Friday, January 13, 2023

The J. Henry Alexandre House - 35 East 67th Street


In 1881 developer Daniel Hennessy completed construction of a row of three homes at 33 through 37 East 67th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.  Designed by Thom & Wilson, they were clad in brownstone and featured high stoops above English basements.  The center house became home to Joseph Suydam Stout and his family.

At the age of 17 Joseph S. Stout became a clerk in his father's bank, the Shoe and Leather Bank of New York.  In 1868 he left to become a partner in the Wall Street brokerage firm of W. G. Wiley.  Five years before buying the East 67th Street house he organized the firm of Stout & Co.

Joseph Suydam Stout, image from Prominent and Progressive Americans, 1902 (copyright expired)

Stout had married Julia Frances Purdy on April 21, 1868.  The couple had three sons, Newton E., Andrew Varick, and Joseph Jr.  A fourth, Arthur Purdy, would be born in 1885.  

The family would remain here for decades.  Newton was the first to leave.  He married Jane A. Towle on December 15, 1891.  Andrew, who graduated from Columbia in 1893, was a stock broker at the turn of the century; while Joseph Jr. was an electrical engineer.  Young Arthur was still attending the Pomfret School.  He would receive his medical degree in 1912 and become a respected surgical pathologist.

In 1903 the Stouts sold 35 East 67th Street to James Henry Alexandre (who went professionally by his first initial) and his wife, the former Elizabeth Boyce Lawrence.  The Evening Post Record of Real Estate Sales noted, "Mr. Alexandre will remodel the house for his own occupancy."

And remodel he did.  He hired architect Bradford Lee Gilbert to transform the outmoded house from a Victorian dowager to an Edwardian debutante.  Gilbert stripped off the brownstone facade and stoop, lowered the entrance to the former English basement level below sidewalk level, and gave the house a new French personality.

The Beaux Arts design featured an offset portico supported by squared and rounded columns.  The full-height second floor windows were fronted by a lacy iron railing, echoed in the fourth floor balcony.  A massive dormer, capped by an arched pediment, fronted the slate-shingled mansard.

Elizabeth was J. Henry's second wife.  He and his first wife, Gertrude Jerome, had a son, James Jr.  She died on December 23, 1883.  J. Henry married Elizabeth (known familiarly as Lizzie) in 1898.  They had two sons, Frederick Francis, Clarence Dinsmore, and two daughters, Virginia and Mary Elizabeth.

In April 1903, the same year he purchased the 67th Street house, Alexandre purchased a private carriage house at 173 East 73rd Street.  It was close enough to his residence for convenience, but far enough away that the odors and noises were not offensive.

Alexandre was the retired head of the Alexandre Steamship Company, founded by his father, Frederick Francis Alexandre as Alexandre & Sons.  He was a member of the exclusive New York Yacht and Union League clubs.

The family summered on Staten Island on the estate his father had built.  Here J. Henry Alexandre fulfilled his passion for thoroughbred horses.  The New-York Tribune noted in 1906, "Mr. Alexandre was, before his retirement from business, prominent in steamship circles, but he is better known because of his love for horses."  He was a member of the Richmond County Hunt Club, the Richmond County Country Club, and the Coney Island Jockey Club, of which he was a governor.  He was, as well, a director of the Saratoga Race Trace and vice president of the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association.  

On January 3, 1906, just three years after moving into their remodeled home, Elizabeth at the age of 43.  James Henry Alexandre was now tasked with rearing his younger children alone (albeit with considerable help from staff).  

On January 14, 1910 he hosted "a large dinner at Sherry's followed by a theatre party for his debutante daughter, Miss Virginia Alexandre," reported The New York Times.  The number of guests required hired buses to transport them to the theater, after which they returned to Sherry's for a dance.

Four months later, many in society were possibly shocked when, on May 25, 1910 J. Henry Alexandre married Pauline Onativia-Townsend.  The Washington Post said, "While relatives and a few intimate friends had been aware of their betrothal for some time, it was not generally known, and although not unexpected, as it had been rumored for some months, the news surprises many."

J. Henry Alexandre became ill in 1911 and died at the Staten Island home on July 1, 1912 at the age of 64.  Pauline and the unmarried children, J. Henry Jr., Frederick, Virginia, and Mary Elizabeth remained in the East 67th Street house.  The population increased by one following J. Henry's marriage to Anne Loomis on November 29, 1913.

Frederick was married to Bonnie Saportas on June 10, 1916, the same year that J. Henry announced the engagement of his sister, Mary Elizabeth to N. Edward C. Rutter.  Virginia, by now, had moved to Long Island.  In reporting Mary Elizabeth's engagement, The Sun mentioned, "She is passing the summer with her sister, Miss Virginia Alexandre, at Glen Cove."  

The horse racing tradition continued in the family.  On May 3, 1922 the New-York Tribune pictured Anne Alexandre with J. Henry Alexandre 3d and De Witt Alexandre saying, "This picture was taken as they were crossing the highway from the Turf and Field Club to the Belmont Park Terminal."  (copyright expired)

In 1922 J. Henry and Anne converted the East 67th Street residence to a two family home.  Living in one of the duplex apartments in the early 1940's was Louis John Francke, whose summer home was in Glen Head, Long Island.

In 1948 the house was converted to apartments, one each in the basement and second floor, and two each on the third and fourth floors.  One of them was home to actress Audrey Hepburn during her appearance in the play Ondine, which opened at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rogers) on February 18, 1954.  She received a Tony Award for Best Actress for the role.

Other prominent residents were music historian and critic  Irving Kolodin and his wife, the former Irma Levy Zeckendorf, here in the 1960's.  Kolodin, best known for his Guide to Recorded Music, wrote program notes for the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Although they were still designated as apartments, spaces in the house were occupied by two businesses in 1975, the Deitcher Gallery and Books Canada.  In 1887 Vivian Horan opened the Vivian Horan Fine Art gallery on the second floor.  She dealt in 20th century paintings, sculptures and drawings here until relocating in 2008.  From 2010 to about 2019 the Henrique Faria Fine Art gallery operated from the building, and in 2020 the Pretzel Gallery opened.

Much of the 1903 interior details of the Alexandre house have been stripped in favor of the bare walls preferred by art galleries.  Some elements, like mantels and plasterwork, survive in the upper floors.  Unfortunate, large paned replacement windows detract from the Beaux Arts feel of the mansion, but overall its Edwardian dignity survives.

photographs by the author
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