photograph by Edward Caruso for The New York Times, January 1, 2016
On September 12, 1914, James B. Haggin died at the age of 91 in Newport, Rhode Island. His wife, the former Margaret Pearl Voorhees, remained in their hulking mansion at 1 East 64th Street, on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue until 1930, when she reluctantly sold it to developer Anthony Campagna. The 62-year-old socialite had held out for months. Campagna had already acquired the mansions of William Guggenheim, Frank J. Gould and Frederick Lewisohn and commenced the construction of a modern apartment building next to the Haggin residence.
Construction on 834 was well underway when the Haggin house was being prepared for demolition on May 21, 1930. photograph by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The advent of the Great Depression had nothing to do with the millionaires' disposing of their mansions. Residential fashion had shifted to the convenience and luxury of modern apartment living. Margaret Haggin apparently negotiated a clause into her sale contract, assuring her of a lavish apartment in Campagna's new building. She would be among its first residents.
Camapgna hired apartment house architect Rosario Candela to design the 14-story, limestone-clad neo-Renaissance style structure. He was not merely creating luxurious apartments, but, according to The New York Times on September 20, 1931, "The architect, Rosario Candela, has attempted to create a series of luxurious homes."
photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
"The building contains a number of simplex and duplex apartments, a maisonette, with the the topmost floors and penthouses planned in triplex arrangement," said the article.
A sales brochure stressed the "limited number of residences," saying:
Of these, two are to be maisonettes of 11 and 14 rooms, right private entrances on Fifth Avenue. Others will be duplex and entire floor simplex apartments, ranging from 12 room to 17 rooms.
The fifth and seventh floors held the smallest suites, of nine and ten rooms. There was also a 2,000 square foot private garden designed by Italian landscape architect Ferruccio Vitale."
The Great Depression had little effect on the lifestyles of many of New York's wealthiest. On May 8, 1931, as 834 Fifth Avenue neared completion, The New York Times reported "Ray P. Stevens has bought a special apartment of fifteen rooms and six baths on the eighth floor of the 100 per cent cooperative." And a week later the newspaper announced that Dr. James F. McKernon had purchased a two-story maisonette, with its private entrance and separate address of 835 Fifth Avenue. The retired president of the New York Post-Graduate Medical School, his apartment contained 11 rooms and four baths.
A dramatic rendering graced the pages of a sales brochure in 1931. 834 Fifth Avenue 100% Co-Operative
The building officially opened on October 1, 1931 with the majority of the 20 apartments already sold.
Margaret Haggin would have as her neighbors some of the most recognized surnames in Manhattan society, including Berwind, Burden, DeWitt, Pratt, Reid and Bushnell.
The top three floors were divided into two magnificent triplexes, and both were sold to Hugh B. Baker, who was a banker and stockbroker during construction. The New York Times commented that the "two terrace apartments...meet the requirements of Mr. Baker and his associate." Baker and his wife, Mabel, had only one live-in servant, a nurse.
Two views of the Baker dining room. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
The New York Times later described the Baker apartment saying in part:
A sweeping stairway connected all three levels. The 15th floor was for entertaining, with a 21-by-33-foot living room on the north side and a 19-by-27-foot dining room on the south. The living room had a small conservatory designed by Howard & Frenaye, and the plans for the dining room indicate a niche, perhaps for a fountain or large piece of sculpture.
The Baker living room. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In November 1946 Laurance S. Rockefeller not only purchased the Baker triplex, he bought the entire building. The son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, he had married Mary French 12 years earlier. The couple had three daughters, Laura, Marion and Lucy; and a son, Laurance, Jr.
Resident socialites like Mary Rockefeller often opened their homes for charity events. On April 10, 1959 Helen Miles Rogers Reid hosted the annual Barnard College Thrift Shop Tea in her apartment. She was the widow of Ogden Mills Reid, editor of the New York Herald Tribune, who had died in 1947.
Helen was not merely a wealthy widow. The powerful businessman had worked side-by-side with her husband and upon his death took over as editor of the New-York Tribune. The New York Times later said that she "helped to transform the Herald Tribune into a modern newspaper."
Mary Rockefeller, similarly, hosted benefit events in her home. On May 11, 1962, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Guests at the White Elephant Tea that Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller will give at her home, 834 Fifth Avenue, Tuesday have been asked to donate 'white elephants' to be sold at the annual Brick Presbyterian Church Fair in the autumn."
Mrs. John E. Berwind sits at a French style desk in her living room in 1932. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The population in the Rockefeller triplex increased, at least occasionally, by one in 1961. Laurance's brother, Nelson, was Governor of New York. He and his wife, Mary Todhunter Clark, lived nearby in a 20-room apartment at 810 Fifth Avenue. But things in that household had become so strained that even 20 rooms did not provide enough space between the pair. They separated in the fall of 1961. Ten weeks later, on January 26, 1962, the Press & Sun-Bulletin noted, "The governor...has stayed at the Executive Mansion in Albany and the Manhattan apartment of his brother, Laurance, at 834 Fifth Avenue."
The glass-enclosed penthouse terrace of Elizabeth Arden (Mrs. T. J. Lewis) in 1933. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
Similar domestic problems resulted in a new resident at 834 Fifth Avenue in 1963. Anne and Henry Ford, Jr. had married in 1940, but on August 5 the Daily News reported, "Henry's and Anne's marriage lasted 23 years before they found they couldn't face a 24th." The newspaper said Anne had purchased an apartment at 834 Fifth. "There some of her neighbors will be Elizabeth Arden, Mrs. James P. (Jessie) Donahue, Laurance Rockefeller, and the Frank McMahons."
While the co-op was being painted and decorated, Anne Ford took a suite at the Carlyle Hotel. On November 9, 1963 the Daily News wrote, "The sight of Henry Ford 2d going in and out of the Hotel Carlyle, where his estrange wife, Anne is staying has revived a faint hope in certain quarters that a reconciliation might--just might--be possible. The wise money, however, seems to be against this notion."
The journalist explained that the visits had to do with the division of property. "Henry is reported to have chosen their collection of post-Impressionist paintings and Anne to have taken their marvelous 18th century French furniture, many pieces of which are signed."
Other residents of 834 Fifth Avenue in the 1960's were widows Mary Harkness Flagler Cary and Barbara Adler. And the Mrs. James P. Donahue mentioned in the Daily News article about the Ford breakup was Jessie Woolworth Donahue, the last surviving daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, founder of the chain of variety stores. Mary Harkness Flagler Cary, widow of Malbert Brinckerhoff Cary, was the daughter of Henry M. Flagler, a founder of the Standard Oil Company.
Living in one of the maisonettes in the mid-1970's were Kerryn King, senior vice president of Texaco, Inc., and his wife, the former Shirley L. Maytag. The couple left for Southhampton on December 5, 1976. That evening Shirley's daughter, Carol, stopped by the apartment to pick up some clothes for a trip to London. She discovered the duplex had been broken into and looted of around a quarter of a million dollars worth of jewelry.
Another prominent couple in 834 Fifth Avenue were Richard E. Berlin and his wife, the former Muriel Johnson. Berlin was the head of the Hearst Corporation, having joined the firm in 1932. Perhaps their most celebrated dinner guests here were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with whom they had a close personal relationship. (The Berlins' daughter, Brigid, incidentally, gained fame as a member of the Andy Warhol Factory.)
In 2005 Rupert Murdoch purchased the Rockefeller triplex from the estate for $44 million. The New York Times noted that the top floor contained four bedrooms, "the one at the corner with a fireplace."
But once again domestic problems caused upheaval and in 2013 on November 19, 2013 The New York Times reported, "Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng Murdoch are negotiating the final details of their divorce settlement." Among the items of contention was the co-op at 834 Fifth Avenue.
The sale of the Murdoch apartment only briefly made headlines for its price. In March 2015 New York Jets owner Woody Johnson sold his 11th- and 12th-floor duplex to billionaire Leonard Blavatnik for $77.5 million.
Early in 2016 financier John Gutfreund died and in April his 20-room duplex was placed on the market for $120 million. Disappointingly to his estate, it sold in October 2019 for $53 million.
The 1931 sales brochure had promised potential buyers, "834 Fifth Avenue will prove to be a worthy and lasting landmark." This time realtor boasts proved to be absolutely on target.
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