Monday, March 18, 2019

The 1897 Richard S. Barnes Mansion - 316 West 75th Street

Despite being one of ten children, Richard Storrs Barnes enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  Born in 1854 in Brooklyn, his father, Alfred Smith Barnes, was the principal in the leading textbook publishing house in the nation, A. S. Barnes & Co.  Richard was educated at the Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut; the Williston Seminary in East Hampton, Massachusetts; and finally at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

He initially entered his father's business, moving to Chicago to manage that branch of the firm.  In 1880 he married Hattie Day Barbour of Harford.  Around the time of his father's death in 1888 he returned to New York; Richard's brother, Alfred C. Barnes took over the family business.

While Richard remained a director in the company (which grew into the conglomerate American Book Company); he branched out into myriad professional interests.  He became treasurer of Braunworth & Co., printers, and secretary and treasurer of the Barnes Real Estate Association.  He invested heavily in mining and was treasurer of the Automatic Fire Alarm Company.

Richard and Hattie had three children, Goodrich (who tragically died at the age of 12), Hattie Louise and Roderic Barbour Barnes.  Their Washington, Connecticut country home, Westlawn, was a sprawling Queen Anne-style riot of gables and porches and chimneys.

Westlawn's many angles assured that the slightest breezes were captured.  photo via the Gunn Historical Museum
In 1895 ground was broken for the Barnes's new city home at No 316 West 75th Street, just steps from Riverside Drive.  Richard had hired one of Manhattan's premier mansion architects, C. P. H. Gilbert, to design a 38-foot wide residence--nearly double the width of a standard home.  Construction took two years and resulted in an impressive five-story residence faced in cream-colored Roman brick and trimmed in limestone.

Gilbert splashed his Renaissance Revival design with Beaux Arts touches--like torches, swags and lions' heads above the fourth floor openings, and the eye-catching oculus over the service entrance.  While other architects strove to downplay doorways where deliverymen and servants came and went, Gilbert fronted this one with grand iron gates and carved Renaissance style gateposts and lavished its round window with cornucopia.

Sadly abused as a repository for trash today, the service entrance was given grand treatment by C. P. H. Gilbert.  Note the individualized carvings of the gate posts.
The second floor featured tall French windows with balconettes.  The center opening of the rounded bay wore an elaborate stone hood, the tympanum of which overflowed with foliate carvings and a crest.  (Close inspection reveals a dog standing proudly above that crest.)  The bay provided a stone-balustraded balcony to the fourth floor.  A stone cornice supported by foliate brackets completed the design.

The Barnes family proudly displayed an American flag from the balcony of their new home.  Architectural Record 1899
The Barnes family's upscale lifestyle was reflected in Richard's entering steeds in the fashionable New York Horse Show, in his memberships in the New England Society of New York, the Metropolitan Club and the Down Town Association. 

The names of Manhattan's wealthy routinely appeared in print as they boarded steamships headed to Europe.  But that was not the case when Richard and Hattie climbed aboard the Hamburg-American vessel Moltke on January 10, 1903.  They were embarking on a pleasure cruise--a forerunner of today's popular ocean cruises.  The New-York Tribune reported the ship would visit the principal islands in the West Indies and Nassau.  The ports of call would be familiar to vacationers taking a cruise today--St. Thomas, San Juan, Kingston, Jamaica and Nassau among others.

Richard Storrs Barnes - photo via the Gunn Historical Museum

On September 17, 1904 Richard and Hattie announced the engagement of Hattie Louise to Alfred Severin Bourne.  The New-York Tribune noted as well, "Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, whose country home is Westlawn, Washington, Conn., spent the early part of the summer in Europe."  While Bourne's family was immensely wealthy (the newspaper called their Oakdale home "one of the finest country places in Long Island"), there were indications that the young man was a bit of a playboy. 

The 21-year old groom-to-be had inherited $1 million from his godfather, Corman Clark, that year and another half million on the interest that had accumulated on the fund prior to his coming of age.  The New-York Tribune put a positive spin on his dropping out of school by saying "He entered Yale about a year ago, but preferred a business career."

Hattie Louise had debuted into society the previous winter.  In the summer of 1904 Alfred's parents celebrated his "coming of age" at Oakdale with events that rivaled the most lavish of debutante entertainments.  The Sun commented "There were luncheons, dinners and dances ashore and afloat."

The wedding took place in the West End Collegiate Church on West End Avenue just two blocks north of the Barnes residence the following spring.  The social importance of the event was evidenced by the guest list.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 17, 1905, "Some of those invited to the wedding were President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Admiral and Mrs. George Dewey, Rear Admiral and Mrs. W. S. Schley, Bishop and Mrs. Potter, General and Mrs. Stewart L. Woodford, Mr. and Mrs. W. Bayard Cutting, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Bliss and Mrs. W. S. P. Prentice."  The reception took place in the 75th Street mansion.

Roderic married Rose Marie Naething six years later, in September 1911, in the fashionable Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue.  Roderic would go on to a promising career as an architect.

Rose Barnes on her wedding day. New-York Tribune September 17, 1911 (copyright expired) 

On Christmas Day, 1913, Richard Storrs Barnes died in the 75th Street house at the age of 59.  The Bookseller estimated his estate to be "at least $500,000."  That amount would approach $13 million today.

Hattie remained in the residence and following her period of mourning resumed her social activities.  Her name appeared in society columns as she visited fashionable watering holes like the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Perhaps the most unusual gathering which she hosted in the residence occurred in the spring of 1917.  The highly-popular evangelist Billy Sunday was in town and on May 17 he enthralled a crowd of 18,000 with his unorthodox retelling of the story of how Jesus reformed the tax collector Zaccheus.  According to The Sun's report, he said in part:

There were a lot of the old guys discussin' Jesus--and they were mostly leaving the dis off--and Zaccheus, who was a rich gazabo of a Jew, wanted to get a good look at Him, so he shinnied up a tree.  Well, when Jesus passed right under the three old Zac slid down and Jesus said to him: 'This day I'll abide at thy house.'  He didn't even wait for Zaccheus to invite Him.  He just said He'd come on over for dinner with him."

The reverend paused to consider the wife of Zaccheus.  "Gee, I'll bet she was a fine kind of woman not to mind havin' all that bunch drop in on her just at dinner time and nothing to eat but some canned goods."

But before that gargantuan event, the preacher had been at the Barnes house.  "In the morning Billy delivered a short talk before 300 women and a few men in the home of Mrs. Richard S. Barnes, 316 West Seventy-fifth street.  Following the evangelist Mrs. Sunday said a few words."

Hattie became involved with the Women's American Oriental Club of New York City.  It was founded in April 1915 "to promote friendliness and mutual understanding between women of the Orient and women of America."  By 1920 she was its president.

Although heavily abused, the carved newels still stand guard.
In the meantime, Hattie Louise's husband's playboy ways had caught up with him and landed the family name in scandalous newspaper reports.  The New-York Tribune's article on December 29, 1918 started out complimentary enough.  "Mr. Bourne is a member of the New York Yacht Club, St. Anthony Club and the National Golf Links.  His father, Frederick G. Bourne, formerly commodore of the New York Yacht Club, is one of the best known yachtsmen in the United States."

But then the article got to the juicier parts.  Bourne had been carrying on a relationship with Grace B. Clark, who freely visited the best shops of Manhattan, charging her purchases to Bourne.  The illicit affair became public when Grace's bill with the dressing making house of Hickson, Inc., became inordinate--approaching half a million in today's dollars.

Pressed for payment, Bourne made a deal to pay $500 a month.  But then he stopped payments with a balance of $11,199 still due.  Hickson, Inc. sued, Bourne did not attempt to defend himself, and the newspapers eagerly printed the shocking story.

Hattie Barnes was 64-years old when she sold No. 316 to the H. M. C. Realty Company, Inc. in 1924.  The handsome mansion she and her husband had built more than a quarter of a century earlier was converted to "non-housekeeping apartments," meaning they had no kitchens.

The building had few notable tenants.  In the 1940's bandleader Jimmy Victor lived here.  His advertisement in Billboard magazine in October 1948 announced "Now arranging 1949 indoor and outdoor dates, Jimmy Victor's Show Band."

In the 1950's an apartment here was used as the headquarters for the New York Regional Advisory Board of the Society of St. Dismas.  The group described its goal as "to aid imprisoned and released prisoners."  To that end it furnished reading material to penal institutions and aided released prisoners to find employment and homes.

Gay activist Brenda Howard lived in the building in 1972 when she was arrested on June 7.  Firefighter Michael Maye was accused of beating a member of the Gay Activist Alliance on April 15 that year.   Before his court hearing, she and two other activists created that The New York Times called "a disturbance" in the courtroom.  Apparently Brenda was less combative than her companions.  While her charges were later dismissed, the other two were held to stand trial on charges of "assault, resisting arrest, harassment and obstructing government administration."

The former elegance of the Barnes mansion manages to triumph over window air conditioners, a commercial-style doorway, and decades of dirt. 

photographs by the author

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