Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Lewis Spencer Morris House - 47 East 67th Street


image via

In 1878 developer Anderson Fowler completed a row of four four-story brownstone houses at 43 through 49 East 67th Street designed by architect J. H. Valentine.   He sold 47 East 67th Street on November 26, 1879 to  Elias P. Winans and his wife Frances for $26,000, or around $729,000 in 2022.

Winans had been the New-York Tribune's Produce Exchange markets reporter since 1876.  Born in 1813, he was a direct descendent of John Winans, one of the settlers of Elizabeth, New Jersey under an English royal grant.  Frances was a grand-niece of former Mayor Philip Hone.  A long-time journalist, Winans had worked with the Associate Press for three decades prior to joining the New-York Tribune.

Winans began experiencing kidney trouble in 1886, and on July 18 he and Frances went to the White Mountains in hopes of improving his health.  The New-York Tribune reported, "there [he] had a severe attack of pneumonia."  He returned to work on September 2, but five days later he was too sick to leave his bed.  On Sunday, January 30, 1887 the newspaper reported, "He suffered terribly on Friday night and was only relieved by death."

Frances sold 47 East 67th Street in September the following year to Standard Oil executive Richard J. Thompson.  Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1840, he relocated to New York City in 1866, and around 1876 joined John D. Rockefeller's new firm.  He and his wife, Helen, had four children, Henry Soffe, Raymond Boyd, Ethel and Helen.  

In 1892 the Thompsons hired well-known architect John H. Duncan to enlarge the house with an extension to the rear and to make "interior alterations."  The significant work cost them the equivalent of more than $400,000 in 2022.

Richard J. Thompson died in the house on March 25, 1896.  The New York Sun attributed his death to "stomach trouble, from which he had been suffering for a year and a half."

Henry had graduated from Princeton University two years earlier and entered the Standard Oil Company, "for which he travelled extensively abroad," according to the New-York Tribune.   He changed course in 1899 when he partnered with Theodore Starrett to found the Thompson-Starrett construction company.  Raymond, who had graduated from Princeton a year earlier, joined the firm.

Henry married Mabel Potter in the fashionable St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue on April 19, 1900.  The World commented, "Many rich and fashionable people attended the wedding, including Mrs. Russell Sage."  The otherwise perfect evening was tarnished by what the newspaper would call "a tartar."  It started because the bride was concerned that her new husband's "very good friends might follow them from the church in another carriage and with rice, old shoes, and tooting of horns proclaim to all the world: 'Here's a newly married couple,'" said the article.  And so Henry stationed friends, complete in waistcoats, to stand guard.

A block north of the church, 26-year-old John Williams was waiting with other male guests.  As the bridal carriage passed, he noticed a messenger boy on a bicycle close behind, followed by a delivery truck.  Thinking the boy was up to no good, he pounced.  The World said he "yanked the messenger from his wheel; the truck smashed the wheel into bits and narrowly escaped Mr. Williams and the boy."  Williams had taken on more than he could handle.  "It happens that Johnny Kelly, who is sixteen years old, can fight."

Williams, worse the wear, and Kelly were taken to the police station.  After Williams's friends posted bail and promised to buy the boy a new bicycle, everyone went home.  The newlyweds were unaware of the upheaval until reading about it in the morning newspapers.

Henry and Mable moved into the 67th Street house.  The new Mrs. Thompson, Helen and Ethel entertained together (little Helen had not yet been introduced to society).  On December 6, 1901, for instance, The Evening Telegram announced, "Mrs. H. A. Thompson, Mrs. Henry S. Thompson and Miss Ethel Thompson will receive informally on Thursdays in December at their residence."

In June 1903 Henry was appointed Superintendent of Buildings.  He left the Thompson-Starrett firm in 1905 (although it retained his name), and in 1910 he was appointed the Commissioner of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity.  By then the Thompson family was no longer at 47 East 67th Street.

In November 1907 Dr. George E. Brewer had purchased the house.  He resold it six months later, in May 1908, to newlyweds Lewis Spencer Morris and Emily Coster Morris.  The couple was married on April 6, 1907.

An attorney, Morris had a dignified American pedigree.  His ancestor Richard Morris arrived in New York around 1670.  Another ancestor, Lewis Morris III was a signor of the Declaration of Independence.   Emily was the daughter of Charles Henry Coster, a partner of J. P. Morgan.  The young couple's summer home was in Morristown, New Jersey.

While their new townhouse sat squarely within Manhattan's most fashionable district, it was decidedly out of date, architecturally.  The couple hired architect William A. Bates to transform it into a modern, American basement residence.  He removed the stoop, stripped off the brownstone façade, and pulled the front forward to the property line.

On March 6, 1909, the New-York Tribune announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Lewis S. Morris have taken possession of their new house, No. 47 East 67th Street."  Bates had created a neo-Federal mansion worthy of its socially-prominent occupants.  The rusticated limestone base sat below a three-story rounded bay supported by two Doric columns.  The French windows of the second floor sat within round arches.  The openings wore splayed lintels appropriate to the Colonial style.  Behind a stone balustrade, the fifth floor took the form of a slate-shingled mansard, punctured by dormers.

When America entered World War I in 1917, Morris stepped forward.  He attended the National Army's Officer Candidate School in Plattsburgh, New York, and on November 22, the New York Tribune listed him among the newly-commissioned lieutenants.  The following day the newspaper reported that he was one of "the lucky dozen...commissioned into the aviation section of the Signal Officers' Reserve Corps."

Lewis Morris Spencer in uniform.  from War Records of the Knickerbocker Club, 1914-1918 (copyright expired)

Immediately after the end of the war, the Morrises leased 47 East 67th Street.  Their advertisement on September 15, 1918, suggests they never intended to return, offering it "furnished or unfurnished."   A year and a half later, on March 6, 1920, the New-York Tribune reported that Morris had sold the house to Mrs. Herbert McBride for $125,000, or just under $1.7 million in 2022.  (Lewis and Emily Morris would move into their newly built mansion at 116 East 80th Street in 1922.)

Ethel Tod McBride was the widow of Frederick Sheffield McBride, who had died on March 13, 1907.  Both born in Cleveland, they had been married only four years at the time of his death and had two daughters Sarah Tod and Elizabeth.  When the family moved into 47 East 67th Street, Sarah was 16  years old and her sister was 15.

Society columns followed the movements of Ethel and her daughters, reporting that they were at the Wigman Lodge in the Adirondacks for the summer of 1922, for instance.   During the summer of 1925, Ethel leased "the Robb villa in First Neck Lane" in Southampton, as reported by The Evening Post.  Their return to Manhattan at the end of the season that year would be short.  On November 14, The New York Sun announced, "Mrs. Herbert McBride has closed her house at 47 East Sixty-seventh street and will be at the Plaza until November 25, when she will leave on the Belgenland for a trip around the world."

On March 16, 1930 Ethel married Julian Humphreys.  It is unclear how long the family remained at 47 East 67th Street, but on December 1, 1953 the mansion was leased to The American Friends of the Middle East, Inc., which opened it as the Middle East House.  The group's annual report, issued on June 30, 1954 said in part:

The first two floors of the five-story house include an attractive reception hall, a well-equipped kitchen, a lounge well suited for meetings and social affairs, and a large room for the AFME's expanding library...The three remaining floors contain the offices of the organization.

The offices of the Pakistani-American Chamber of Commerce were in the Middle East House, as well.  The former residence was opened to the public for cultural events, such as the one-man exhibition of oils and water colors by Pakistani artist Ajmal Hussain early in 1955.  On January 14, Pakistan Affairs noted that he was "one of the few modern painters seeking a synthesis between the extreme oriental decorative art and occidental expressionism."

image via

Middle East House remained in the space through 1960, after which 47 East 67th Street was converted to medical offices.  Among the tenants were the Mental Health Workshop and the Park Madison Laboratories.  And then, in 1977, real estate operator Robert Little began a project to return the once-lavish home to residential use.  In order to enlarge the rear yard and make it more usable, he removed 28 feet from the rear of the house.  He told a reporter that his aim was "to create fewer apartments rather than as many as possible."   The completed renovation resulted in eight units.  

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

No comments:

Post a Comment