Monday, November 9, 2020

The Lost Joseph J. Lawrence Mansion - 1080 Fifth Avenue (1 East 89th Street)


from the collection of the New York Public Library

At the turn of the last century William Russell Grace (former Mayor of New York and founder of W. R. Grace & Company) and his wife Lillius owned the valuable properties on the southeast and northeast corners of Fifth Avenue and 89th Street.  On the southern corner was a wooden store and on the northern corner a three-story frame house.  The relics sat directly in the path of the upward march of opulent mansions. 

In 1900 St. Louis physician Joseph Joshua Lawrence was planning a move to New York City.  On November 20 he bought the northern property from the Graces for $140,000.  The staggering price, equal to about $4.4 million today, reflected the soaring property values after Andrew Carnegie had begun construction a year earlier on his sprawling mansion a block to the north.  

Three months later, in February 1901, Lawrence's architect, William Albert Swasey, filed plans for a five story residence on the site of the vintage wooden house.  The cost of construction would be $80,000; bringing Lawrence's total outlay to just under $7 million in today's money.

The completed Beaux Arts style mansion was 25-feet wide on Fifth Avenue and stretched back 102 feet.  A Scamozzi columned portico sheltered the entrance and supported a full-width balcony at the second floor.  Carpentry & Building said "The whole effect is simple and graceful and the balcony is much more imposing than the French marquise, which mars so many of the entrances to houses."  Swasey employed bowed and faceted bays to give dimension to the two story midsection.  A steep mansard level anchored by two-story caps was fronted by a stone balustrade that ran along the cornice.  

Dr. Joseph J. Lawrence was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina on January 28, 1836.  He could trace his American roots on both sides to the 17th century.  The son of a plantation owner, he was educated "partly by private tutorship and partly in the academic schools of his State," according to The Medical Brief.  His medical practice was interrupted by the Civil War during which he served as a captain of the Confederate cavalry.

He married Josephine Edwards on May 3, 1859 and the couple had four children.  Lawrence was responsible for developing several remedies and is credited for having invented an antiseptic which he called Listerine after having attended a lecture by Dr. Joseph Lister.  He sold the rights to a pharmacist who marked it as a cure for dandruff and gonorrhea as well as a floor cleaner and mouthwash.

Dr, Joseph J. Lawrence, The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1904 (copyright expired)

Lawrence's true passion (and financial success) was the Medical Brief which he founded in 1873.  In 1904 The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography said it "has now the largest circulation, and is financially the most prosperous medical publication in the world." The journal continued to be published from St. Louis where the Lawrences retained a home.

Living with the Lawrences in 1906 was their 17 year old granddaughter, Vera Siegrist.  Her mother, Minnie Lawrence , had been "one of the bells of St. Louis" and "considered the most beautiful girl of the early eighties," according to the St. Louis Republic.  Minnie had died in 1900 in the opulent St. Louis mansion given to her by her father.

One morning in October 1906 Vera did not come down to breakfast.  The New York Herald reported "A search was instituted, but no trace of her was found."  Her frantic grandparents finally received word "that Miss Siegrist, accompanied by her maid, had slipped away to meet Mr. [Russell F.] Hopkins on a yacht, the U-no, anchored off Riverside Drive."  According to the New York Herald, he had "fitted it up with sumptuous furnishings and a live monkey for a honeymoon trip."

Hopkins was the son of a millionaire drug and medicine manufacturer in Atlanta.  Despite the shock and scandal, the Lawrences forgave Vera and even presented the couple with a house at No. 1045 Fifth Avenue.

A year before Vera's elopement Dr. Lawrence had suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed.   The Medical Brief reported "his general condition became gradually debilitated, culminating finally in prostration, [and] edema of the lungs."  He died in the the Fifth Avenue mansion at 4:00 on the morning of March 14, 1909 at the age of 73.

Josephine Lawrence did not remain in house, selling it to Percival Farquhar in January 1910 for $280,000--about $7.8 million today.  Farquhar was a resident of Paris at the time, where he was involved in the construction and control of South American railroads.  In reporting on the sale, the Record & Guide commented that the Lawrence residence "has been regarded as one of the best constructed houses in the upper 5th av. section."  Before moving in, Farquhar hired the society architect Ogden Codman to make renovations, including a second entrance at No. 1 East 89th Street and the restyling of the mansard.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1865, Farquhar had had a wide-ranging career.  He studied law, science and engineering at Yale University, served in political office including several terms in the New York State Assembly, and was heavily involved in railroads.  According to The New York Times on September 22, 1912, he controlled railroads in South America "running clear across from the Atlantic to the Pacific."  The newspaper added, "His railroad dominion may even now be said to extend through five of the South American republics."

He retained his Paris mansion, described by The New York Times as "a place which was one of the notable sights of Paris and was valued with the [art] collection at $7,000,000."

Percival Farquhar, The New York Times, September 22, 1912 (copyright expired)

Farquhar soon discovered that monopolizing railroads in the U.S. was a much more daunting challenge than in South America.  A headline in The Sun on July 29, 1910 read: "He Threatened Railroad Peace / It was Percival Farquhar Tam[many], Who Dared All the Big Systems."  The article said "The audacity of the transaction whereby Dr. F. S. Person, Percival Farquhar and their associates hoped to gain control of an American transcontinental railroad system stood out in even bolder relief when more of the facts became known yesterday.  Their operations were on an even greater scale than at first reported."

Percival Farquhar did not remain long in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  On June 19, 1915 the Record & Guide reported that "negotiations are reported well advanced" between Farquhar and Malcolm D. Whitman for the sale of the residence.  The article noted "Among neighboring owners are Archer M. Huntington, Benjamin N. Duke, Elizabeth W. Van Ingen, and George J. Gould."

If the negotiations had been "well advanced" in June, they plodded along until the end of the year.  Finally on January 2, 1916 the New York American Real Estate Review & Forecast announced "Harvard's old tennis player, Malcolm Douglass Whitman, bought Percival Farquhar's house, No. 1080 Fifth avenue, to alter and to reside in it."  Whitman paid $10,000 less for the property than had Farquhar.

Although the 39-year old was a successful businessman and member of the William Whitman Company, he would forever be best known as a tennis player.  He was the American intercollegiate singles tennis champion as a student at Harvard University in 1896, and doubles champion the following two years.  He continued to play after his graduation, winning three singles titles at the U.S. National Championships.

Whitman's first wife, Janet McCook, had died in December 1909 following the birth of their second child.  Four years before purchasing No. 1080 Fifth Avenue he had married Jennie Adeline Crocker, daughter of San Francisco millionaire Charles F. Crocker.  As the American Real Estate Review had reported, before moving in they hired decorator John A. Gade to remodel the interiors.  One room in particular would stand out.

Whitman's bedroom was called "The Viking Room."  The American Scandinavian Review, August 1917 (copyright expired)

In its July-August 1917 issue The American Scandinavian Review noted "Mr. Whitman has always been interested in Norse Art, and was induced to finish a room in a typical old Norwegian way.  Mr. Whitman's bedroom was chosen for this room and called the 'Viking Room.'"  Gade hired Scandinavian artisans to create a reproduction "typical Norwegian" setting.  He worked with cabinetmaker Frode Rambusch to design the furniture and wrought metal.  The American Scandinavian Review said "The furniture was, as far as possible, kept in the line of old Norwegian examples, and was all very richly designed and carved."  Jonas Lie painted the mural frieze around the room which represented the voyage of a Viking ship along a Norwegian fjord landscape.  The article said "Mr. Trygve Hammer, who is with Mr. Rambusch, did much of the detail designing; even the carvers, metal workers, and mechanics were Scandinavians."

Malcom "Mal" D. Whitman original source unknown

The Whitmans' country estate was at Lawrence, Long Island.  On September 9, 1919 Jennie was horrified to find that $60,000 worth of jewelry--in the neighborhood of $887,000 today--was gone.  The culprit was traced what the New-York Tribune described as "a shabbily dressed young Russian."  On October 10 he went from jewelry store to jewelry store on Maiden Lane "begging the jewelers to buy some bargains he had to offer," said the article.  "In each store he produced an assortment of glittering gems from the pockets of his well worn coat, which he offered at fabulously low figures."

Suspicious, the merchants continually refused to buy the jewelry.  But his movements attracted the attention of Detective Sergeant Charles Savage who quietly watched the would-be seller's movements.  The man, John Reider, eventually walked into a store at the corner of Broadway where he offered a $3,000 pearl pin for $200.  "The dealer was not interested, but Savage, who had been watching the Russian, was.  He placed the man under arrest."

Reider confessed and explained that he had recently arrived from Russian and was hired at the Whitman estate.  "He said one day while in a bedroom cleaning the windows, he noticed a jewel case on a dresser.  He opened it, and when he saw the jewels he could not resist the temptation to put them into his pocket."  With a treasure in his pocket, he resigned  his job.

Reider took detectives on a tour of downtown pawnshops the following day.  Happily for the Whitmans, by the end of the day "the detectives say only a few small pieces are still unlocated."

The Whitmans divorced in 1924 and in 1926 Malcolm married Lucilla Mara de Vescova.  On October 14 that year The New York Sun reported "Upon their return from the Adirondacks late this month, Mr. and Mrs. Archer M. Huntington will move into their new city residence at 1 East Eighty-ninth street, which Mr. Huntington purchased from Malcolm D. Whitman."

(In a tragic side note, Malcolm Whitman committed suicide by leaping off an apartment building on December 28, 1932 at the age of 55.)

Huntington was the son of Arabella Huntington and the adopted son of her multimillionaire husband Collis P. Huntington.  (He was most likely their illegitimate child.)   A major benefactor of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he had erected the Audubon Terrace Complex, a collection of museums including the Academy of Arts and Letters.

His wife was sculptor Anna Hyatt whom he had married on March 10, 1923.  She was his second wife.  He had divorced Helen Manchester Gates in 1918.  (Interestingly, Archer and Anna shared a birthday, March 10.)  Many of Hyatt's large sculptures are displayed in the Audubon Terrace complex.

Archer Milton Huntington - from the collection of the Hispanic Museum & Library

The Huntingtons had been living just three houses away at No. 1083 Fifth Avenue.  The couple retained possession of that property, possibly because the fifth floor had been remodeled as a studio for Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Ogden Codman's 1910 renovations included the new entrance on 89th and the remodeling of the mansard.  The Huntington mansion is three houses away, where the automobile is parked.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In October 1933 the Huntingtons purchased the Rockland County estate formerly owned by Sam Katz, vice president of Paramount Publix Corporation, near Haverstraw, New York.  The New York Times described it as consisting of "about 500 acres of landscaped grounds with a large greystone house and numerous outbuildings."  The estate included a private golf course, "a small farm with vegetable gardens, orchards, staff cottages and barns," a superintendent's dwelling and a nine-room guest house and swimming pool.

Six years later the Archer Huntington purchased another country estate, Beechwoods, on more than 500 acres at Redding, Connecticut.

The following year, on June 12, 1940 The New York Times reported that Huntington had donated his former home at No. 1083 Fifth Avenue along with Nos. 3-5 89th Street, "forming an L around the north corner of the intersection," to the National Academy of Design.  The article added "Provision also has been made by Mr. Huntington to bequeath his residence at 1 East Eighty-ninth Street to the institution upon his death, he said last night."

Huntington's 1940 gift wrapped around the corner mansion and included 3-5 East 89th, at right.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Instead, just before his death on December 11, 1955, Huntington donated No. 1080 Fifth Avenue to Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve located in South Carolina.  He had founded it in 1932 in part to feature Anna Hyatt Huntington sculptures.  Upon Huntington's death a letter to the editor of The New York Times said "In an era when our country was blessed with many patrons of the arts this great man was a veritable Medici."

The National Academy of Design and the Brookgreen Gardens maintained the properties until 1959 when developer Markus Mizne purchased Nos. 1080 through 1082 Fifth Avenue.  He replaced the vintage mansions in 1961 with a white brick apartment house designed by Wechsler & Schimenti.

The original Archer Huntington mansion (left) survives. photo via


  1. Although I don't think the exterior of 1080 Fifth Ave is outstanding is the world of Gilded Age mansions, there are so many things in your post today that I appreciated reading:
    1) I will never look at a bottle of Listerine with so little appreciation again. Is there no problem it will not solve?
    2) I like naming a yacht 'U-no'. I question the wisdom of taking a monkey on it for your honeymoon.
    3) I wish there were photos of Ogden Codman's 1910 interior renovations. He knew how to deliver classic French style.
    4) I can appreciate that Percival Farquhar enjoyed controlling railroads in South America from his Paris mansion so much that he decided to come over to the United States and do the same thing here, only to fail. It's the reverse of all the times Americans have assumed that, what works here must work everywhere.
    5) I don't own a fortune in jewelry, but the thought of leaving it in a jewelry box on a dresser while various low paid servants and workers are in and out of that room seems foolishly reckless to me.
    6) As was Archer Huntington's my [1950s] birth was classified illegitimate. Quite a stigma to attach to a child. It's a wonder I'm not typing this from a maximum security prison.
    7) I think the Audubon Terrace Complex is excellent and beautiful. I don't live in NYC but find it difficult to believe locals consider it to be too far north to be worth the journey. It disproves the adage: If you build it, they will come.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts! You provided me several wide smiles reading them.

  2. I have had the pleasure of walking an hour or so at the Huntington property in Redding today. It is now a state park.

  3. Oops. Mrs. Grace was Lillius, not Lillian. Ever fascinatinv tales. The photo of the 89th St. Facaade, with the front of the Codman wing to the Huntington house at 1083 Fifth is a dramatic illustration of scalr (and proportion, making 1080's composition look cramped and busy

  4. was not the Huntington family also the patron behind the art museum at Columbus Circle which unfortunately was under appreciated and closed?

    1. No. That building was erected by Huntington Hartford, a publisher and heir to the A & P Supermarket fortune to house his personal art collection. I don't believe he had any connection to the Huntingtons.