Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Henry B. Anderson Mansion - 323 West 80th Street

A garage door replaces what was originally a trio of windows.  The service entrance, at far left, has been blocked in.
The prolific Upper West Side architect Clarence True began construction of a row of seven upscale residences in 1897.  The group would wrap the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and West 80th Street.  Designed in the Elizabethan Renaissance Revival style, they featured a romantic blend of shapes and materials.

No. 323 West 80th Street was a palatial 40-feet wide.  True's asymmetrical design resulted in the two halves nearly appearing as separate houses.  The arched entrance within the limestone base was flanked by two openings on the east, and three on the west.  Their transoms, and those in the second and third floors, were filled with brilliantly colored stained glass.  The service door was located at the far west side.

The row was completed in 1898, but well before then No 323 had been sold to real estate operator Charles H. Davis.  He and Clarence True often worked together and Davis may have provided input on the interior design of the house.   Davis's wife, Ida, was also active in real estate.  When construction was completed, Charles transferred the title to No. 323 to Ida.  This was no loving gift; he charged her $20,000 for the deed--about $651,000 today.

The house soon became home to wealthy physician H. Edward Russell.  The family had house guests in the winter of 1913-1914; a visit that would end in a bizarre tragedy.

Mrs. Elizabeth Eaton and her daughter arrived in New York in her touring car from Detroit, Michigan.  Her chauffeur, Frank E. Berry, stayed in the Russell house as well, driving the women around town as needed.

On the afternoon of January 13 Berry drove them to Carnegie Hall where they attended a lecture.  After dropping them off, he drove back around, getting in line with the other chauffeurs who waited for the event to end.  Carnegie Hall had an inventive procedure by which the drivers were given a number and when the attendees were ready to be picked up, an attendant let the chauffeurs know by illuminating that number on an electric signboard. 

But that January day was especially frigid and even the most expensive automobiles did not yet have heaters.   The Eatons left the hall at 5:00.  Ten minutes after their number was flashed, Elizabeth asked a man to please walk down the line to see what happened to her car.  The New York Times reported on his grisly discovery.  "The automobile was found at its proper place in line.  On the seat, sitting upright, was the rigid figure of Berry.  He was dead."

Dr. Russell was at home and he rushed to the scene.  He examined the body and pronounced that the death "had been due to the intense cold to which Berry had been exposed."  The Times was more direct, saying the chauffeur was "frozen to death."

When Dr. Russell lived here the house was covered with ivy.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Henry Burrall Anderson purchased No. 323 in 1916.  He married Marie Whittemore Larocque on December 3, 1891 and the couple had two sons, Henry Hill Anderson and Joseph Larocque Anderson.  Marie died on November 30, 1903, leaving Henry to rear the boys as a single father.  Henry was 10 and Joseph 13 at the time.

Born on January 2, 1863 Anderson had had a privileged upbringing.  He attended St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, graduated from Yale College in 1885 and then entered Harvard Law School.  In 1898 he and his younger brother, Chandler P. Anderson, formed the law firm of Anderson & Anderson.

The Andersons had summered at their country home near Ridgefield, Connecticut.  But when Marie died, Henry closed the house, never to return.  Although he retained possession of his nearly 3,000 acres there, he established his new summer estate at Sands Point, Long Island.

Before moving into No. 323 Henry Anderson had renovations done, some of them reflective of what would be an all-male population.  When completed, according to the New-York Tribune later, it contained "twenty-one rooms and six baths, including a large solarium, tiled loggia and fountain, gymnasium, etc."

Henry B. Anderson's vast personal fortune was due greatly in part to his prominent clients.  He was not only the attorney for the New York Central Railway, but the personal counsel to the Vanderbilt family.  So close was their relationship that when Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was lost on May 7, 1915 when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans, his will left Anderson $200,000--more than $5 million today.

Quarter-Centenary Record, Yale University 1912 (copyright expired)

Son Henry had graduated from Yale University in 1916, the same year his father purchased No. 323.  When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army, rising to the rank of major in the cavalry.  His brother, Joseph, chose the Navy, serving on the USS Lydonia in the Mediterranean.  When peace returned, both returned to the West 80th Street house.

Henry B. Anderson maintained a busy schedule in business and in leisure.  In addition to his legal practice, he was a member of the University Club (he was its first president, a position he held for nine years), was the governor of the Automobile Club of America, and in 1919 was elected to the Thousand Islands Yacht Club.

In the fall of 1920 Henry Anderson would find himself suddenly alone in the mansion.  Joseph, who had also gone into the legal profession, was the first to marry.  His wedding to Irene Margaret Peacock took place in the bride's home at No. 46 East 79th Street on June 24, 1920.  Then just two months later, on August 21, Henry married Helen James on Long Island.

The social prominence of the family was evidenced in the guest list at Henry's wedding.  The New-York Tribune reported among those present, "Mr. and Mrs. William G. Rockefeller, William Rockefeller, Mrs. Whitelaw Reid" along with elite social names like Brewster and Jennings.

With his sons gone, No. 323 may have been too much house for Anderson.  In November 1922 he sold it and moved to Park Avenue.  The New-York Tribune reported on November 15 that "The new owner intends to occupy part of the house."  That was untrue.

Alterations, completed in 1923, resulted in a physician's office on the ground floor, a single apartment on the second, furnished rooms on floors three through five, and one apartment on the top floor.  The days of millionaire occupants were over.

Among the early residents was Francis Brenner, who was affluent enough to own an automobile in 1926.  Unfortunately for him, he had a lead foot, a fact that did not please Supreme Court Justice Louis A. Valente.  When Brennen showed up in court on August 25 for his second speeding offense, Valente had had enough.  He sentenced Brennen to ten days in jail.

Perhaps the most well-known resident was former judge of General Sessions Robert Stephen Johnstone.  He took an apartment in No. 323 sometime after his divorce from the former Margaret Pollock in 1927. 

Born in Ireland, he came to New York around 1900.  He rose to prominence as Assistant District Attorney in 1902, a position he held until being appointed to the bench in 1922.  His Tammany Hall opponents ensured that he served only one term and in 1923 he returned to private practice as a criminal lawyer.  The New York Times said he "won 90 per cent of the cases he argued.

The 60-year-old left his apartment on June 4, 1935 for Mount Sinai Hospital after being ill with what was diagnosed as acute anemia for some time.  He would not return.   He was given several blood transfusions, but the treatments were unsuccessful.  He died there five days later.

Change would come to the beleaguered mansion in 1970.  When Broadway producer Bill DeSeta and his wife, Donna, purchased it for $170,000 that year, it contained 20 single-occupancy rooms.  They put another $200,000 into renovations that resulted in a 3,000-square foot duplex and eight apartments on the upper floors.   The changes included bricking up the service entrance and carving a garage into half of the parlor floor.

The 20th century abuse had left the new owners nearly none of Clarence True's interior detailing.  The DeSetas' upscale remodeling incorporated period-appropriate paneling and antique mantelpieces.  The sole surviving True elements were the beamed dining room ceiling and leaded glass windows, which were preserved.

Among their tenants in 2005, according to Ten-Tronck's Celebrity Locator that year, was the multi-talented Bernadette Peters. 

After owning the property for 47 years, the couple placed the house on the market in 2017 for $20 million.

photographs by the author


  1. Nice article, but it's grisly not grizzly. 🐻

    1. Thanks for catching. I can't BEAR typos.

    2. Speaking of typos, it's counsel, not consul. :). Or if you wish, attorney. And perhaps 'to' should be 'for'.