Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The James F. A. Clark House (Goethe House) - 1014 Fifth Avenue

William W. and Thomas M. Hall were prolific developers at the turn of the last century.  At a time when millionaires were lining Fifth Avenue across from Central Park with lavish palaces, the brothers joined the trend with speculative residences that held their own among the custom-designed mansions.  In 1906 they hired the architectural firm of Welch, Smith & Provot to design a pair of upscale homes on the vacant block of Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets.

On July 21 the New-York Tribune reported "Plans have been filed for two six story and basement, private residences to be built at Nos. 1014 and 1015 Fifth avenue for William Hall's Sons, as owners."  Among their cutting edge amenities, the article noted that the 25-foot wide residences "will be be equipped with passenger elevators."  Each was projected to cost $85,000 (about $2.45 million today) to construct.

The architects turned to the still-popular Beaux Arts style in designing the residences.  Near mirror images they sat on rusticated bases, their entrances accessed by five stone steps.   At the second floor, or piano nobile, two arched openings framed pairs of French doors which opened onto charming Juliette balconies.  Above the bracketed limestone cornice the sixth floor took the form of a copper clad mansard with protruding dormers.

As construction neared completion William Hall's Sons published an impressive brochure to market the homes.  It detailed the up-to-the-minute "improvements" for which the Hall brothers were well-known.  

The William Hall's Sons brochure depicted a tranquil Fifth Avenue in front of No. 1014.  (copyright expired)
Included was an upgraded steam heat system.  "In place of COIL radiators in the main rooms, fresh air, which a few moments before was in Central Park, is heated by passing over large steam coils enclosed in galvanized AIR-TIGHT houses...In the main parts of the house the heat temperature is controlled by the Johnson Thermostatic System."  

At a time when some were still uneasy with elevators, the brochure insisted in capital letters that the Otis Automatic Passenger Elevator, "of the most modern type," was "ABSOLUTELY SAFE."  It went on to describe its operation:

A passenger, on entering the car, touches a button, when it rises to the floor indicated, stops, and the door opens.  It cannot be moved until the door is automatically locked...It can be operated without any risk by a child.

Although the houses were touted as "fireproof," the architects had built an extra precaution into the structures.  An interior service staircase was totally enclosed, "built of brick and hand burnt hollow blocks."  That staircase was constructed of steel with slate treads and the doors were deemed fireproof.  "No apprehension need be felt in case of fire, as it can be easily and quickly entered, and in cold or inclement weather, once within the enclosure, there should be no reason to leave the house."

Servants were well accommodated.  In the rear of the first floor was a room for the butler (should the family or visitors arrive late at night, they would not have to wait long for him to open the door).  Another bedroom on the fourth floor would house either the lady's maid or governess--again, its location lessening the response time when she was needed.  The remainder of the staff slept on the sixth floor where there were seven single rooms and two double rooms.  The brochure was clear that propriety had been considered.  "The men's quarters, with their own bathroom, etc., are entered from a hallway which entirely separates them from the rest."

The houses were scheduled to be completed in November 1907 and were each priced at $335,000--a jaw-dropping $9.65 million today.

Close inspection reveals the subtle differences between the two nearly mirror-image residences.  No. 1014 has iron-railed balconies, its French doors are styled slightly differently, and its dormers are squared rather than arched.  Picket fences protect the vacant lots on either side.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

No. 1014 was sold in December 1909 for significantly less than the list price.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that J. A. F. Clarke was the buyer and had paid $275,000.  The article describe the property as "a most modern 6-story fireproof American basement dwelling, with splendid restrictions and easements for light and air."  Those restrictions, written into the deeds of it and the surrounding properties, regulated that only high-class private homes could be built on the lots.  At least for now.

James Francis Aloysius Clark had married Edith Evelyn Bigelow exactly three years earlier, on December 12, 1906.  
Clark was a member of the banking and stock brokerage firm of Clark, Ward & Co.  Edith, born in London in 1885, was a trained operatic soprano, although, of course, she never went on the stage.  The Woman's Who's Who of America would later say that other than her church and humanitarian work, her "recreations" were "writing, poetry and prose, reading, needlework, music, study of theology."

James Francis Aloysius Clark from Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 (copyright expired)
Earlier in 1909 Clark had tried his hand at real estate development.  On July 24 the Record & Guide reported that he was building an apartment house at Nos. 144-146 East 40th Street, designed by Walker & Gillette.

In the meantime, the couple settled into their new mansion.  
A month after moving in, on December 7, 1910 The New York Press announced "Mrs. J. F. A. Clark has invitations out for a dinner this evening in her home, No. 1014 Fifth avenue, in compliment of her sister, Dorothy Bigelow.  The dinner will be followed by a small dance."

In 1911 the house next door was purchased by millionaire George J. Gould as a wedding present to his daughter, Marjorie, and Anthony J. Drexel.  The bridegroom came from a long line of financiers, and his father was the partner of J. P. Morgan in Drexel, Morgan & Co.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Clarks had moved into their completed apartment house on East 40th Street by February 1911.  They did not give up the title to No. 1014, however, choosing instead to lease it furnished at $20,000 per year, according to the Record & Guide.  It was a princely rate, equivalent to about $44,500 per month today.  

In September 1912 they leased it to Ada Sorg Druillard.  The daughter of millionaire industrialist Paul J. Sorg, she had inherited $10 million upon his death in 1906.  Her name appeared in newspapers less for social functions than her often surprising actions.  

On November 11, 1913, for instance, The Evening World commented "Mrs. Drouillard and her mother recently attracted much attention in society through their friendly competition to obtain the finest sable coat in the world.  More than one hundred imperial sable pelts, selected by a commission which travelled throughout Europe were used by Mrs. Drouillard's furriers in making her sable coat, which was valued at $35,000."

And while she moved into the Clark mansion, her husband did not.   She had married retired Army captain James Pierce Drouillard the same year her father died.  He came from a long line of military figures, his ancestors having fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

Born in 1874, Drouillard had enlisted in the Army in 1896.  The Evening World said of him "He saw service in China and the Philippines and was nearly killed in a battle during the Samar campaign.  He was promoted for bravery displayed on the islands.  He resigned from the army shortly before he married Miss Sorg."  Drouillard was now treasurer of the Lachman Manufacturing Company."

The couple had been leasing the William Hall mansion, half a block away at No. 1008 Fifth Avenue.  But troubles boiled up between the two.  The Evening World said simply, "Mrs. Drouillard went to her home at No. 1014 Fifth avenue, while her husband became a permanent guest at the St. Regis."

Nevertheless, at least for a time, they had an on-again-off-again relationship.  Ada told a reporter " “We never knew…whether we would live together again. It was just one of those cases where we might have made up any day and again we might not.”   She frequently consulted him regarding household and business matters and he was in charge not only of the Drouillard estate, but the Sorg estate as well.

Ada Sorg Drouillard and Captain James Pierce Drouillard in happier days.  Middletown in Black and White, 1908 (copyright expired)

But in November 1913 Ada filed for divorce, charging infidelity.  Her complaint said the separation had been brought about "by a woman unknown to the plaintiff."  The hearings were held behind closed doors, "some of which were stormy with the Captain on the defensive," according to The Evening World.  The newspaper reported on November 11, "Mrs. Drouillard insisted upon a speedy termination of the suit.  And she got it."

The two would be required to show up in court four months later when Sara Hall sued them for the damages she said they inflicted on her furniture and other household goods in No. 1008 Fifth Avenue.  On March 14, 1914 The New York Times reported that the complaint claimed “that through carelessness and inefficiency $9,000 worth of damage was done to the furnishings.  An extra $850 is demanded in order to restore the billiard room to its former condition, Capt. and Mrs. Drouillard, according to the complaint, having divided it into bedrooms.”  Ada scoffed that the accusations and called Sarah Hall's furnishings "shoddy."

The mansion was the scene of Ada's wedding to broker Henry Clark Pritchitt on January 16, 1915.  Newspapers could not help once again bringing up her divorce from the military hero, her $10 million inheritance, and her $35,000 fur coat.

Before long the Clarks had returned to No. 1014--and they now had two children, Evelyn Bigelow Clark and John Bigelow Clark.  On May 12 1917 The Evening Post announced "Mr. and Mrs. J. Francis A. Clark have closed their town house at 1014 Fifth Avenue and are now at their villa in Newport, R.I., for the summer season."

The Clarks routinely leased a mansion in Newport, as evidenced on May 4, 1918 when The Evening Post reported that the family "will again spend the summer months in Newport, where they have leased Thornton Wilson's villa."  But in 1919 they acquired their own estate.  On December 14 The Sun announced "Mr. and Mrs. James F. A. Clark purchased recently the estate of the heirs of Mrs. Joseph Busk, known as Indian Spring, in Ocean avenue, and are to take possession soon after the first of the year.  This is one of the large estates in that vicinity and Mr. and Mr.s Clark have in mind a number of improvements before next summer."  Among the least costly of those improvements was a name change, to Wrentham House.

The Clarks got a new next door neighbor in September 1919 when James Watson Gerard purchased the former Drexel house.  Oddly enough, there had still been no other residences erected on the block.  In reporting the sale the Record & Guide commented, "The house...and the residence of Mrs. J. F. A. Clark, at No. 1014, adjoining, are the only two homes on the block, both corners being vacant."  The article added "It is considered one of the finest private homes in the Carnegie Hill district, and will be occupied shortly by Mr. Gerard."

The first years of the 1920's saw increased development in the area in the form of apartment buildings.  And Fifth Avenue, a quiet residential neighborhood in 1906, was now bustling.  It may have been those changes in the neighborhood that prompted Edith Evelyn Clark to demand a reduction in the $210,000 assessment of her home in June 1922.  She complained that the heavy traffic on the avenue was "making it impossible to secure comfort during certain hours" and made note of "the influx of apartment houses between Sixtieth and Ninety-sixth streets."

The impossibility to secure comfort did not force the Clarks to leave and their entertainments during the winter season continued to draw social attention.  On January 17, 1922 The New York Herald announced "Mr. and Mrs. J. Francis A. Clark of 1014 Fifth avenue will give a dinner tonight for Priscilla, Countess of Annesley."  Edith and the children, incidentally, had just returned from three months in France after closing Wrentham House in October.

Edith's complaints about apartment houses appearing within the mansion district hit extremely close to home in 1925 when construction of No. 1010 Fifth Avenue began next door.  It was apparently the last straw for the Clarks.  On June 1, 1926 the New York Evening Post reported they had closed No. 1014 "and are at their summer place at Newport."  They would not return.

The following month they sold No. 1014 to their next-door neighbor, James W. Gerard.  The Clarks moved into a massive 20-room apartment on Park Avenue.   Gerard's sale of No. 1015 and his short relocation was most likely prompted by a not-to-be-refused offer by a developer who eyed the northern corner for an apartment building.

Before the Gerards moved in, they did extensive renovations.  A large extension, for instance, to accommodate a ballroom was added, the entrance was slightly lowered and the steps moved into the foyer, and significant redecorating was done.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Gerards did not turn to the current Jazz Age, Art Deco interiors as might have been expected.  Instead the detailing was even more in keeping with the gilded age than the originals.  The grand staircase railing, for instance, was changed from rather simple, straight bronze balusters, to a more complex French design terminating in 19th century inspired scrolls.

The staircase railing was redone in 1926, as were the floors, now tiled in a warm Giallo di Sienna stone.

The new ballroom on the second floor looked as if it had been there thirty years; its carved floor-to-ceiling Rococco paneling cresting like a wave onto the ceiling.

The carving of the ceiling molding is incomparable.
By the time the Gerards moved into the renovated home, the apartment building was finished on the site of their former house.  No. 1014 Fifth Avenue was now tightly constricted between two 14- and 15-story structures.

When Wurts Bros. took this photograph in 1928, the Gerard house still wore the construction company's sign on the balcony and the door was covered with plywood.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

After the massive remodeling project was completed, on November 9, 1928 the New York Evening Post announced "Mr. and Mrs. James W. Gerard have opened their home at 1014 Fifth Avenue, which they have not occupied for nearly two years."

James W. Gerard was an internationally-known figure.  Educated as a lawyer, he was the former (and last) American Ambassador to Imperial Germany.  His wife, the former Mary Augusta Daly, was the daughter of Marcus Daly, a Montana copper mogul known widely as the Copper King.  The couple had been married since 1901.

James and "Molly" Gerard arrived in New York on the Frederick VIII on October 10, 1916.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

When Gerard's assignment as ambassador was ended by the outbreak of World War I, he was seen as a national hero.  The New York Times later remarked "His handling not only of American interests but of those of the Allied powers who had been at war with Germany since 1914 won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic."

When, in 1916 for example, Germany embarked on an unrestricted submarine warfare campaign, Gerard protested, telling Foreign Minster Zimmerman of Germany that "this form of warfare would mean trouble with the United States."  Zimmerman replied that America would "never dare" to engage in hostilities with Germany because there were "500,000 German reservists in the United States who would rise up in revolt."

Gerard coolly replied, "We have 500,000 lamp posts on which to hang them."

Then, after diplomatic relationships between the two countries were severed in 1917, the German Government refused to return his passport enabling him to return to America unless he signed a document reaffirming the Treaty of 1869 between the U.S. and Germany.  Gerard declared that he had no authority to sign such a document and "Even if I had I would stay here until hell freezes over before I would put my name on such a paper."

Gerard had been reared among the highest echelons of New York society.  The Times remarked that the Gerard family "numbered among its friends both the Hyde Park and the Oyster Bay Roosevelts, the Belmonts, the Astors and others of their type and class."

Retirement did not dilute Gerard's esteem in political and social circles.  On February 3, 1932, for instance, the New York Evening Post reported "Mr. and Mrs. James W. Gerard of 1014 Fifth Avenue are returning from Washington today where they went yesterday to attend the dinner party given last evening at the White House by President and Mrs. Hoover for Speaker of the House of Representatives and Mrs. Garner."

Although the couple did not have children of their own, the mansion was the scene of a wedding on November 14, 1934 when Hannah-Lee Sherman married State Senator Walter Watson Stokes.  The Albany newspaper the Times-Union noted "The bride was given in marriage by her cousin, Mr. P. Tecumseh Sherman, only surviving son of General William Tecumseh Sherman."  Attending the ceremony were illustrious society names, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife, Mrs. Henry Reese Hoyt and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt.

Interior detailing from the 1926 renovation, like this plasterwork panel in deep relief, hearken to a much earlier period.
Mary Gerard was known popularly as "Molly."  Her younger sister, Harriot, had married Count Anton Sigray of Hungary in 1910.  In March 1936 Manhattan society was excited about the countess's arrival with her daughter, Margit, for a week's visit at No. 1014.  In reporting on the Gerards' house guest, the New York Post added "The Sigrays, whose estates were considered curtailed as a result of the terms of the Versailles treaty, have a town residence in Budapest, where they are popular hosts in the distinguished international set that that capital always attracts."

The house had another titled visitor on March 6, 1940 when Archduke Otto of Austria was the guest of honor at a tea.  When Grace Wilson Vanderbilt spirited the archduke away to her own mansion, it prompted syndicated society columnist Maury Paul to poke fun at how even the queen of American society competed for European nobility.

Like the Northwest Canadian 'Mounties" Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt always 'gets her man'--in this instance, the Archduke Otto...On Wednesday afternoon 'Her Grace,' along with State Senator and Mrs. Walter Watson Stokes, Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice, 'Joe' Baldwin--and some of the Junior Baldwin 'secretaries--young Junior Baldwin Gerard, Jr., etc. was invited to drop in for tea at the 'Jimmie' Gerard manse, 1014 Fifth avenue.

Before the last cup of tea was poured, said the journalist, "she was taking the handsome young aspirant to Austrian and Hungarian monarchical honors in her vintage, maroon-colored Rolls Royce, down 'the avenue' to No. 640."  The affair seems to have gone on successfully without them.

Gerard never stepped out of the political spotlight.  In 1949 he demanded that United States Steel provide its laborers company-financed pensions.  And the following year President Harry S. Truman appointed him a member of the advisory board on International Development under chairman Nelson A. Rockefeller.

James W. Gerard died at the couple's summer estate in Southampton, Long Island on September 6, 1951.  He had been ill with a bronchial condition for several days.  His obituary required more than a full page in The New York Times.  It mentioned the Fifth Avenue mansion, saying "There he liked to entertain and talk with people of many shades of opinion.  Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the President, was a frequent visitor.  So was Mr. Baruch, [and] General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the Gerard home on several occasions."  An editorial on September 8 said "His death removes from among us a forthright, intelligent and courageous man who served America well."

The bulk of Gerard's $6 million estate was left to Mary.  She lived on at No. 1014 until her death in January 1956 at the age of 80.   The Times remarked on her life's work, much overshadowed by her famous husband.  "In Berlin, after World War I broke out, Mrs. Gerard devoted herself to the work of organizing help for the thousands of Americans and Britons stranded in Germany."  Then, "During World War II, Mrs. Gerard was an active volunteer worker for the Navy League of the United States, which organized recreation for Navy service men."

The handsome Carrarra marble mantel dates from 1906, the flooring, mirror and paneling from 1926.

Mary Daly Gerard did not forget her loyal servants in her will.  Newspapers nationwide reported on the generous benefactions received by her domestic staff.  On February 22 the Long Island Star-Journal announced "A 65-year-old butler, heir of $115,000 and living privileges in one of 5th avenue's swankiest mansions, spent last night in his modest Jackson Heights home."  Frank J. Hall's inheritance would top $1 million today.

The Nunda [New York] News added "In one of Fifth Ave.'s few remaining private homes, nine ex-servants today live a life surpassing even that of the proverbial Riley.  They not only have free food and lodgings and their regular wages, with an absolute minimum of work, but, with a secretary who lives out, they are heirs to more than half a million under the wills of their late master and mistress."  Mary's will directed that the live-in staff could remain in the house, with full pay, until the property was sold.

Two years earlier, on November 2, 1954, The New York Times reported "Heinz L Krekeler, West German Ambassador, said today that seven prominent businessmen and educators in the United States had agreed to sponsor a German institute in this country to foster cultural relations between the two nations.  The institute, to be known as Goethe House, will be opened soon in the residential area east of Central Park in New York."

The following year, in October, the Board of Regents in Albany granted a charter to Goethe House, Inc., "an institution that was organized to promote education and culture in German art, music, literature, science and law," explained The Times on October 29.  The article noted "Goethe House has not yet selected a site for its headquarters."

Goethe House opened temporarily at No. 120 East 56th Street.  Then, in 1959, the Federal Republic of Germany purchased the Gerard mansion for a reported $300,000 (nearly $2.6 million in today's dollars).  After renovations the Goethe House opened on February 6, 1961 with a performance of Faust, A Tragedy.      

The Goethe House library contained some 8,000 volumes, provided by the West German Government.  In an editorial article, The New York Times remarked on the need for cultural accord with the German people.  "This was badly damaged in two dreadful wars that were the product of a distortion of German culture and a denial of all that was good in it by a small group of megalomaniacs.  Happily for us and for the world they were not and are not Germany."

The article called the need for a German "culture center" in America "almost paradoxical" because "In better days there grew up in this country, naturally and almost automatically, great centers of German culture that made an immense contribution to the spiritual life of a growing country."  It ended "Naturally, we wish 'Goethe House' a great success and a happy and healthy growth."

That success came and Goethe House was a regular destination for New Yorkers as exhibitions and performances were held here.  On December 2, 1968, for instance, New York Magazine announced that an exhibition of Hans Christian Jenssen oil paintings was opening.

In 1969 Goethe House merged with the German cultural institute Goethe-Institut e.V to benefit from that organization's broader network.  The cooperative institutions, Goethe-Institut New York, remained until around 2008 when the New York City Fire Department deemed the old mansion unsafe as a public space.  The winding staircase stretched from the first floor to the sixth, in effect creating a chimney which would be disastrous in case of fire.

No. 1014 was vacated, presumably temporarily until a remedy to the staircase violation could be arrived at.  But that never happened.  The building sat vacant and somewhat neglected for a decade.  Recently, according to a spokesman, " the German Government has made plans to renovate the building and loan it to an American non profit to run it as a transatlantic space for collaboration and ideas." 

A remarkable survivor of Upper Fifth Avenue's Belle Epoch, it now awaits its next chapter.

photographs by the author


  1. There is one historical error in this post, regarding this line: "on March 6, 1940 when Archduke Otto of Austria was the guest of honor at a tea. When Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt spirited the archduke away to her own mansion" Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt died in 1934, six years before this event occurred. Further down it refers to her as "Mrs Cornelius Vancerbilt," called "Her Grace" by Maury Paul and living "down the avenue' to No. 640." This would be Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, otherwise known as Grace Wilson Vanderbilt (Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt was Mrs. Cornelius II, Grace's mother-in-law). Grace was THE MRS. Vanderbilt in 1940 and lived at 640 Fifth Ave. So the Mrs. Vanderbilt mentioned in Maury Paul's 1940 coumn was Grace, not Alice.

  2. Another small correction: The Sigray’s daughter was Margit, not “Margrit.” Her father the Count was known as “Antal” Sigray in Hungary, Anglicized as “Anton” or, among friends, “Tony.”

    1. Thanks! I'm glad I have great proof-readers to keep me in check!