Thursday, March 16, 2023

The 1918 Warren and Helen Thorpe Mansion - 15 East 64th Street


On June 24, 1916, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Helen C. Thorpe had purchased the double-wide house at 13 and 15 East 64th Street from Edith Shepard Fabbri.  Their husbands' names--Warren Parsons Thorpe and Ernesto Fabbri--were not mentioned simply because the titles to real property were most often held in the name of the women within society families.  The Fabbris apparently had owned the 64th Street house merely as an investment.  They were currently erecting an opulent mansion for their use at 7 East 95th Street.

Only a week later, The New York Press reported that the Thorpes had demolished the old house and "commissioned John G. Greenleaf to prepare plans for a five-story American basement brick and stone residence on the site."  The cost of the new mansion was placed at $100,000--more than $2.5 million in 2023.

Warren Thorpe was a stockbroker, and had recently moved his family to New York from Philadelphia.  Helen Prentiss Converse Thorpe, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, was the daughter of Philadelphia millionaire John H. Converse.  He was in ill health and a widower when the couple became engaged in 1905.  While they initially planned to live in New York, Converse bribed them with a high-paying job for Thorpe and a sumptuous mansion to stay in Philadelphia.  Now, following Converse's death in 1910, they had revived their original plans and brought their two children, Theodora and Warren Jr. to live in New York City.

The Thorpes' mansion was not completed until 1918.  Greenleaf produced a dignified limestone-faced house in the neo-French Classic style.  His design drew the eye to the second floor where a shallow balcony was crowned with a deep, arched pediment.  The sedate facade rose to a steep mansard above a stone cornice where copper-pedimented dormers sat behind iron railings.

Born in 1878, Thorpe had graduated from Yale in 1900.  He was a partner in the Wall Street brokerage house of Henderson & Co.  Like all moneyed families, the Thorpes spent the warm months away from the city.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, they chose to lease estates (almost always in Lawrenceville, Long Island) rather than purchase a summer home.

In March 1917, for instance, The Sun reported that the Thorpes had leased the "furnished dwelling" of Marshall C. Lefferts in Lawrenceville, and in 1920 the New-York Tribune announced they had taken Windward, the estate of Mrs. Frederick Tilden Brown for the 1921 summer season.  The article noted it contained "about fifteen acres, with a large modern dwelling and a number of outbuildings overlooking the Atlantic Ocean."  (The family's attachment to Lawrenceville was so strong that Thorpe would later become mayor of the town.)

Theodora was born in 1906, the year her parents married.  Normally young society daughters were not mentioned in print before their debuts.  But on New Year's Eve, 1920, the 14-year-old appeared in the society columns of the New-York Tribune as the hostess of a dinner for debutante Edyth C. Elliman.  (There was no doubt a great deal of discussion about that for weeks ahead of the event.)

Finally it was Theodora's turn in the spotlight.  The first of her debutante entertainments took place on November 1, 1924.  It was a tea given by her aunt, Mary E. Converse at The Lindens, her home in the upscale Rosemont neighborhood of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  Once introduced, young society women often turned their attention to marriage, and Theodora was not an exception.

The following year, on December 17, 1925, The New York Times reported that a telegram from London announced Theodora's engagement to W. Palmer Dixon, "elder son of the Hon. Mrs. Cecil Campbell."  The groom-to-be had attended Eaton before entering Harvard, graduating in 1924.  The article noted, "The wedding will take place in New York in the Spring."  The ceremony was held in St. James Church on Madison Avenue on April 9, 1926.  It was a society affair, followed by a reception in the 64th Street mansion.

It would take Warren Jr., who was six years younger than his sister, longer to find love.  He graduated from Yale University in 1934, and while the Thorpe name repeatedly appeared in society columns for his mother's entertainments and charity involvements, it would not be until June 24, 1941 that The New York Sun reported the 29-year-old's engagement to Elisabeth Searles Greene.  The wedding took place in St. John's Episcopal church in Far Rockaway on September 13 that year.

With their children gone, Warren and Helen Thorpe moved into a suite at 800 Park Avenue and hired architect Louis Weeks to remodel their mansion into apartments and to install an elevator.  An advertisement in 1941 described the "exceptionally fine block," noting the "just completed" apartments featured "huge living rooms," maid and valet service, and optional meals.

Among the initial residents were Monroe Douglas Robinson, a nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had served as an official of the War Finance division of the Treasury Department; and Frances Milne Carleton.  During World War I she had helped organize Red Cross canteens and was in charge of the Red Cross base hospital at Camp Mills, Long Island.  When America entered World War II, she once again helped organize the canteen service.

The affluence of the residents was reflected in a burglary here on November 1, 1954.  Mrs. Ruth Wertheim Lyons Smith returned home that night to find that crooks had stolen $125,000 in jewelry--more than one and a quarter million in today's dollars.  The Long Island Star-Journal noted, "the thieves overlooked another $25,000 worth of gems cached in a valise in a closet."

Living here in the 1970s was George Oppenheimer.  He was drama critic for Newsday, a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a playwright, an author, and an editor.  His first play, Here Today, opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1932, starring Ruth Gordon.  His last play, A Mighty Man Is He, was performed at the Cort Theater in 1960.  Also a publisher, in 1925 he and Harold Guinzburg had founded the Viking Press.

The 31-foot-wide Thorpe mansion was purchased by Edgar Bronfman Jr., the president of Seagram's, on June 9, 1994 for $4.375 million.  He reconverted it to a single-family home.  Bronfman remained here until October 2007, when he sold the mansion to financier and chairman of the Warner Music Group, Leonard Blavatnik, for $52 million.

photographs by the author
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