Saturday, May 20, 2023

The 1926 1 Sutton Place South


photo by Justin Weiner, BWArchitects

In 1920 a startling project was begun that transformed 18 vintage brownstones on Sutton Place between 57th and 58th Street into an exclusive residential enclave around a common garden.  The quarter, previously deemed by The New York Times to be a slum, was suddenly populated by millionaires like Anne Harriman Vanderbilt, W. Seward Webb Jr., and Elisabeth Marbury.

In 1925 Henry Phipps Jr., whose father was a partner of Andrew Carnegie, bought up the block to the south of Sutton Place, from 56th to 57th Street, and commissioned the architectural firm of Cross & Cross, along with Rosario Candela, to design a high-end apartment building that would loosely follow the plan of the Sutton Place mansions--a U-shaped residential structure that embraced common manicured lawns overlooking the river.  

Faced in brown brick and trimmed in limestone, the dignified, 14-story building was intended for wealthy residents.  On the lower part of the garden was a tennis court and private dock for yachts.  A recessed porte cochere allowed automobiles to deposit their passengers directly at the entrance door, protected from weather and prying eyes.

photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the New York Public Library

There were 32 apartments of 12 or 13 rooms, including several duplexes, plus the massive penthouse apartment of the Frederick Guests.  The British-born Guest, a cousin of Winston Churchill, was married to Henry Phipps's daughter, Amy.  Their 6,400-square-foot apartment boasted 17 rooms, including two 40-foot drawing rooms, four bedrooms, four maids' rooms, 18th century painted door frames, and wrap-around terraces.

Also moving into apartments in the new building were Amy's brother, John S. Phipps, and their sister Helen Margaret Phipps Martin and her family.  Helen's husband, Bradley Martin Jr., was the son of one of the most visible couples in 19th century New York society.  The famous Bradley Martin Ball of February 1897 had cost the Martins around $10 million in 2023 dollars.  

Bradley Martin, Jr. (original source unknown)

Bradley Martin Jr. was a director of the Standard Trust Co., the Van Norden Trust Co., the New Jersey & Nineteenth Ward Bank, and of the Hudson Trust Co.  He and Helen had four children, Henry Bradley, Townsend Bradley, and twins Alastair Bradley and Esmond Bradley.  The family owned several estates in the United Kingdom, including Fetteresso Castle.  The New York Times commented that their country estate at Westbury, Long Island, "is one of the locality's show-places."

A typical apartment included multiple bedrooms and maids' rooms.  1926 real estate brochure.

On November 20, 1927, The New York Times reported, "Vincent Astor and Mrs. Astor have established their residence for the Winter at 1 Sutton Place South, it was learned yesterday.  This picturesque segment of Avenue A, on the banks of the East River, now harbors among its social and artistic celebrities an Astor, a Morgan and a Vanderbilt, names associated for many years with the exclusiveness of Fifth Avenue."  The Astors' residency was intended to be short-lived while the construction of their home at 130 East 80th Street was underway.

Among the other original residents were Charles Hamilton Sabin and his second wife, Pauline Morton Smith.   The couple maintained a country estate, Bayberry Land, in Southampton (interestingly, also designed by Cross & Cross), and a 1,961-acre plantation, The Oaks, in Goose Creek Carolina.  Sabin was chairman of the board of the Guaranty Trust Company.  Pauline was highly-visible for her ardent stand against Prohibition, and was the treasurer of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.

The Charles Sabins, from the collection of the Library of Congress

The grand entertaining in the Sabin apartment was evidenced in an article in the Albany newspaper The Times Union which reported on a dinner party on January 14, 1928.  Guests came from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Ohio, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana and even Iowa.

Charles H. Sabin died at Bayberry Lane on October 11, 1933 of a cerebral hemorrhage and was buried at Southampton Cemetery.  Despite Pauline's being in mourning, five months later on March 9, 1934 the wedding of her niece, Jean Potter Sodwedel to Edmund Coffin Stout, Jr. was held in the apartment.  

When Wurts Bros. took this photograph in 1927, the parcel across Avenue A was ready for development.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Equally prominent were Mrs. Charles Robinson Smith, her daughter Gertrude Robinson Smith, and her brother Count Vincent de Wierzbicki, who shared a large apartment.  Mrs. Smith was born Jennie Porter Steele in 1858 and married Charles Robinson Smith on April 29, 1879.  Smith, who died in 1930, was a lawyer and industrialist, the founder of the General Chemical Company of New York.  

Jennie divided her time between 1 Sutton Place, her country residence in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and her home in Paris.  She had a sterling American pedigree.  Her ancestor Richard Mather was an early settler of Massachusetts, the father of Increase Mather, and grandfather of Cotton Mather.  Another ancestor was Robert Baily, credited with having been the first to call George Washington the "father of his country."

When Jennie was eight years old, her widowed mother Elizabeth Wadsworth Harris Steele took her to Paris.  There Elizabeth married Count Vincent de Wierzbicki.  Jennie would grow up in France, not returning to New York until 1873.  Among her friends were author Alexandre Dumas, Gustav Mahler, Edith Wharton, and Sarah Bernhardt.

Gertrude Robinson Smith, who never married, was prominent in the Berkshire summer social colony.  The Smiths' country home, Dugway, was in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Gertrude was a founder of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival, later named Tanglewood.

Jennie and her brother spent much time together. On April 28, 1934, for instance, The New York Sun reported, "Mrs. Charles Robinson Smith and her brother, Count Vincent de Wierzbicki of 1 Sutton Place, South, will pass the summer in Paris, and their place, the Dugway at Stockbridge, will be occupied by Mrs. Smith's son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Beecher Stowe...Miss Gertrude Robinson Smith and Miss Miriam Oliver also will arrive [at Stockbridge] on May 1 at their log cabin."

Bradley and Helen Martin escaped the New York cold in 1933 with their son Townsend by going to the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California for the winter.  Helen was rushed to the Pasadena Hospital on March 11, 1934 with a ruptured appendix.  Following an operation, peritonitis developed and she died on March 16.   Her body was transported back to New York for burial in Westbury, Long Island.

In December 1937 the engagement of Alastair Bradley Martin to Edith Park was announced.  The New York Sun reported, "Their wedding will take place in June, following Mr. Martin's graduation from Princeton University."
Charlotte Goodridge Morton died in her apartment at the age of 80 on December 28, 1938.  Her husband, Paul Morton, who had died 21 years earlier, had been U.S. Secretary of the Navy under President Theodore Roosevelt.  His brother, Joy Sterling Morton, founded the Morton Salt Company.  His father had been Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, and founded Arbor Day.  

The socially-visible Hamilton family lived in 1 Sutton Place South at the time.  Juliet Pierpont Morgan Hamilton was the widow of William Pierson Hamilton.  She lived with her son, Alexander Morgan Hamilton and his wife, the former Elizabeth Malcolm Peltz.   Juliet's father was millionaire banker J. Pierpont Morgan, and Alexander's great-great-grandfather was founding father Alexander Hamilton.

On April 7, 1945, Jennie Porter Steele Robinson Smith died in her apartment at the age of 87.  Gertrude Robinson Smith remained in the apartment. 

By mid-century attorney and yachtsman Walbridge Smith Taft and his family were residents of 1 Sutton Place South.  Taft, who was appointed chairman of the Salvation Army Association in 1940, was a nephew of former President William Howard Taft.  Walbridge and his wife, the former Elizabeth Clark, had three children, Henry Waters, Elizabeth, and Lucie Clark.  Their summer home was in Pelham Manor, New York.

Walbridge Smith Taft (original source unknown)

Lucie was married to S. Willets Meyer in the Church of the Heavenly Rest on November 10, 1950.  Less than two months later, on January 2, 1951, Walbridge Smith Taft died in the apartment age the age of 66.  He had suffered a heart attack three years earlier and had never fully recovered.

Two views of the Mrs. Samuel Welldon apartment in 1953.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

The following decade saw the Russell family living at 1 Sutton Place South.  Lieutenant Edwin Fairman Russell was with the U.S. Navy, and his wife, Lady Sarah Consuelo Spencer Churchill, was the daughter of the 10th Duke of Marlborough and the former Alexandra Mary Hilda Cadogan.  She grew up in Blenheim Palace.  Her grandmother was Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of William Kissam and Alva Vanderbilt, and wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  Sarah's cousin was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  

The Russells had four daughters, Serena; Consuelo Sarah, known familiarly as Mimi; Jacqueline; and Alexandra.  The family's country home was in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Mimi Russell found herself in trouble in 1963.  Although debutante entertainments were customarily held during the winter social season, a party was held in Southampton that summer to which she was invited.  It did not end well.  Police arrested 13 young men and one girl--17-year-old Mimi Russell.  They were "accused of wrecking a Southampton beach house after a debutante's party," according to The New York Times.  The discussions that ensued behind closed doors at 1 Sutton Place South can only be imagined.  Happily for Mimi, half a year later, in February 1964, the charges against her were dropped for "lack of proof."

In June that year the London Daily Express reported that Mimi's sister, Serena, was engaged to Broadway producer Michael Santangelo.  The couple was married that summer on the Southampton estate of Serena's grandmother, Consuelo Vanderbilt-Balsan (former Duchess of Marlborough).

Frederick Guest died in 1937 and Amy Phipps Guest died in 1959.  Their son Winston and his wife, garden columnist C. Z. Guest remained in their massive penthouse.  They retained the antique pine boiserie imported by Amy Guest, the Georgian paneled library, and the Queen Anne style dining room.

In 1963 the couple sold the penthouse, described by Winston Guest as "the most magnificent [apartment] in New York City" to heiress and philanthropist Janet Annenberg Hooker.  She was the sister of communications mogul Walter Annenberg.  A month after Hooker's death at the age of 93 in December 1997, the penthouse was placed on the market for $15 million.

Among the well-known residents of 1 Sutton Place South in the early 21st century were Patricia Kennedy Lawford and her son Christopher.  She was the widow of actor Peter Lawford and sister to President John F. Kennedy.  

Designer Caroline Roehm owned a duplex at the time.  The New York Times journalist Dan Shaw described her apartment on October 15, 2006.   He said that portraits "of aristocrats by Louise-Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Franz Xaver Winterhalter "gaze down upon an assortment of mostly 18th-century furniture from England, France, Italy, Russia and Sweden, including a 19th-century neo-Classical piano."  Roehm told him the piano was "an Erand, which is what Chopin preferred to play on."

This apartment has a tiled entrance hall with elegant Georgian doorways. image via

While the preponderance of early 20th century apartment buildings eventually fell from favor, 1 Sutton Place South did not.  It continues to be one of the most distinguished addresses in Manhattan.

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1 comment:

  1. Henry Phipps, Jr. was not Andrew Carnegie’s partner. That was his father.