turned out, the Gerards never left the Fifth Avenue mansion.  On December 13, 1903 The New York Times reported on the upcoming "dinners, teas and receptions" and said "One of the largest of these will be given by Mr. and Mrs. James W. Gerard at 725 Fifth Avenue."

Those who lived in the exclusive enclave of palaces and chateaux received special attention from the police.  And so when a call came into Police Headquarters on February 27, 1906 at 1:00 in the morning, officers rushed into action.

A whispering female voice told the operator "Well, this is Mrs. Marcus Daly of 725 Fifth Avenue.  Burglars are trying to get into the house.  Please send somebody around at once."

According to The New York Times the following day, the sergeant on duty exclaimed "Gee whiz!  That's Daly, the copper man's widow.  Get busy!  Notify the East Fifty-first Street Station."

Officers inside that station were alerted by a call of "Burglars!"  Three officers rushed out on foot, followed by a patrol wagon.  They arrived at the mansion just as the Daly carriage pulled up at the curb and two women in evening dress stepped out.

Confusion reigned.  The Times reported "The butler was rendered almost as breathless from fright as the policemen by their sprint; when three uniformed men, clubs drawn, brushed by him into the house."

While the perplexed butler and the women protested, telling the police there must be a mistaken, the officers insisted on searching the mansion.  They found nothing and no one in the house could explain the call.

"The guess of the policemen on returning was that a servant might have imagined that she saw an intruder or some one might have planned a joke on Mrs. Daily-perhaps on the policemen," said The Times.

In the meantime, Gerard's legal career skyrocketed.  His client list included widow of Hermann Oelrichs, the former Theresa Alice Fair.  Her husband's estate was about $10 million.  And by 1909 he was a New York Supreme Court Justice.

On January 27, 1908 Gladys Vanderbilt, daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, was married to Hungarian Count Laszlo Szechenyi. The groom's best man was Count Anton Sigray who, while in New York for the ceremony, was smitten with another American heiress, Harriot Daly.  On February 12, 1910 Margaret Daly announced the engagement of Harriot to the count.

The Times described Harriot as "a handsome brunette, and a musician.  Since her debut she has appeared with success in the various tableaux arranged for charity, and has been much admired for her charm of manner."

Marcus Daly need not have worried about a fortune hunter in the count.  "The Sigray family," said the newspaper, "is one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Hungary and holds many important positions.  The Count himself is a large land owner, and his fortune is quite equal to that of Miss Daly, who is one of the richest heiresses in this country."

What Daly may have worried about was religion.  Count Sigray was Catholic.  Nevertheless reporters were told that she "will make no change in her religion."

The marriage, like that of her sisters, was held in No. 725 Fifth Avenue on March 29, 1910.  Rather surprisingly, given the socially-visible match and despite the "large reception," The Sun reported "There will be no bridesmaids or ushers.  Marquis Pallavincini, best man, will be the only attendant."

Margaret and H. Carroll Brown had two children by now and were living at No. 18 East 76th Street.  The following spring Margaret, daughter Margaret, and Marcus, Jr. went to Riverside.  H. Carroll Brown did not go with his wife, but stayed in New York to attend to business.   While in Montana Margaret Brown suffered heart trouble (due to the high altitude, according to doctors).  She was put on a special train to speed her back to New York and medical specialists.  With her on the train were her relatives, two physicians and several nurses.  “And the long race for sea level began,” reported The Sun on April 30.

H. Carroll Brown rushed in the opposite direction to intercept train, which he met and boarded in Chicago.  When the train arrived in New York, Mary was transported to her mother's mansion at No. 725 Fifth Avenue.  But the following day The Sun reported  “Her heart was weak and toward midnight she had a relapse that resulted in her death.”  She was just 38 years old.

The Geralds were still living in the house.  In January 1912 Gerard made a pointed stance against the dilapidated condition of the Tweed Court House:  he moved his court into the Daly mansion.

On January 20 The Times quipped that if the blindfolded Goddess of Justice were to peek out, "instead of the dingy walls of the Tweed Court House, the Goddess would have seen a beautiful room of the period of Louis XVI.  She would have gazed upon heavy crimson tapestries and rugs; she would have seen richly famed pictures and heavy gilt molding and the soft glow of the electrolier falling over it all."

Justice Gerard had brought his entire court staff, the jury, and the testifiers.  They gathered around the Circassian walnut dining room table; and a Louis XVI chair served as the witness stand.  Somewhat comically, Gerard's valet, outfitted in knickers and a black-braided coat ushered lawyers, clients and witnesses in and out.

The newspaper mentioned other witnesses to the cases that day: a large portrait of the Empress Marie of Russia; a 1667 portrait of Henry Rich, Earl of Holland; and one of Mlle. de la Sabiliere by Mignard.

While Gerard presided over court cases, the Fifth Avenue outside his window was changing.  Neighboring millionaires had begun moving up the avenue after John Jacob Astor had sullied the area with his St. Regis Hotel just south of the Daly house in 1901.

In March 1912 Gerard purchased a plot on Fifth Avenue far north, between 94th and 95th Streets as a site for his new mansion.  A year later President Woodrow Wilson appointed him Ambassador to Germany, and the family sailed for Berlin that summer.  It was an ill-timed appointment, with World War I erupting the following year.

Margaret Daly abandoned New York in 1913, spending her time at the Montana estate.  No. 725 Fifth Avenue became home to the Walter G. Oakman family.  Oakman was the founder and chairman of the Guaranty Trust Company.  His wife, Eliza, was the daughter of well-known politician Roscoe Conkling.   The couple had two children, Walter, Jr. and Katharine.

The family's move into the Fifth Avenue mansion coincided with Katharine's debutante entertainments.  On December 27 a large dinner and dance was held in the house in her honor.  The festivities went on for months.  In February Eliza gave a "theatre party and supper for Miss Katherine Oakman," according to The Sun.

When the Oakmans moved in 1914, they sold everything in the house at auction.  The two day sale attracted buyers like Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. Oliver Gould Jennings, millionaire brewer Jacob Ruppert, and William Rockefeller.  The furnishings were described as "of historic interest," a portrait of Catherine of Russia brought $4,850 (nearly $120,000 today), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased medieval armor.

The mansion staggered along as a single family house for three years.  It was leased for the winter season of 1915-16 to Mrs. Nelson W. Aldrich, widow of the State Senator.  In reporting on the lease, The Times reminded readers it "is one of a row of dwellings there owned by William Waldorf Astor."

The mansion was used for war relief that spring.  The Times reported that "Several hundred dollars worth of hats were sold yesterday at the opening of the sale which is being given by a number of society women for the benefit of the Orphelinat des Armees at 725 Fifth Avenue.  The house, formerly occupied by James W. Gerard, Ambassador to Germany, has been converted into a spacious salon for the display  the latest models and creations of the leading milliners, many of them having been sent from Paris"

The renovations for F. Kleinberger Galleries, directly behind the massive C. P. Huntington mansion, can be seen.  The second floor windows have been enlarged, the balcony is gone, and show windows can be glimpsed above the automobile.  photograph by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Commerce caught up with the house in November 1917, when plans were filed to remodel it for the F. Kleinberger Galleries.  The art dealers had been located at No. 709 Fifth Avenue for years.  The renovations were completed in November that year.

The Evening World, November 9, 1917 (copyright expired)

Francois Kleinberger and his wife lived in the upper floors of the mansion, while he conducted his high-end art gallery below.  Here wealthy collectors were shown works by some of Europe's greatest artists, like Rembrandt and Reubens.

The altered house survived until 1928 when it was replaced by the Art Deco style Stewart & Company department store building designed by Warren & Wetmore.  The building was taken over by Bonwit Teller in 1930.  Described by American Architect in 1929 as "a sparkling jewel," it was demolished in 1980 for Donald Trump's glitzy Trump Tower.

High above Fifth Avenue floor-height Art Deco bas reliefs danced.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Art lovers and preservationists were aghast when, after Donald Trump promised that the Metropolitan Museum of Art could have the limestone bas reliefs of dancing women, he ordered them  jack hammered to scrabble.  Trump's representatives deemed them "without artistic merit" and complained that saving them would have delayed construction.

photograph by Martin Durrschnabel


  1. The destruction of the Art Deco styled sculptures on the Bonwit Teller store after they were promised to the MET, is one of the low points in preservation in this city, of which there have been many. It wasn't the first time, nor will it be the last, when greed, arrogance and pettiness won out over moral integrity.

  2. I really love all the buildings that sat here.

  3. Well, at least Trump has his fake Monet.