Friday, February 12, 2021

The Fleming Smith House - 11 East 76th Street

In the last decade of the 19th century developer brothers William W. and Thomas R. Hall erected high-end speculative homes, most within the fashionable Upper East Side.  Although they most often erected just one mansion at a time, in 1895 they commenced work out a row of six, Nos. 9 through 19 East 76th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  Their architect, Alexander M. Welch, designed the row as three pairs--an A-A-B-B-A-A pattern.  They were completed in 1896.

No. 11 was a near match to its next door neighbor at No. 9.  The gray brick above the limestone base was gently contrasted with white stone.  Its neo-Renaissance design featured a faceted oriel at the second floor which created a stone-railed balcony at the third.  Panels below the windows were decorated with cornucopia and stylized ferns.   Carved lion heads adorned the unusual carved enframement which continued from the second through third floors.  As expected, they stared straight forward from the upper edge, but turned sideways along the sides.  The fourth floor was made especially handsome with an arcade of five openings separated by bulbous, twisted Corinthian columns.  The cornice was supported by an ornate row of cusped arches, above a frieze containing superbly carved scallop shells.

On January 14, 1897 The New York Times reported that the Halls had sold No. 11 "to a Mr. Blum" and added "This leaves but one remaining out of a row of six."  For some reason or another, the buyers of upscale homes often attempted to remain anonymous--at least initially.  The buyer was not Mr. Blum, but Fleming Smith.

The son of Isha and Lydia Ann Smith, Smith was born in New York in 1835.  He was married to the former Helen McGaw.  A prominent broker and real estate dealer, he name is best remembered today for the distinctive Fleming Smith Warehouse on Watts Street.  

Helen inherited an impressive family pedigree.  The daughter of John A. McGaw, a wealthy shipping merchant in the pre-Civil War decades, her great-grandfather, Matthew Thornton, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  

The well-do-to Smiths attended the fashionable Grace Church, far downtown.  Like other upper crust New Yorkers, they filled the 76th Street house with notable artworks.  Their summer estate was in New London, Connecticut.  The year after moving into No. 11 Fleming hired Providence, Rhode Island architect Hoppin Ely to make renovations on that residence.  The significant alterations cost him the equivalent of about $187,000 today.

The childless Smiths lived quietly, never appearing in society columns and apparently interacting little within fashionable circles.  The couple was at the New London residence when Fleming died at the age of 78 on August 19, 1913.  A telegraph arriving at the New-York Tribune said cryptically, "Death was due to paralysis."

Helen McGaw Smith survived her husband by only a year.  She died in the 76th Street house on October 4, 1914 at the age of 77.  Her funeral was private, mirroring the Smiths' quiet lives.

Helen's estate was estimated at $1 million--closer to $27 million in today's dollars.  She gave "use" of the summer estate to her nephew, Thornton Woodbury, during his lifetime, after which it became property of the city of New London "for a park."  The New-York Tribune noted "The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York receives paintings and works of art."

The East 76th Street house was sold to Estelle Scholle, but if she ever lived here at all, she was leasing it by the 1920's when the family of Arthur Marvin Anderson occupied the house.  The family's summer home was in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey.   Alice Mary Anderson was introduced to society in November 1929 and one of the entertainments--given by a summer-season neighbor--stood out.

On November 11 the New York Evening Post reported "Mrs. Thomas A. Edison of Glenmont, Llewellyn Park, West Orange, N. J., will entertain at dinner Tuesday evening, November 28, at the Cosmopolitan Club in honor of Miss Alice Anderson, debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Marvin Anderson...Mrs. Edison will take her guests to the concert of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra."

Even servants deserved notice in newspapers for special events in their lives.  On June 15, 1935 the Irish-American newspaper, The Advocate, reported on the upcoming marriage of one of the Andersons' live-in maids.  Margaret Gallagher, "native of Glasgow," was scheduled to wed John Heaney, "native of Derry," at All Saints' Church on 129th Street four days later.

Estelle sold No. 11 in 1943, after which it was altered to a multiple family dwelling.  The renovations resulted in a duplex in the basement and first floor, one apartment each on the second and third, and a duplex on the fourth that extended into the new penthouse, unseen from street level. 

The family of Edward S. McCann were among the first tenants.  They most likely leased one of the duplexes.  He was the principal in the Edward S. McCann Realty and Construction Company.  The McCanns, who announced the engagement of daughter Mary Jane to Frederic C. Reichey on May 26, 1946, remained here at least through the late 1950's.

Despite the changes inside, the exterior of No. 11--and as a matter of fact, the entire 1896 row--is almost perfectly preserved.

photograph by the author

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