Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The R. Horace Gallatin House - 36 East 75th Street


Born in Baden, Germany, Jonas Weil arrived in New York City in 1860 and, initially, engaged in the live stock business.  He then turned to Manhattan real estate, establishing the firm of Weil & Mayer.  By the last decade of the 19th century he had amassed a fortune.  He and his wife, Therese, had four children, Benjamin, Louis V., Sarah and Bella.

In March 1892, architect George F. Pelham filed plans for the family's new 25-foot-wide home at 36 East 75th Street.  The construction cost of the four-story, high-stooped house, just over $1 million in today's money, reflected the high-tone character of the developing area a block east of Central Park.

Weil downplayed his involvement in Jewish philanthropies, most often keeping his gifts private.  He contributed, for instance, $10,000 cash towards the founding of Lebanon Hospital and donated a plot of land valued at $$15,000 as the site of its training school for nurses.  He erected Zichron Ephraim Temple on East 67th Street to commemorate his father, Ephraim Weil; founded and was president of Mount Zion Cemetery; was a founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropic Societies.  He would eventually give away the equivalent of $20 million today, not including bequests left in his will.

The 75th Street house was well-populated.  Living with their parents after the turn of the century were Benjamin and Lewis, as well as Sarah and her husband, the Rev. Dr. Bernard Drachman (rabbi of Zichron Ephraim), and the Drachmans' daughter Madelaine.

In February 1911, Weil sold 36 East 75th Street to Gherardi Davis.  The Real Estate Record & Guide pointed out that the house had been listed at $120,000--more than $3.3 million today.  An attorney, author and politician, Davis had served in the New York State Assembly from 1899 through 1903, when he was appointed Third Deputy New York City Police Commissioner.

It appears that Davis and his wife, the former Alice King, never intended to live in the house.  Instead, they immediately leased it to Dr. Joseph A. Blake as a home for his wife, Catharine Ketchum Blake.  Things were not going well within the Blake household.

The couple had been married on December 17, 1890 and lived happily, according to Catharine, for four years.  Trouble began when Blake, a well respected surgeon, became the personal physician of millionaire Charles H. Mackay.  Blake operated on Mackay twice, and his close contact with the couple resulted in an illicit romance developing between the doctor and Katherine Duer Mackay, a well-known socialite and suffragist.

Now, Catharine Blake was forced out of her home on Madison Avenue with her sons, 19-year old Joseph, Jr., and 9-year old Francis H.  According to her, when she moved into 36 East 75th Street, "it was on the assurance that her allowance was to continued to be $1,000 per month."  That amount would translate to more than $335,000 per year today.  It eventually became an obligation her husband was unwilling to honor.  He first reduced her monthly allowance "against her protest" to $600, and then in July 1913 stopped payment altogether.

Catharine took Joseph to court in October 13 where she aired the deliciously dirty details of the situation.  She sued for separation, asking for an allowance of $1,500 per month as temporary alimony, as well as $3,000 to cover the bills she had incurred since he cut her off.  She charged her husband with "coldness and indifference" and "at times with harshness."  Separately she sued Katharine Mackay for $1 million "for the alienation of her husband's affections."

The untidy and public situation resulted in the Mackays divorcing in February 1914, and in Katharine Duer Mackay giving up her American citizenship and custody of their three children, and moving permanently to Paris.  A month later, Dr. Blake sailed for Europe.  "Before leaving New York he withdrew from many clubs and hospitals, and it was believed that he had no intention of returning to this country, except for occasional business trips," said The New York Times.

The Blake divorce was granted on November 27, 1914.  The following day Dr. Blake and Katharine Mackay were married in Paris.

The Davises sold 36 East 75th Street three months later, on March 26, 1915, to Rolaz Horace Gallatin and his wife, the former Emily Lorillard Morris.  On June 4 that year, The Sun reported: 

R. Horace Gallatin is to have his residence at 36 East Seventy-fifth street extensively altered.  Plans for the changes filed yesterday called for the building of a new façade, of the American basement type, installing of an automobile elevator and a number of fireplaces and a three story extension to the rear of the house, which is four stories high.

The changes, designed by architect F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr. would do away with the stoop and give the outdated residence a striking neo-Georgian make-over.  The massive renovations would cost the Gallatins the equivalent of just under $800,000 in today's money.

The scope of the ongoing gut renovation is evident in this photograph.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The resultant patrician residence, completed before the year's end, was clad in red brick with contrasting limestone trim.  The centered entrance sat below the balcony of the second floor, or piano nobile, its stately window graced with a swan's neck pediment and stylized pineapple--the symbol of hospitality.  The openings wore layered, splayed keystones, while a solid brick parapet partially disguised the fifth floor.

The childless couple came from old, prestigious families.  Gallatin was the great-grandson of Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury from 1802 through 1814, and of Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Emily descended from the socially eminent Lorillard and Morris families, her grandfather being Lewis Gouveneur Morris of Morrisania.

The solid shutters, intact until recently, added to the Georgian flavor of the residence.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Although Gallatin had studied law at the New York Law School and was a member of the bar, he never practiced professionally.  Instead, he sat on the boards of several hospitals and firms, and was a member of multiple social clubs like the Knickerbocker, Tuxedo and Regency Clubs.  Living with him and Emily were five servants: the cook, a chambermaid, Emily's personal maid, a footman (who no doubt doubled as valet), and a "kitchen maid."  

The couple's Newport estate had been built by Edmund Schermerhorn, first cousin to Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, in 1860.  They purchased it in 1911 and Emily renamed it Chepstow, the town in Wales from which the Morris family came.

photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel

R. Horace Gallatin was a trustee, treasurer and vice-president of the New York Historical Society.  He and Emily filled 36 East 75th Street with an impressive art collection.  Among the works that hung on its walls were Théodore Rousseau's Landscape with Boatman, John-François Millet's The Bather, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's River View, sketches by John Singer Sargent, five by Rembrandt van Rijn, and numerous works by Albrecht Durer.

Charles-Francois Daubigny's 1865 Washerwomen at the Oise River near Valmondois was among the artworks displayed in the 75th Street house.  from the collection of the National Gallery of Art

On May 18, 1942 The New York Sun reported, "After rounding out twenty-six years of occupancy, R. H. Gallatin has sold his five-story American basement house at 36 East 75th the 36 East 75th Street Corporation."  The article noted that architect Alfred A. Tearle had already submitted plans "to convert the dwelling to apartments."

The renovations resulted in a duplex in the first and second floors, and two apartments each on the upper stories.  The house had a brush with another renovation in 1970.  On September 26 that year the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that the Museum of American Folk Art "has set its sights on a permanent home."  The article explained, "A building already has been located, a former town house at 36 East 75th Street, within a few steps of the Whitney Museum of American Art."  The museum had allotted $650,00 for the purchase of the building and $200,000 to renovate it.  But the plans never came to fruition.

Instead, the lower floors became home to the Xavier Fourcade Gallery, where masterful pieces by artists like Le Corbusier, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell were exhibited and sold for years.  Following Fourcade's death in 1987, the space became home to Geneva-based fine art auctioneers Habsburg, Feldman, Inc.

A renovation completed in 1996 returned 36 East 75th Street to a single-family home.  

photos by the author
many thanks to NYC Sights Sounds for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to


  1. I've always liked this house. Fascinating research, and I'm gobsmacked by the renovation photo you unearthed.
    In other news, the Blakes didn't remain long in Paris exile. By the early 20's Katherine they had a country house in Irvington, and Katherine had"Islescote," the 35 room former Schieffelin cottage on the George Vanderbilt estate at Bar Harbor, purchased from Vanderbilt's widow. And not long after that, Dr. Blake had moved on to his next wife, his former nurse. He doesn't come across as much of a catch.

  2. Residence of the Russian ambassador to the UN right?

    1. Reportedly the Consul lives here; however the absence of a Russian flag makes me wonder.