Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Richard Trimble House - 1020 Madison Avenue

Developer Charles Buek acquired the last vacant lots on the famous "Cook Block" around 1910.  He envisioned a high-end apartment house on the site that wrapped the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 79th Street.  But he quickly encountered a problem.  Restrictions written into the deeds of all the properties on the block by Henry Cook limited construction to only private homes.

Buek therefore turned to architect S. Edson Gage to design three mansions--two facing 79th Street and the other at No. 1020 Madison Avenue.  As it turned out, No. 1020 would be the last private home erected on Madison Avenue.  The street was already transforming to a thoroughfare of apartment buildings and shops.

On April 27, 1912, as the houses took shape, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide mentioned "No. 1020 Madison avenue contains every convenience and perfection of the larger forty-two-foot house, though on a somewhat reduced scale, and is a much more convenient and livable dwelling than the usual twenty-five-foot house."  At 32-feet wide, it was a true mansion.

The architect released this rendering of the three mansions.  No. 1020 is at the left.  Record & Guide, April 27, 1912 (copyright expired)
The article described the facade as "in the Spanish style, with light brick and limestone trimmings."  Two stories of limestone supported three more faced in yellow brick.  Gage's treatment of the entrance and opening directly above was highly unusual.  The entrance above four stone steps was deeply recessed.  Engaged columns on either side supported a dramatic broken pediment which embraced a carved shield.  The configuration upheld an identical, miniature version that enframed the second story window.

The complex framings of the third floor were a marriage of Spanish and Tudor inspiration.  A bracketed stone cornice introduced the two unadorned upper floors.

The Madison Avenue residence cost $40,000 to construct--just over $1 million today.  Inside, as detailed in the sale advertisement, were "five baths, unusually large rooms for entertaining, and open fires."  The mention of wood-burning fireplaces is interesting.  Throughout most of the 19th century rooms were warmed by charcoal fireplaces.  They were no longer needed with the advent of efficient furnaces; and homeowners now returned to the romance of wood fires, used almost exclusively (as today) for ambiance.

Buek sold No. 20 East 79th Street to Dudley Olcott, Jr., and leased No. 22 to Richard Hudnut and No. 1020 Madison to Richard Trimble, the secretary and treasurer of the United States Steel Corporation.

The arrangement most likely had to do with Trimble's purchase of another 32-foot wide plot on East 96th Street, just off Fifth Avenue.  On September 14, 1913 The Sun reported he intended to erect a "fine" home there.  So while they most likely intended to lease No. 1020 until that house was completed; as it turned out, the Trimble family would never leave.

Richard was, as well, the treasurer of the Minnesota Steel Company and a director in railroads, iron mines and other corporations.  He and his wife, the former Cora Randolph, had married on February 14, 1900.  He was 42-years old at the time and his bride was 29.  They would have three children, Mary, Margaret, and Richard, Jr.  

Cora brought an impressive pedigree to the marriage.  She was descended from the Fitz Randolph family which arrived in Massachusetts in the early 17th century.  Her high-level social connections were evidenced in her many benefit involvements.   The year the family moved into No. 1020, for instance, the New-York Tribune noted that she was a patroness of the fifth annual ball to benefit the Nassau Hospital, at Mineola, Long Island.  Other patronesses were Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, Jr., Mrs. Henry Payne Whitney, Mrs. James A. Burden, Mrs. August Belmont, Mrs. Ralph Pulitzer, and Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, among others.

Cora's sister, Mary, was the wife of Francis Egerton Webb.   The same day that the Tribune remarked on Cora's charity event, The Sun announced the engagement of Laura Virginia Webb to Jorge Andre.  Society no doubt anticipated a lavish society wedding for the daughter of one of Manhattan's most prominent families and the cousin of a German baron.

Instead, four months later on January 13, 1914, the couple was quietly married.  The Evening World reported Miss Laura Virginia Webb...chose to have only a few guests at her wedding."  Her only attendants were little Margaret Trimble and her cousin, "little Miss Ellen Randolph."

After leasing No. 1020 for three years, Richard Trimble purchased it in June 1916.  The Record & Guide reported that it was offered at $100,000 "and sold very close to this figure."  The price would translate to about $2.36 million today.

The Trimble family's country estate was in Westbury, Long Island.  There Richard indulged himself in his expensive hobby--polo.   The war in Europe enabled him to acquire a famous thoroughbred in the winter of 1917.  Huon II, a German stallion "of renown," according to the New-York Tribune on February 7, had been sent to England by its owner just before the war.  But when Britain joined the conflict, it confiscated the horse.  That, according to the article, made it "possibly for Richard Trimble to acquire the horse almost at his own terms."  The article was entitled "American Buys Famous German Horse For Song."

In July 1919 Trimble sold five of his polo ponies at auction.  Town & Country said "They have been bred by a genuine sportsman for the love of the thing, and to men like Mr. Trimble polo is deeply indebted."

The Trimble children were growing up by now.  That year Cora began the debutante entertainments for Margaret, including a dinner in the Madison Avenue mansion on December 14.  Like his father, Richard, Jr., too, was making a name for himself with horses.  The following month The New York Herald reported "Richard Trimble, of New York city, a new man on the turf, is the first American to win a race abroad in 1920."  He had raced his bay mare Honey of Roses at Leopardstown, Ireland on New Years Day 1920.

Margaret Trimble at the Mineola Horse Show in September 1921 New-York Tribune, October 2, 1921 (copyright expired)
Richard Trimble, Sr. stepped down from his post of treasurer of the Roosevelt Hospital later that year.  He had held the position since 1891 and his resignation most likely had to do with failing health.  The following year, on March 5, 1921, The New York Herald reported that he "is seriously ill in his home, 1020 Madison avenue.  He was seized with a sudden attack of illness upon returning from his office...a week ago."

Richard's condition did not improve.  In April 1922 he resigned from the United States Steel Corporation, The New York Herald explaining that he "has been incapacitated for the last fifteen months by illness."  In fact, the New York Evening Post later revealed he "was stricken with paralysis."

The original configuration of the lower two floors can be seen in this photograph taken not long after the building's completion.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

No doubt out of consideration of her sick husband, Cora began entertaining outside of the house.  On August 4, 1922, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Richard Trimble gave a dinner last night at Sherry's for her son and daughter, Mr. Richard Trimble jr., and Miss Margaret Trimble."  (Little Mary was still too young to participate in such events.)

Around 5:00 on the morning of February 18, 1924 Richard Trimble died, one month before his 66th birthday.  His funeral was held in the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue. 

Cora and the children remained in the Madison Avenue house.  The first to leave was Richard, whose engagement to Winifred Loew was announced in May 1930.  The bride-to-be was the daughter of millionaire William Goadby Loew and his wife, Florence, and the granddaughter of millionaire banker George F. Baker.

Mary was next and her mother followed the social traditions of her own generation in distributing the invitations.  On September 24, 1935 the New York Post reported "In place of the custom engraved card, the guests attending the reception that follows the marriage this afternoon of Miss Mary Trimble to Mr. Perry Rodgers Pease received their invitations in the form of personally penned notes or by telephone from the bride's mother, Mrs. Richard Trimble."

The article pointed out, "Mrs. Trimble is one of a fast diminishing number of aristocrats who has refused to join the ranks of the cliff dwellers and in order to preserve the internal atmosphere of a private party the small number of relatives and close friends will be received in the familiar setting of the Trimble mansion at 1020 Madison Avenue."  Margaret Randolph Trimble was her sister's attendant in the Church of the Heavenly Rest.  The society wedding earned a long and detailed article in the newspaper.

Then, on March 1, 1938, The New York Times reported that Cora had announced the engagement of Margaret to Count Giovanni Revedin, of the Italian Diplomatic Service.  The article noted "The marriage will take place here in the Spring.  Immediately after the marriage Count Revedin and his bride will sail for Europe and return to his post in Budapest."

The marriage would eventually cause Margaret legal troubles.  Italian law prohibited any member of the Italian diplomatic corps from marrying anyone other than an Italian citizen.  For that reason Revedin traveled to New York for the marriage.  Margaret later said that "to satisfy the Italian authorities," she had signed a statement written in Italian at the Italian consulate.  She unwittingly became an Italian citizen by doing so, and in 1950 her American citizenship was withdrawn.

In the meantime, now alone in her home, Cora continued to entertain for charity purposes.  And Mary took advantage of the "unusually large rooms for entertaining," as the 1913 sale ad had described them, as well.  On February 6, 1940 The Times announced that "Mrs. Perry Rodgers Pease entertained with a tea at the home of her mother, Mrs. Richard Trimble, 1,020 Madison Avenue, for members of the committee of patronesses aiding in the pension fund of the Nightingale-Bamford School."  The following January Cora hosted at tea for the same cause.

Cora and her daughters received a shock on July 17, 1941 after Richard, Jr. was found dead on the floor of the bathroom in his Old Westbury, Long Island home.  The stockbroker was just 37-years old.

Cora Randolph Trimble lived on in the mansion as it became an anachronism on the much-changed Madison Avenue.  She died in the house on New Year's Eve, 1946 at the age of 75.  Her illustrious lineage was reflected in the memberships she still held: the Colonial Daughters of America, the Mayflower Descendants and the Huguenot Society.

The following year Charles Hiland Hall purchased No. 1020.  He converted the mansion for his antiques shop, Charles Hall, Inc., with offices on the upper floors. The high-end store remained in the building after Hall's death in September 1959.  

On September 12, 1971 The New York Times reported that the estate of Charles Hall had sold the property to art dealer Bernard Danenberg "for about $750,000."   The change in Madison Avenue from residential to commercial had not injured its property values.  The sale price would be in the neighborhood of $4.65 million today.

The article said "Mr. Denenberg [sic], who bought the building as a residence but may develop its lower floors as galleries at a later date, operates the Bernard Denenberg [sic] Galleries, specializes in 19th and 20th century American and international paintings."  Danenberg retained his gallery at No. 1000 Madison Avenue, opening a second one here before the end of the year.

The Danenberg gallery remained until about 1981, replaced by Noortman & Brod which opened in October that year.  The Times reported "Dutch, French and English art from the 17th century till around 1880 are the specialties of this gallery."

photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
It shared the building with the James Goodman Gallery, dealers in modern art.  On September 23, 1982 The East Hampton Star announced "Photographs by Linda McCartney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Eastman of Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, will be on view at the James Goodman Gallery at 1020 Madison Avenue in Manhattan."  The article added as an aside, "Mrs. McCartney's husband, Paul, is a former Beatle."  The James Goodman Gallery, Inc. remained at least through 1985.

The building continued to be home to galleries.  By 1986 E. & J. Frankel, Ltd, dealers in fine antiques, was here.  And in the mid-1990's Rafael Fine Art Gallery leased space.  That gallery was the victim of a brazen burglary in December 1996 when thieves broke in and made off with "rare Persian and Oriental rugs, cash and other items valued at $250,000" according to police.

Today the former gallery spaces are home to the Lilly Pulitzer apparel boutique.  Unbelievably, the distinctive structure is not protected by landmark designation.  In 1977 the Landmarks Preservation Commission established the Metropolitan Museum Historic District which included the entire Cook Block--except No. 1020 and its horribly disfigured neighbor at No. 22 East 79th Street.  That the latter building was snubbed is understandable; but why the Trimble house was excluded is not.  The last house to be erected on Madison Avenue, it retains its architectural integrity despite the commercial renovations of the lower floors.

photographs by the author


  1. Beautiful! Wonder if the interior details survive. I hope someone buys it and restores it.

  2. One day I will be fascinated to read about what happened to No. 22 East 79th Street. Even if there was a devastating fire, what occupies that lot now is … well, "horribly disfigured" is a polite way to say it.

  3. Perry Rodgers Pease was also a descendant of Mayflower passengers William Brewster and George Soule through his Perry family connection.