Saturday, January 7, 2023

The William M. Fleitmann Mansion - 32 East 67th Street


Real estate developers Breen & Mason completed a row of six high-stooped brownstone homes on the south side of 67th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues in 1878.  Designed by the prolific architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine, they rose four stories above the high English basement.  

No. 32 East 67th Street was sold to Salomon Bondy.  He and his wife, the former Amalia Lederer, had five children, Maurice, William, Arthur, Florence and Agnes.  Bondy was a partner in Kaufmann Brothers & Bondy, which he and Leopold Kaufmann had founded in 1851 to import smoking pipes.

Maurice S. Bondy was married by 1889 and entered his father's firm.  His younger brother, William, who would never marry, graduated from Columbia University in 1890, earning a masters degree the following year, and a Ph.D. in 1892.  In 1893 he began his law practice and would go on to become a Senior Judge of the United States District Court.

Florence was married in the Red Room of Delmonico's on March 31, 1897.  It would be the last marriage of a family member while they lived in the East 67th Street house.  In 1901, not long before his death, Salomon Bondy leased it to Charles W. Haskins.

On May 24, 1908, the New-York Tribune reported that the Bondy family had hired architect William W. Knowles to remodel 32 East 67th Street.  His plans called "for enlarging the four story house...and making it over into an American basement dwelling house, with four stories and a mansard, with a facade of brick and Indiana limestone."  The article called the proposed style "of the French Renaissance."

Completed before the end of the year, Knowles's design is known today as neo-French Classic.  With the stoop removed, Knowles pulled the front forward to the property line, increasing the interior square footage.  Two stone bandcourses defined the two-story midsection, where the French windows of the second floor wore Renaissance-inspired pediments.  Three copper clad dormers pierced the slate shingled mansard.  The New-York Tribune reported that the interior was "redecorated in cabinet trim" and boasted an elevator.

Before the renovations had begun, the Bondy estate had signed a lease with William Mendicott Fleitmann, suggesting that he proposed the updating.  Fleitmann and his wife, the former Lida Heintze, had two children named after themselves, William and Lida.  Their summer estate was in Southampton, Long Island.

Fleitmann's affluence was reflected in his ownership of Golden Rod, a blue ribbon winner in the New York and Bar Harbor horse shows.  Following the summer social season of 1910, Fleitmann purchased a mate for the thoroughbred.  On the evening of November 9, the pair was harnessed to the Fleitmann's carriage and the family's coachman, John Davis, was returning them to the stables on East 65th Street.

The New York Times reported, "As he turned them into East Seventy-fifth Street from Park Avenue, Golden Rod bolted, dragging his mate, and soon both were galloping eastward, until at Third Avenue they ran into the truck of Theodore Sour."  Golden Rod fell dead to the pavement, his neck broken.

The winter of 1913-14 was remarkable in the Fleitmann household because it was young Lida's debutante season.  On December 5, 1913 The New York Times reported, "Mrs. William M. Fleitmann gave a luncheon yesterday at her home...for her debutante daughter, Miss Lida Louise Fleitmann.  The guests sat at a round table which was decorated with pink carnations."  Three weeks later, on December 31, the New York Herald reported, "On board the Campania, bound for Liverpool...was Miss Lida Louise Fleitmann and her mother, Mrs. William M. Fleitmann, of No. 32 East sixty-seventh street, who are going to England for the winter.  Miss Fleitmann will follow the hounds at Melton Mowbray."

Lida was already well-known for her horsemanship.  In reporting that the family had returned from Southampton on September 8, 1914, The New York Press mentioned, "Miss Fleitmann will be one of the largest exhibitors at the coming Piping Rock Horse Show."

Lida Louise Fleitmann in equestrian attire, The New York Press, September 8, 1914 (copyright expired)

The following season the family received a serious scare.  On October 2, 1915, The New York Times reported, "Miss Lida Louise Fleitmann, one of the best known women riders in the Long Island hunting set, suffered a double fracture of the right leg yesterday afternoon when she was crushed by her lightweight hunter, Cygnet, which slipped and fell while competing."  Lida was negotiating a "muddy and extremely slippery" obstacle course when the horse slipped and fell on top of her.  The New York Times remarked that she "was fortunate in escaping with only a broken leg and minor bruises, as her fall was a bad one."  On October 31, 1915 The Sun reported, "Despite her misfortune she received the Burling Cocks memorial cup, awarded each year to the woman displaying the best horsemanship in the saddle class."

In the meantime, the 67th Street house had been the scene of a high-profile funeral the previous year.  Lida Heinze Fleitmann's brother, Frederick Augustus Heinze, died in November 1914.  On November 8, The New York Times reported on his funeral here, noting "A number of Mr. Heinze's Wall Street and Montana friends attended the funeral."

A bigger-than-life figure, F. Augustus Heinze had inherited $50,000 from their father in 1881 and gone West to invest in mining.  When he returned to New York City in 1907, he had a fortune of $25 million (nearly $745 million in 2022 terms).  But his financial ambitions soon got him in trouble.  He and Arthur Heinze joined in their brother Otto's scheme to purchase all the stock of F. Augustus's United Copper, so the price would soar, making them greater fortunes.  The failed strategy resulted in the collapse of United Copper and a run on the banks.  The Panic of 1907, one of the most significant financial crises in American history, ensued.

F,. Augustus Heinze, The Technical World, September 1904 (copyright expired)

Lida was named executrix of her brother's estate.  As she combed through his papers in an attempt to find a will, she discovered several envelopes addressed to her.  She told a reporter from The New York Times on November 7, 1914 about one of them.  "The directions on the envelope indicate that this letter contains instructions to me for the care and education of his infant son, F. Augustus Heinze, Jr.  We expect to examine these papers on Monday."  (Heinze had been briefly married, and a son was born in 1911.  The boy's mother, actress Bernice Golden Henderson, died in 1913.)

The Fleitmanns took in the little boy, whom they called Fritzie.  Two years later, on November 1, 1916, The Evening Telegram reported that he "has become the legal son of Mrs. William M. Fleitmann, his aunt."

The younger William joined the United States Navy Flying Corps with the outbreak of World War I.  Despite the ongoing conflict, his engagement to Alice Ely Chambers was announced at Southampton during the summer of 1917.  Their wedding in the Marble Collegiate Church on November 24, 1918 was a decidedly military ceremony.  The couple left the altar not to a wedding march, but to "The Star Spangled Banner" under "the arched swords of the ushers."  The American anthem was followed by the French national anthem, the "Marseillaise."  The New York Herald noted, "To complete the sequence of national anthems of the Allies the organist then played 'God Save the King,' while all stood at attention."

The Fleitmann family left East 67th Street shortly after William's wedding.  On June 10, 1919, the New-York Tribune reported that William Bondy had leased the house to Edwin Muhlenberg Bulkley.

Bulkley, came from an old, established family, his first American ancestor having arrived in New England in 1634.  He was a partner in the banking firm of Spencer Trask & Co.  He and his wife, the former Lucy Warren Kidder, had four children, Katherine, Lucy Kidder, Edward, Jr. and Harold.

Edwin M. Bulkley, Universities and Their Sons, 1901 (copyright expired)

Katherine and Lucy had received privileged educations at the Porter School in Farmington Connecticut.  Since they had already been introduced to society when the family moved in, they were entitled to entertain.  On April 15, 1920, The Sun reported that Katherine "will give a dinner and theatre party" for the bridal party of engaged friends Eleanor Rockhill and Loren F. Collins.  

After having owned 32 East 67th Street since its erection in 1878, the Bondy family sold it in May 1922 to Richard Farnsworth Hoyt and his wife, the former Kathryn Stone.  The couple had four children, Eleanor, Virginia, Constance and Galen Stone.  Their country home, the Anchorage, was at Marion, Massachusetts.  Hoyt was a partner in the brokerage firm of Hayden, Stone & Co. and a director in several others.  He had served at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio during World War I.  His love of airplanes was reflected in his owning and flying his own craft, and becoming a director in the Wright Aeronautical Corporation.

On August 30, 1924 Richard Hoyt nearly lost his life.  He was flying a seaplane from Manhattan to the summer home when it caught fire over Block Island Sound.   He ditched the plane into the water, then realized one of the pontoons had sprung a leak and was sinking.  The Knickerbocker Press wrote, "Threatened first by fire and then by drowning," he had "narrowly escaped death."  "The arrival of the Block Island steamer, May Archer, brought relief.  The plane was lost."

In 1930 the Hoyts completed construction on a new mansion at 44 East 71st Street.  They sold 32 East 67th Street "to Lady Laura Anne Allom and daughters of Totteridge, Herts, England," as reported by The New York Sun on May 13.  In 1933, Lady Allom converted the house to offices for White Allom, interior decorators and importers of furniture and accessories.  On September 28, 1937, French couturier Marcel Rochas opened his New York branch here.  It was managed by Guy Guérin de Font-Joyeuse and its high society patrons were expected to speak only French with the staff.

The shop had not been opened long before it garnered the attention of Customs officials.  On December 27, 1937, The Sun reported that "fifteen salesgirls and dress models were witnesses before the Federal Grand the investigation of smuggling charges lodged against the exclusive Parisian dress shop of Marcel Rochas, Inc., 32 East Sixty-seventh street."  Raiding officers had seized 68 gowns, furs and "other finery" valued at $20,000 and confiscated the books and records.  Guy Guérin de Font-Joyeuse was arrested at the passenger pier as he attempted to board the Europa headed for France.

The female employees had traveled to Paris and brought back one-of-a-kind fashions, declaring that they were their personal items.  During the trial, on June 1, 1918, the prosecution charged that the shop had avoided paying import duties of $25,000--more than $480,000 in 2023.  Ten days later Guy Guérin de Font-Joyeuse was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay a $500 fine.  The New York Sun noted, "Marcel Rochas, head of the corporation, is also a defendant in the case, but he is in Paris and cannot be extradited."

It was possibly the scandal that resulted in the sale of 32 East 67th Street.  In August 1938 nose and throat specialist Dr. Simon L. Ruskin and his wife, Frances Reder, purchased the mansion and reconverted it to a private residence with a doctor's office on the ground floor.

By the end of World War II, Ruskin had broadened his field to chemical research.  The New York Times reported, "during the war the British Government utilized some of his discoveries in the field of plastic armor."  In 1946 the United States Congress House Committee on Foreign Affairs listed Ruskin as a "world's cancer expert."

The Ruskins' daughter, Carol, had graduated from Barnard College and was now enrolled in the Columbia Law School.  There she met Jean-Pierre Farhi, whose home was in Paris.  The war had forced him to leave Columbia to serve in the French Army.  On September 23, 1945, The New York Times reported that the two were engaged, noting that Farhi "expects to continue his studies [at Columbia University] after completion of his service in the French Army."

A renovation completed in 1977 resulted in an antique store, Didier Aaron, on the first through third floors and a duplex apartment above.  On November 17, The New York Times reported on the gallery's opening.  "Mr. Aaron and his sons, Hervé, who will head the New York galleries, and Olivier, who is in charge of the paintings department in Paris, welcomed royalty, the Rothschilds, and socially prominent New Yorkers to his five-story gallery at 32 East 67th Street Tuesday night.  What they found in that turn-of-the-century town house is a mini-chateau, furnished with ormolu-encrusted commodes, curvaceous clocks, marble-topped consoles and lacquered and inlaid desks."

Didier Aaron remains at the address, sharing it today with the Hammer and Ippodo Galleries.  Other than the noticeable ground floor renovations to accommodate show windows and the commercial style doors, the mansion looks much as it did following the major remodeling of 1908.

photographs by the author
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