Friday, September 11, 2020

The Arthur W. Popper House - 48 East 66th Street

Real Estate operator Ira E. Doying erected ten matching four-story brownstones on East 66th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, between 1877 and '78.  Designed in the neo-Grec style by J. H. Valentine, the 20-foot wide homes were intended for well-to-do owners.

No. 48 was purchased by Floyd Clarkson, whose ancestor, Matthew Clarkson, was appointed Secretary of the Province of New York in 1658 by William and Mary, and whose grandfather, William Clarkson, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  His impressive lineage included Verplancks, Van Courtlandts, Barclays and Schuylers.  

Born in New York City in 1831 and educated in private schools, Clarkson married Harriet A. Van Boskerck in March 1857.  He closed his hardware business to fight in the Civil War, later returning to New York with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  He and Harriet had ten children, five sons and two daughters of which grew to maturity.  Clarkson's significant fortune was garnered through his real estate business, Floyd Clarkson & Son, and as president of the Riverside Bank.

Col. Floyd Clarkson - Buffalo Evening News, February 27, 1890 (copyright expired

The 66th Street house was the scene of an impressive military funeral on February 4, 1883.  Clarkson's brother, Lieutenant Samuel Floyd Clarkson of the United States Navy, died of typhoid fever in Nice, France on January 8.  The Sun reported "He was on board the United States man-of-war Galena during the bombardment of Alexandria, where it is supposed he contracted the disease of which he died."

On January 2, 1894 Clarkson was not feeling well and left his office at his office No. 39 Broadway early.  The New York Times reported "He had not gone far when he became very weak, and was obliged to call a cab and drive to the residence of his family physician, Dr. Wilcox."  The doctor accompanied him home and sent for another physician for a consultation, but before that doctor arrived the 63-year old Clarkson had died.  

Harriet was visiting their son, George T. Clarkson, in Pittsburgh at the time but was due to return the following day.  The news of her husband's death was kept secret until she arrived home.

Harriet remained in the 66th Street house through 1902.  In January 1903 she sold it to Lyman G. Bloomingdale, the proprietor of Bloomingdale's Department Store.  He and his family lived in an elegant mansion nearby at No. 21 East 63rd Street.  The Clarkson house was to be a wedding present for Bloomingdale's daughter, Carinne, and her fiancé Arthur W. Popper.

But first the outdated brownstone would need a massive make-over.  Architect George A. Schellinger was hired to renovate it into a modern residence appropriate for the young and wealthy couple.

The year-long project resulted in a striking Beaux Arts mansion clad in limestone.  Schellinger had removed the brownstone facade and stoop, and pulled the front forward to the property line.  Five stories tall, its entrance (almost assuredly centered), sat above a short stoop of about three steps.  The second floor, or piano nobile, featured a Corinthian columned loggia.  The third and fourth floors were slightly bowed.  The fifth floor, which took the form of a slate shingled mansard with two prominent dormers, sat above a bracketed stone cornice.  

As the alterations were being made, Arthur W. Popper was given a major promotion in anticipation of his wedding.  He was already working as a stock broker in the firm of his father, Popper & Stern.  Now on January 1, 1903, almost simultaneously with his future father-in-law's purchase of No. 48 East 66th Street, the firm announced:

We Beg To Announce That We Have this day admitted Mr. Arthur W. Popper, son of our Mr. E. Popper, and Mr. Simon Hahn, to partnership in our firm.

Four months later, to the day, the firm announced that "George W. Stern retires from active business to take a long needed rest."  Popper & Stern was dissolved and reorganized as Popper & Sternback.  "It is composed of Edward Popper, Sydney M. Sternbach, and Arthur W. Popper, who are all members of the Stock Exchange," reported the New-York Tribune.

Lyman Bloomingdale transferred title to the completed house to his daughter on August 31, 1904.   The newlyweds moved in just in time.  On November 12 the New York Herald announced "To Mr. and Mrs. Arthur W. Popper a son was born last Thursday night, at their residence No. 48 East Sixty-sixth street.  Mrs. Popper was Miss Corinne Bloomingdale, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lyman G. Bloomingdale."  The infant was named Edward.  His brother, Robert Lyman Popper, would be born four years later, on October 21, 1908.

The New York townhouse was, of course, used only during the winter season.  Philadelphia millionaire J. Wesley Durham maintained a summer estate in the Adirondacks on Lake Placid with the tongue-in-cheek name Wate-A-Minit.  In 1909 he began construction of an even more secluded "camp" on Buck Island there.  In 1910 the Poppers purchased Wate-A-Minit "with all buildings and extensive grounds," as worded by the New-York Tribune.  On August 25 the newspaper said "Mr. Popper recently purchased this place and has made extensive alterations, including installation of electric light and steam heat."  The Popper yacht was moored at the private pier.

The Poppers remained in the 66th Street house until July 1921 when Corinne sold it to Eleanor Anderson
Campbell for $100,000--or about $1.43 million in today's money.  She hired architect Raymond Hood to reconfigure the first floor, changing the entrance and refacing the stonework.  The renovations may have been done to provide office space for Campbell, who had received her medical degree at the University of Boston Medical School.

The same year she purchased No. 48 Dr. Campbell borrowed $5,000 to set up a clinic in the basement of the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square.  Its pastor, Reverend A. Ray Petty, had "told her he was tired of seeing children with rickety, crooked legs," said The New York Times.  Dr. Campbell would devote the rest of her professional career to the Judson Health Center.

Her attention was diverted in 1924, however.  On September 14 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Anderson Campbell, of 48 East Sixty-sixth Street and Greenwich, Conn., has announced the engagement of her daughter, Miss Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, to Henry Adams Ashford...The announcement was made at a dinner given last night by Mrs. Campbell at her country home, Milbank, in Greenwich."  The wedding took place on January 3, 1925, The Times noting "Both the young people come from distinguished old New York families.  The bride's grandmother, Mrs. Milbank Anderson, was noted for her benefactions, having made large gifts to Columbia University.  Mr. Ashford is a direct descendant of Henry Adams."

Eleanor Campbell's entertainments were often connected with the Judson Health Center.  She hosted a luncheon for Mrs. James J. Walker--the Mayor's wife--in the house on February 9, 1926, for instance.  It highlighted the fact that Mrs. Walker had become a new member of the Judson Health Center's auxiliary.

Eleanor Campbell sold No. 48 in November 1930 to Arthur Coppell.  The New York Evening Post remarked she "has taken a penthouse apartment at 320 East Seventy-second Street."  Now retired, Coppell had had a wide-flung career as a banker, broker, railroad executive and director in several corporations.

Born on April 10, 1872, he was the son of George and Helen H. Gillingham Coppell.  George Coppell was a railroad mogul, banker, and associate of Jay Gould.  Arthur graduated from Princeton in 1894.  He and his wife, the former Mary S. Bowers, had three daughters, Susan Twining, Helen, and Mary B.  The family's summer estate, Lakelands, was near Cooperstown, New York

Despite their wealth, the Coppells rarely appeared in the society columns.  The Otsego Farmer later commented that Arthur "shunned personal publicity" and "gave quietly many thousands of dollars to charitable organizations."  But when Mary's sister arrived for a visit in 1931, the newspapers took note.  The New York Sun reported on May 20 "Mrs. Martha Dandridge Bowers of Santa Barbara will arrive on June 1 to join her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Coppell, at 48 East Sixty-sixth street."

By 1934 Susan and Helen were married.  Mary was at camp in Portland, Maine that summer.  Her parents came to visit her in July, but the occasion took a tragic turn when Arthur suffered a fatal heart attack on July 20.  In reporting his death The New York Times noted "He was an opponent of prohibition and in 1919 was a director of the Association Opposed to National Prohibition."

Before long Mary left the 66th Street house, moving to No. 112 East 74th Street.  In 1941 she had renovations done to No. 48 East 66th Street which resulted in two apartments per floor.  She sold the converted mansion in 1946.

Although the upper floors are little changed since the newly-wed Poppers moved in in 1904, one cannot help but lament Dr. Campbell's renovation of the ground floor and, perhaps even more, its current gruesome door.

photographs by the author

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