Monday, March 6, 2023

The Lost Richard Kip Haight House - Fifth Avenue and East 15th Street


The stylish mansard was added in 1870.   from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On December 4, 1847, the New York Herald remarked, "Mr. Haight has nearly completed a splendid mansion, in the rear of which he is erecting a fine picture gallery, in which to display the paintings which he procured while abroad."  The single sentence was a mere hint of the grand residence being constructed.

The architect of the Haight mansion is unclear, although many historians today suggest it was Trench & Snook.  Joseph Alfred Scoville, however, wrote in 1884 that when Haight "built his celebrated palace on the Fifth avenue, corner of Fifteenth street, he designed every portion of it.  So he did with the furniture."  In either case, its Italianate design held its own with the other magnificent mansions rising above 14th Street on the avenue--those of Moses H. Grinnell and Charles Maverick Parker, for instance.  Its relatively unadorned exterior betrayed the lavishness of the interiors, where there were a "winter garden," sumptuous rooms and galleries.

Richard Kip Haight was the son of merchant David L. Haight who had opened a wholesale and retail store in 1815.  He and his younger brother David H. took over their father's business.  Later, in his 1884 Old Merchants of New York, Joseph Alfred Scoville would write of Richard, "It is said, and I suppose with some truth, that his genius, real invention, or creative genius brought money to the house.  He is English clever...He was a handsome fellow, and he knew it.  He frequently went to Europe."

Indeed he did.  Richard Haight spent years at a time abroad, collecting art and absorbing foreign customs.  He was married in 1828 to Sarah Rogers whose ancestors had arrived in Southampton, Long Island in the early 17th century.  The 1898 Records of The Town of Smithtown would recall, "On her frequent trips to Europe she was attended by a retinue like a princess."  Their trips to the Continent, Africa and Asia  in 1836 through 1838 prompted her 1840 book (published anonymously) Letters from the Old World.

So well known were the Haights for their extensive travel, that when they summered at Saratoga Springs in 1843, the New York Herald mentioned, "You recollect [Haight] is pretty well known as our eastern traveller [sic], and may be easily distinguished here from his adoption of sundry eastern manners and customs, especially reclining beneath the trees after the Turkish fashion."

Richard Haight posed in Eastern fashion for his portrait  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

The Fifth Avenue mansion was completed in 1848.  It was filled with costly artwork and exotic souvenirs of their travels.  A visiting English woman, Isabella Lucy Bird, proclaimed it "unquestionably...the most elegantly fitted up" residence in New York City.  It became a social center as Sarah entertained lavishly.

Two stereopticon views of the Haights' conservatory, or "winter garden."  Seen behind the fountain in both photographs is Thomas Crawford's sculpture Flora, commissioned by Haight in Rome.  

Sarah was noted for her beauty, her elegance and her self-indulgence.  In 1843 former mayor Philip Hone commented, "I have taken a liking to this lady.  She is conceited but, in truth, she has much cause to be."  Sarah soon discovered she had a social rival across the street in Cornelia Parker.  In her 1911 book As I Remember, Marian Gouveneur recalled that each woman tried to outdo the other in "hats, feathers [and] gowns...In fact, the far-famed houses of Montague and Capulet could not have maintained more skillful tactics; and all the while the Gothamites looked on and smiled."

Sara Rogers Haight, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Haights had eight children, only four of whom--Lydia Beekman, Richard Randolph, David Lane, and Anna Christina (or "Nina")--would survive to adulthood.  In 1849, a year after the family moved into their new mansion, Lydia was married to William Henry Jones of one of New York's most socially prominent families.  The wedding in Saratoga reflected the social stations of the two families.  Joseph Alfred Scoville would recall, "There were sixteen little misses dressed in white as bridesmaids, all dressed up as fine as silk and jewels could make them."

While in Rome in 1849, Richard K. Haight commissioned artist Thomas Crawford to sculpt a marble statue, Flora.  It arrived in New York in 1853, the same year the magnificent Crystal Palace opened uptown.  Flora would have to wait for its place of honor in the Haight mansion.  On May 14, 1854, the Sunday Dispatch reported on the work of the committee appointed "to procure works of Art from private sources, for the Exhibition," saying that they "are making up a fine collection."  The article noted, "Richard K. Haight, Esq, of 5th Avenue, contributed the beautiful statue of 'flora,' by Crawford."

Visitors to the Crystal Palace exhibition enjoyed Flora before the Haights.  from the collection of The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey

The Haights' eldest son was Richard Randolph, born in 1835.  While the debutante entertainments for society's young women were more widely reported, the comings of age for men were also celebrated.  In 1856 the 21-year-old went abroad.  The Records of the Town of Smithtown reported, "An entertainment on the grandest plan was proposed in anticipation of the coming of age of [Sarah's] eldest son, then on a return voyage from England, but the vessel never came to land and was never heard of afterwards."  The steamer Pacific had sunk without a trace.

Two additional stereopticon views inside the conservatory.  In front of the stained glass window in the lower photograph is a copy of The Three Graces by Antonio Canova.

In 1860, the Haights prepared for an extended trip to Europe.  On October 19, The New York Times remarked:

One of the most elegant mansions in Fifth-avenue, that of Richard K. Haight, Esq., on the corner of Fifteenth street, has for the past two days been converted into a salesroom, and its myriad household goods knocked from their pedestals by the profane hammer of the auctioneer.  The family of its owner being about to spend several years in Europe, the whole contents of the mansion, comprising over 100 paintings, a large collection of statuary, curiosities and articles of vertu without number--the accumulated treasures of years of lavish expenditure--have been remorselessly surrendered to the great Toodles public, and, together with the upholstery [i.e., furniture] of the establishment, knocked off to the highest bidder.

The article explained that the Haights had leased their home "to the New-York Club, who will take possession immediately."

The Haights' cut their European trip short, possibly because of Richard's health.  He died in New York on November 2, 1862 "of congestion of the lungs," according to The New York Times, at the age of 65.  His funeral was held in Grace Church

On April 30, 1868 Nina Haight was married in Naples, Italy to Giustiniano Capece Tomacelli Filomarino, Duke della Torre.  While she now had a titled daughter, Sarah found herself increasingly alone.  Of her eight children, other than Nina, only David Lane Haight was alive.  (Lydia had died in 1866.)  The Records of the Town of Smithtown later recalled, "Her last days were passed under somewhat adverse circumstances, and when sickness laid its hand upon her she found that all of those whom she had so magnificently entertained, and had basked in the sunshine of her prosperity, there was only one who called upon her in her last moments."

Sarah Rogers Haight died on June 30, 1881.  The Fifth Avenue mansion was inherited by David.  It 1870, at the end of the New-York Club's lease, it had been renovated by Stephen D. Hatch, who gave it a stylish mansard and extended it further back along East 15th Street.   Now David moved back in and transformed his childhood home to the Hotel Hanover, a sumptuous "apartment hotel."

Among the wealthy residents were Mrs. Cordlandt Schuyler Van Rensselaer, who lived here by 1891; Laura R. Conkling,  the niece of prominent politician Roscoe Conkling; and the somewhat insufferable John Bloodgood, Jr. and his wife.  Young Bloodgood was the son of a wealthy banker who also lived here with his wife and son Harry. 

Bloodgood was sued for payment for services of Dr. George W. Tuttle in 1895.  On May 10, The Press reported, "Bloodgood appeared in court in a steep linen collar, a pink striped percale shirt, a dark, fancy worsted coat and trousers and a gray kersey vest.  He carried the inevitable oak cane, upon which he settled his black derby hat.  He looked bored."

Asked about his business, Bloodgood said he did not work.  "Who supports you, Mr. Bloodgood?" asked the examiner.

"I live on an allowance from my father.  He allows me $100 a week.  Sometimes I get it by check and at other times in cash," he replied, noting that it was his sole source of income.

His rent at the Hanover, he said, was $75 per week (a significant $2,500 by 2023 terms).  "The remaining $25 out of  my weekly allowance I expended for clothes, carfare and things of that kind.  Naturally, one has current expenses every day."

The top floor held the rooms of the hotel staff.  On the afternoon of March 16, 1898, a fire started on that floor.  The New York Times reported, "it is thought that one of the maids carelessly threw a burning match into a closet near an airshaft and ignited some waste paper."  Within minutes smoke was carried down the airshaft to the lower floors, alerting the residents.  Firefighters arrived quickly, but the flames had spread and a second and third alarm were sent in.  In the meantime, the well-to-do residents scrambled to escape, grabbing what valuables they could.

Ellen Reynolds, who lived on the fourth floor, was an invalid.  She tried to get to her door and "was on the verge of collapse," according to The New York Times, when a policeman found her and carried her out.  Once safe, she panicked over the $10,000 in diamonds and $1,000 in cash left in her suite (a combined value of about $371,000 in 2023).  She offered the policeman $100 to retrieve them.  He and her maid started back, but they were turned away by the thick smoke.

Another woman, Mrs. Edward Kirkland, had just undergone an operation and was bedridden.  A policeman and fireman carried her downstairs and to safety.  The New York Times noted that among the residents "are many well-known society people."  The article mentioned Alan Arthur, son of the former President Chester A. Arthur; Countess Naseli; "Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Hamsersley, cousins of Lady Beresford, formerly the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough;" Margaret Wilmerding; Laura Conking," and others.

The top floors of the former mansion were consumed.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Firefighters battled the fire for three hours.  The New York Times said, "Most of the damage...was sustained by those occupying apartments in the old part of the building, where hardly a single thing was left dry."  The article said "valuable antique furniture, paintings, and bric-a-brac to the value of many thousands of dollars, were badly damaged by the floods of water that were thrown on the building."  

Among those suffering the greatest losses was Mrs. John Bloodgood and her son, Harry.  According to him several valuable paintings which he estimated to be worth  "considerably over $50,000" were water damaged, "but all their furniture, including some costly antiques, was almost totally ruined."  The New York Times said the damage to the building was estimated at $10,000, "although the fine hand frescoes in the old Haight Mansion, which were destroyed, are said to have cost that much in themselves."

The Hotel Hanover was repaired.  An advertisement in August 1901 offered, "Apartments to rent by the year, furnished or unfurnished.  Two to six rooms, with bath.  Table, American plan."  (The American Plan meant that meals were included in the rent.)

Living here at the time were Prince Paolo Petrovich Troubletskoy and Princess Troubetskoy.  Son of the Russian diplomat Prince Peter Petrovich Troubetzkoy, Paolo was an artist and sculptor and maintained a studio on East 31st Street.  George Bernard Shaw described him as "the most astonishing sculptor of modern times."

On April 6, 1902, The New York Press reported, "Prince and Princess Troubetskoi [sic] have returned to town from Tuxedo and are in their home, at No. 2 East Fifteenth street."  The article mentioned that the following month Troubetskoy would to "to London to paint the portrait of a member of the royal family."

The venerable structure was demolished in 1905 to make way for a loft designed by Charles Volz, which survives.

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