Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The George T. Bliss Carriage House - 77 East 77th Street

Auctioneer Phillip A. Smyth refused to sell the rowhouse at No. 170 East 77th Street at his foreclosure auction on January 18, 1896.  He considered the highest bid, $7,450, too low.  Before long a better offer was presented by developers Hall & Hall, who purchased the house next door as well.

Thomas and William W. Hall were well known in real estate circles for erecting high-end speculative homes, many of them near Central Park.  They had something much different in mind for these properties.  The wealthy families who moved into mansions like those the Hall brothers were erecting needed nearby carriage houses.  And so Hall & Hall commissioned architect Alexander Welch, of Welch, Smith & Provot to design two handsome private stables on the lots.

Completed in 1898, the two two-story buildings were architecturally harmonious; yet each flexed its own personality.   The overall-plan was identical.  The ground floor included a large arched carriage bay flanked by a window and entrance on the ground floor.  The second stories were treated identically--two sets of paired openings separated by a blind recessed panel.  Welch clad No. 75 in red brick, No. 77 in gray iron spot brick.

Millionaires' carriage houses were often lavish affairs, reflecting their wealth and social status.  Welch, therefore, embellished No. 77 with oeil de boeuf, or ox-eye, windows within molded frames decorated with palm fronds and cartouches.  Brick panels were deftly inlaid into the limestone within the carriage bay arch.

The ground floor interiors were finished in oak.  There were six horse stalls toward the back and a "wash deck."  The second floor, accessed by a staircase and elevator, held the hayloft and two coachmen's quarters (which faced the front, helping to avoid the odors of the manure pit to the rear).

On December 6, 1899 The Sun reported that "W. W. and T. M. Hall [have sold] the new private stables" at No. 77 East 77th Street.  The buyer was George Theodore Bliss, who lived in an imposing mansion at No. 860 Fifth Avenue, between 67th and 68th Street.

The 48-year old was the son of George Bliss, an original partner in the banking house of Morgan, Bliss & Co.   George T. Bliss remained a member of the firm when it was reorganized as the Morgan Trust Company.  He had inherited a substantial fortune from his father, augmented by his own major stock holdings in mining and banking firms.  Bliss and his wife, the former Jeanette Atwater Dwight, had one daughter, Susan Dwight Bliss.  

Moving into the 77th Street carriage house with the Bliss horses and vehicles were the family's 30-year-old British-born coachman, John Radford, his wife and her three children by a former marriage.  The other quarters were occupied by Edward Foley, a groom.  The 26-year-old was born in Ireland.

In 1901, less than two years after purchasing the carriage house, Bliss experienced a perfect storm of medical problems.  Already weakened by an attack of influenza, he was struck with appendicitis.  He underwent an operation, but was unable to recover from the procedure.  He died on March 24, 1901.

Jeanette retained possession of the carriage house.  Interestingly, later that year John Radford was looking for a new job.  His position wanted advertisement in the New-York Tribune read:

Coachman--By young married Englishman; thoroughly understands care of fine horses and carriages; willing to be generally useful; country preferred; good references.

Jeanette constructed a new mansion in 1907 at No. 9 East 68th Street.   In the meantime, she seems to have had trouble retaining stable employees.  On June 25, 1907 an advertisement read:

Coachman: married, aged 34; thoroughly competent in every respect, first class city references; city or country.  Address Coachman, 77 East 77th st.

That coachman's replacement, named Webster, did not last long.  He too was looking for a new position in March 1909.

But his removal was most likely due to the replacement of horses and carriages with automobiles.  The following year's census showed Charles Cavanagh, "auto mechanic," living upstairs with his family of five.  There was no longer need for a second employee in the building, so the former groom's quarters were now being leased.  That year it was occupied by Mary Kennedy, a "typewriter" at Vogue Magazine.  (The term "typewriter" at the time meant "secretary" or "typist.")

Phillips Phoenix sold his similar two-story stable directly across the street at No. 78 in April 1913.  Developer A. L. Mordecai & Son had been accumulating surrounding property and on March 1 the Real Estate Record & Guide explained "The stable threatened to be an obstacle to the re-improvement of the rest of the plot."

Phoenix moved his vehicles across the street to No. 77.   His home was at No. 3 East 66th Street and he maintained a summer home in Tuxedo, New York.   Wealthy and a touch flamboyant, the attorney and his wife, the former Lillian G. Lewis, were well-known in society.  His business interests sometimes ran far afield of those of his neighbors.  He had, for instance, built the Madison Square Theatre at a time with polite society may have attended the theater, but avoided involvement in its operations.

The son of J. Phillips and Mary Whitney Phoenix, he had graduated from Harvard Law School in 1854.  An avid sportsman in his younger years, he now focused more on automobiles and was a member of the Automobile Club of America.  His more traditional memberships included those in the Union, Knickerbocker, Metropolitan, Union League, Turf and Field, and New York Yacht Clubs, as well as the St. Nicholas Society.

In addition to Tuxedo, Phillips and Lillie (as she was familiarly known) routinely spent time in the warm months at the Aspinwall Hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Lillie, like many socialites, did not allow her husband's business to interfere with her own leisure.  She regularly appeared in society columns as she arrived alone at the Aspinwall and other fashionable resorts like the Briarcliff Lodge.

The 87-year-old millionaire died in his 66th Street mansion on April 11, 1921.  Oddly enough, Lillie did not follow the expected mourning protocol, which would have restricted her appearances within society for a year.  Three months later, on July 17, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that "Mrs. Phillips Phoenix...was a late arrival at the Aspinwall."  

Phoenix left an estate of nearly $2.6 million.  The accounting listed the value of No. 77 East 77th Street at $65,000--about $890,000 today.

Two years later the building was converted to a garage on the first floor and a "dwelling" on the second.  It was home to Emma A. Hamilton, widow of William H. Hamilton, by 1926.

In 1969 the building was converted to a private residence, home to Jules Goldstein and his wife, the former Jeanette Rosenberg.  A lawyer, Goldstein was a graduate of City College and New York University Law School.  His career, however, was wide-flung.  He was also executive secretary of the Trouser Institute of America, a member of the Management Labor Textile Advisory Committee of the Federal Trade Commission, and executive secretary of the National Outerwear and Sportswear Association.

Jules Goldstein died at University Hospital in December 1971 at the age of 80.  The house became home to Delbert W. Coleman, former CEO of jukebox firm J. P. Seeburg Corporation, and his wife.

The house was the center of an embarrassing snafu in 1976.  On January 26, the Colemans sent out about 100 formal invitations for a fund-raiser for Senator Frank Church to be held on February 10.  But after poking around into Coleman's background, Church's campaign staff "suddenly discovered that it had scheduled another fund-raising affair the same evening," reported Dan Dorfman in New York Magazine.

It seems that after Coleman sold his interests in Seeburg, he used the money to buy control of Parvin-Dorhmann Company, an operator of Las Vegas casinos and hotels.  Within a year Coleman had made a paper profit of over $34.5 million; a meteoric rise in value which prompted an SEC investigation and a charge of stock manipulation.

The Colemans were followed in No. 77 by Edward S. Finkelstein, chairman of R. H. Macy & Company.  Living here by 1988, he was widely credited with resuscitating the once-dowdy department store, restoring the ground floor to its original splendor--including the handsome polished wood cars of the Edwardian elevators.  It was Finkelstein who re-instituted the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks as a part of the national celebrations.  

When the house was sold for $2.58 million in December 1993, it was described as having three bedrooms, five baths, a "library overlooking dining area," and "double-height living room."  There were also two fireplaces and a roof deck.

In 2005 plans were filed for a "vertical enlargement of one family dwelling."  That barely described the project.  Radio entrepreneur Adam Lindemann would not only expand his home upward, but down.  His architect, London-based David Adjaye, would do a gut renovation that added three floors atop the original two, and two more below ground.

The renovations took years to be completed.  On May 22, 2011 New York magazine's Justin Davidson wrote "With the flamboyant orneriness that limitless wealth allows, the art collector Adam Lindemann and his wife, Amalia Dayan, have staged an act of architectural dissidence on the Upper East Side.  Lurking behind the limestone scrolls and wrought-iron gate of the carriage house at 77 East 77th Street is an eccentric concrete chateau."

photographs from "David Adjaye: A House for an Art Collector" via New York magazine May 22, 2011

Strikingly, the massive re-do is not noticeable from the street.  Davidson described it saying that Adjaye had confounded "the Upper East Side's aversion to novelty by combativeness and stealth."

photographs by the author

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