Monday, January 27, 2020

The Lost Charles A. Baudouine House - 718 Fifth Avenue

In 1906, about the time of this photo, Ulman Bros. had moved into the altered ground floor of the former mansion.  The house next door, still intact, was the home of the Andrew C. Zabriskie family.    from the collection of the New York Public Library.

When laborers returned to New York after having served in the Civil War, construction resumed throughout the city.  The blocks above 42nd Street along Fifth Avenue saw rapid development as fine stone-fronted mansions rose to accommodate the ever northward moving wealthy.  Among the active developers were Charles Duggin and James Crossman, responsible for rows of speculative, upscale residences throughout the district.  Although they were builders they preferred to design their own projects, thereby eliminating the cost of a professional architect.

In 1877 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called Duggin & Crossman "the great leaders of fashion in house building," but refused to let them get away with calling themselves architects.  They were "really artist builders," it said.  Nevertheless, the caliber of their product was superb.  In April 1878 the journal said that their "workmanship is superior, the supervision steady and systematic, and all material used of the first-class."

In 1872 Duggin & Crossman had erected a row of five top shelf homes that stretched west from the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.  The corner mansion, No. 718 Fifth Avenue, was of course the showpiece.  Four stories tall above the English basement, it was faced in brownstone.  The architrave frames of the second and third floor windows approached baroque in style.  The quoins that ran up the sides at this level alternated between vermiculated and planar stone.   The lentils of the formal openings of the fourth floor were upheld by fluted Corinthian pilasters; and a row of carved rosettes formed a frieze below the solid cornice.  Two fourth floor oculi on the 56th Street side were engulfed by cornucopia.   A regal stone balustrade crowned the roofline.

No. 718 was purchased by the massively wealthy cabinetmaker Charles A. Baudouine.  Born in New York City in 1808, he had opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830.  As highly-ornate Victorian style came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him the reputation as one of New York’s premier cabinetmakers.  His sole competitor in New York was John Henry Belter with whom he was (and is) consistently compared.

This Rococo Revival sofa came from the workshop of Charles Baudouine -- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
When Cyrus West Field hired Baudouine to fully furnish his new Gramercy Park mansion around 1845, it was the first time in New York that a private residence was decorated by a professional decorator.

The Charles and Ann Baudouine had two children, Abram and Margaret, known as Maggie.  Following Margaret's death in November 1866, her two sons, John and Charles, legally assumed the Baudouine surname.  Charles moved into the new Fifth Avenue mansion with his grandparents.

Distinguished from his grandfather by the addition of "Jr." to his name, Charles became enamored with a neighbor, A. Maude Rutter.  On December 28, 1883 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A large and fashionable wedding took place yesterday at 4 p.m. at the house of Thomas Rutter, No. 849 Fifth-ave.  Mr. Rutter's daughter, Miss A. Maude Rutter, was married to Charles A. Baudouine, jr."  John served as his brother's best man.

The continued close ties with his grandparents was evident as both sets of Baudouines summered together.  On August 12, 1889, for instance The Daily Saratogian reported  "Charles A. Baudoine [sic] and wife and C. A. Baudoine [sic] and family of New York are cottagers at the United States hotel."

When wealthy families left the city for fashionable summer resorts like Saratoga, they most often left a small staff behind to maintain their townhouses and, as importantly, to protect them.  Among those in the Baudouine house during the summer of 1891 were Delia McGonigal and Annie Smith.  For several days before the two girls walked the five blocks to St. Patrick's Cathedral for the 7:00 mass on Sunday, August 9 Delia had been acting strangely.

The following day The Sun reported "For the past few days Delia McGonical, a servant employed at the residence of Charles A. Baudouine, a retired merchant who lives at 718 Fifth avenue, has manifested signs of insanity."  Those signs were most peculiar.  "Her principal delusion was an imagining that she saw moving pictures upon the wall."  

Now, just before mass ended, Delia arose from her seat and began pacing around the cathedral aisles.  The Sun described her as "wringing her hands and folding and unfolding a handkerchief."  Annie finally calmed her friend down, but she initially refused to go home.  It appears that Delia's days of working in the Baudouine mansion were over.  "A policeman took her to Bellevue Hospital, where she developed a mild form of religious dementia," said the article.

The aging Baudouine and his grandson shared a passion for coaching and horses.  During the United States Horse and Cattle Show in June 1893 they participated in a coach-and-four competition.  The New-York Tribune said "Charles A. Baudouine, sr. and jr., drove their orange and black coach, harnessed to which were the horses Buckshot and Random in the lead, and Lady Gorden and Tip Top for wheelers."

A year later Charles, Jr. was again living in his grandparents' home.  On November 13, 1894 The Sun reported "The acquaintances of Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Baudouine, Jr., were surprised to learn yesterday that the couple had separated."  Charles returned to No. 718 Fifth Avenue and Maude went home to her parents.  (Unlike his grandfather, Charles, Jr., had never held a job, living instead off his inherited wealth.  In reporting on the separation the newspaper said merely, "Mr. Baudouine is a member of the New York Athletic, Driving, and Jockey clubs, and until last May he was President of the New York Tandem Club.")

Two months later to the day, on January 13, 1895, Charles A. Baudouine, Sr. died in the Fifth Avenue mansion at the age of 86.  In reporting his death the Buffalo Courier noted his "fortune is estimated at nearly $3,000,000."  That figure would be closer to $92.5 million today.

Commerce was already encroaching on the neighborhood at the time of Baudouine's death, and within two years the estate converted the ground floor of the former mansion for business, with high-end residential spaces above.

New-York Tribune, October 28, 1897 (copyright expired)

The shops that elbowed their way into the exclusive neighborhood were upscale--art galleries, jewelry stores and high-end dressmakers, for instance.  The initial commercial tenant of No. 718 was Pauline, who outfitted socialites in European fashions.

The apartments on the upper floors were leased, for the most part, to wealthy bachelors.  In 1902 retired financier John H. Murphy lived here, as did Count Solon J. Vlasto, described by The Evening World as "an importer and editor of the Greek periodical Atlantis" and "a well-known figure in society."

Trouble came to Vlasto ("whose title is purely one of courtesy," cautioned The World) the following year when his wife, from whom he had been separated for 17 years, sued for divorce.  The suit became scandal when she simultaneously sued Mary J. C. Culver, the married daughter of Senator William A. Clark (and sister of Huguette Clark, more well-known today) for $500,000 for alienating her husband's affections.

In reporting on the suit on November 25, 1903, The Evening World said that Vlasto "is one of New York's social mysteries.  He dines nightly at Delmonico's and has luxurious apartments at No. 718 Fifth avenue."  But, perhaps attempting to circumvent his wife's demand for alimony, he told the courts that "his income was $200 a month from the sale of coffee and sulphur and his literary work, and that he had frequently to borrow money from his brother Demetrius to pay his living expenses."

Mary Culver, by the way, denounced Mrs. Vlasto's charges.  "Mr. Vlasto is an old friend of our family.  He is a particular friend of my father and has been like a father to my sister and myself."

Another prominent bachelor living here at the time was John Duveen, whose family's high-end art gallery would later move up Fifth Avenue to the site of the former George Kemp mansion at No. 720 Fifth Avenue on the opposite corner .  But long before that John would leave No. 718.  On April 19, 1903 The Sun reported that he "gave his bachelor dinner last night at Martin's."  (The high-end apartments above the store were respectable enough for well-heeled bachelors, but not for newly-married society couples.)

Two months after Duveen's party the real estate office of Collins & Collins moved into half of the retail space at No. 718.  Headed by Richard Collins and Minturn Post Collins, the firm dealt in high-end residential properties.  A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City said "They have disposed of...several well-known mansions on Fifth Avenue."

Perhaps because of that, and despite their operating from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, Richard Collins denied that the neighborhood was becoming commercialized.  On December 16, 1905 he was quoted in the Record & Guide saying "With few exceptions there are no business houses on 5th av above 47th st.  The section from that thoroughfare up to 90th st is now and will always be, at least for years to come, the center of fashion."

Nevertheless, the following November Collins & Collins sold their lease to bankers and stock brokers Ulman Bros.  The apartments upstairs continued to house well-heeled bachelors.  John H. Murphy was still living here when Ulman Bros. moved in.  By 1907 W. H. Stiles, secretary of the Brooklyn Football Club was here; and in 1910 stock broker Hosmer James Barrett lived at the address.  (That year Barrett made headlines when he was arrested for having ridden a horse hired at a riding academy so hard that it had to be shot.)

Another Duveen opened his shop in the ground floor of No. 718 in 1913, a mere stone's throw from Duveen Brothers.  Before moving in he hired architect Henry Otis Chapman to redesign the storefront.

photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Charles Duveen dealt not only in European antiques and artwork, but in entire rooms dismantled from venerable English and Continental homes.  His advertisement in Art News in 1914 offered "fine old Elizabethan, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Georgian and Adams Rooms" as well as "tapestries, early English furniture, Georgian and Adams marble mantelpieces, and rare China and European porcelain."  

The Cottier Galleries shared space with Charles of London.  Their opening in November 1913, according to American Art News, featured "early English, Dutch, German, Flemish and modern Foreign masters."

John Singer Sargeant's "The Countess of Warwick and her Children" was among the modern pictures sold at Cottier's opening.  from the collection of the Worcester Art Museum

At some point a rather unattractive top floor was added which bore the name Charles of London along its parapet.  The firm remained at No. 718 until February 1920 when it subleased the space to the shoe store of Hanan & Son.  The Sun reported "The new tenant will make extensive alterations and will use the grade [i.e. ground] floor for their own business and lease the upper portion of the structure."

A French settee is displayed in the side show window a few years before Hanan & Son would remodel the outmoded storefront.   from the collection of the New York Public Library
Architect A. D. Seymour, Jr. removed the glass-and-iron marquee and updated the show windows.  The renovations were completed before the end of the year, allowing Hanan & Son to open on December 20, 1920.

Architectural Record, June, 1921 (copyright expired)
Sixty-five years after the Baudouine mansion was erected it was demolished, replaced by the Corning Glass Works for its Stueben Glass Company showrooms and offices.  Designed by William and Geoffrey Platt, the Art Modern structure was ground breaking in its use of glass blocks (manufactured by Corning's Pyrex division).

from the collection of the Library of Congress
That building was significantly--and many say tragically--remodeled in 1960 for jeweler Harry Winston by architect Jacques R√©nault.

photograph by Saul Metrick, corporate portfolio image.

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