Monday, January 30, 2023

The Lost Charles W. Clinton House - 39 East 57th Street


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

In 1894 Charles William Clinton partnered with William Hamilton Russell to form the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell.  The 52-year-old Clinton had begun his career in the office of esteemed architect Richard Upjohn and had had been practicing on his own since 1858.  One of his most important commissions was the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.

Twelve years before the architects opened their office, David Frankenberg had purchased the four-story brownstone house at 39 East 57th Street on November 3, 1882.  He was the partner of Benjamin Altman in the B. Altman & Co. drygoods store.  The $55,000 he paid Joseph Morris for the property ($1.5 million in 2023 terms) reflected the upscale tenor of the neighborhood.  On October 21, 1899 the Record & Guide reported that Frankenberg had sold the high-stooped house to "Emily De S., wife of Chas. W. Clinton."  

Among affluent families, it was common for the title of real property to be placed in the wife's name.  Clinton had married Emily de Silver Gorsuch on August 25, 1886.  The couple had two children, Charles Kenneth and Margery Hamilton.  (Sadly, a third child, De Witt, had died in 1896 at the age of three.)

The highly recognized architect and his wife did not intend to move into an architecturally passé brownstone.   On March 16, 1900 Clinton & Russell filed plans for extensive renovations.  One can assume that Charles Clinton took the reins in the design.

With the stoop removed, the bowed facade of the lower three floors extended to the property line.  A stone balcony introduced the two-story mid-section, which was crowned by another stone balustrade.  The fifth floor took the form of a steep, slate-shingled mansard with two pedimented dormers.

When the family moved into the remodeled house, Margery was 14 years old and Charles Kenneth was 12.  The Clintons, like all wealthy New Yorkers, spent their summers away from the city.  On August 12, 1902, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifth-seventh street, and their family are at Black Rock, Conn."

That would change in 1909 when their new summer home, Century, in Tuxedo Park was completed.  As he had done in Manhattan, Clinton completely remodeled an existing structure.  He purchased a shingle style mansion designed by Bruce Price in 1886, and remodeled it as a romantic neo-Tudor fantasy.

Emily entertained regularly, but apparently not lavishly, at both homes.  Newspaper coverage was succinct, as on January 27, 1901 when the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will give a reception at No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street on Wednesday next," and on March 30, 1907 when The New York Times noted, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will entertain with bridge on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 10, at 39 East Fifty-seventh Street."  On February 21, 1904, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton...will not receive on Mondays during Lent."

On December 1, 1910, Charles William Clinton died in the 57th Street house at the age of 72.  In reporting on his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned, "His whole life was devoted to his chosen profession.  Among the best known examples of his work are the Mutual Life Insurance building, the 7th Regiment armory, the Bank of America, Mechanics Bank, and the Continental Insurance Company."

Still in mourning, Emily and her daughter left the 57th Street house for a period.  On June 1, 1911 The Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and Miss Emily [sic] Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street, will leave this city Saturday aboard the Baltic for Europe, where they intend staying until the autumn.  Upon their return in the autumn they will go to Tuxedo."  Charles, who was now 22-years-old and studying at Harvard, remained behind.

Following his graduation in 1912, Charles joined his mother and sister in traveling.  On September 27, 1912, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and her daughter, Miss Margery Clinton, and son, Charles Kenneth Clinton, are closing their house in Tuxedo, and will sail on Oct. 5 on the Carmania, to pass the Winter in Paris."  

Like his father, Charles became a member of exclusive men's social clubs, the Union, Tuxedo and Harvard clubs among them.  On August 10, 1915 the New York Sun reported his engagement to Margery Oakes Rand, the daughter of Mrs. Herbert Ten Broeck Jacquelin Rand.  

Following their marriage, the newlyweds moved into the East 57th Street house.  On March 13, 1917, The Sun wrote, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kenneth Clinton are receiving congratulations on the birth of a daughter recently at their home, 39 East Fifty-seventh street."

With America's entry into World War I, Charles joined the Army, rising to the rank of captain.  Margery did her part by focusing on relief work.  She traveled abroad "where she was a canteen and Red Cross worker," according to the New York Herald.  It was possibly in Europe that she met United States Navy Commander Lamar R. Leahy.

On August 5, 1919, the New York Herald reported that Emily Clinton had announced Margery's and Lamar's engagement.  The article noted that Margery was "well known in society in New York and Tuxedo Park, N. Y., since her debut a few years ago."  The wedding on September 17, 1919, was a military affair.  Charles, in uniform, gave his sister away.  The ushers, too, were all in military uniform.  The New-York Tribune noted, "After their wedding trip Commander Leahy and his bride will live at 449 Park Avenue."

At the time of the wedding, the neighborhood around 39 East 57th Street was no longer one of private mansions, as commercial buildings increasingly engulfed the district.  Even before the ceremony, Emily Clinton signed a lease for an apartment in the Mayfair, the same building where her daughter and new son-in-law would be living.

Five months earlier, Emily had leased the 57th Street mansion to H. A. Van Winsum and J. Weymer, British antiques dealers.  On April 23 The Sun reported, "The building will be altered by installing show windows on the lower floor."

House & Garden magazine, February 1920 (copyright expired)

The upper floors of the former Clinton mansion were leased as upscale apartments.  Lee Maidment Hurd and his wife lived here in November 1922, when they held a reception to introduce their daughter Leona to society.

The ground floor became home to the Albert Du Vannes art gallery in 1924.  The firm, which dealt in Old Masters and modern paintings, also provided authentication services, noting "We identify meritorious paintings and give correct attribution when possible.  Expert restoring, relining, and cleaning of pictures."  

Arts & Decoration magazine, December 1924 (copyright expired)

Although Emily Clinton would survive until 1942, she had transferred title to the 57th Street building to Margery by 1928.  That year Margery leased her childhood home to the 45 East Fifty-seventh Street Company "for a term of sixty-three years," according to the New York Evening Post on December 20.  The article noted that the firm had been purchasing the surrounding properties.

The Clinton mansion, along with the other structures, were demolished to make way for the masterful Art Deco Fuller Building, designed by Walker & Gillette, which took the address of 41 East 57th Street. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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