Monday, December 28, 2020

The Lost Frances Mary Hoyt Mansion - 726 Fifth Avenue


image via  Collins' 'Both Sides of Fifth Avenue'  1910 (copyright expired)

Born in 1839 to Samuel Tonkin and Martha Mary Jones, Frances Mary Jones had an impressive pedigree.  Her ancestors included Samuel Carpenter, the Deputy Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania, and Samuel Preston, mayor of Philadelphia in the 18th century.

Frances's first husband, Richard Montgomery Pell, died in 1882.  She married millionaire stockbroker Louis Thurston Hoyt on June 11, 1894.  Hoyt, whose first wife, Marie Antoinette Bogert, had died in 1879, had a grown daughter, Geraldine.

The couple moved into a smart Empire style mansion at No. 392 Fifth Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets.  That same year William Waldorf Astor demolished his mansion two blocks to the south and began construction on the Waldorf Hotel, a move that would open the floodgates to commerce along the exclusive residential avenue.

The Hoyts' townhouse featured a side garden, an especially desirable feature.  The New York Times, June 18, 1911 (copyright expired)

Louis and Frances were in Germany in the summer of 1901 when Hoyt died on August 2.  Later The New York Times reported that he "left the bulk of his estate to his widow, Mrs. Frances M. Hoyt.  The total value of the personal estate is found to be $30,440.46."  That did not include his real estate holdings, including the Fifth Avenue house.  That alone was valued at nearly $9 million in today's dollars.

By 1908 the neighborhood around Frances's home had fallen from fashion.  In December The Record & Guide announced that she had hired the architectural firm of McClellan & Beadel to design a new mansion at No. 726 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets.  Associate architect Arthur Dillon had been brought in to work on the project.  It was an exclusive block, anchored by the Harry Payne Whitney house at the corner of 57th Street.

The New York Times noted that the five-story house "is to be of decorated limestone, in the style of Louis XVI, with a mansard and second story balcony, with large easement windows."  The article placed the cost of construction at $38,000--or just over $1 million today.

It appears that Frances underestimated the speed at which commerce was pushing up Fifth Avenue in choosing her site.  On December 14, 1910, only a year after her mansion was completed, The New York Times commented

Within the last year the invasion by the art dealers of the upper Fifth Avenue precinct has been one of the most characteristic features in the changing appearance of that thoroughfare.  The Whitney block has already been invaded by business, the fine residence on the northwest corner of Fifth-sixth Street, formerly occupied by Edwin Gould, having lately been torn down to make way for the Duveen Brothers' new building.

The article noted that the deed to the Whitney house was under a ten years' restriction for private purposes "and the same restriction is on the next house at 726 Fifth Avenue, owned by Mrs. Louis T. Hoyt."

Frances's bachelor brother, Shipley Jones, was prominent in society, earning him the appellation of a "clubman."  With neither having spouses nor children, the two appeared regularly among society together.  On May 17, 1914, for instance, The New York Times reported that they were sailing for Europe that week.  They spent their summers together, as well.  On June 13, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Louis T. Hoyt and her brother, Shipley Jones, will go to Southampton, Long Island, to-morrow for the summer," and three years later the New York Herald announced "Mrs. Louis T. Hoyt is making a round of visits in Southampton.  She will join her brother, Shipley Jones, in New Brighton, Staten Island, next week."

In October 1919 Frances brought the architects (now reorganized as Dillon, McClellan & Beadel) back to renovate her home.  The change in the neighborhood may have been responsible for one item on the punch list--an iron fence.  

What was apparently the last straw, however, came only three months later when the announcement was made that a 30-story office building would be erected on the 57th Street corner.  Within days Frances put her house on the market.

On February 7, 1920 The New York Times ran the headline "Record Price for Fifth Avenue Plot / Mrs. Louis P. [sic] Hoyt Sells Her $600,000 Residence to a Firm of Dressmakers."  The New-York Tribune reported "The buyers are Farquharson & Wheelock, dressmakers, who occupy 724 Fifth Avenue, adjoining."  It noted that the price, about $7.65 million in today's money, was "the highest price ever paid for an inside lot on Fifth Avenue north of Forty-second Street."

Later that year, on October 11, the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Louis T. Hoyt and her brother, Mr. Shipley Jones, have returned to their new apartment in Park avenue from Greenwich, Conn. for the winter."

Louis's striking limestone mansion was already gone by then, having stood only 11 years.  It was replaced by Severance & Van Alen's 12-story commercial structure, which survives.

photo via

1 comment:

  1. That's too bad that William Waldorf Astor had to start the commerce thing. A lot of beautiful mansions were destroyed and lost to history. What a rotten shame.