Monday, March 1, 2021

The Lost Charles Osborn Mansion - 585 Fifth Avenue


The Osborn house is in the middle of the photograph.  from Collin's Both Sides of Fifth Avenue, 1910 (copyright expired)

Born on December 18, 1839, Charles J. Osborn had started his career in the leather industry before entering Wall Street during the Civil War.  He attracted the attention of millionaires Jay Gould and James Fisk, Jr. and eventually handled almost all of Gould's transactions.  By the time he and his wife, the former Miriam Adelaide Trowbridge, began looking for the site of their new home in 1875 he had accumulated a significant fortune as the senior member of the brokerage firm C. J. Osborn & Co.

They chose a mid-block parcel on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 47th and 48th Street.  The increasingly fashionable neighborhood was reflected in the sale price--about $1.7 million today.  Construction on the residence was completed in 1878. 

Four stories tall above an English basement, it was a mixture of the Renaissance Revival and emerging neo-Grec styles.  Triangular pediments graced the openings of the parlor level, and the upper floor windows wore prominent molded lintels.  And angled bay above the entrance provided a picturesque balcony at the third floor.

Charles and Miriam had one son, Howell, who was 19-years old when the family moved in.  He was already employed, working as a clerk (presumably in his father's firm), in 1879.

Families of significant wealth required a country seat, as well.  On July 28, 1883 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported "Charles J. Osborn, of Stock Exchange renown, is about to have erected a splendid summer residence at Mamaroneck, N. Y."   The journal noted, "A country house implies a more deliberate intent and more definite plans for enjoyment than a town house, which is, in a way, a thing of necessity.  For one thing, it is associated more closely with the season of a man's leisure.  Leisure to men like Mr. Osborn--and, in fact, to most Americans--has a modified meaning, and wealth enables them to adjust it to suitable conditions."

Osborn had hired McKim, Mead & White to design the sumptuous residence who announced it "will be three stories in height, and contain three stone towers, as well as a piazza on the ocean side overlooking a fine stretch of scenery."

The site on the Long Island Sound would be convenient for Osborn's favorite pastime, yachting.  The New York Times pointed out "He is a devoted yachtsman and is the owner of the Dreadnaught, which was built by Capt. Samuels for Mr. a. B. Stockwell."  

Osborn never got to enjoy his magnificent summer estate.  A Monograph of the Work of McKim, Mead & White, 1879-1915, (copyright expired)

The "season of a man's leisure" was about to become permanent for Osborn.  Despite his relative youth, his health was not good.  On April 2, 1884 The New York Times reported "Mr. Osborn resigned his position as a member of the Governing Committee of the Stock Exchange about two weeks ago, and his withdrawal from the firm of C. J. Osborn & Co., of which he is a special partner, will take effect May 1."

The article explained that Osborn "has been one of the busiest men in Wall-street...His retirement from active business is said to be chiefly due to his desire for rest and relaxation.  The state of his health, some of his friends assert, necessitates his taking this step."

Sadly, he would not live to see his magnificent summer estate completed.  He died in the Fifth Avenue mansion on November 11, 1885.  In a rather accusatory obituary, the South Dakota newspaper, The Warner Sun, wrote:

Charles J. Osborn, a noted New York broker--46 years old and worth $5,000,000 died recently from disease caused by continuous mental excitement, accompanied by a luxurious method of life, with wine and stimulating food to maintain the system under the exhausting drafts on its resources and vitality.  All his mature years were spent in the midst of the riot and excitement of Wall street speculation.  He was wonderfully lucky, but gnawing and lacerating anxieties must have preyed upon his mind; the alternate periods of depression and exaltation in his hopes, his fears and his fortunes, his constant torture on the rack of expectation, wore out his life and dragged him to a premature grave.

The Record & Guide commented on November 18, "The [country] house of Mr. Charles J. Osborn was scarcely ready for his acceptance when his death occurred.  Mr. Osborn was a man young enough to have been exempt from the fact that is said to attend men who build for themselves new homes and prepare to enjoy them."  His body was interred in the magnificent McKim, Mean & White designed Osborn mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery.

No. 585 Fifth Avenue quickly became home to U. S. Army Captain Warren C. Beach and his wife, the former Julia Norrie.  The couple had been married just two years earlier, in 1883.  

Beach had graduated from West Point in June 1865--just weeks after the end of the Civil War.  In 1886, months after moving into their new home, Beach resigned from military duty.

Warren and Julia gave glittering entertainments, their names appearing in society columns for dinners and theater parties.  Unlike many other millionaires, the Beaches preferred fashionable resort hotels to a private summer estate.  On June 20, 1896, for instance, the Troy, New York newspaper the Daily Times reported on their arrival in Saratoga.  "Captain Warren C. Beach and wife...arrived at the United States [hotel] last evening."  The article noted that Beach "is one of the old Saratoga visitors."

While they were away that summer the Beaches had interior renovations done to the Fifth Avenue house.  

Warren and Julia maintained another home in Washington D.C. where they spent time during the winter season.  On January 24, 1904, for instance, The Sun noted "Capt. and Mrs. Warren C. Beach will close their house at 585 Fifth avenue early in February and occupy for a time their establishment at 1811 H street, Washington, D.C."  And on February 25, 1906 the same newspaper reported, "Captain and Mrs. Warren C. Beach, who as usual have given a succession of elaborate dinners this winter, will go to their house in Washington on Thursday."

Beach suffered a serious scare on June 4, 1918.  The 65-year old was riding in his carriage in Central Park when one of the horses stumbled and, according to the New York Herald, "the subsequent jolt threw him out."  The coachman lost control of the frightened horses and the carriage dashed out of control up the West Drive, leaving Beach on the pavement with lacerations to the scalp and a concussion.

Julia died on August 19, 1921 at the age of 82.  Warren lived on in the house, continuing his social regimen alone.  The New York Herald remarked "For years Capt. Beach had a box at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday nights, and at other performance he was rarely absent from his place in the club box.  It was his custom to provide himself with a cluster of red carnations which he always threw to the prima donna of the performance."

Beach attended the opera on January 13, 1922.  The following morning his body was found in the vestibule of the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The New York Herald reported "Capt. Beach had attended the performance of 'Ernani' at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night and evidently, according to his custom, had walked home.  It was known to members of his family that he had a weak heart and he often had been cautioned not to exert himself."

Less than three months later his estate sold the mansion.  On April 8, 1922 The Record & Guide reported on the transaction, adding, "It is one of the few private houses remaining on the avenue south of 48th st."   It did not take long to demolish the old residence and on June 11, 1923 The Sun reported that a six-story building for Thomas Cook & Son was in the course of construction on the site.

The Peck Building (center), which replaced the Osborn-Beach house, survives.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


  1. Another great post, Tom. But didn't the Peck Building replace the Osborn-Beach house? I'm looking at the far left and right structures in the 1910 photograph vs the last photo. The far left and right buildings are in both photos, so only the two houses in the 1910 photo have been replaced. I could be wrong.

    1. You're absolutely right, Doug. Good eye. Thanks for catching that.

  2. Just showing I pay attention cause your posts are so interesting.

    Since I'm on a roll, I'll also throw out this: The Osborn summer estate is included in a book by Arnold Lewis, titled 'American Country Houses of the Gilded Age'. The Osborn house had two towers to the left of the porte cochere shown in the photograph you posted. The book states a fire in 1971 partially destroyed the house and now the property is owned by the Mamaroneck Beach, Cabana and Yacht Club. Google the club and you'll see the two towers incorporated into their main building.

    1. Thanks! The summer house was fascinating and I held back on going on too much about that and ignoring this one. Thanks again!