Thursday, March 28, 2024

The 1916 Charles Martin Clark House - 713 Park Avenue


When Raphael Lewisohn, the founder of the importing firm Lewisohn & Co., moved into the Queen Anne style house at 713 Park Avenue around 1886, the thoroughfare was just becoming an acceptable residential street.  But by January 1915, when Charles Martin Clark purchased the house, Park Avenue rivaled Fifth Avenue.  On January 16, the Record & Guide commented that Clark "will tear down the present structure and build a new one from plans by McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin."

The limestone-faced residence was completed in 1916.  The architects' chaste neo-French Classic design featured dramatic, fully-arched French doors that opened onto a bronze-railed balcony at the second floor.  The grouped openings of the third and fourth floors sat within a two-story frame.  Another full-width balcony fronted the fifth floor, and a parapet perched above the cornice.

Born in 1873, Clark came from an old American family and was a member of the Mayflower Descendants.  His father was Charles F. Clark, the president of the Bradstreet Company, which created the first book of credit ratings in 1851.  Charles Martin Clark graduated with an engineering degree from Columbia University in 1897, the same year he married Bessie Milligan.  The couple had two children, Charles Jr., and Katharine.

Despite his engineering background, in 1904 Clark became treasurer of Bradstreet Company.  He became increasingly interested in utility firms, and would sit on the boards of six such companies.  

The Clark house replaced a Queen Anne residence like those to the right.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

For weeks after the announcement of her engagement, society columns reported on Katharine's wedding plans.  Her marriage to John Starr Table of the Royal Air Force was scheduled for March 1, 1919 in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  On February 9, for instance, The Sun reported on the arrangements so far, naming each of Katharine's ten attendants.

The emotional and logistical upheaval within the Park Avenue house can only be imagined when two days before the ceremony the New-York Tribune reported, "Owing to the illness of Miss Katharine C. Clark...the date of her marriage to Frances Starr Taber has been changed from March 1 to Saturday, March 8."  (The rush to get the word out may have been responsible for the article's getting John Taber's name wrong.)

Happily, the marriage took place on the rescheduled date, covered in detail in the society columns.  A reception was held in the Park Avenue residence.

Like many of his neighbors, Charles Clark was an avid yachtsman.  On July 12, 1922, the New York Herald reported on the activities at Newport, saying in part, "Mr. Charles Martin Clark was among those joining the yachting fleet to-day, arriving on board his steam yacht the Alfreda."

With the outbreak of the Great Depression, Bessie became involved with the New York Diet Kitchen Association.  The organization had been formed in 1873 to provide food to the poor during the previous depression, the Financial Panic of 1873.  She held meetings in the drawing room, and on January 15, 1930 the New York Sun reported, "Mrs. Charles M. Clark of 713 Park avenue gives a luncheon today at her residence for a group of debutantes who are to serve as ushers and program girls at the benefit concert of the New York Diet Kitchen Association at the Hotel Astor on the morning of January 28."

In 1930 Clark replaced the Alfreda with the yacht Northwind.  He invited his nephew, Kenneth Wallace, and his wife aboard in the summer of 1935.  

The Northwind.  image via

On the night of July 24, 1935, Wallace discovered his uncle's body in his stateroom.  Charles Martin Clark had died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 61.  His funeral was held in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church two days later.

In June 1934, a year before her husband's shocking death, Bessie Clark had sold 713 Park Avenue to C. R. Love, Jr.  Love was with the stock exchange firm of Josephthal & Co.  The New York Sun reported that the house, for which he paid cash, "will be occupied by the new owner this fall."

By mid-century, business and apartment buildings had encroached into the formerly exclusive neighborhood.  In 1951, 731 Park Avenue was converted to offices for the Avalon Foundation.  Founded in 1940 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, the group provided grants to a wide range of recipients including colleges and universities, arts and cultural organizations, and medical schools and hospitals.

Following Ailsa Mellon Bruce's death in 1969, the Avalon Group was merged with the Old Dominion Foundation, established by her brother Paul Mellon.  The joined philanthropies became the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, named for their father.  At the same time, Paul Mellon purchased 713 Park Avenue.

In June 2003, four years after Mellon's death, Santiago Calatrava purchased 713 Park Avenue.  The famed Spanish architect and his wife Robertina already owned the house next door at 711 Park Avenue, described by Observer at the time as "two of only a handful of townhouses on Park Avenue."  Calatrava had recently been called by The New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp "the world's greatest living poet of transportation architecture."  A month after he purchased 713 Park Avenue, The Port Authority commissioned Calatrava to design the new transportation hub at Ground Zero.  In September 2003, the Observer said, "Mr. Calatrava will presumably be using his new combined perch at 711 and 713 Park Avenue to mastermind the planning of the new transportation complex."

Outwardly, the Charles M. Clark house survives astoundingly intact.

photographs by the author
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