Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Wm. Walton Rutherfurd House - 14 East 74th Street

On September 14, 1873 the new brownstone house at No. 14 East 74th Street was offered for sale by real estate agent V. K. Stevenson, Jr.  The 22-foot wide house was one of a string of seven erected by developer James A. Coburn.  Four stories tall above an English basement, the Italianate house featured the expected high stoop of the style.

By the 1890's the house was home to James Hervey Sanford and his wife, the former Lucy Sistare.  Born in New Haven, Connecticut  on December 17, 1812, Sanford had graduated from Yale Law School in 1834.  He practiced law just one year before becoming a part-owner and editor of the Journal of Commerce in New York City.  But in 1857 he left after his views of slavery clashed with the newspaper's.

He married Lucy, daughter of banker George K. Sistare, on September 8, 1859.   The couple had one daughter.  Sanford had purchased the Buffalo Courier upon leaving the Journal of Commerce, but he sold it in 1862 and the couple returned to New York.   Sanford settled into retirement, living quietly with his wife and daughter and traveling extensively in Europe with them.

James Hervey Sanford contracted a serious case of influenza in December 1898.  He died on the day after Christmas at the age of 86.   Interestingly, there was no funeral.  The New York Times reported only that "There was no service over the remains, and the interment was private."

Two months later, on February 22, 1899 the New York Journal reported that Lucy Sanford had sold "the four-story, high-stoop private dwelling."  Both parties kept the price paid quiet, the article noting the sale was made "on private terms."

The buyer was the Rev. William Walton Rutherfurd and his wife, the former Anna Jackson.  The New York Times later mentioned "The Rutherfurds, who originally came from New Jersey, where the family owns much land, were prominent even in Colonial Days."  Rutherfurd had been ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church on June 16, 1889 and was now connected with Trinity Church on Wall Street.  His religious duties did not interfere with the couple's upscale lifestyle.

The Rutherfords did not immediately move into the 74th Street brownstone.  Instead, on July 27 the New-York Tribune reported that they had boarded the steamship Barbarossa for Europe.  The timing of the trip made perfect sense since the Rutherfurds had commissioned architect Stockton B. Colt to completely make over their new home.

In 1900 they moved into an unrecognizable residence.  Colt had removed the stoop and stripped off the brownstone cladding.  The new American basement plan placed the entrance in the center of the stone base.  Two sets of French doors opened onto a wide French balcony at the second floor, or piano nobile.   French turned to neo-Georgian on the upper floors, faced in variegated yellow Roman brick.  Bold splayed limestone lintels decorated the openings of the second and third floors.

A decorative terra cotta bandcourse introduced the understated fourth floor, ornamented only by recessed panels.  A bracketed stone cornice upheld the slate-tiled mansard roof, embellished with copper-clad dormers and prominent stone chimneys.

William officiated at the wedding of his equally wealthy brother, stock broker John Alexander Rutherfurd, and Cora Baker Davis on May 7, 1905.  It was one of the few times newspapers mentioned Rev. Rutherfurd's name in connection with a religious service.  Instead, society columns followed the couple's movements from one fashionable watering hole to the next.

On September 19, 1902, for instance, The New York Times had announced "The Rev. and Mrs. William Walton Rutherfurd are at Hot Springs of Virginia," and in reporting on the social events at Lenox on July 25, 1908, the New-York Tribune noted "There has been much bridge whist this week.  Mrs. William Walton Rutherfurd was hostess at a large entertainment this week in the Curtis Hotel."  The same week The New York Times reported that the Rutherfurds "will open their cottage at Bar Harbor to-day.  They have been recently visiting at Lenox."

But the whirlwind of resorts and bridge parties was about to come to an end.  On January 29, 1909 Anna died of pneumonia in the 74th Street house.  Her funeral was held at Trinity Church on February 1.

William remained briefly at No. 14.  Later that year in December he gave a dinner at the Metropolitan Club for Miss Estelle Crosby.  The wife of another wealthy and socially-visible Episcopal priest, Alfred Duane Pell, "chaperoned the young people," according to The Times

He soon leased the house and moved permanently to England.  On August 26, 1919 The Sun reported "The Rev. William Walton Rutherfurd, who has been in this country for several weeks the guest of his brother, John A. Rutherfurd, will return this week to England."  It may have been that visit that convinced him to finally sell No. 14.

Title was transferred to Townsend Hornor in January 1920.  A prominent real estate operator, his name (which newspapers routinely misspelled Horner) appeared in sports pages as a golfer, fisherman, and yachtsman.  His wife, whom he married in 1909, was the former Belva Dula, daughter of Robert R. Dula, a vice-president of the American Tobacco Co.

The Hornors maintained two country homes, Rocklee in Rye, New York, and another in Greenwich, Connecticut.  They also used the Dula estate, Inglenook, in Tarrytown on the scenic Hudson River. 

Not long after moving in Belva was looking for a new cook.  Her advertisement in The New York Herald on March 16, 1921 read "Cook, $65; two in family; best references required."  Cooks were routinely the highest paid among domestic staffs.  The wages offered would be about $890 today.

John began suffering heart trouble in 1923.  After having two cardiac operations he was taken to the Connecticut residence to recuperate.  He died there on August 4 at the age of 44.

Within two years Belva had remarried.  In 1925 Belva was listed in social registers as Countess Belva-Dula Pieri.  She sold No. 14 East 74th Street to James Gardner Shepherd and his new wife, the former Celia B. Rine.    Shephard and Celia had been married that year, shortly after his divorce from his wife, Myrtle.

Shepherd had retired from the mining and banking businesses about a decade earlier.  He focused greatly now on his art collection, filling the 74th Street house with notable works.  The New York Times later remarked "In the art gallery in his home Mr. Sheperd had one of the world's finest Corot collections and a large collection of Barye bronzes."  Other artists represented in the collection were John Singer Sargent, Narcisse Virgilio Diaz, and Albert Ryder.

Jean-Francois Millet's 1875 "The Woodchopper" was among Shepherd's collection.  Art Institute of Chicago
Perhaps more than any previous owners, the Shepherds entertained often.  On December 8, 1926, for instance, The New York Times reported that the couple "gave a dinner followed by a musical program last night at their home."   Operatic singers Harriet Maconel and Eleanor Rogers were accompanied by harpist Mario de Stephano.  The Shepherds took advantage of the pipe organ installed by the Rutherfurds by having Dr. Harry Rowe Shelly play.

Nevertheless, the house was quite often closed as the Shepherds traveled.  On February 8, 1928 they left in their private railroad car, the Newport, for Palm Beach.  They were back in March, but almost immediately left for Europe.  They returned on the steamship Berengaria in June, and then headed to "their country home, Paradise Camp, Grace Pond, Jackman, Maine," on June 27th as reported by The Times.

Back in town for the winter season, the Shepherds hosted a dinner on November 15, 1928.  The New York Times listed among the guests Prince and Princess Nicolas Kara-Georgevitch.

Socialites were expected to dress the part, even during the Depression years.  In 1931 Celia agreed to a cost-savings ploy that landed her in hot water and made her the focus of humiliating publicity.  Her Paris dressmaker suggested that an employee, Lotti Leroy, accompany the Shepherds to New York with Celia's new gowns packed in Lotti's trunks.  Because Lotti was French, said the couturier, Customs officials would assume they were her own apparel, and were not being imported.  It did not work.

On July 1 Celia returned to New York on the Leviathan.  Lotti Leroy was also on the passenger list.  Lotti informed the Customs officials that she was a French resident and the gowns were hers.  But they were not fooled.

"It was evident that the exclusive Paris models were not made for her and upon further questioning she admitted that they were for Mrs. Shepherd, who was fined $8,000," reported The New York Times on July 26.  But Celia's embarrassment did not end there.  Treasury agents began looking closer to earlier Customs documents from voyages on which the Shepherds were passengers.

They discovered "that several other costly Paris evening dresses had been brought over and delivered to Mrs. Shepherd free of duty by the salaried agent of the French dressmakers," said the article.  "Further duties and penalties amounting to $22,000 were levied and Mrs. Shepherd was permitted to keep the gowns after she had paid the total of $30,000."  The significant amount would be equal to about $483,000 today.

On March 18, 1935, about eight months after he was stricken with chronic nephritis (a kidney condition), James Gardner Shepherd died in the 74th Street house at the age of 67. 

Celia sold the "five-story residence with elevator and garden," to Willam A. Garrigues.  The son of William A. and Lillie Maxwell Garrigues, he had graduated from Princeton in 1919 and was a partner in Levering & Garrigues, iron manufacturers.  He remained until February 1946 when he sold it "for occupancy."

But the buyers, Fourteen East Seventy-Fourth Corporation, had other things in mind.  A conversion to apartments was begun in 1950.  Completed the following year, it resulted in furnished rooms throughout and one apartment on the third floor.  The entrance was converted to a window and the doorway moved to the side. 

When the house was sold in March 1953, The New York Times noted that the buyer "will occupy one of the apartments after minor alterations."  The alterations were not that minor.  There was now one apartment per floor within the building.

It was not uncommon for converted mansions in the neighborhood to house upscale art galleries and in 1963 the Reyn Gallery operated from No. 14.  Owner Alfred Reyn lived in the building, as well.  In the fall that year he staged a showing of artist Jef Banc's "oils, washes, and collages."  But as it turned out the Federal Government was interested in Reyn not for his paintings, but for other activities.

The Reyn Gallery was a front for Alfred's gambling operation.  He was arrested on July 6, 1964 in a novel scheme by United States Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau.   The 57-year old was not charged with illegal gambling, but with failing to pay taxes on the alleged $1 million he had grossed in the past few years on wagers, and with filing untrue tax returns.

There are still just five apartments, one per floor, in the building.  And other than the disappointing loss of the entrance and the unsympathetic treatment of the French doors above, outwardly the house is little changed since the Rutherfords' remarkable makeover in 1900.

photographs by the author

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