Friday, August 18, 2023

The Oswald Garrison Villard House - 179 East 71st Street


In April 1909 the two three-story, wooden houses of Mrs. Gertrude B. Miller and Richard M. Hoe at 177 and 179 East 71st Street respectively were sold.  The real estate firm of Pease & Elliman handled both transactions.   A principal in that firm, Douglas Elliman, and his wife Theodora purchased 177, while developer David Goodrich acquired the other.  The new owners worked closely together on the plans for the properties.

They commissioned architect S. Edson Gage to design two mirror image, upscale homes on the site.  Completed in 1910, the five-story residences were entered just above street level.  Gage designed them in the neo-Federal style, cladding them in Flemish bond brick and adding period appropriate elements like narrow entrance door sidelights, and splayed lintels and keystones.  Three sets of French windows at the second floor opened onto a full-width balcony with Federal style iron railings.  The fifth floor was set back and hidden behind a stone railing.

A street sweeper works on a treeless East 71st Street in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

David Goodrich sold 179 East 71st Street in 1911 to Oswald Garrison Villard and his wife, the former Julia B. Sanford.  The couple was married in 1903 and had three children, Henry Hilgard, Oswald Jr., and Dorothy.

Born in 1872 to journalist Henry Villard and Fanny Garrison, Oswald was an 1893 graduate of Harvard University.  He followed in his father's professional footsteps and when he and Julia moved into 179 East 71st Street he was president and editor of the New York Evening Post.  

He also closely followed his mother's example.  Fannie Garrison Oswald was a pacifist and civil rights activist.  She and Oswald help found the NAACP in 1909.  Villard served as the organization's disbursing treasurer for years.  When Woodrow Wilson initiated segregation within the Federal offices in Washington, Garrison fired off a letter of protest to the President in July 1913.

Osward Garrison Villard, from the collection of the University of Massachusetts Amherst

A vocal pacifist like his mother, Garrison's stance came into question when the United States entered World War I in April 1917.  In May, the Midday Recruiting Committee wrote to him, asking him "to write and tell it whether the statement reported to have been made by him represents his views now."  His staunchly pacifist statement had been made on February 18, two months before the country entered the conflict.  The New York Herald reported, "Mr. Villard was quoted as having said that he would not resist an invasion of this country by a foreign foe and as having refused to reply to a hypothetical question concerning the invasion of American homes."

S. Edson Gage designed 177 and 179 (right) as mirror images of one another.

In 1918 Garrison became editor of The Nation.  He used the editorial page to espouse his views on civil liberties, civil rights, and foreign policy.  The same year he resigned his position as president of the Philharmonic Society.  A reporter from the New-York Tribune went to 179 East 71st Street on the evening of January 4 to confirm the rumor.  Villard told him that he felt "he had accomplished for the Philharmonic all that was in his power."  But there seemed to have been more to the break than that.  "Mr. Villard refused to comment on the report that his attitude toward the war had played a part in his resignation," said the article.

On October 31, 1925, the Record & Guide reported that Julia Villard had sold 179 East 71st Street to Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb.  Aileen Clinton Hoadley Osborn Webb was the wife of Vanderbilt Webb, son of Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt and Dr. William Seward Webb, and a grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt.  Married in 1921, the couple had four children, Derick V., W. Osborn, Richard, and Barbara.

Aileen was the daughter of William Church Osborn, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Alice Clinton Hoadley Dodge.  Through her mother, she was the granddaughter of millionaire William Earl Dodge Jr.  

Vanderbilt Webb had attended the prestigious Groton School, graduated from Yale University in 1913, and studied at Oxford University in England before earning his law degree from Harvard University in 1916.  He was a member of the law firm Patterson, Belknap & Webb.  His broad interests were reflected in his being a trustee in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the American University of Beirut, Lebanon; the Groton School; and Colonial Williamsburg, Inc.

Vanderbilt Webb (original source unknown)

With the onslaught of the Depression, Aileen turned her attention to the conditions of the impoverished.  She encouraged the making of handmade goods which women could sell to improve their families' situations.  In 1940 she founded America House to help craftsmen sell their products.

Aileen Osborn Webb, The Craftsman's World, 1959

In the meantime, Barbara Webb was introduced to society in the winter season of 1934.  She had attended the exclusive Chapin School and the Brownmoor School in New Mexico before attending Bennington College.  

In April 1939, a year after graduating, Barbara's engagement to Henry Benson Rockwell was announced.  It gave society columnists an opportunity to recount the couples' social pedigrees.  The New York Times noted the Barbara "is a great-granddaughter of General James Watson Webb, noted journalist, diplomat and soldier, and a great-great-granddaughter of Jacob L. Cram, a leading New York merchant before the Civil War.  Through her father also, Miss Webb is a descendant of Commodore Vanderbilt, and a great-granddaughter of the late William H. Vanderbilt."

The Webbs were still living at 179 East 71st Street in January 1944 when Derick V. Webb became engaged to Elizabeth B. Canfield.  A graduate of Yale, Webb had entered the Army in October 1942 and was on leave.  In reporting on the engagement on January 7, The Putnam County Republican mentioned that his brother, "Pfc. Richard H. Webb [was] recently wounded in Italy."

When Vanderbilt Webb died on June 17, 1956 at the age of 65, he and Aileen were living at 66 East 79th Street.  No. 179 East 71st Street was now home to New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg and his artist wife Hedda Sterne.

Born in Romania in 1914, Steinberg was educated at the University of Bucharest and the Polytechnic University of Milan where he studied architecture.  The Fascist anti-Semitic laws forced him to leave Italy in 1938, and he arrived in New York in 1942.  He and Hedda, also born in Romania, were married in 1944.

Although he was best known for his New Yorker drawings, and for others in publications like Fortune, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Mademoiselle, his artworks were routinely exhibited in galleries and museums.  He would eventually have more than 80 one-man artist shows throughout the United States, South America and Europe.

Like her husband, Hedda Sterne had attended the University of Bucharest.  During World War II she and her family suffered under the Bucharest pogrom before she was finally able to sail for New York on October 17, 1941, where she quickly achieved success with her art.  She became friends with Peggy Guggenheim and became reconnected with painters she had known in Europe, including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and André Breton.  By 1943 her artworks were being shown regularly in New York galleries, particularly Peggy Guggenheim's.

Hedda Sterne and Poussin in the rear yard of 179 East 71st Street.  Artful Cats, 2019

According to the Mary Savig's Artful Cats: Discoveries from the Archives of American Art, while living at 179 East 71st Street Steinberg painted a portrait of Hedda's cat Poussin "inside the cabinet under their kitchen sink; the idea was to keep away mice."

The couple separated in 1960, although they remained married until Steinberg's death in 1999.  Hedda died on April 8, 2011 at the age of 100.  

No. 179 East 71st Street, having had only a handful of owners, has seen almost no outward change since its completion in 1910.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. Pam in South FloridaAugust 18, 2023 at 8:07 AM

    And it can be yours today for the low price of just $15,590,000. Here's the listing with lots of lovely interior pictures: