Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Lewis S. Morris House - 116 East 80th Street

The fanlight above the main entrance and the window above the service entrance continue the pattern of arches set by the ground floor openings. 
Lewis Spencer Morris could claim a long and dignified American pedigree.  His wealthy ancestor Richard Morris, arrived in New York around 1670.  He purchased a 500-acre farm in what is now the Bronx (the family name survives in the Morris Heights and Morrisania neighborhoods).  Another ancestor,  Lewis Morris III, signed the Declaration of Independence.

The son of Henry Lewis Morris and the former Anna Rutherfurd, Lewis was born on August 21, 1884,  He attended the exclusive Browning School before going on to Princeton University, graduating in 1906.  The following year, on April 6, he married Emily Pell Coster, the daughter of Charles Henry Coster, a partner of J. P. Morgan.  Morris joined his father's law firm, Morris & McVeigh in 1917.

He and Emily were living at No. 182 East 64th Street when, on June 5, 1921, The New York Herald reported that he had purchased the old three-story brownstone houses at Nos. 116 and 118 East 80th Street from Mary U. Hoffman.  The article noted that Morris "plans to improve the site with a modern residence."  Indeed he did.

The architectural firm of Cross & Cross evoked the Morris family's august heritage with brick and stone.   The 36-foot wide residence was designed in the neo-Federal style; its Flemish bond brickwork and 18th century design elements displaying dignified refinement.  The projecting central bay provided dimension; while a brick and stone pediment above the cornice disguised the fact that the house was four stories high.  Within the pediment were terra cotta festoons which draped over a large bas relief medallion--the portrait of which is possibly Lewis Morris III.

Historians speculate on the identity of the likeness; possibly Lewis Morris III.

Completed in 1922, the interiors were designed by Elsie Cobb Wilson, who deftly blended the 18th with the 20th century.  Furnishings and other details echoed the designs of Sheraton and Adam, yet managed to embody the bright, sleek taste of the 1920's.

Certain spaces, like the stair hall and library, were traditional.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Like other wealthy couples, Lewis and Emily were on the move.  On September 26, 1932, for instance, the Rockland County Evening Journal noted "Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Spencer Morris are expected in Tuxedo Park September 28.  They Summered at Southampton, L. I. at Villa Marla."

Along with his legal practice, Lewis was chairman of the board of the Fulton Trust Company of New York.  He was chairman of the New York Society Library, and a director of the Northern Insurance Company.  Morris held memberships in the exclusive Knickerbocker, Down Town, Racquet and Tennis, Tuxedo, Princeton and Brook Clubs.

Other spaces, like the dining room, melded 19th century designs with 1920's domestic taste.  photos by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 
As war broke in Europe, Emily became involved in relief projects.  In 1940 she was president of the American branch of the French Red Cross.  Among its efforts was a benefit dinner and entertainment entitled "A Night in Trouville" on June 25 that year at the Cafe Trouville to benefit the Mobile Surgical Unit, Inc.

Another conflict was brewing much closer to home at the time.  On December 20, 1941 The New York Times reported that Emily "obtained a divorce today from Lewis Spencer Morris."  The grounds, said the article, were cruelty.

In fact, Lewis had fallen in love with another woman.  Five weeks later, on January 21, he married Louise Stephanie Stewart Trevor Lord.  The Times noted the following day that "No announcement had been made of the engagement."

Morris sold the 80th Street house later that year.  His life with Louise would not be long.  His health soon failed, and after an extended illness he died in Roosevelt Hospital on November 28, 1944.

No. 116 East 80th Street continued life as a private residence.  It sold in 1988 for $11 million (more than twice that amount today) setting the record for the highest price paid for a single-family residence.  The purchaser was financier Sir James Goldsmith.

Goldsmith's reputation for corporate raiding (his attempted hostile take over of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1986 which reaped his company's $90 million) resulted in his being the inspiration for character Sir Larry Wildman in the 1987 film Wall Street.

Goldsmith died on July 18, 1997.  The 80th Street house was placed on the market the following year for $16 million.  The handsome mansion remains a single family home.

photographs by the author


  1. It is spectacular inside.

  2. In the 1940's, this house was bought by Mr.& Mrs. Charles C. Paterson - she was Amy Warren Plant.They also had a splendid and large place in Newport. She was filthy rich & the furnishings were splendid & opulent - far more opulent than the Goldsmith's furnishings.
    She pre-deceased her husband and he was still inhabiting 116 East 80th Street well through the 1970's and early 80's.
    I attended the memorial service for him in the 'courtyard' of the house officiated by the Very Rev. Dr Sturgis Riddle, an Episcopal priest and long-time friend of the Patersons.
    It is lovely to read your wonderful blog & to learn that this house is still intact & flourishing as a private house.