Friday, September 18, 2020

The Chauncey S. Traux House - 7 East 67th Street



In July 1881 the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson filed plans for a row of six four-story brownstone houses along East 67th Street, just off Fifth Avenue.  Financially advantageous for the developers, Spaulding, Brennan & Jones, was the fact that M. Brennan and R. Spaulding were also partners in a construction firm.  An ample 25-feet wide, the identical high-stooped houses were intended for upper middle class families.  The cost of construction of each was $155,000 in today's money.

The row was completed in 1882, but it appears that Spaulding, Brennan & Jones chose to retain ownership and lease the houses.  If that were the case it was a bad decision.  They were all lost in foreclosures in January 1885.  Interesting, one of the creditors involved in the sale was the wealthy attorney Chauncey S. Traux.  

No. 7 East 67th Street was foreclosed upon again and in February 1889 it was purchased by Frank W. and Arriba Savin for $75,000--or about $2.15 million today.  It began a peculiar chapter in the history of the house.

Savin was a Wall Street broker, better known for his anger management problems than for his transactions.  The Evening World mentioned on September 12, 1889 "Mr. Savin is well known on Wall street and on the exchanges.  He has been a member since 1872, and has been the hero of a score of fistic battles, in which he invariably got the worst of the encounters."

Typical of his public outbursts was an incident in the posh Delmonico's restaurant a few years earlier.  "The waiter did not serve him fast enough to suit, and he slapped the waiter's face, just as a sort of a tip," said a newspaper.

Luckily for the Savins, the title of their new house, as was common, was filed in Arriba's name.  Because seven months after they purchased it, the housekeeper, Agnes Frances De Forest, sued her employer for the house (or its equivalent value in cash).  The unmarried woman had worked for the family since December 1883 and she told the courts "Mr. Savin paid her no regular salary, but maintained her in luxury," according to The Evening World.  The clear implication was that Miss De Forest's duties went beyond managing the household.

On August 2, 1889 Savin told her "that he could dispense with her services."  Agnes did not look kindly upon "an attempt to dispossess her" and immediately filed a suit to obtain possession of the residence.

As he left his office on September 12 a reporter asked him about the suit.  "It's an effort to extort money from me, but it won't work," he replied.  "That woman hasn't the slightest hold upon me and has no grounds to base a suit on...She's made a big mistake."  Agnes De Forrest no doubt knew she had little chance in court, but she did know the that suit would bring embarrassing publicity to her former employer.  And it did.

The following year Savin's temper got him into the newspapers--and the courts--again.  He was riding in his carriage on November 15, 1890 when it was involved in a collision with a truck.  His driver, Thomas Smith, was thrown to the ground.  As he got to his feet, according to him, "Savin struck him several times."  The broker's fury was not sated, however, and later, Smith testified, "he was again attacked by Savin in the stable and knocked down under the legs of one of the horses.  The animal stepped on him and injured him for life."

Smith sued his former employer for $25,000 damages.  In court Savin defended himself saying Smith "was drunk and abusive."  The Sun reported "He admitted having hit the coachman, but said he did not hit him hard."  Smith was awarded $25, a disappointing $785 by today's standards.

The Savins had two children, Frank, Jr. and Josephine.  Frank, it seems, had much in common with his father.  On January 14, 1896 the 18-year old was arrested for ill treatment of the his mother's English maid, Agnes Tidy.

In church on Sunday, January 11, Agnes told another girl what had happened to her.  That girl relayed the story to her uncle, Henry T. Smith, who insisted Agnes go to the police.  The following day she did and, after hearing her shocking tale, the judge had Frank arrested.  Agnes said that on January 10 Frank came into her room and "after he had forced her to undress, partly through threats of beating her with a leather strap, painted her face and half-nude body in a fantastic manner, and then, fastening her hands behind her back with a dog chain, made her parade and dance in the presence of other members of the Savin family."  (The "other members" were, in fact, only Josephine.)

The case was heard on January 16.  The Sun reported "There were present in court before the case was called Mrs. and Miss Savin and a score or more of the friends of the Savin family.  The servants employed by Mrs. Savin were also on hand to testify in behalf of the defendant."  But the hearing would never take place.  It appears that the Savins had successfully intimidated the servant girl.  At first she did not show up, but Henry Smith sent a cab to retrieve her.  "When she was hurried onto the stand she was trembling violently, and appeared to be badly frightened."  She told her lawyer she wanted to withdraw her charges.  "Young Savin was warmly congratulated as he left the court room," said The Sun.

Frank and Arriba spent the summer of 1898 apart--he in Europe and she, along with Josephine and Frank, Jr., in Saratoga.  While there Josephine met Dr. Marion de Zaremba "who is said to be a Russian count and very wealthy," according to The Sun.   The two were quietly married in Saratoga on August 20, but no one found out until September 19.  The Sun said "No one was found yesterday who could tell why this announcement had been delayed for more than three weeks."  It is quite possible that Arriba kept the ceremony secret to prevent her husband from attending.

In announcing the marriage The Sun noted "Mrs. Frank Savin is now suing her husband...for divorce.  She is receiving $1,000 a month alimony by order of the Supreme Court.  The co-respondent in the case is a woman who alleges that she is an actress."  The actress was the recently divorced Susette Virginia Bernard.

In court Slavin's domestic abuse was exposed.  On August 14, 1898 The World reported "For fifteen years, the lady swore, she suffered from his aberrations.  Sometimes he whimsically struck her with a cane or club.  At others in a spirit of hilarity he wound his fingers about her throat and choked her into a state of submission."

On December 4, 1898 auctioneer James P. Silo announced he would be selling the contents of the Savin home.  The listing noted that "some of the statuary is from the A. T. Stewart Collection" and added "the bronzes and articles of bric-a-brac are many of them remarkable for their artistic and intrinsic value, and were purchased from such houses as Tiffany & Co., Black, Starr & Frost and Camerden & Forster."

And the sale, too, had caused dissension between the Savins.  
Frank insisted that the 40 oil paintings in the sale were his, not Arriba's.  She disagreed.  So a week before the auction he sued Arriba for $25,000 "worth of paintings, which both claim," said The Sun on November 27.  

In April 1899 Arriba sold No. 7 East 67th Street to Chauncey Shaffer Traux, one of the original financial backers of the row.  He paid $85,000 for the house, in the neighborhood of $2.7 million today.

Arriba would never obtain her divorce from Frank Savin.  Shortly after selling the house she and Josephine (whose new husband was in jail for larceny) sailed to London for the season.  On July 3 Arriba died in her hotel suite there.

By the time Chauncey Traux purchased No. 7 it was architecturally out of date.  Before moving in he hired the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell to completely remodel it.  Although their plans, filed in October 1899 said they would "alter rooms," the project went far beyond that.  The brownstone front and stoop were removed.

The architects gave the residence a smart Beaux Arts facade.  Ionic columns now stood where the stoop had formerly begun.  They upheld a second floor bowed bay which, in turn, created a third floor balcony.  Rusticated piers ran up the sides of the three upper stories, which were embellished with elaborately carved keystones and ornate cartouches.  The limestone cornice, upon which four stone urns perched, was upheld by brackets decorated with garlands of fruits.


Leaded French doors open onto the third floor balcony.

Born in 1854, Chauncey Truax had married Alice M. Hawley in 1886.  The couple had three children, Katherine, Chauncey, Jr., and Ravaud Hawley.  The family maintained two country homes.  They were known as "old cottagers" of Long Branch, New Jersey, and had a summer estate in Blue Hill, Maine.  

A peculiar incident happened on the evening of March 29, 1905.  Alice was about to go on a carriage ride with some friends when she decided to go back into the house for a wrap.  When she returned the coachman told her he had seen a man enter the front door, which she had left open while inside.  The Sun reported "Mrs. Truax, her friends, the coachman and footman went back into the house and found a strange young man in the hall on the second floor."

Samuel Rosenstock was arrested and Chauncey Traux filed charges of unlawful entry the following day.  "I believe he entered my home to steal.  He certainly had no business there," he told the judge.  But when the judge asked Rosenstock if he had anything to say, the young man motioned with his fingers that he was deaf.

His sister spoke for him, saying that he suffered "from a nervous disease and could only talk a little."  She explained "He received an injury to his head when a baby and his mind has not been right since.  He made a mistake in going into the gentlemen's house.  My brother was looking for a friend who lives in the neighborhood."

Traux was unmoved as was the judge, who said "This is a private house and he walked in through the open door.  I will hold him in $500 bail for trial."

On March 12, 1906 Traux sold No. 7 to John Townsend Williams and his wife Louise.  Somewhat ironically, the entire Traux family was at their Maine residence that summer when, on August 9, Chauncey died at the age of 52.  

The Williams did not stay long, selling the house in January 1909 to Albert Gallatin and his wife, the former Margaret Hoffman Hackstaff.  The couple had been married for less than two years.  They moved into the house with their baby daughter, Margaret.  Three more children would arrive before 1918--Phyllis, Albert Frederick, and James Peter.   The family's summer residence was in Southampton.

Gallatin was the great grandson of Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson.  He would become well known as an archeologist and writer on archeological subjects.  He was, as well, an expert on rare coins.


New York Herald, April 30, 1913 (copyright expired)

Albert was 34-years old when the First World War erupted in Europe.  Although he could have easily avoided service, he volunteered.  The men found wretched conditions when they reached the training camp in Plattsburgh, New York.  The new facility had been built on low-lying ground.  On June 12, 1916 The New York Press described it as "little better than a swamp."

The article added, "Health has been good in camp, with a few exceptions.  About ten men are laid up in the post hospital with trivial ailments.  The latest victim was Albert Gallatin of No. 7 East Sixty-seventh street...He has a touch of malaria."

On June 12, 1926 Brooklyn Life reported "One of the debutantes of the coming season is Miss Margaret Gallatin, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Gallatin of 7 East Sixty-seventh Street, who have been identified for many years with Southampton."  The article noted "Miss Gallatin has been at boarding school in Paris for the last two years."

Two years later, on November 9, 1928, Margaret's parents announced her engagement to Dr. Clement B. P. Cobb.  The New York Times rolled out her impressive pedigree, which not only included the former Secretary of the Treasury and the renowned Dr. Eugene Augustus Hoffman, for many years the Dean of the General Theological Seminary, but "Through her paternal grandmother she is a direct descendant of Elbridge Gerry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence."

It would be another decade before Albert and Margaret announced an engagement.   Phyllis Almy Gallatin was married to William Appleton Aiken in St. James Church on Madison Avenue on June 1, 1938.   The entire family was involved in the wedding party--Albert, of course, giving away the bride, her sister Margaret was matron of honor, and both brothers served as ushers. 

Like his father had done, when world war broke out in Europe Albert Frederick joined the military.  He was an ensign in the Navy when the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the country into the conflict.  It may have been that incident that prompted the announcement of his engagement to Elizabeth Anne Neilson less than a month later, on January 4, 1942.

On February 18, 1944 The New York Sun reported that "Albert Gallatin, author and collector of coins, has sold the five-story residence at 7 East 67th street which he has occupied for about 35 years to the Trinity Chapel Home."  Gallatin was a member of Trinity Chapel and practically donated the house to the group.  It paid just $18,000 (about $260,000 today) for the property which was assessed at $1.45 million in today's dollars.

A subsequent renovation resulted in a kitchen and laundry on the first floor, a dining room, chapel and sitting room on the second, and furnished rooms on the upper floors.

Founded in 1902, the purpose of Trinity Chapel Home was "to maintain and care for poor and aged churchwomen...who have no relatives or friends to support them."  The Trinity Chapel Home remained in the house until January 1960 when it was sold to modernist architect Edward Durell Stone.  In reporting on the sale The New York Times mentioned "The house contains twenty rooms and an elevator."  

It does not appear that the renowned architect, who lived at No. 130 East 64th Street, ever intended for his family to live in the former Traux house.  Instead he made renovations, completed in 1967 to accommodate the Edward Durrell Stone Foundation, Inc.  The former house, while unchanged on the exterior, now contained drafting rooms, offices and a conference room.  By 1989 the building was home to The Foundation for Depression and Manic Depression.

It was purchased by Seagram heir Matthew Bronfman in 1994.  Bronfman paid $3.5 million for the house, then initiated a gut renovation to a 19-room single family home with a four-story glass atrium, eight bedrooms, seven full baths, a gymnasium, sauna, wine cellar and 11 fireplaces.


The renovations included a double-height, wood paneled library.  photo via 6sqft.com

The house changed hands in 2007 when Charles Murphy, one of the top executives of the European Financial Institutions Group at Credit Swiss, paid 10 times what Bronfman had spent for the house (pre-renovations, of course).  Murphy had just moved to New York to join a $14 billion hedge fund, the Fairfield Greenwich Group.


photo via 6sqft.com

But less than two years later, as reported by Josh Barbanel in The New York Times on January 23, 2003, "Now he is out of a job.  It turns out that Fairfield Greenwich had invested more than $7 billion of its funds with Bernard L. Madoff, the disgraced investor accused last month of losing $50 billion of clients' money in a Ponzi scheme."

Murphy quickly placed the house on the market, but his $37 million price tag lured no offers.  Charles Murphy's troubles eventually overwhelmed him and he died by suicide in 2017 with the mansion still unsold.  

The following year Murphy's widow, Annabella, sold the mansion at a greatly reduced price of $28.5 million.  While nothing remains of Clinton & Russell's 1899 interiors, the exterior of the striking mansion remains essentially unchanged.

photographs by the author

4 comments:

  1. Well! Here's something I can add a bit to, as the Hawley summer home was in my hometown of Blue Hill (not Blueville), Maine. It was a former summer hotel, designed by the seminal Shingle style architect William Ralph Emerson. As with his New York house, he bought it out of receivership.A portion was then torn down, leaving the Truaxes with a comfortable 35 rooms for the summer. A lot of the money appears to have been Mrs. Truax's. She was a daughter of Ravaud Hawley, a Cleveland based lumber tycoon. Final footnote, their son,Chauncey Truax was one of the financial backers, as well as an editor and writer, for The New Yorker.

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    1. PS, I'm pretty certain that Chauncey Truax, with a speciality in probate, was a judge in the Vanderbilt will case

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    2. And correcting myself, their son HAWLEY Truax, not Chauncey, as I mistakenly typed,, was one of the original backers of the New Yorker.

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  2. Thanks, as always for your always-informative added details. Oh, and thanks for catching the typo, too! I'll fix that right now.

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