Thursday, February 10, 2022

The 1833 James Tallmadge, Jr. House - 5 Washington Square North


Between 1790 and 1797 the City purchased 13-acres of land near Greenwich Village as the site of a burying ground and execution site.  The land on the north side of the Square between Fifth Avenue and University Place was part of Captain Robert Richard Randall's 24-acre summer estate.  Upon his death in 1801, he donated that land for the formation of an "Asylum or Marine Hospital to be called the Sailors' Snug Harbor."  The organization was formed; however Randall's family established the hospital and grounds on Staten Island, instead.  The institution wisely retained ownership of the Washington Square land.

In 1831 three prominent businessmen, John Johnston, John Morrison and James Boorman embraced the potential of the Square and planned a row of high-end speculative residences.  To do so, they leased the plots from Sailors' Snug Harbor.  Completed in 1833, the nearly matching mansions were faced in brick and trimmed in marble.  Designed in the rising Greek Revival style, they exuded refinement, wealth and taste.

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Attorney and politician James Tallmadge, Jr. had taken over the leasehold of 5 Washington Square North in 1831, when the project first began.  Born in 1778, his father, Colonel James Tallmadge, had distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War.  James, Jr. served in the War of 1812.  He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1817, and was Lieutenant Governor from 1825 to '26.  Tallmadge moved into the new 27-foot-wide home with his daughter, Mary Rebecca.  His wife and second cousin, Laura Tallmadge, had died in 1824.  Although the couple had had six children, only Mary Rebecca survived.

Tallmadge was instrumental in the formation of New York University and, quite likely, had much to do with its location on Washington Square diagonally from his home.  Luther S. Harris, in his 2003 Around Washington Square, mentions that along with John Johnston, "the other pillar of strength from the Row, General James Tallmadge was [Chancellor John M.] Matthews's most staunch supporter and defender.  Tallmadge, one of the leadership Whigs, had assisted Matthews in organizing the university as was its council president from 1834 to 1846."

James Tallmadge, Jr. from the collection of the New York Public Library

He was, as well, a founding member and president of the American Institute.   He traveled to Europe in that capacity in 1835.  The New York Times reported that he "was received with distinction.  Among the dignitaries by whom he was particularly noticed was the Emperor Nicholas.  The Semi-Weekly Tribune added:

He was received with marked favor at the Court of Russia.  He exerted his influence with the Emperor, with whom he spent a considerable part of his time while there, in introducing American machinery into Russia, and effecting a benefit to his countrymen by procuring a modification of the Russian quarantine laws.

Tallmadge had taken his daughter, Mary Rebecca (described by one newspaper as "a noted beauty") to Europe with him.   They returned to England in 1838 where Mary was received in the court of the newly coronated Queen Victoria.  The Osage Mission Journal reported, "She was presented to, and became a favorite of the Queen, who said one morning in breakfast that she would give her dominions for Miss Talmadge's [sic] beauty."

Although that newspaper mentioned that "several opulent and titled persons sought her hand in vain; she was thoroughly American."  Upon their return to Washington Square, romance bloomed.  Another member of the council of the university was Philip Schuyler Van Rensselaer, the son of General Stephen Van Rensselaer and Cornelia Paterson.  On October 17, 1839, he married the 27-year-old Mary Rebecca Tallmadge.  As a wedding present, James Tallmadge presented Mary with the Tallmadge country estate in Dutchess County.  The newlyweds moved into 5 Washington Square North.

In 1853 the family remained at the country estate past the end of the summer season.  James traveled to the city on business, however, accompanied by James.  The American Institute was preparing plans for the annual fair at Castle Garden, and on September 29 they toured the Crystal Palace.   Philip was the proprietor of the exclusive Metropolitan Hotel, and so rather than open the Washington Square house for a few days, the men stayed at there.

James Tallmadge had previously suffered two strokes--called apoplexy at the time.  After visiting the Crystal Palace, he returned to the hotel at around 3:00 and climbed the four flights of stairs to his room.  The Semi-Weekly Tribune reported, "Feeling an attack of apoplexy coming upon him, he had time only to ring the bell, when he fell to the floor.  The servant upon entering the room in a moment after, found him in a dying condition."  Tallmadge's funeral was held in Grace Church on October 1.

As had been the case with James and Laura Tallmadge, the Van Rensselaers would suffer repeated heartbreak.  Their first child, a daughter, died in childbirth in 1840.  Clinton Franklin, who was born in 1846, died at the age of five; and Franklin died in 1852, just a year after he was born in 1852.  

Their three other children, James Tallmadge, Cornelia Patterson, and Philip Stephen, traveled with their parents to Europe for the winter season of 1857-58.  Tragically, Cornelia contracted what The New York Times described as "nervous typhoid fever" and died in Dresden, Germany on December 30, 1857 at the age of 15.

On June 3, 1871, The Philadelphia Inquirer printed a one line article that read, "Philip S. Van Rensselaer, a prominent and wealthy citizen, died suddenly last evening of apoplexy, in his 65th year."  The following year, on August 3, 1872, Mary died in Albany, New York at the age of 56.  

In October 1894 Robert W. DeForest purchased the leasehold of 5 Washington Square.  The price, $14,500, would equal about $450,000 in today's money.  But if he lived in the house at all, it was a short-lived tenancy.   By the fall of 1896 it was the home of widowed attorney Charles Winthrop Gould, a close friend of DeForest.

Born in 1849, the son of banker and railroad mogul Charles Gould, he had founded the legal firm of Gould & Wilkie in 1892.  Charles's wife, the former Louisa Adele Dickerson, had died in 1883 at the age of 27, just two years after their wedding.

In the summer of 1898, as tensions between Cuba and Spain worsened, President William McKinley called upon Gould.  On August 20, the New-York Tribune reported that he been appointed "to arrange and superintend the evacuation of the island of Cuba."  The newspaper noted, "The appointment is thoroughly non-political, as Mr. Gould has never taken any active part in politics."

In 1899 Charles hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate the dining room.  On September 28, The Evening Telegram wrote, "One of our rich bachelors is Mr. Charles W. Gould--not of the family of the late Jay Gould, but rich, nevertheless.  Mr. Gould has a lovely house, No. 5 Washington Square North.  The article described the remodeling:

His dining room is entirely finished off in Tiffany glass--called Favril--a beautiful iridescent glass invented by Mr. Louis Tiffany.  The ceiling is of this glass, laid out in patterns; the side walls and chandeliers are of the same, and the electric lights have globes of it, which, as they are grouped, give the effect of brilliant flowers.  The entire dinner set, tumblers, wine glasses, finger bowls are all of Favril, and when Mr. Gould gives one of his charming dinners the effect is brilliant in the extreme.

An avid art collector, Charles became a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1915.  That year he became a trustee of the Cooper Union and the secretary of the Society for4 the Relief of Cuban Orphans, which he helped organize, as well. 

Following his retirement from his law practice, he took up the study of biology, intelligence tests, and racial characteristics.   Gould was presumably already a racist, but his studies now resulted in his advocating for the "maintenance of racial purity in America and the inherent supremacy of the Nordic race"--in short, white supremacy.  In 1920, he published America: A Family Matter, described by The New York Times as "a study of racial problems in the United States that emphasized the important of Nordic supremacy."  

On August 4, 1929, The New York Times reported that Gould had retired from the Board of Trustees of Cooper Union "at the age of 80 years because of ill health."  The article listed his achievements in connection with the institution.  Unfortunately for him, his long list of positive accomplishments would be forever tainted by his racist book.  

Gould maintained a residence in Santa Barbara, California.  He was there on March 18, 1931 when he died.  The executor of his estate surrendered the ground lease on 5 Washington Square North to Sailors' Snug Harbor in May 1936.  

Within the year the house became home to Dr. Paul Luttinger.  The physician was highly involved in the Communist Party and wrote a regular column in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker.   A notice in the Socialist Appeal on October 9, 1937 read, "A Gala studio party sponsored by the Village Branch and intended to startle the entire city will occur this Saturday--Oct. 9th--at the home of Dr. Luttinger, 5 Washington Sq. North.  A good time assured."

The house in 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Dr. Luttinger's residency was short.  On July 1, 1940 The New York Times reported (somewhat appropriately, given the home's first owner) that New York University had leased the property as the home of Chancellor Harry Woodburn Chase.  "Alterations are to begin at once," said the article.

Called the William R. Salomon House today, New York University's offices of the faculty of Arts and Science are housed here.  

photographs by the author
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  1. Does the Tiffany glass dining room survive?

    1. I can not find any recent mention of it, and assume it was demolished in renovations.