Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Often-Remodeled Mansion With an Impressive Past --11 East 61st Street

Susan Sullivan and her husband, John, made a good team in the 1870s.  John Sullivan was a well-known builder and his wife operated as a real estate developer.  It was Susan, apparently, who was the wheeler and dealer in the projects.

In 1876 Susan completed an upscale brownstone-fronted house at No. 11 East 61st Street, just off Central Park.  The Sullivans' investment reflected the increasingly high-end tone of the neighborhood, just north of Millionaire's Row.  Designed by the prolific John G. Prague, the house cost $25,000 to build.  Coupled with the $26,000 price for the 25-foot wide lot, the total outlay would be equal to nearly $1.2 million today.

No records or photographs survive to hint at the original appearance of the four-story structure.  Most likely it was in the Italianate style, with a high brownstone stoop.  Wealthy merchant William F. King would change that as the turn of the century approached.

King purchased the house in 1883.  He was associated with Calhoun, Robbins & Co., and was the founder and first president of the New York Merchants' Association.  King was later described by J. Hampton Dougherty as "A genial, affable, straight-forward, manly, energetic nature, a good-humored vital personality, yet with a touch of the feminine that is explained by his possession of that rare masculine endowment, the faculty of intuition."

William F. King, photo from "In Memory of William F. King" 1909, (copyright expired
By the early 1890s the high-stooped brownstone houses of a generation earlier were decidedly out of fashion.  As millionaires abandoned Fifth Avenue below 59th Street, forced northward by the advance of hotels, office buildings and stores, they razed or completed remodeled the vintage houses into modern residences.

Around 1895 King and his wife hired mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert to completely redesign No. 11 East 61st Street.  The stoop was removed and a three-story bowed bay added.   The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide deemed the changes "elegant."  Oddly enough, the Kings almost immediately sold their remodeled home.

On November 12, 1895 Pauline Whitney, the daughter of former Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, married Almeric Hugh Paget, grandson of the first Marquis of Anglesey and son of Lord Alfred Paget.  The wedding took place in St. Thomas Church.  The guests included not only the cream of New York society, including the Vanderbilts, Rhinelanders, and Sloanes; but the Mayor and the President-elect, Grover Cleveland and his wife.

Fifth Avenue was overwhelmed with gawkers.  The Times reported “The crowd extended fully a block up and down the street, and lined along the curb as if some great procession were soon to pass by.  Most of the women appeared to be of the class that loves to read the so-called society papers.”

Less than two months later William F. King sold No. 11 to Paget for "about $150,000," or just under $4.5 million in today's dollars.  The social standing of the newlyweds was evidenced when even the Chicago Tribune mentioned the purchase on January 2, 1897.   In reporting the sale the Record & Guide noted "The house has long been considered one of the finest of its size in New York."

The Pagets were not totally content with the newly-done renovations.  On February 5 architects McKim, Mead & White filed plans for further alterations.  They included the raising of the roof one-half story and adding a "new laundry under extension" to the rear.  The extension allowed for increasing the size of the dining room.  Typical of Stanford White's modus operandi, mantels and other architectural elements were imported from Europe.

Apparently also included in the $10,000 worth of changes was the columned portico.   Although the plans do not specifically mention that detail, McKim, Mead & White often documented their work in photographs, and one such photo depicts the classical portico.

McKim, Mead & White documented its work in this photo. Both flanking houses retain their 1870s flavor.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New YorkPaul

Construction was completed and the house ready to receive guests by the end of the year.  On December 12, 1897 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Almeric Hugh Paget gave her first formal reception since her marriage two years ago in her new home, No. 11 East Sixty-first-st., on Tuesday afternoon last."

Crowds jammed the streets around the Whitney mansion on the day of the wedding.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Pauline wasted no time in catching up on her entertaining.  Three days later she held a dinner party, the guest list of which reading like a Who's Who of Manhattan society--the Henry T. Sloanes, the M. Orme Wilsons, the Edmund L. Baylies, and on and on.

Pauline's brother, Payne Whitney, was attending Yale University at the time.  A few weeks later she held a dinner dance for him, and invited some of the most eligible unmarried women in New York.  Society watchers across the country took notice.  The Saint Paul Globe reported on the affair the following morning, January 9, 1898.

Socialites were expected to lavish their guests with expensive "favors" and since Payne was a member of Yale's varsity rowing crew, Pauline's gifts followed that theme.  The article mentioned "Among other favors given out were satin opera glass bags and gold lorgnettes for the young women.  For the men there were four-leaved clover charms, monocles, tiny crossed oar pins on boutonnieres, and oars about five feet long instead of wands."

The house in 1922.  To the right is the mansion of John T. Pratt, completed in 1915.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Just before Payne Whitney married Helen Hay on February 6, 1902, the Pagets moved permanently to London.   When Payne and his bride returned from their honeymoon in August, the Washington DC Evening Star reported that they "have leased the Almeric Hugh Paget house, 11 East 61st street, New York city, and will take possession within a month or so."

The need to rent his sister's home was understandable.  One of the couple's wedding gifts was a marble and granite mansion at No. 972 Fifth Avenue, designed by Stanford White.  It would not be completed until 1906.

No. 11 was next purchased by John Teele Pratt, son of oil tycoon and partner of John D. Rockefeller, Charles Pratt.  The established tradition of remodeling the house continued. 

In 1910 he and his wife, the former Ruth Baker, had commissioned architect Charles A. Platt to design their neo-Georgian summer home, The Manor, on their 55-acre estate in Glen Cove, Long Island.

They brought him back in 1912 to remodel the interiors of No. 11 East 62nd Street.  Charles Platt's plans, filed in March that year, included new windows and the rearranging of interior walls.

John T. Pratt in 1919.  Ruth Pratt would go on to become the first female member of Congress elected from New York.  photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Perhaps because of their large family--the Pratts had six children--they did not stay at No. 11 for long.  In May 1914 John purchased the two 25-foot wide houses next door--Nos. 7 and 9 East 61st Street--and once again hired Charles A. Platt.  He was instructed to replace them with what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide assumed would be "a high-class residence."

Construction on their $200,000 mansion (in the neighborhood of $4.87 million today) was completed by the end of 1915.  The Pratts leased No. 11 to the wealthy widow, Mary L. Flagler.  Despite her marriage to Judge Robert W. Bingham on November 16, 1916, she renewed her lease the following year.

On March 17, 1917 the Record & Guide reported on rumors that Pratt had sold No. 11.  "The holding price is about $250,000," said the article.  "It is understood that the buyer will occupy the residence."

Before long the rumors were confirmed.  Thomas Suffern Tailer was known popularly as "Tommy" and professionally as T. Suffern Tailor.  His divorce from Maude Lorrilard, the daughter of immensely wealthy Pierre Lorrilard, in 1902 had caused social vibrations across the country.  They had one child, Lorrilard Suffern Tailer.

The New York Times described Tailer as "a bit original in his ideas, dresses oddly, but denier cri; is very tall, smooth-faced, and wears glasses.  He is a man of unusual reading, and is also a lover of all kinds of out-of-door sports."

By the time Tailer purchased the 61st Street house he was remarried to the former Harriet Stewart and they had two children, Thomas Jr. and Betty.  Their former home had been squarely within the old mansion district at No. 21 West 51st Street.

Unlike their predecessors at No. 11, the Tailers did not renovate.  But like the others, their movements were closely followed by society columns nationwide.  On January 25, 1919 the Chicago Tribune noted that they would be giving a dinner party that night.

Lorillard Tailer was a young man by now, and in December that year the Tailers hosted a dinner dance in the house for him.  Many of Manhattan's wealthiest debutantes, possible romantic matches, were invited.  Among the 60 or so guests, according to the New-York Tribune, "were Miss Grace Vanderbilt, Miss Cornelia Vanderbilt, Miss Louise Vanderbilt Schieffelin, Miss Emily Sloane Hammond, Miss Renee Carhart, Miss Betty Jackson, Miss Constance Jennings, Miss Helen Moran, [and] Miss Mary Strange."

Four months later it was Lorillard who hosted a dinner in the house.  His close friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., would be marrying Rachel Littleton on April 29, 1920.  Lorillard was asked to be an usher.   On April 10 he gave a dinner and dance for the couple and the bridal party.  Not unexpectedly, the young guests represented Manhattan's most socially elite families.

Exactly one week later Harriet gave an important dinner.  Close friend Helen Keeney, who lived in San Francisco, was to marry Dr. George Bolling Lee on April 21, 1920.  Harriett's dinner was the high-society version of a bachelorette party, with only female guests.

The Tailers' involvement in the event went further.  On April 22 The Sun reported that the wedding took place "in the drawing room of Mr. and Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer's house...As Mrs. Kenney has no home in New York Mr. and Mrs. Tailer, close friends of her and her daughter, offered theirs."

It was a significant affair.  Dr. Lee was the great great grandson of Martha Dandridge Custis, wife of George Washington.  Within the old gold locket worn by the bride was a piece of lace from Martha Washington's wedding dress.  Serving as the groom's best man was his brother, Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia.

Harriet holds her hat as T. Suffern Tailer takes to the wheel of his runabout.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

The next marriage-related entertainment in the Tailer mansion was the "bachelor dance" given by Lorillard on April 1, 1921 five days before his wedding to Catherine Harding in St. Bartholomew's Church.   His ushers, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., Robert R. Livingston and A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., joined other wealthy young men in the Tailer dining room.

The The New York Herald noted "During the dinner a band of colored musicians played.  Mr. Tailer presented to the men of his bridal party silver cigarette boxes, the covers of which were engraved with a polo scene."

The following year, on March 12, 1922, The New York Herald reported on the rumor that T. Suffern Tailor intended to sell "his beautiful residence at 11 East Sixty-first street to Herman Goldman, the lawyer."  The rumor was only partly correct.  On April 5 the newspaper cleared up the mystery.  "Mr. Edward Barber, son of Mr. James Barber of the Barber Steamship company, also of Englewood, N. J., has bought the house of Mr. T. Suffern Tailer."

In reporting the sale, the Record & Guide got the history of the home inexcusably confused.  "The house, which was designed by the late Stanford White, was built by the Marquis of Queensberry."  The article made note of the high-toned character of the block.  "The new owner of the Tailer house will have as his neighbors, besides Mr. Pratt, Pembroke Jones, Moses Taylor Pyne, Charles Sabin and Frederick Watruss."

The Barbers' summer home was in Easthampton.  When they returned for the winter season that fall, they were forced to take rooms in the Ambassador Hotel.  They, too, had initiated changes in the 62nd Street house.  The New York Herald they would remain in the hotel "while improvements are being made at their house, which was the former home of Mr. and Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer."'

How far-reaching those renovations were is unclear.  But the Barbers sold the house within months to Elbridge Stratton, who hired the architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich to the most substantial alteration since C. P. H. Gilbert's massive re-do three decades earlier.

The front was removed and replaced by a neo-Federal facade.  The red brick was laid in Flemish bond, imitating the house's early 19th century prototypes.  The entrance was centered within a stone enframement of engaged Doric columns upholding an entablature decorated with carved scallop shells.  The splayed lintels of the upper windows were discretely executed in brick rather than the more expected stone; and the fifth floor sat back from a balustraded brick cornice.

The Strattons, too, did not stay long in the house.  By 1926 the family of Henry Cooke Cushing, III was living here.  Cushing was married to Cathleen Vanderbilt, the daughter of playboy millionaire Reginald Vanderbilt and his wife, the former Cathleen Neilson.  The Cushings had married in 1923 and had one son, Harry Cooke Cushing, IV.

The connection of the house to the Whitney family in was reestablished in 1927 when it was purchased by Charles Shipman Payson.   His wife, Joan, was daughter of Payne Whitney.   She now lived in the same house her newlywed parents had leased in 1902.

Despite Charles's highly-regarded legal career and Joan's well-known art collection, it was baseball for which the couple would be best remembered.  Ardent fans, the Paysons were outraged when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957.  Joan sold her stock in the club and set out to establish a new New York team.  She was co-founder of the New York Mets and the first American woman to own a major-league team without inheriting it.  Following her death in 1975, Charles inherited the team.

But by then the Paysons had been gone from East 61st Street for years.  They leased the house following World War II to the Soviet Government as an annex to its Consulate next door in the former Pratt mansion.   Soviets were forced by the U.S. Government to close its Consulate in 1948.  The house was sold to the 29 Club, a professional and social club of businessmen.

The club disbanded in 1964 and the former mansion was purchased by Joseph I. Lubin, a wealthy accountant and real estate investor.  Lubin purchased the house as a gift to Syracuse University.  Originally called the Syracuse University House, it was renamed the Lubin House in 1965.

The following year the university purchased the former Henry Batterman mansion at No. 15.  A subsequent alteration of the houses by architect Richard Hayden and his firm Swanke, Hayden & Connell, resulted in an internally-joined facility.  Floors were removed from No. 15 and rebuilt on a matching level with those of No. 11.

Another renovation in 2001 focused on the infrastructure of No. 11 and the restoration of its surviving details.   Few homes in Manhattan can claim as many significant alterations, remodeling and personalities as the remarkable No. 11 East 61st Street.

photographs by the author


  1. Mary Flagler, born Mary Lily Kenan, chose this house in 1916 because her very good friends Mr. & Mrs. Pembroke Jones – and their permanent houseguest collector Henry Walters - lived down the block at 5 E. 61st St., in their own 1912 CPH Gilbert-designed mansion. - John D. Ward

  2. I have a document indicating that Joan Whitney Payson was planning on “closing” the house in the mid 30s