Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Winthrop Aldrich House - 15 East 78th Street

Tycoon Henry H. Cook, who made his fortune in railroads and banking, began planning his hulking stone mansion at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street in 1880.  The residences of other millionaires were inching northward along the newly-completed Central Park, but it would be years before they got this far.  To ensure the high social and financial caliber of his approaching neighbors Cook purchased the entire block on which his mansion would sit--from Fifth Avenue to Madison between 78th and 79th Streets.  He then laid out stringent building restrictions: no structure other than a lavish private home could be built on what would become known as the Cook Block.

The block was fast filling with impressive residences in 1901 when developer Jeremiah C. Lyons purchased the plot at No. 15 East 78th Street.  He commissioned the well-known architectural firm of Buchman & Fox to design a sumptuous speculative home.  Completed in 1902 at a cost of $100,000 (just over $3 million today), the 25-foot-wide mansion was faced in stone and rose five stories.  Unfortunately, no photographs or sketches of its original appearance seem to survive.

Lyons sold the house to English-born Urban Hanlon Broughton and his wife, the former Cara Leland Rogers on October 2, 1902.  As was common, the title was put in Cara's name.  She was the daughter of Standard Oil magnate Henry Huddleston Rogers and Urban was highly involved in his father-in-law's business.

Therefore it is most likely no coincidence that two years later Rogers purchased the former Edmund C. Converse residence at No. 3 East 78th Streetsteps away from the Broughton house and nearly abutting the Cook mansion.  

The fact that Cara and Urban had met and fell in love at all is an unlikely story.  A graduate of the University of London with a degree in civil engineering, he had become involved with the pneumatic pump drainage system known as the Shone system.  Henry Huddleston Rogers considered installing a sewer system for his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts around 1887 where the family summer estate was located.  When he selected the Shone system he brought in young Broughton, who had only recently arrived in American, to direct the project.  

Cara married Bradford Ferris Duff in 1890, but he died soon afterward.  Before long a romance was sparked between Broughton and the young widow and they married in 1895.

Urban and Cara had two sons--Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton (why his name "Huttleston" was spelled differently from his grandfather's "Huddleston" is unclear) and Henry Rogers Broughton.  The family summered at the Rogers estate in Fairhaven.

Broughton's close personal and professional relationship with Rogers was undeniable.  On June 18, 1904, for instance when Rogers raced his steam yacht, the Kanawha, in the Lysistrata Cup regatta Broughton was on board.

And when Rogers effectively retired in the fall of 1907 following a slight stroke, Broughton was ready.  On September 19 The New York Times wrote "The abandonment of business cares by H. H. Rogers marks the beginning of a new era in Standard Oil affairs...The younger element in the company is believed to be coming to the fore, and the old guard to be relinquishing its hold."  The article listed the "younger men who are now looked upon as the real leaders of the affairs" for the firm as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William G. Rockefeller, Henry H. Rogers, Jr. and Urban H. Broughton.

Broughton was also highly involved in copper mining.  On January 31, 1907 The New York Times reported that he had joined with two other copper moguls, Thomas F. Cole and John D. Ryan, to form the National Cooper Bank of New York.  The article described the men as "all prominently identified with copper mining."  Ryan was a personal friend of Broughton, as well.

Around 7:30 on the morning of May 19, 1909 a knock on the door of No. 15 brought distressing news.  Urban and Cara rushed to No. 3 where Henry H. Rogers had just died of a stroke.  

The 69-year-old left an estate estimated at between $50 and $75 million.  Cara received $4 million; more in the neighborhood of $114 million today.  (As an interesting side note, John D. Ryan purchased the Rogers mansion in 1913.)

Two months earlier the family had changed their summer plans.  The Evening Telegram reported on March 25, that the Broughtons, who "have been spending their summers in Fairhaven, Mass., where [Cara's] father, Mr. Henry H. Rogers, has an extensive estate, have leased Hacienda, the Jackson Gouraud place, in Larchmont on the [Long Island] Sound for the season."  In fact, they had purchased the estate.  The Record & Guide reported that it was "decorated by Baumgarten and represents an outlay of nearly $60,000."

The Broughtons spent the following summer in England.  In reporting on the start of Ascot week on June 12, 1910, The New York Times mentioned that Urban and Cara were at Claridge's and "staying for a few weeks in London before going to the country."  Wealthy Americans routinely spent extended periods abroad so no one would have thought twice about the report.  But it was a hint at things to come.

On April 21, 1912 the New-York Tribune's London correspondence wired "One of two American hostesses will come forward in London this season.  One who already has a large circle of friends in town is Mrs. Urban H. Broughton, née Rogers, who, with her husband, will shortly arrive at No. 37 Park street, which they have taken for the season."

The article then revealed "It is said that, although Mr. Broughton is a prominent member of the New York Yacht and Garden City Golf clubs, they contemplate giving up their estates in America and making their permanent headquarters in this country."

In fact, Broughton had already purchased a large house on Grosvenor Square and on February 29 The New York Times said "members of his own family admitted last night that he intended to stay abroad the greater part of his time."

The first of the Brougton properties to go was the Long Island country home.  It was sold in May 1913.  The couple retained possession of the 78th Street house for a while, however.  But having the place closed up meant that servants would have to scurry to get it ready for occupancy when the Boughtons made rare trips back.  Just as wealthy homeowners returning from their summer estates would do, they checked into a hotel until things were in order.  On October 26, 1913 The Sun reported "Mr. ad Mrs. Urban H. Broughton, who have been living in England nearly two years, arrived in New York ten days ago and are at the St. Regis."

If there were any question whether the Broughtons would return to New York permanently it was put to rest in the spring of 1914.  Broughton leased a country manor in York, Escrick Hall, in addition to his London townhouse; and on March 15 The Sun reported that he "is making a campaign for Parliament from the district of York, England, having been accepted as the Unionist candidate."

Seven months later the Record & Guide reported that Kurnal Rufas Babbit had purchased the 78th Street house.  "The property has been held at $200,000."  He and Broughton most likely were acquainted through the copper industry.  Babbit was an attorney who specialized in mining law.   

The Broughtons would go on to an illustrious residency in Britain.  Urban became a member of Parliament and just before his death in 1929, he was to have been made a peer as Baron Fairhaven.  King George V ordered that Cara should "enjoy the title of the wife of a peer, but not the right and privileges, or the precedence belonging by statute to the widow of a peer."  She was given the title Lady Fairhaven.  

In his father's stead, Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton was made Baron Fairhaven and his brother, Henry Rogers Broughton, received "a warrant of precedence as the younger son of a baron."

Kurnal R. Babbitt had traveled to Cripple Creek, Colorado, following the discover of gold in 1890 and the subsequent Gold Rush there.  But unlike the prospectors, it was not ore but information that drew him West.  The New York Times later explained that while there "he acquired an expert knowledge of mining law and became one of the leading specialists in the country."  By the time he purchased the former Broughton mansion, he was the general counsel and a director of the Chino Copper, the Butte and Superior Copper, the Utah Copper and the Alaska Gold Mines Companies.

He and his wife, Lucie, had three children, Eleanor, Genevieve and Theodore.  A year after moving into the house, on December 9, 1916, Lucie gave a tea, the first of Eleanor's debutante entertainments.   They culminated on December 26 with a dance in the mansion for about 150 guests.

Theodore was 22-years old in 1919 and in the Field Artillery Section of the Army Reserves.  That year was Genevieve's turn to be introduced.  Among the entertainments hosted by her mother was a luncheon at Sherry's on March 1.

Kurnal had not been well for a while at the time.  The following year, on January 25, 1920, he died in the 78th Street house at the age of 56.  His funeral was held in St. Bartholomew's Church two days later.

The family remained at No. 15.  The following year Lucie announced Genevieve's engagement to James Gregory Smith.  The wedding took place on April 16, 1921 in St Bartholomew's Church with Eleanor as maid of honor.  A reception followed in the 78th Street house.

Six months later, on October 13, The New York Herald reported "Mrs. Kurnal R. Babbitt, whose home for a number of years was at 15 East Seventy-eighth street, has taken an apartment at 471 Park avenue."  But she seems to have been hesitant to give up her townhouse right away.  On December 1 the New-York Tribune reported that she had leased it furnished to Orlando F. Weber.  The article noted that it "is considered one of the best-built houses in the famous Cook block."  Weber was the president of the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation.  

In October 1922 Lucie Babbitt sold No. 15 for $200,000 (just under $3 million today) to a buyer "said to be engaged in the oil trade," according to The New York Herald.  Five years later, on May 10, 1927, the New York Evening Post reported that Winthrop W. Aldrich had purchased the house.

Aldrich was a banker and financier, chairman of the board of the Chase National Bank.  His sister, Abby, was married to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  He and his wife, the former Harriet Alexander, were living at No. 23 East 73rd Street.

Before moving in they hired architect Henry Oothout Milliken to give the 20-year old house a face-life.  The stone front was stripped off in favor of a prim neo-Federal facade.  The remodeled mansion radiated elegance and simplicity.   The entrance, above a short set of steps, was tucked discreetly within a limestone arcade, as were the service stairs to the basement.  The next three floors were faced in red Flemish-bond brick.  The tall second floor windows wore paneled Federal-style lintels.  Small openings below the simple stone cornice were covered by grills of Greek key design.

Three handsome dormers punched through the peaked roof.  Their arched windows, triangular pediments and interconnecting muntins reflected the architecture of a century earlier.

The Aldriches had three daughters, Harriet C., Elizabeth Brewster, and Mary Millard.  By the mid-1930's the eldest, Harriet, was nearing the age of her coming out.   In December 1938 she was introduced to society in the ballroom of the Alexander mansion at No. 4 West 58th Street.  (Charles and Hattie Alexander were her maternal grandparents.)

The Winthrops entertained the cream of society in the 78th Street house.  On February 21, 1941, for instance, The New York Sun reported "Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop W. Aldrich of 15 East Seventy-eighth street will give a dinner at their home in honor of Sir Gerald and Lady Campbell, later taking their guests to the carnival."  The Carnival was The American Theatre's Carnival for Britain and was organized to help in war relief to England.  Harriet was the chairman of the patrons and patronesses.

In October 1946 the Aldriches announced Elizabeth Brewster Aldrich's engagement to Woodward Redmond.  Like the Aldrich and Alexander families, the extended Redmond family was massively wealthy.  The wedding took place on December 14 in the 78th Street mansion.

The Federal style was carried in Flemish bond brickwork, paneled marble lintels and bold anthemions within the cast iron window grills.

Winthrop Aldrich's father, Nelson W. Aldrich, had served in the United States Senate.  In January 1953 Winthrop was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  It was possibly his political involvements that had prompted him to sell No. 15 three years earlier.

A conversion was completed in 1951 for the elementary portion of the Rudolf Steiner School.  Based on the philosophies of Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner, the first school was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany.  The Rudolf Steiner School was founded in New York City in 1928.

In its November 1, 1976 issue, New York Magazine explained "The elementary school, a 5-story townhouse at 15 East 79th Street, has classrooms, a workshop, a library, an assembly room and a lunchroom."  The school continues to operate from the former Broughton mansion--the only hint being a message board and discreet sign on the ground floor facade.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for suggesting this post


  1. In the 21st paragraph, there is an unfortunate duplication of words, and the use of "statue" for "statute". But other than that, an impressive and fact-filled article.

    1. Thanks for catching! I need a full-time copy reader!!!

  2. Was there not a Winthrop Aldrich Rockefeller, among John D. Sr's grandchildren, or am I mistaken here.

    1. Yes, as noted in the text above, Winthrop's sister, Abigail (or Abby), married John D. Rockefeller, Jr. One of their sons was Winthrop.

  3. Thanks for a great post! Love the Rockefeller connection.