Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Benno Neuberger House - 55 East 74th Street


In 1898 the prolific real estate developer Jeremiah C. Lyons began construction on a row of eight five-story dwellings on East 74th Street between Park and Madison Avenues.  His architects, Buchman & Deisler, design them in two balanced groupings of four--A-B-B-A and C-B-B-C.  Among the C models was 55 East 74th, a dignified neo-Renaissance style residence faced in limestone.

Above a short stoop, the entrance sat within a handsome portico upheld by Scamozzi columns.  The pierced balcony railing at the second floor flowed into the continuous balustrade along the row.  An arched, cartouche-filled pediment sat above the center door at this level.  The bowed facade ended at the third floor, providing a stone railed balcony to the fourth.

Construction would be completed in spring of 1899, but Benno Neuberger did not wait that long.  On February 9, 1899 The Sun reported that he had purchased 55 East 74th Street "in course of construction."

Neuberger was born in Bremen, Germany in 1866 and came to New York in 1881.  He was the senior member of the tobacco firm of E. Rosenwald & Brother.  Highly involved with Jewish charities, he was the president of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, as well.  He and his wife, the former Stella Mayer, had two children, Florence Edna and Harry Hobson.  Moving in with the family was Stella's widowed mother, Fredricka Mayer.

Like their neighbors, the Neubergers filled the house with costly furnishings and decorations.  An inventory listed "an Aubusson tapestry suite of five pieces," an Aubusson tapestry fire screen, and Eduardo Leon Garrido's modern painting The Masque Ball, appraised at $8,000 by today's conversion.  Neuberger's German roots may have prompted him to buy a Benz automobile rather than an American-made vehicle.  It cost him $2,000, the equivalent of $53,400 in today's money.

from Empire State Notables, 1914 (copyright expired)

On January 4, 1911 Fredericka Mayer died at the age of 70.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room the following day.  That summer the family sailed for Germany, where Florence first met Ehrich Hecht, a well-to-do young agent for a Berlin exporting firm.  A romance was sparked.

The family was back in Germany in 1914.  Benno Neuberger was ill and sought "the cure" in Konigstein.  Not surprisingly, it seems that Ehrich Hecht was a regular caller on Florence.  But the trip ended tragically, with Neuberger dying of pneumonia there on July 6, 1914 at the age of 48.  He left an estate valued at $1,357,982--or about $36.3 million today.

The funeral and burial was held in Germany.  The family narrowly escaped being trapped abroad when, less than two weeks later on July 28, World War I erupted.  

Once back home, Harry joined the Tenth Field Artillery to fight against the country his father had so dearly loved.  He was sent to the French front in 1918 where he would receive what the New York Herald called, "his baptism of fire at Chateau-Thierry."  Harry performed valiantly during the harrowing battle.  The New York Herald reported, "He continued to assist in the evacuation of the wounded even after being gassed," and noted grimly, "Of his regiment only three more men are left.  All the others were either killed, wounded or detached."

New York Herald, February 25, 1919 (copyright expired)

On February 24, 1919 Harry was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism overseas.

Just months after peace was declared, Florence resumed her romance with Ehrich.  Anti-German sentiments still ran high in America, a fact that, perhaps, resulted in their marriage being quietly held in the East 74th Street house on October 25, 1919.  The New York Times commented that the groom was "said to be the first German subject to arrive here since the war."  The article noted, "Mr. Hecht was employed in the German War Office during the hostilities, but it was said that he intends becoming an American citizen if permitted to do so."

In April 1920, Harry Neuberger sold the house to the Stevenson C. Scott family.  Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1864, Scott was the son of a portrait painter.  He came to the United States in 1893, and was now a respected art critic and the president of Scott & Fowles, art dealers.  He was an authority on 18th century English painting and, according to The Saratogian, "possessed a comprehensive knowledge of modern and classical art."

He and his wife, the former Marie Power, had one daughter, Marie.   The family was followed by the society columns as they sailed to Europe, or summered in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Understandably, the home of the man who sold paintings to wealthy collectors and institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art filled his home with valuable artwork.  In 1939 he traveled to London where he created "a mild sensation" in art circles, according to The Saratogian, "when he paid $30,000 at Christies for Whistler's famous painting, At the Piano."  It was the highest price ever paid for a Whistler at the time.

Scott paid the equivalent of $560,000 in today's money for At the Piano.  from the collection of The Taft Museum, Cincinnati.

In January 1945, Stevenson Scott injured his hip when he suffered a fall in the East 74th Street house.  The family went to the fashionable Gideon Putnam resort in Saratoga Springs for his convalescence.   He died there nine months later, on October 8 at the age of 81.

The East 74th Street house was soon purchased by Dr. Otto  Burchard and his wife Berta.  The couple remained here until selling it in December 1951.  The New York Times noted that the buyer intended to remodel it into "apartments of four rooms each."  That plan was never carried through.

At the time, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was living at 211 East 62nd Street.  She had met Dr. David Gurewitsch in 1944 and the two became extremely close, platonic friends, often traveling together.  When Gurewitsch married Edna Perkel in 1958, the deep friendship increased by one.  According to Shannon Butler in her Roosevelt Homes of the Hudson Valley: Hyde Park and Beyond, Eleanor "soon treated Edna as an additional companion, and they traveled all over the world and formed a tight bond of friendship."

Dr. David Gurewitsch and Eleanor Roosevelt outside the Kremlin.  from the Everett Collection

Butler explains, "It was Edna who mentioned the possibility of the three sharing a townhouse together that would give Eleanor more room to work and David space to see patients."  In 1959 the three purchased 55 East 74th Street, with Eleanor taking the lower three floors and the Gurewitsches living on the top two.  While they lived separately, the Gurewitsches would often dine with Eleanor.

Living with a diplomat had its challenges.   According to The Wall Street Journal writer Katherine Clarke, "One day in 1960, Edna Gurewitsch got a call from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting she get to their shared townhome early: Soviet statesman Nikita Khruschev, in town to address the U.N. General Assembly, was swinging by."

Less than three years after moving in, Eleanor Roosevelt went to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center on September 26, 1962 for what the public was told was "a routine checkup."  But, the Utica Press later noted, "Actually she had suffered a lung infection and anemia.  When her illness failed to yield [to] hospital treatment, she was discharged to her Manhattan apartment at 55 East 74th Street on October 18."

The modestly furnished room in which Eleanor Roosevelt died.  from the collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum

The First Lady "gradually faded," according to the article, until she died at 6:15 on the evening of November 6, 1962.

In 1964 an auction of Eleanor Roosevelt's personal items was held at Hammer Galleries.  The New York Times reported, "The collection comes from Mrs. Roosevelt's residences at 55 East 74th Street and the Val-Kill Cottage on the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park, N.Y."  While many of the items were valuable antiques, like the 1750 George III melon-shaped silver pitcher, and the American Sheraton-style mahogany breakfront, a surprising number of the First Lady's furnishings were modest.  The New York Times diplomatically said, "In every case, though the furniture in the collection may have what is known as age, the articles are not period pieces."

David Gurewitsch died in 1974 and by 1976 Edna was operating the Gurewitsch Gallery from the house.  In April that year she staged an exhibition of sculptures by George Rickey here. 

She remained at 55 East 74th Street until 1999, when she sold it to Credit Suisse executive Vikram Gandhi and his wife, Meera, the founder of the Giving Back Foundation.   The nonprofit raises funds for education and to fight global poverty.  Through her works, Meera Gandhi, like Eleanor Roosevelt, would host prominent guests like Hillary Clinton in the house.  In 2000, the Gandhis made major renovations to the interior, eliminating Buchman & Deisler's 1899 architectural elements.

In the fall of 2021, with her children grown, Meera Gandhi sold 55 East 74th Street for $13.5 million.  In reporting the sale,
The New York Times noted, "It has around 8,500 square feet of interior space and features terraces on the roof and fifth floor and a rear garden.  There are also six bedrooms, five full bathrooms and two half baths."

photograph by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to


  1. Doug Floor Plan
    Here is the Realtor listing for 55 East 74th Street. The banister is pretty much the only remaining 1899 architectural feature. The house now is almost all white ceilings, white walls, and often white floors. It looks like the inside of a refrigerator.

  2. In 1939 he travelled to London where he created a mild sensation in art circles when he paid a fortune at Christies for Whistler's famous painting, At the Piano. It is a very fine painting, so I wonder why the Brits let it go.