Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Hanford Twitchell House - 166 East 71st Street


166 East 71st Street (left) is one of a mirror image pair.

Born in London in 1844, Thomas Graham was the son of a builder.  He set out on a career in architecture, studying in the office of Jardine & Thompson, but left at the outbreak of the Civil War to serve with the First New York Engineers.  Upon his return to New York, he learned the cabinet making and stair building trade.  He switched careers again in 1870 when he again took up architecture and building.  Graham's projects were often a family affair.  His wife Jennie was sometimes the owner of record, while he did the designing and contracting.  And in 1898 the couple's son, William Van Wyck Graham would join his father's business.

In 1894 Jennie Graham purchased and demolished the 25-foot-wide wooden building at 164-166 East 71st Street.  Robert Graham designed two mirror-image brick-and-stone dwellings on the site.  Completed the following year, they were a handsome blend of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles.  The basement and parlor levels were faced in rough cut stone, while the three upper floors were clad in beige Roman brick and trimmed in limestone.  Graham gave the openings of each level successively less ornamentation.  The second floor windows sat on molded sills and their shared lintel was supported by foliate brackets.  The sills of the third floor were plain, and the single lintel had no brackets.  Finally, the windows of the top story were given understated sills and lintels.  Complex, ornate cornices crowned the structures.

No. 166 was originally home to the Decker family, who left in 1905.  It was next purchased as an investment by Charles H. Strong.  He leased it in 1907 to Francis Gordon Brown and his wife, the former Caroline Lawrence Bogert.  A banker with J. P. Morgan & Co., Brown had attended the exclusive Groton School and graduated from Yale University.  The couple was married in 1905 and had a one-year-old son, Francis Jr.  

Reeve Schley, the next to rent the house, was here by 1912.  An attorney with Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, he graduated from Yale University in 1903, and from Columbia in 1906.  He and Kate de Forest Prentice were married in 1907, and had two children, Reeve Jr., born on September 7, 1908, and Eleanor Prentice, born on July 17, 1911.

The Schleys' affluence was evidenced when Kate lost a piece of jewelry in the spring of 1916. Her notice in The Evening Telegram read:

Lost--Diamond and platinum horseshoe pin, on April 12, probably in front of Castles in the Air, West Forty-fourth Street. Return to Mrs. Reeve Schley, 166 East 71st St. Reward, $100.

The ample reward would translate to about $2,750 in 2023.

Two months later, on June 28, the New York Herald reported that the Schleys "have closed their home at No. 166 East Seventy-first street, and are at the Plaza for a short stay before going to their summer place, Meadowcroft, at Monmouth Beach, N.J." The family would not return to East 71st Street. Charles H. Strong leased the house that year to Marvyn Scudder and his wife.

The Scudders remained through 1927, after which 166 East 71st Street became home to Anna Elizabeth Martin Dew. Born in Georgia in 1858, she was the widow of James Harvie Dew who had died in 1914.

In October 1928 Anna announced the engagement of her niece, Bessie Dew Martin to Frederic Bowne, Jr. Both of Bessie's parents were deceased. The couple's marriage in St. Thomas' Church on January 18, 1929 was a social affair. The groom was a descendant of John Bowne, a founder of Flushing, New York and the builder of the historic 1661 Bowne House. Brooklyn Life noted that the bride "is a lineal descendant of Martin de Tours of France, who went to England and was made the Earl of Pembroke. Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia, is another ancestor."

Having owned the house for more than three decades, Charles H. Strong sold it in April 1931. The new owner resold it in 1933 to Hanford Mead Twitchell and his wife, the former Gertrude Virginia Sterry.

The couple was married on May 31, 1924. When they moved into the East 71st Street house, they had a five-year-old son, Hanford Jr., a two-year-old daughter, Virginia, and a one-year-old, Sterry. Two more children would follow. Cleveland arrived in 1938, and Joan in 1940. The family's summer home was in the Hamptons.

Hanford had graduated from Lawrenceville School in 1916, and from Princeton University in 1920. Since 1925 he had been a broker with the real estate firm of Albert B. Ashforth.

Both Hanford and Gertrude came from socially prominent families, as was evidenced when they hosted a tea and reception on December 12, 1936 for their debutante niece, Prudence Cleveland Smith of Providence. Introducing the Rhode Island girl to Manhattan society was important. The New York Times noted, "Miss Smith will make her debut at a dinner dance to be given by her parents on Dec. 29 in Providence. Her grandmother, Mrs. Frederic Sterry, will give a luncheon for the debutante early next month at the Plaza here."

Hanford was a vice president of Albert B. Ashforth, Inc. by 1951, when he resigned and formed a real estate appraising and consulting company, Hanford M. Twitchell. Among his clients were the U.S. Information Service of the United States Government, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and The Prudential Insurance Company of America.

The Twitchells remained at 166 East 71st Street through 1961, after which Hanford and Gertrude moved to Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps because of its narrow proportions, the house has never been converted to apartments. Other than a somewhat regrettable replacement door, it is little changed on the exterior since its completion in 1895.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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