Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Mary Kingsland Mansion - 1026 Fifth Avenue

A delightful juliette balcony clings to the bowed bay.
Opened in October 1864, The Sheltering Arms received homeless children between 6 and 12 years old.  The older children were trained to make their way in the world as servants or by crafts like woodworking.  By the 1890's William M. Kingsland was its president.

In its October 1897 Annual Report the orphanage noted that "A delightful excitement was caused in September by the gift of one hundred dollars from Mr. and Mrs. William M. Kingsland to celebrate their Golden Wedding.  First a feast of ice cream and cake was in order on the 16th, the wedding-day itself; afterwards each family of children made an excursion, the destination whereof was left to their own choice."

The $100 gesture was, of course, not the only celebration for the wealthy couple's 50th anniversary; yet there seems to have been no lavish entertainment.  While they summered in Newport or in their country estates (Belaire was outside of Lenox, Massachusetts, and Incleuberg was near Scarborough-on-the-Hudson, New York), spent months abroad and hobnobbed with the socially elite; they apparently led relatively quiet lives.

Mary J. Macy was the daughter of William H. Macy, the president of the Leather Manufacturers' National bank and vice-president of the United States Trust Company.   Her husband's ancestors had arrived from England around 1665.  His uncle, Ambrose C. Kingsland, had been mayor of New York City from 1851 to 1853, and was a partner with William's father, Daniel C. Kingsland, in the importing firm of D. A. Kingsland & Co. (later D. A. Kingsland & Sutton).  The company did "a large business with England, china and the East Indies, the firm's vessels being constantly employed between those countries and the United States," according to the Portrait Gallery of the Chamber of Commerce years later, in 1890.

William M. Kingsland was a trustee of the Seamen's Bank and the Leather Manufacturers' Savings Bank.  His social position and interests were reflected in his memberships, including the Metropolitan, Union and Knollwood Clubs, the New York Yacht Club and the St. Augustine Yacht Clubs, the Ardsley Club and the Newport Casino.  He was also a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Botanical Gardens, the American Geographical Society and the St. Nicolas Society.

The Kingslands lived at No. 116 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 17th Street, in what for decades had been one of Manhattan's most exclusive neighborhoods.  The mansion had been in the Kingsland family since 1848.  But as the turn of the century arrived, commerce was infiltrating the blocks of brownstone and brick mansions, prompting moneyed families to move further north.

In June 1902 speculator Benjamin W. Williams purchased the two empty lots at Nos. 1026 and 1027 Fifth Avenue from John W. Simpson.  He commissioned the architectural firm of Van Vleck & Goldsmith to design two Beaux Arts-style mansions on the plots.  Completed in 1903, they formed a striking ensemble with the other residences on the block, especially the Jonathan Thorne mansion on the northern corner, at No. 1028, designed by C. P. H. Gilbert and constructed concurrently.

No. 1026 (right) was the stepsister of sorts to the marble-fronted No. 1027.  With the Thorne mansion (left) which faced the side street., the homes formed a striking grouping.
Viewed separately, No. 1026 presented a majestic bearing.  Faced in limestone, it featured a two-story bowed bay that sprouted a charming cast iron balcony.  Three tightly-grouped dormers punched through the copper-clad mansard.   But Williams had focused more money and attention on its sister house.   No. 1027 was faced in white marble and at 40-feet was wider by about four feet.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called No. 1027 "the finest dwelling house ever erected in this city."

All this, coupled with the Financial Panic of 1903, caused No. 1026 to sit vacant for nearly three years.  Finally, on February 7, 1906, it was announced that the Kingsland had purchased the mansion.  The Record & Guide quoted the sale price at $510,000," or about $14.3 million today.

The couple sold No. 116 on February 21 and moved into their sumptuous new home.  William would not enjoy it for long.  Three months later, on May 30, he died at Incleuberg at the age of 86.  His funeral was held at St. Mary's Chapel in Scarsborough, New York, three days later.

Kingsland's death resulted in a feeding frenzy of relatives.  When his father died in 1873, he left his $3 million estate to William "for his lifetime."   Now that that lifetime was over, "his will was declared invalid," according to the New-York Tribune.  A court battle ensued that dragged on until January 21, 1910.

The following day the New-York Tribune reported "There will be divided at once among 147 beneficiaries $2,000,000."  Mary, it explained, "inherits no part of the estate outright, but throughout her life will receive an income of $8,000 a year."   The yearly stipend, worth about $213,000 today, added to Mary's own fortune and the substantial inheritance she had received from William directly.

Like her husband, Mary held memberships in exclusive organizations.  She belonged to the Colonial Dames and the Mayflower Descendants' Club, for instance.  While the aging widow continued her philanthropic activities, she lived quietly within the 32 rooms and 9 baths of the spacious Fifth Avenue mansion.  She continued to spend her summers at her country estates.

It was at Belair on August 10, 1919 that Mary died at the age of 91.  Her friendly relationship with her next door neighbor, George C. Clark at No. 1027, was evidenced in his being named the executor of her estate.  But when he died on February 24, just six months before Mary, turmoil ensued.

Mary's estate was valued at just under $10.6 million.  The Sun reported on November 25 "Soon after her death last August certain cousins filed objections to her will."  While Mary had named "relatives, friends and old family retainers" in the will, she had overlooked two grand-nephews, Oliver J. Macy and T. Ridgeway Macy.  They alleged that they "are entitled to a share in the estate."

Even while the estate was tied up in court, an attempt was made to sell mansion directly.  The price was $10,000 less than the Kingslands had originally paid. New York Herald, March 14, 1920 (copyright expired) 
The battle was finally settled in July 1922, with the disgruntled nephews unsuccessful.  The original bequests went to specifically-named relatives, and large amounts went to institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Association for the Blind, and the Society for the Relief of Ruptured and Crippled.  Interestingly, The Evening World pointed out that "The furnishings of Mrs. Kingsland's home at No. 1026 Fifth Avenue were valued at $52,741"--more than three quarters of a million dollars today.

In the meantime, in order to liquidate the estate's assets the Fifth Avenue mansion was sold at auction on June 17, 1920.  While the heirs hoped to realize half a million dollars, it sold for what was most likely a disappointing $351,000.

The buyer, Dunlevy Milbank, was a member of the law firm Masten & Nichols.  The son of Joseph and Ella Dunlevy Milbank, his family's fortune came from railroads and the dairy industry (his grandfather was a founder of the Borden company), and from banking.

Dunlevy was a chief supporter of the Children's Aid Society.  His wife, the former Katherine Fowler, was a patron of the musical arts and a benefactor of young working women.  Prior to moving into No. 1026, the family had lived at No. 39 East 68th Street, a wedding president from Katharine's parents in 1876.  The couple had two children, Thomas and Ella.

Many of the entertainments in the Milbank house centered around music.  On November 26, 1922, for instance, The New York Herald reported that Katharine would be hosting the a "lecture-recital, 'La Musique Russe'" given by Jeanne de Mare in the house the following Tuesday.

The vocalist was back three years later.  On November 16, 1924 The New York Times reported "The first of a series of lecture musicals now being arrange for the Winter will be held early in January at the home of Mrs. Dunlevy Milbank, who has just returned to 1,026 Fifth Avenue, after having spent most of the Summer at Ridgelands, her country place at Port Chester.  Jeanne de Mare will speak on modernist music."

When The People's Chorus of New York was organized in 1927, Katharine became its first chairman.  The organization provided vocal training for the poor.  She was a supporter of the summer outdoor Stadium Concerts, as well.  But music would take backstage to debutante entertainments in the winter season of 1931-32.  Ella had attended the exclusive Chapin School in New York City and the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut, before spending a year in Paris studying sculpture.  Among her coming out fetes was a dinner dance at the Ritz-Carlton.

The demolition of No. 1025 Fifth Avenue revealed the depth of the Kingsland mansion.
Ella slipped into hostess mode along with her mother.  On December 2, 1937 she opened the mansion for  a tea for "a large group of the season's debutantes."  Ella was chairman of the debutante committee for the annual December Ball at the Ritz-Carlton and her guests would be assisting in the arrangement for the event.

The heiress and her mother had other things on their mind at the time.  On December 14 Ella's engagement to William Ward Foshay was announced.  The wedding took place in the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas on Fifth Avenue at 48th Street on February 24, 1938.

Katharine's entertainments continued to surround music.  In December 1938 she hosted a reception and tea for Metropolitan Opera soprano Muriel Dickson.

In 1926, six years after the Milbanks purchased No. 1026, the former Thorne mansion was sold to the newly-founded Marymount School of New York.  In 1935 the institution purchased No. 1027.

Dunlevy and Katharine lived on at No. 1026 until 1950, when they, too, sold to the Marymount School.  Interestingly, they moved back to No. 39 East 68th Street where they had started out their married lives.  Dunlevy died in 1959 and Katharine in April 1967 at the age of 82.

As the Fifth Avenue palaces fell to be replaced by modern apartment buildings, the Marymount School properties survived as a stunning slice of Gilded Age New York.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to see a beautiful home like this being put to good use rather than being replaced with something ugly. The story of the relatives makes me wonder if my family would turn into a pack of greedy jackals too, if there were ever any money to fight over I mean.