Friday, February 15, 2019

The 1833 Saul Alley Mansion - 6 Washington Square North

Between 1790 and 1797 the City purchased 13-acres of land near Greenwich Village as the site of a burying ground and execution site.  The potter's field was the final destination of paupers and criminals.  During periods of epidemic wooden coffins were stacked in trenches sometimes three or more deep.  Although the hangings stopped on July 8, 1819, the surrounding area was by no means affable.

That all changed in 1826 when Mayor Philip Hone renovated the potter's field into a parade and drill ground named in honor of George Washington.  Before long the tens of thousands of interred bodies were forgotten.

In 1828 George Rogers erected his elegant Federal-style country house on the northern edge of the Square.  In doing so, he knocked over a domino which would result in one of the most exclusive residential enclaves in Manhattan.

The land on the north side of the Square between Fifth Avenue and University Place had been part of Captain Robert Richard Randall's 24-acre summer estate.  Upon his death in 1801 he donated that land for the formation of an "Asylum or Marine Hospital to be called the Sailors's Snug Harbor."  The organization was formed; however Randall's family established the hospital and grounds on Staten Island, instead.  The institution wisely retained ownership of the Washington Square land.

In 1831 three prominent businessmen, John Johnston, John Morrison and James Boorman embraced the potential of the Square and planned a row of high-end speculative residences.  To do so, they leased the plots from Sailors' Snug Harbor.  Completed in 1833, the nearly matching mansions were faced in brick and trimmed in marble.  Designed in the rising Greek Revival style, they exuded refinement, wealth and taste.

The project began at the corner of Fifth Avenue and ran eastward.  photograph by the author

John Johnston erected two of the homes--Nos. 6 and 7.  He moved his family into the slightly wider house and sold the leasehold of No. 6 to the prominent Quaker merchant and politician, Saul Alley.  Alley's new home was an ample 27-feet wide.  Three stories tall plus a squat attic floor, its wide marble stoop rose to a Doric-columned portico.   The exquisite Greek Revival fencing wore generously-sized anthemia, or palmettes.

Alley had begun his career as a partner with another Quaker, Preserved Fish, and Moses Grinnell in the shipping firm of Fish, Grinnell & Co.   In 1816 Alley and Fish formed the commission merchant firm of Fish & Alley.  The two would continue working together when they were named commissioners of the newly-incorporated East River Fire Insurance Company of the City of New-York in April 1833.

Alley's name was well-known for a number of other reasons.  He was a Director in the Bank of the United States, a water commissioner (a highly important post at a time when the massive Croton Aqueduct project was forming), and in 1839 was a commissioner of the Custom House.

Saul and his wife, the former Mary Underhill, had seven children.  Both 20-year-old Mary Anna and 8-year old Josephine died in 1841.  Son John was still living in the house when he opened his law office at No. 38 Wall Street around 1846.  He died in the house in 1851.

George, who was just two-years-old when the family moved in to No. 6, would become a prominent banker and close friend of William H. Vanderbilt.  William would go on to become a partner in the banking firm of Alley, Dowd & Co.

The graceful sweep of the staircase takes a gentle bend at the second floor.  photograph by the author
Alley added to his resume (and fortune) in 1842 when he became a director of the New-York and Erie Railroad Company.  

The population of No. 6 was reduced by one on May 4, 1848 when Lydia married George Catlin, Jr.  She would not go far, however.  The wealthy Catlin family lived just three door away at No. 9, and Lydia and her groom moved in with her new in-laws.

Lydia's brother George was married to Louisa Ann Smith Johnson on April 19, 1852.  The bride was the great granddaughter of former U.S. President John Adams.  Six months later, on October 21, Saul Alley died in his Washington Square mansion.   

The Alley family held on to the leasehold of the house until the death of Mary in 1868.  Although there were still five years left in its term, it was auctioned "by order of the executors of Saul Ally [sic]" on April 9 that year.  

At each turn of the staircase a niche was provided for statuary or flowers.  photograph by the author
The auction announcement offered "The Lease of the lot, with the handsome three story, attic and basement brick House, No. 6 Washington square, northside" and noted it was "in complete order."  Included was the two story stable in the rear.

The marble Greek Revival mantel in the back parlor is an exact match to the one in the front.  photograph by the author

The leasehold was purchased for $36,000 (about $640,000 today) by Goold Hoyt Redmond.  The millionaire bachelor, son of William Redmond, Sr. and the former Sabina E. Hoyt, would not be living alone.  Of his ten siblings, his sisters Emily, Matilda and Frances (known familiarly as Fannie) were listed in the house with Goold.

Immensely wealthy, Goold was listed as a "gentleman," which simply meant he did not work.  He preferred sports and society and was a member of the Metropolitan, Union, Knickerbocker, and Racquet and Tennis Clubs, as well as the Tuxedo Club among others.

The Redmond sisters were no doubt distraught when their Scotch Terrier, Sam, disappeared a few months later.  Wearing his new red leather collar, he went missing on May 10, 1869.  When he did had not returned five days later, they offered a $5 reward (nearly $95 today).

Sam was replaced by Rowdy, a white Bull Terrier with a black spot around his eye.  Another $5 reward was offered when he, too, went astray in March 1873.

Matilda married English-born railroad mogul and banker Richard James Cross on June 3, 1872, and in 1881 Frances married Henry Beekman Livingston.

In June the same year of Frances's wedding, Goold hired architect G. L. Baxter to add a one-story extension to the rear.  Costing about $42,000 in today's money, it would create a new dining room.   Although it was now just Emily and Goold in the house; the expanded space would soon be necessary.

The dining room extension featured a barrel-vaulted ceiling.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
It serves as a conference room today.  photograph by the author

Tragically, Matilda died in 1883, just months after the birth of her sixth child, Eliot.   Her bereaved husband Richard James Cross accepted the invitation to move into No. 6 where Emily could care for the children.  Two years later Richard married his sister-in-law, Annie Redmond.  The family continued on in the house with Goold and Emily--creating a population of 10 not including servants.

It prompted Goold to enlarge the house again.  In June 1883 he brought G. L. Baxter back to add a second story to the dining room extension, providing additional bedrooms.

The front parlor as it appeared after the turn of the century.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The space as it appears today.  photograph by the author

There was still room, apparently, for one more.  On June 15 1894 William Redmond was granted an "absolute divorce" from his wife, Margaret, whom he had married on May 1, 1889.  Newspapers reported "She did not defend the case," intimating that she had been caught in a dalliance.  William moved into No. 6 Washington Square.

The Redmonds and Crosses were highly visible in society as well as political and social causes.  Mary Cross held anti-Tammany meetings in the drawing room in 1894 and was also a member of the Washington Square Auxiliary.  The couple gave financial backing to the erection of the Washington Arch in 1890.

In the meantime, Emily, William and Goold often moved about society together.  They shared a cottage in Newport, for instance, and traveled to Europe together.   

Goold's unmarried status made him sought-after guest by Newport socialites.  The Sun mentioned on July 4, 1897 that by his arrival "the ranks of the bachelor contingent have increased...which encourages the givers of dinner parties."  If there were any hopes of marriage in the minds of wealthy matrons, however, they would never come to pass.

William Redmond died in the Washington Square house on December 6, 1898 at about 50 years of age.  Emily and Goold continued traveling and entertaining together.  On May 6, 1900 the New-York Tribune noted "Goold H. Redmond and Miss Redmond, of No. 6 Washington Square North have arranged to sail for Europe on Tuesday next in the steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.  They will remain abroad for several months."  And the siblings leased the Bishop Potter mansion in Newport together every season starting about 1901.
In the last years of the Cross-Redmond residency, there were no lions on the newels, suggesting they were added by the Morrons after 1919.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Following her brother's death on December 21, 1906, Emily continued to live on with the Cross family in the only home she had ever known.  (She would, incidentally, outlive all ten of her siblings, dying at the age of 90 on January 9, 1934.)

The Redmond estate sold the leasehold to No. 6 to Henry W. Kent on March 14, 1913.  Kent lived nearby at No. 80 Washington Square East.  He soon transferred it to Robert de Forest, who lived in the former Johnston house at No. 7.

The eagerness of neighbors to keep control of the leasehold may have had much to do with the changing nature of the lower Fifth Avenue district.  The owners of those mansions were fleeing northward to newly-fashionable neighborhoods.  The Washington Square denizens, however, were adamant about preserving the patrician tone of their enclave.

In February 1914 De Forest leased the house to George Dallas Yeomans, attorney for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co.  The timing could not have been better--the debut of Isabel S. Yeomans was on the near horizon.

On November 25, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported on Isabel's coming-out reception in the house.  "The debutante had a record number of girls receiving with her.  There were forty-six in line."  The astoundingly long list of those in the receiving line included the names of some of the wealthiest families in New York--Alexander, Platt, Riker and Cushman among them.  Following the reception young male guests arrived for dinner and dancing.

In May 1919 De Forest renewed the leasehold to No. 6 and immediately leased the house to John Reynolds Morron.  The industrialist was president of both the Peter Cooper Gelatin Co. and the Chicago-based Atlas Portland Cement Company, and was a director of the First National Bank of New York, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Pullman, Inc. and the International Rubber Company. 

Before he and his wife, the former Belle Goodridge Burch, moved in Morron made renovations to the house.  He hired architect James Gamble Rogers to install an elevator within the house and to create a two-story "brick studio" in the rear.  The total cost topped a quarter of a million in today's dollars.

John Reynolds Morron, United States Passport photograph 1925
Morron's residency here was not without upheaval.  In 1922 he went on trial accused of cement price-fixing.  On the stand he denied that there had ever been "an agreement or understanding between his company and any other" for fixing prices or controlling distribution of cement.

Another view of the front parlor taken when the Cross family was here shows no chandelier, suggesting it was Belle Morron who installed the antique crystal fixtures in place today.  Note the gas sconces stationed strangely enough on the columns.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The opening between the front and back parlor was necessarily narrowed to accommodate Morron's 1919 elevator (hidden within the walls separating the two parlors and entered from the hallway).   photograph by the author
And then in June the following year a witness jotted down the license plate number of the get-away car used in the holdup of Joseph Szabo.  The three perpetrators had robbed the businessman of $887.  Unfortunately, the plate number came back to John R. Morron.

On July 19 detectives entered Morron's garage and examined his automobile.  The New York Times reported that it "had not left the garage in at least a week, and that the plates gave no evidence of having been temporarily removed."   The witness had apparently incorrectly remembered the tag number.

A few weeks earlier Morron's name had been linked with another run-in with the law; although this one was much less serious.  Proud of his aristocratic residence, Morron hired Connecticut artist Ozias Dodge to make a sketch of the house.  On May 17, 1923 he began, but, according to The New York Times, "He found he could not get far enough back from the house to get all the trees of the Morrin [sic] home in the perspective of his drawing without climbing over the fence of Washington Square Park."  The Morron butler kindly brought a chair from the house for the artist to use.

Washington Square in 1923, however, was far different from today.  Park goers were expected to stay on the pathways and the grass was strictly off limits.  But Dodge had been promised a permit to "work on the forbidden ground" by his friend, the Secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Dodge's mistake was that in his hurry he did not bother getting that permit.

The artist needed only five minutes on the grass to complete the sketch and had been there three minutes when he was ordered to move by Patrolman Harry J. Booth.  Dodge refused.  "He said he had worked all over New York and even in Paris without being treated that way before."  Patrolman Booth lost his patience and arrested him.

The bronze lions, seen here in 1932, were later stolen.  Only one was recovered.  The plaster copies made from it now grace the newels and the original is kept safely inside an NYU building.  photograph by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

At the Essex Market Court Dodge pleaded guilty "but contended that the policeman had not shown common sense."  He was given a suspended sentence and advised not to go back to the same spot to complete the sketch.

Belle died around 1945 and John died at his summer residence in Littleton, New Hampshire on June 25, 1950.  He was 82.

No. 6 was acquired by New York University later that year.  It now held the leases on Nos. 1 through 6.  Gently renovated for office space, it was joined internally to Nos. 5 and 7 by doorways placed in unobtrusive locations on different floors.  

A second floor bedroom as it appeared when Emily Redmond and the Cross family occupied the house.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
A doorway accessing No. 5 Washington Square can be seen to the right of the window today.  photograph by the author

Today the former Saul Alley mansion is home to the the administrations for both NYU's Graduate School of Arts and Science, and the Faculty of Arts and Science.  The university deserves high praise for carefully preserving so much of the historic interiors.

Many thanks to NYU associate Dale Rejtmar for his invaluable input.


  1. While NYU has left the period interiors intact at #6, are they also not the owners of rowhouses #1-5 and have they not carelessly gutted those interiors while converting that entire end of the row into NYU residences and offices? NYU has not been at the forefront of preservation in the historic neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination. Marc Sell

  2. Preserved Fish? Had to Google this one. Thought you had put a worm in the post to see if your followers were reading carefully!

    1. The first name is pronounced in three syllables. It's a great name.

  3. It's so much easier to appreciate the scale of the rooms when a person is in the photo. Beautiful pics.

    I have to ask. How did the Morton family pronounce their name?

  4. It is normally pronounced "MAHR-un"

  5. Peter Jennings TalbotJune 20, 2019 at 11:45 AM

    Great write-up on this home originally owned by my great/great/great grandfather, Saul Alley. My great grandmother, Abigail Alley Talbot, was the daughter of Saul's son, George Bolton Alley.