Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Edwin I. Marks House - 128-130 East 73rd Street

In 1880 developer Daniel Hennessy completed a row of five high-stooped homes on East 73rd Street between Lexington and Park Avenues.  Designed by William McNamara, they were in the currently popular neo-Grec style; their predominant feature being the three-sided oriels at the second floor upheld by a single beefy bracket.

Nos. 134 and 136 retain their 1880 appearance, although one has lost its stoop.
Harriet B. Provost, the widow of David Provost, purchased No. 128 on November 22, 1880, paying Hennessy $15,000 (or around $387,000 today).  She died suddenly of pneumonia five years later and her funeral was held in the house on November 1, 1885.

No. 128 was next home to the family of M. L. Schwartz.  Another funeral was held here on July 6, 1896, this one for Schwartz's brother-in-law, Samuel L. Lipser.

Julius Schwartz was enrolled as a "sub-freshman" at the College of the City of New York in 1897.  The fifteen-year-old conspired with classmates to disrupt the freshman class dinner at the Marlborough Hotel on the night of December 11.  Although they numbered about 60, only three were captured and arrested--including Julius.  The New York Herald reported "Schwartz, to his supreme disgust, was sent to the rooms of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, where later his father furnished bail for him."

On August 21, 1902 Dr. Burton James Lee purchased No. 128 for $20,000.  The price tag, equal to about $613,000, reflected the rising property values in the neighborhood.  The purchase was no doubt in anticipation of the doctor's upcoming marriage to Mabel Kershaw.  The wedding took place in Trinity Church on October 14.

The young physician was already making a name for himself.  He was clinical instructor in surgery at Cornell Medical School, assistant attending surgeon at Bellevue Hospital, and associate attending surgeon at the New York Hospital.

The Lees suffered grief when their infant daughter, Marion, died on January 16, 1906.  And then in March 1912 Marion Kershaw Lee caught pneumonia and died soon thereafter at the age of 35.  

With the outbreak of war, Dr. Lee joined the Army Medical Corps.  He was sent to France where he was surgeon in chief of the 2nd Division, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant colonel.  He earned a Distinguished Service Medal for his work, specifically at Soissons, "when in an emergency he organized, personally led, and directed surgical teams which cared for hundreds of wounded soldiers at a time when adequate hospitalization could not be established."

Dr. Burton James Lee original source unknown

Dr. Lee remarried on March 29, 1919.  His wedding to Louise Freeman took place in St. Bartholomew's Church.   Like Lee, Louise had been overseas in France during the war where she worked for the Red Cross.  The social status of the couple was evidenced by her bridal attendant, Helen C. Frick, "daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick, at whose whom Miss Freeman has been stopping," according to The Sun.

A year later, on March 19, 1920, the couple welcomed a son. 

In 1920 the Lees purchased the house next door, at No. 130.  On July 31 the Record & Guide reported that they had hired architect A. L. Noel to make alterations.  The combined house was now a spacious 50-feet wide.

On April 21, 1928 Brooklyn Life reported on an "important post-Easter announcement."  The socially prominent Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Auchincloss had announced the engagement of their daughter, Rosamond, to Burton J. Lee, Jr.  

Coincidentally or not, only a month later the New York Evening Post reported that the Lees had sold "the two old brownstone houses" to "a well-known New Yorker."  The selling price was $90,000, or about $1.34 million in today's money.  "The two houses are to be torn down and rebuilt into a modern type residence for the new owner," said the article.  "The rebuilding of the property has been placed in the hands of A. Wallace McCrea, architect."

The "well-known New Yorker" was Lois C. Levison who had McCrea transform the out-of-date Victorian houses into a modern neo-Georgian residence.  The stoops were removed and the facades replaced with three stories of Flemish bond red brick upon a limestone base.  Because the original floor levels were preserved, the entrance was necessarily a few steps below the sidewalk, where the former English basement entrance had been.

McCrea's handsome design included a paneled door within a protruding limestone vestibule under a broken pediment.  The architrave limestone frames of the second floor windows wore cornices, while the upper openings had splayed lintels and keystones.

The Evening Post noted "The dwelling is arranged with servants' quarters on the ground floor, leaving the upper floors for master's rooms and three entertaining rooms, each 23 x 30."

Levison sold the newly-completed home to Ronald P. O'Brien in 1929.  His residency was short-lived.  On July 7, 1931 the New York Evening Post reported that he had sold it to Edwin I. Marks, "an executive of R. H. Macy & Co."  The price of the residence had continued to rise.  It was sold for $550,000, or around $9.23 million today.

Marks, who was executive vice president of Macy's had married Lucie Renee Loeb in October the previous year.  (It was most likely no coincidence that she was the niece of Jesse I. Straus, president of R. H. Macy & Co.)  In 1933, as was common, Edwin Marks transferred the title to the property to his wife.  

Marks had joined R. H. Macy & Co. as a merchandise counselor in 1924 after coming to New York from Memphis, Tennessee.  A 1908 graduate of Harvard, he rose steadily in the store's management, achieving the position of executive vice president in 1926.

The couple had not been in the 73rd Street house long before Marks was forced to deal with political tensions in Europe.  On Friday, June 20, 1934 a "contingent of Minute Men, headed by Joseph Rosen, stood at strategic points nearby Macy's store, and distributed circulars," reported a newspaper.  The fliers read "Buy American, Boycott Nazi Goods."

The anti-Nazi group knew that R. H. Macy & Co. had received a shipment of goods on the S. S. Manhattan from Hamburg, Germany and assumed that the department store was selling German-made merchandise.  Edwin Marks was quick to fire back.  He provided newspapers with a copy of his letter to Rosen, in which he called the organization's actions "irresponsible."  It said in part:

It so happens that every dollar's worth of this shipment came from Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland, a fact that we can easily prove and a fact that you could readily have verified at Macy's had you cared to.

In the meantime, Lucy busied herself with things social and was involved with the annual Garden Days events each May.  On April 24, 1937 the New York Sun noted "On May 19 Mrs. Edwin I. Marks will serve tea and show flower arrangements in her home setting at 128 East Seventy-third street."

Edwin Marks continued to rise within R. H. Macy & Co., until he eventually became chairman, a position he held until his retirement in 1949.  On November 23, 1970 the 82-year old Edwin I. Marks died in his East 73rd Street home of nearly 40 years.

In 1987 the Marks home was purchased by Bernard and Josephine Chaus, co-founders of women's sportswear firm Bernard Chaus, Inc.  The couple updated the house with remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, for instance, but preserved Wallace McCrea's architectural details.  Like Edwin and Lucie Marks, they would remain in the house for many years.  Bernard died in 1991, followed by Josephine on November 25, 2015.

photo via
The following year her estate placed the house on the market for $42 million.  The asking price was optimistic at best.  It did not sell until October 2019 at the much reduced price of $14.99 million.

photographs by the author

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