Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Allene Tew Nichols House - 57 East 64th Street

Allene Tew was accustomed to fine things.  Born on July 7, 1872, she was the daughter of a banker.   In 1891 she married Theodore Rickey Hostetter, a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman, polo player and well-known yachtsman.  

Known familiarly as Tod, he was also a frenzied gambler.  The Los Angeles Herald said he had “the reputation of being the boldest plunger New York has ever seen.”  Another gambler, David Johnson, described him as having “all kinds of money and the instincts of a sport.  He would bet on anything from a dog fight to a boiler explosion, and he bet them as high as the cat’s back.”

The couple had two children, Greta and Theodore, Jr.  Another daughter, Verna, had died early in childhood.  They maintained a summer cottage at fashionable Naragansett Pier, Rhode Island, and a winter estate in South Carolina.  The family spent much time in New York where Tod was a member of the New York Yacht Club.  He was on his yacht, the Seneca, on July 30, 1902 when he caught a cold.  It developed into pneumonia and he died four days later, on August 3.  Hostetter left Allene a massive fortune as well as more than $1 million in gambling debts.

At the time of his death, two skinny brownstone-fronted houses had stood at Nos. 55 and 57 East 64th Street since 1880.  At just 12-feet wide they could not compete with the resplendent mansions that were rising around them.   In December 1904 Allene purchased the outdated properties and hired architect C. P. H. Gilbert to design a mansion to replace them.

Allene Tew Hostetter (original source unknown)
Allene may have been prompted in the decision by her upcoming marriage to Morton Colton Nichols, described by the Jamestown Evening Journal as "a millionaire club man and member of the New York Stock exchange."  The newspaper noted that Nichols's father, William S. Nichols, "a man of great wealth," was 82-years-old and very ill.  "He was extremely anxious to see his son happily married before he died."  The wedding took place in St. Thomas's Church just days after Allene purchased the 64th Street houses.

Gilbert's plans called for a "five-story and attic" brick and stone residence to cost $58,000--just over $1.7 million today.  The New-York Tribune announced on July 16, 1905 "It is to be of Colonial design, with a swell front of limestone and brick and with a vestibuled entrance and balconies at the second and fourth stories.  The Record & Guide added that it would be "equipped with all the modern appliances, including elevator, etc."

Morton Nichols would never see the house completed.  Allene divorced him in Paris in 1905.  She moved into her new home with her children.  Greta was now 13-years-old and Theodore was 8.

Gilbert had taken inspiration from the French Renaissance architecture of the Francis I period.  The four-story bowed bay was reserved in its decoration.  A carved garland of flowers, leaves and shells framed the entrance and a handsomely-carved Juliette balcony clung to the central window of the third floor.  The fourth floor openings were deeply recessed, allowing Gilbert to give them pierced stone tracery railings.  A full-width balcony fronted the fifth floor, where the upper portions of the windows morphed into dormers, decorated with Gothic crockets.

Before many years there was the issue of Greta's debut to deal with.  In preparation Allene hosted entertainments in her honor in 1909, such as the dinner and dance on December 22.  In reporting on the event, the New York Herald noted "Miss Greta Hostetter...will be introduced to society next year."

In fact, the coming out would not occur for another two years.  But even before her debut Greta rose to the top of the social ladder in 1911 when she and her mother traveled to London for the coronation of King George and Queen Mary.  The New York Herald reported "They took a house in London for the coronation festivities and also attended the [Delhi] Durbar."  The climax of the trip came on March 15, 1912 when Mrs. Whitlaw Reid, wife of the ambassador to Britain, presented Greta to the British court.

Having been gone for nearly a year (the Herald noted that the women had also spent "some time at Rome and St. Moritz, where Miss Hostetter took an active part in social affairs and outdoor sports, particularly in riding"), they arrived home on the Campania on March 24, 1912.  Greta cooed to waiting reporters about her introduction to the King and Queen.  "Really, it was a delightful experience.  Yes, adorable; such a time as no American girl should fail to aspire to."

Greta Hostetter, The Evening Telegram, March 24, 1912 (copyright expired)

Geta's debut took place at a dance at Sherry's on April 9, 1912; just a few weeks after her return to New York.

Morton Nichols had remarried in 1911.  Allene now applied to the courts to have her name legally changed back to Allene Tew Hostetter.  The Jamestown Evening Journal explained that the marriage "caused another Mrs. Morton C. Nichols to be introduced into New York's social circles."  

Now that she had her former name back, she changed it again.  On December 5 that year Allene, wearing white velvet trimmed in sable, was to married Anson Wood Burchard, vice president of the General Electric Company, in St. Paul's Church in London.  Greta was her mother's attendant.  "Mr. and Mrs. Burchard will leave here for Monte Carlo to-morrow," said a telegram to The New York Times.

Anson Wood Burchard had commissioned architect Howard Greenley to design his country home, Birchwood, in Lattingtown, Long Island in 1906.  He and his new family now summered there, and it was from there that Allene announced Greta's engagement to Glenn Stewart, the Second Secretary of the American Legation at Havana, Cuba, on May 9, 1914.  The wedding took place at the Lattington Chapel on October 21 and the reception was held at Birchwood.

Things no doubt seemed idyllic for Allene.  On Christmas day 1915 the New York Herald noted that Theodore was in town from Harvard, spending the holidays with his mother and father-in-law.  But unspeakable tragedy was in store.

Theodore joined the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of World War I, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.  He failed to return from a flying mission on September 27, 1918.  As his mother agonized over his safety, Greta fell ill.  She died in her Washington D.C. home on October 16 and five days later Allene was notified that Theodore was confirmed dead.

Allene and Anson brought C. P. H. Gilbert back in March 1919 to make alterations to the mansion.  The changes had to do with interior updating which did not affect the exterior appearance.

A striking hand-wrought railing winds down the staircase (above) photos via

Allene had filed charges against a waiter of having stolen her diamond studded mesh bag in June 1920.   The Sun reported "Mrs. [Charles] Whitman, wife of the Governor, and thirteen other women were about to take their places at luncheon at 57 East Sixty-fourth street, yesterday, when their hostess, Mrs. Anson W. Burchard...was called to Yorkville court."

Allene stressed to the judge that it was urgent that her case be heard on once.  According to The Arbitrator "To Magistrate Brough, Mrs. Burchard explained the situation at her home--thirteen women unwilling to be seated until she returned and made the fourteenth.  So the Magistrate called the case immediately."

The Burchards remained in the 64th Street house for five more years.  On October 26, 1925 the New York Evening Post reported "Mr. and Mrs. Anson W. Burchard...who have been abroad for the greater part of the summer and early autumn are returning this week.  They will go to Birchwood at Locust Valley where they will remain until they take possession of their new home 690 Park avenue."  Allene sold No. 57 in August 1926 for $170,000, just over $2.4 million today.

Allene would continue to lead a colorful life.  Anson Burchard died suddenly in the home of Mortimer L. Schiff on January 22, 1927.  Two years later she married Prince Heinrich XXXIII Reuss of Kostritz, known to the American press as Prince Henry.  The couple divorced in 1935 and on March 4, 1936 Allene married Count Pavel de Kotzebue.  The couple purchased Beechwood, the former Newport cottage of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor in 1940 where they entertained lavishly.  Allene lived until May 1, 1955 when she died on the French Riviera at the age of 82.

photo via
In the meantime, the 64th Street house had become home to the Gerald Moncrieffe Livingston family.  A member of the brokerage firm Livingston & Co., he was married to the former Eleanor Hoffman Rodewald.  The couple had three daughters, Eleanor, Mary Moncrieffe, and Geraldine Clarisse Moncrieffe Livingston.  Their summer estate, West Neck, was at Huntington, Long Island, and they maintained a sprawling farm in Quitman, Georgia.

Livingston's many club memberships included the Union Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Racquet and Tennis Club, the Brook, the South Side Sportsmen's Club, the Turn and Field Club, the Piping Rock Club and the Sewanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club, among several others.  His passion for thoroughbred dogs was reflected in his memberships in the Leash and the Labrador Retriever Club.  He was at one point the president of the Westminster Kennel Club.

The Long Island newspaper the Smithtown Star pointed out that at his Georgia "plantation," he "had one of the largest kennels in the country."

On November 11, 1950 Livingston attended a field trial meeting of the Labrador Retriver Club at St. James, Long Island.  The Smithtown Star noted that he "had not been in good health for some time" and while there he suffered a fatal heart attack.  His funeral was held at St. Thomas's Church on three days later.

The mansion continued life as a private home until 1995 when it was purchased by Italian fashion house Gilmar for $6.39 million as its corporate office.   Thankfully, the interiors were sympathetically preserved for the most part.  The firm remained until 2013 when it placed the house on the market for $48 million.

photographs by the author

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