Monday, January 22, 2018

The Lost Elizabeth Clark House - 347 West 89th Street

The glass-covered wing curving toward 89th Street appears to be conservatory or picture gallery--in fact it was a bowling alley.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

In 1896 Elizabeth Clark was among the wealthiest widows in the country.   Born Elizabeth Scriven, she had married Alfred Corning Clark on October 20, 1869 in the parish church of Withecombe Raleigh in Devonshire, England.  He was the only son of Singer Sewing Machine magnate and real estate developer Edward C. Clark.   They had four sons, Edward Severin, Robert Sterling, Frederick Ambrose and Stephen Carlton.

The Clarks had maintained two residences in the city.  Their main home was at No. 7 West 22nd Street.  A sprawling apartment in The Dakota, which his father had built, was used mainly for entertaining.  Edward Clark died in 1882 leaving an estate valued at between $15 and $20 million.  Alfred inherited extensive property on the Upper West Side, including the Dakota.

The family summered at what the New-York Tribune described as "a large country place at Cooperstown, New York."  The estate, called Fernleigh, had been previously owned by James Fenimore Cooper.

On April 8, 1896 Alfred Corning Clark died in the 22nd Street house.  The New-York Tribune explained "Mr. Clark's death was caused by an acute attack of Bright's disease."  The article mentioned "Comparatively few people in the city knew that he was the possessor of many millions, because he was a retiring and modest man who studiously avoided notoriety."

Elizabeth inherited the bulk of her husband's estate, including extensive properties.  Mourning did not interfere with her plunging into real estate development.  Seven months later she transferred ownership of a block of land--from Tenth to Eleventh Avenues between 68th and 69th Streets--to the newly-formed City and Suburban Homes Company in exchange for stock.  The Sun noted the "city homes" would be designed by Mr. [Ernest] Flagg."

It was by no means the last time Elizabeth and Flagg would work together.

A year later, on September 28, 1897, The New York Times reported "Cyrus Clark has sold, for about $215,000, a plot, equivalent to about ten lots, at the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and Eighty-ninth Street."  The site engulfed half of the block, the other half filled with the Cyrus Clark's own mansion.   The article noted "Mr. Clark said yesterday that the buyer is an individual, an not an estate, as has been reported, but refused to make any further disclosures." (Clark, incidentally, was not related to the Alfred Clark family.)

A month later the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide added that the "buyer is reported to be Frederick Clark."   The report was close.  The buyer of record was "the Clark estate," or, in reality, Elizabeth Clark.

Ernest Flagg filed plans in April 1898.  He produced a four-story Georgian mansion of red brick trimmed in white marble which appeared to have been plucked from the English countryside.  The Evening World called it "one of the most striking residences on that beautiful thoroughfare."  Flagg place the entrance to the side, giving it the address of No. 347 West 89th Street.

"In fact," said The Evening World, "it looks more like a public building than a private house."  The Architectural Record noted "The house is finished front and back, inside and out, with equal care, and the workmanship and appointments are the best that money can buy.  Probably no better built or ventilated house was ever put up."  The journal made it clear that Elizabeth was highly involved in the details.  "It was the desire of the owner that it should be plain, substantial and dignified."

Elizabeth Scriven Clark was a devout Episcopalian and highly involved in philanthropies.   The New-York Tribune mentioned in July 1902 "Mrs. well known to the people of the city, not merely because of her great wealth and large real estate holdings, but also because of her many charitable gifts, notable among which is the Alfred Corning Clark Memorial Chapel, work on which was begun last spring."

The floorplan shows an immense dining room and entrance hall on the first floor.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

She contributed enormously to Cooperstown, providing parks, buildings and statues.  The Evening World said "She is immensely wealthy and the Episcopal Church of this diocese owes much to her generosity."  Her social and religious activities put her in close contact with the New York bishop, Henry Codman Potter, who was, not coincidentally, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Alfred Corning Clark Memorial Chapel and delivered an address.

Clark stepped away from Georgian when he added a French-style marquee above the marble entrance.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

Potter was not only powerful, but wealthy.  He and his wife, the former Eliza Rogers Jacob, lived in a stately home at No, 10 Washington Square North.  His name appeared in the society columns nearly as frequently as the Astors or Vanderbilts.   Eliza died "of heat prostration" on June 29, 1901.  But the bishop would not remain unmarried for long.

A year later, on July 12, 1902, The Evening Post announced that "it was authorized to make public the engagement of the Right Rev. Henry C. Potter, Bishop of New-York, and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark."  At the time Potter was in Paris and Elizabeth was at Fernleigh.

Neither the 66-year old Potter nor his intended bride were saying much.  A week later The Evening World noted "Friends of the Right Rev. Bishop Potter and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark have made up their minds in the absence of a formal announcement of the wedding plans that the ceremony will take place at Mrs. Clark's country home, Fernleigh, at Cooperstown, N. Y., and will be performed with extreme quiet.  The wedding is expected to take place before the middle  of September."

The focus of the society columnists on the details of the prominent couple's romance greatly overshadowed another Clark engagement.  Almost simultaneously Frederick Ambrose Clark's engagement to Florence Stokes, daughter of millionaire Henry D. Stokes, president of the Manhattan Life Insurance Co., was announced.   Not surprisingly, Bishop Potter performed the ceremony at Stokes country estate on Orienta Point in Mamaroneck, Long Island, on September 20, 1902.  The New-York Tribune reported that his mother "and the party have come down from Cooperstown to be present," and The Evening World noted it "was a brilliant society affair, the 120 guests all being members of the ultra-fashionable set."

Frederick and his wife received lavish presents from their parents.  The Evening World said "Mr. Stokes gave his daughter a steam yacht and town house in Manhattan."  Elizabeth provided them a new country estate, Iroquois Farm, near Cooperstown.

Exactly two weeks later, on October 4, Elizabeth was married to Henry C, Potter in Christ Church in Cooperstown.

The 52-year old bride.  The Evening World, September 12, 1902 (copyright expired)

The national coverage of the romance and the frequent mentions of Elizabeth's generosity had resulted in an unexpected side effect.  On October 12 The New York Times reported "From July until October, the interval between the announcement of the engagement of Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark and Bishop Potter and their recent wedding...Mrs. Clark was in receipt of more than a thousand letters asking for money.

"The letters were from people in all parts of the country.  Some asked donations for themselves or some sick friend; others wanted to complete a college education; some had gilt-edged schemes of investment full of promise, and others represented various institutions."

And while her secretary plowed through the correspondence, Elizabeth and the bishop had lengthy discussions about their coming living arrangements.  The Evening World had reported on September 12 that "For the last few weeks the Bishop has been visiting Mrs. Clark at her summer home, Fernleigh, on the shores of Otsego Lake, and there, it is said, they have been planning with great care for the disposition of their town and country houses, when the union shall have combined the two valuable estates."

The bishop, friends said, "expressed a preference" for his Washington Square mansion.  It appeared they had made up their minds and The Evening World reported "Friends of Bishop Potter's bride-to-be, Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, say she purposes abandoning her magnificent mansion at the corner of Riverside drive and Eighty-ninth street, and will give the house to some charity to be designated by the Bishop."

In the end, it was the Washington Square house which was given up.  No. 347 West 89th Street earned the much-used name of "the Bishop Potter Residence."

Carriages entering from Riverside Drive (left) would exit onto 89th Street.  (copyright expired)

The reason Potter was in Paris when the engagement had been announced was because "the condition of his health was not all that could be wished," according to the New-York Tribune at the time.  Now, just three months after the wedding, the newspaper reported that he was unable to preach at Yale University the day before "on account of illness."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Elizabeth continued her generous works.  Alfred Corning Clark had lavishly patronized young artists, one of his favorites being sculptor George Grey Barnard.  He had commissioned a large bronze figure of Pan, originally intended as a fountain figure for the courtyard of the Dakota apartments.  But when he saw the designs, he decided it was too find a piece to be hidden and decided to donate it to Central Park.  He died before the statue was completed.

In 1907 Elizabeth picked up the project and had it cast.  The city's Art Commission, while conceding that "it was artistic enough to be worthy of acceptance by the city," according to the New-York Tribune on October 6, 1907, could not agree on a site.  Elizabeth seems to have lost patience and, instead, donated the three-ton piece to Columbia University.

The following spring Bishop Potter fell ill again.  After being bedridden for a week, his doctor, J. E, Janvrin, issued a formal statement on May 2, 1908, putting a positive spin on the situation.

A week ago Bishop Potter was taken seriously ill, suffering from three complaints--overwork, indigestion, and a bilious attack.  His condition to-day is much better than it was then, and he is getting along very satisfactorily.  I hope to have him out in a week's time."

But Potter's condition would not improve.  He died at Fernleigh on July 21 at the age of 74.   His funeral was held in Grace Church on October 20.  The New-York Tribune said the ceremony was "of extreme simplicity" and "there was no display at any time during the services."  Nevertheless, "the impressiveness of it all was profound."

Following the funeral, Potter's body was place in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, below the main altar.  The structure at the time was, essentially, a construction site and Potter's was the first body to occupy a vault there.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1908 was more construction site than church. New-York Tribune, October 21, 1908 (copyright expired)

A mere eight months later, on March 5, 1909, Elizabeth died unexpectedly in the Riverside Drive house from Bright's disease.  Newspapers reported in length about her long tradition of giving.  "She disliked social display," said The Times, "and was never prominent socially, always living quietly and retiringly, and contenting herself with benevolent activities."  The newspaper mentioned her many gifts to Cooperstown, including "the building used by the Young Men's Christian Association, a public library, park, and museum."

Edward was with her at her death, but Frederick and Stephen were in Europe and Robert was in China on "an expedition of exploration an scientific investigation."  The funeral, held in the Church of the Incarnation, was delayed until March 14 to enable Frederick and Stephen to return.   The New-York Tribune noted "Few funerals of private citizens in late years have been so well attended as was that of Mrs. Potter."

Her body was taken to Cooperstown where it was placed beside that of her first husband.

A tinted postcard view clearly shows the Riverside Drive carriage entrance and, in the background, the Cyrus Clark and John H. Matthews mansions (copyright expired)

Elizabeth left an estate of approximately $50 million--a staggering $1.27 billion in today's terms.  Frederick inherited the Riverside Drive house as well as Fernleigh.

Frederick and Florence remained in the Riverside Drive house until 1912 when he sold it to William H. Barnard and his wife, Lily.  The purchase price was not publicized, however the Record & Guide pointed out it "is valued at about $850,000."  In reporting on the sale the publication noted "The Clark one of the show places of the drive."

The Barnard family enjoyed the lifestyle of the wealthy.  Earlier that year, for instance, The Sun had reported "Mr. and Mrs. Barnard and their family will spend the greater part of the summer cruising on their yacht, Sagamore." 

Barnard was president of the International Salt Company, vice president of the Fidelity Trust Company, president of four other companies and a director in 24 corporations.  The couple's winter estate, Barnard Villa Place in Aiken, South Carolina consisted of 92 acres, a stone residence and several outbuildings.  Their summer home, The Manor, was in Rutland, Vermont.

The couple's daughter, Lilybel, was a bit rebellious and even before her debut into society had made headlines for the wrong reasons.  On March 21, 1909 she told her chauffeur to let her take the wheel and was spotted by Policeman McIntyre speeding along Riverside Drive.  He took chase and Lilybel merely stepped on the gas. At 190th Street she turned the car around, her chauffeur got in the driver's seat, and then took off again.

After what The Sun called "a long chase" both Lilybel and the driver were arrested.  "Miss Barnard was charged with going at twenty-four miles an hour and her chauffeur with going at twenty miles an hour."

Now, the summer after the family moved into the former Clark house, she shocked even her parents.  On the morning of July 22 Lilybel left the Vermont mansion to go for a drive with James Williams Salisbury.  The pair did not return home by noon for lunch.  Then, as reported by The Sun, "A telegram received at the Manor this afternoon from Bellows Falls, Vt., simply announced that Miss Barnard and Mr. Salisbury were married and were on a honeymoon,"

Her parent's surprise and possible anger abated and the newlyweds moved into the Riverside Drive house.    In 1915 the family was approached by George Kleine who was producing a silent film serial starring stage star Billie Burke, called Gloria's Romance.  He wanted to use the exterior of the mansion for "the scenes leading up to the capture of the escaped murderer," as reported later in The Times.  The Barnards rebuffed the $1,000 offer.

Lilybel later admitted that Assistant Director Kane had found her alone in the house and insisted "that thousands of feet of reel would be crippled if Gloria didn't romance through the late bishop's yard."  He sweetened the deal with a promise of $50 or an Easter bonnet for Lilybel directly.

She later admitted that  "in the absence of her family, [she] gave permission for the company to take exterior pictures."  When her husband came home to find a movie crew on the grounds, he was furious. Lilybel was entertaining women at a luncheon and said "My husband was very angry.  He said he had telephoned for the police.  I felt shamefaced because I was the only member of the family not opposed to taking the pictures."

William Barnard directed "that his wife accept for charity a check for $1,000," according to the Los Angeles Herald on January 19, 1917.  The article added "The grounds were utilized for four months." 

While her parents received the check, Lilybel did not forget Kane's promise to her.  On May 1, 1916 she wrote a letter from the Riverside Drive house which read:

Mrs, James Williams Salisbury wishes to make a request of $50,00 for her part in persuading Mr. Barnard to allow Mr. Kane and his people to continue their film work at 347 West Eighty-ninth Street.  Mr. Kane will, no doubt, recall his conversation with Mrs Salisbury and realize that it was due to her efforts that the picture company gained their permit.

Hoping Mr. Kane finds this request within reason,

Very truly yours,

In March1921 Barnard bought up the old Cyrus Clark property, giving him the entire blockfront along Riverside Drive.   The New York Times said this "gave him possession of a splendid site available for apartment improvement."

But then he sold the combined properties on June 6, 1922 for $1.25 million.   The New York Times immediately reported "A statement, indicating that New York City is about to receive from an anonymous donor, the gift of an official residence for the Mayor, similar to the Governor's Mansion at Albany and the White House at Washington, was sent out last night by William A. White & Sons, who announce in this connection the sale of the former home of the late Bishop Potter at Riverside Drive and Eighty-ninth Street."

The statement said the purchased intended to donate the property to the City "for an official residence for the Mayor" and said the "Clark mansion takes rank with the finest homes of Fifth and Park Avenues and Riverside Drive."

If there ever were such a civic-minded philanthropist, his grand scheme never came to fruition.  Instead the Clark mansion was demolished to be replaced by the massive 16-story 173 Riverside Drive apartment building.  Designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, it was completed in 1925 and survives.

photo via


  1. The postcard view of this stretch of Riverside Drive is so wonderfully suburban in appearance. Beautiful home.