Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Norrie and Sybil Sellar House - 52 West 74th Street


With the fortune he garnered in the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Edward C. Clark invested heavily in property in the developing West End--what we call the Upper West Side today.  On October 14, 1882, two years before the completion of his Dakota Apartments, Clark died of malarial fever.  The millionaire left a stretch of property on West 74th Street (from No. 18 through 52) to his one-year-old grandson Frederick Ambrose Clark.

In 1902, Frederick Clark, now a young man, commissioned architect Percy Griffin to design a row of homes on the property.  Griffin, who is not well known today, worked almost exclusively in the stately neo-Georgian style, and the 18 homes of the 74th Street row would be an architectural tour de force.  Completed in 1904, the 25-foot-wide brick-and-stone residences rose five floors with three-story rear extensions.  Each cost, according to The New York Times, $110,000 to construct, or about $3.88 million by 2024 terms.

The Architectural Record, November 1906 (copyright expired)

The Architectural Record, in November 1906, said the block "presents the appearance of a composite whole well studied in its entirety for silhouette fenestration and general composition."  The article added that Griffin, "has varied the individual facade treatments to give to each house a distinctive character, yet to preserve in its composition certain lines, which allow it to properly take its place in the block."

An advertisement in The Sun on October 2, 1904 boasted, "NO residences have ever been offered for rental in New York City comparing with these in construction, equipment, appointments and detail.  They have been designed and built with the careful attention to details of construction given only to the highest class houses built for private ownership."

Anchoring the row to the west was 52 West 74th Street.  Instead of a centered, porticoed entrance, its doorway was placed to the side of a full-height protruding bay.  Three stories of brick trimmed in stone sat above a limestone base, while the fifth floor was discreetly tucked behind a pierced stone parapet.  Inside were 21 rooms (including a billiard room and library), five bathrooms and an elevator.  An advertisement touted a water filter, silver safe, and wine refrigerator.

Clark did not sell the houses, but rented them.  By 1909, Norrie and Sybil Sellar occupied the house.  That same year they purchased the former summer home of Le Grand L. Benedict in Cedarhurst, Long Island.  Norrie Sellar had been a cotton broker, but on February 24, 1909, The Wall Street Journal announced the 36-year-old had been admitted into partnership with the brokerage firm of Dick Bros. & Co.  

Sybil, the daughter of millionaire William Watts Sherman, had grown up in the family mansion at 838 Fifth Avenue and in Newport.  

Norrie and Sybil Sellar, images via househistree.com

Norrie was Sybil's second husband.  Her marriage to John Ellis Hoffman had ended in divorce.  Living with the couple were two children, Audrey Annie (from the first marriage), and Norrie Sherman; and five servants.

The socially-prominent Sellars appeared in society columns repeatedly.  On July 28, 1910, the New-York Tribune reported they had sailed for Europe, noting they "will spend the next six weeks in Scotland."  The Sellars were likely headed to Andrew and Louise Carnegie's Skibo Castle where they were occasional houseguests.

The Sellars were home in time for Sybil to attend the fashionable New York Horse Show with her half-sister Mildred Sherman on November 12.  A known fashion plate, Sybil arrived "in a gown of black velvet, with a mink hat, a mink muff and a mink scarf," according to the New-York Tribune.

Sybil's up-to-date fashion sense had irked a society journalist from The New York Times a year earlier when her choice of headgear blocked the view of the stage at the Metropolitan Opera.  A March 28, 1909 article said, 

At the premier of 'Falstaff' Mrs. Norrie Sellar, in a parterre box, wore a huge hat, huge as to width, and set back on her head to form a wide spreading but not towering frame.  Of light beaver or velvet, it spread out each side beyond her shoulders, and was so fastened to the back of her head as to rise like a frame that slanted from the right shoulder almost diagonally across the head.

The Sellars left 52 West 74th Street in 1913.  Two years later the Clark Estate rented it to George W. Hill "for a term of years," as reported by the New-York Tribune.  When the country entered World War I, the Hills made an extraordinary gesture for the war effort.  On May 12, 1918, the New York Herald reported on some houses and estates being "tendered for hospital sites," while other "patriotic [citizens] make fighters contented."  Rooms in mansions of millionaires like Joseph Pulitzer and Whitelaw Reid were being used by the Red Cross for making surgical dressings or teaching "first aid, home dietetics, hygiene and the like."  The article said, "Among the numerous other houses where Red Cross work is going on mention may be made of the home of Mrs. George W. Hill, 52 West Seventy-fourth."

On April 2, 1921, the Clark Estate sold the residences along the 1904 row.  No. 52 became home to the Milton C. Blum family.  The head of the textile converting firm Milton C. Blum, Inc., Blum and his wife, the former Florence Rice, had two children, Margaret, born in 1905, and Milton Jr., born in 1909.  Florence was the daughter of philanthropist Henry Rice.  

The Blums' residency would be relatively short-lived.  In February 1925, The New York Times reported that Blum had sold 52 West 74th Street to "the well-known physician, Dr. Arnold J. Gelarie," noting, "The building contains an elevator and is considered one of the finest on the west side."

The following month, the Harry A. Jaffe Galleries held an auction of the Blums' furniture and artwork.  Among the items mentioned in the announcement were, "distinctive home furnishings, rare English and Italian antiques, Chinese jades and porcelains, tapestries and textiles."

A bachelor, Arnold James Galerie was born in Poland and graduated from the university at Jena, Germany.  During World War I, he worked with the Government as Expert Bacteriologist at the Quarantine Station at the Port of New York.  A specialist in "rheumatic diseases," he was associated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

On January 19, 1935, the Brooklyn Times-Union reported that Gelarie had been appointed chief of staff and director of medicine and laboratories at Beth Israel Hospital in Passaic, New Jersey.  The article noted, "Dr. Gelarie is the author of numerous medical papers, and also has made contributions on advanced medicine and experimental research to various medical publications."

Despite the considerable commute to his new position, Gelarie remained at 52 West 74th Street at least through 1943.  Major change came in 1946 when the residence was converted to the Park Terrace Nursing Home.  The Department of Buildings documented 14 beds on the ground floor, 19 beds on floors two through four, and 17 beds on the fifth floor.

In 1964, the published room rates here were $7.56 per day and $230 per month.  (The monthly rate would translate to about $2,250 today.)

The Park Terrace Nursing Home operated until February 7, 1975 when the United States Department of Health Education and Welfare shut it down for fire safety violations.  The New York Times reported, "the New York State Department of Social Services had arranged to transfer the home's patients to other facilities."

A renovation completed three years later resulted in two apartments per floor.

photographs by the author
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Monday, April 29, 2024

The Lost George Blumenthal Mansion - 50 East 70th Street


photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

When U.S. Attorney Elihu Root erected his splendid mansion at 733 Park Avenue in 1905, the neighborhood was only marginally fashionable.  But that was quickly changing.  On December 4, 1909, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "Within a very few weeks the probability that the entire neighborhood will be devoted to fine residences has been strengthened as the result of the sale of the Union Theological Seminary's block front, between 69th and 70th streets, to Commodore Arthur Curtiss James and George Blumenthal, of Lazard Freres."

George Blumenthal and his wife, the former Florence Meyer, were currently living in the sumptuous residence at 23 West 53rd Street, steps from what was familiarly known as Vanderbilt Row.  But commerce was inching up Fifth Avenue, threatening the exclusivity of their neighborhood.  Construction on their new home would have to wait until the demolition of the Union Theological Seminary, and it was not until April 15, 1911 that the Record & Guide reported that work had begun.

Designed by Trowbridge & Livingston, the limestone-faced, Italian Renaissance-inspired palazzo opened onto East 70th Street.  Prominent intermediate cornices defined the tripartite design.  The rustication and bold voussoirs of the ground floor, or piano terra, were drawn from Florentine models.  Trowbridge & Livingston's restrained ornamentation of the upper floors relied only on molded architrave window frames and subtle corner quoins.

The interiors were intended as much for displaying the Blumenthals' massive art collection as they were for living and entertaining.  Perhaps the most impressive space was the large interior patio complex that was removed from the abandoned Spanish castle Vélez Blanco. The expense of the architectural and artistic details within the mansion were evidenced in an article in The Morning Post of London on February 25, 1913. It reported that "a pair of sixteenth century andirons, surmounted by figures of Apollo and Mercury...are to adorn the new house that George Blumenthal is building at Park Avenue and Seventieth Street, New York." The items had been purchased at Christies for $48,300--about $1.5 million in 2024.

The two-story Spanish patio was a focal point of the Blumenthal mansion.   The 15th century marble fountain came from the Palazzo Pazzi in Florence, Italy and was attributed to Donatello.  from the Watson Library Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Blumenthal came to America as a youth.  He was the head of the American branch of the French banking firm Lazard Fres.  

This portrait of George Blumenthal was painted by Charles Hopkinson in 1933.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

George married the 23-year-old Florence Meyer in 1898.  The couple maintained a home on the Boulevard Montmorency in Paris; a chateau at Grasse, near Cannes in the south of France; and a lodge called Knollwood Club in the Adirondacks.  Florence was equally interested in art and in 1919, as France reeled from the war, she founded La Fondation Américaine Blumenthal in Paris.  It provided financial assistance to rising French artists.

French photographer Adolf de Meyer dramatically posed Florence Meyer Blumenthal in the 70th Street library in front of a Renaissance Madonna.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Blumenthals' staggering philanthropies were seemingly limitless.  On February 22, 1920, The New York Times reported that George had received "the insignia of Knight of the Legion of Honor" from the French Government.  The article said, "Mr. Blumenthal has been particularly active in the important organization of the Fatherless Children of France."

 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Blumenthal sat on the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Following the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, the museum sent an expedition to assist Howard Carter.  The New York Times reported on July 20, 1923, "Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal made an extended visit to Luxor during the past Winter and had an opportunity to study, which they did with great interest, both the expedition's progress and its needs."  Back home in New York, the couple donated $2,000 "which will make possible the purchase of an automobile for the use of the members of the Museum's Egyptian Expedition," said the article.

 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Newspapers continually reported on the couple's financial gifts.  On June 19, 1925, The New York Times reported that George had "presented 1,000,000 francs to the Sorbonne" to be used "in the best interests of French culture."  He had previously made donations totaling 8,000,000 francs to the organization.  Later that year, in December, Blumenthal announced he would retire to focus entirely on philanthropy.

 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Blumenthal's gifts were not always massive.  In the first nine months of 1926, for instance, nine police officers were killed in the line of duty.  On August 28, Blumenthal sent a letter to Police Commissioner McLaughlin that began, "Some of the men of your force who have been killed lately in the performance of their duty have no doubt left families greatly in need of assistance."  He inserted a check for $5,000 (about $90,000 today) "with the request that you kindly distribute this amount among those families which, in your opinion, are most needy and deserving."

That year George and Florence donated $60,000 to the Children's Hospital in Paris.  In recognition of the couple's continued generosity since the end of the war, in 1929 the French Government honored George and Florence by presenting them both the Legion of Honor.  In April 1928, the couple presented a gift of more than $103,000 to erase the deficit of the Mount Sinai Hospital.  The New York Times noted, "The contribution brings the total of Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal's gifts to the hospital to almost $1,000,000."

 Two views of the ballroom.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Blumenthals were in Paris in 1930, when Florence contracted bronchial pneumonia.  She died there at the age of 55 on September 21.  According to the Jewish Women's Archive, during her lifetime Florence had "donated millions of dollars to established institutions and public charities in America and France."

In the basement was a "plunge," or swimming pool, its walls decorated with sea motif mosaics.   from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two years later, in December 1932, George Blumenthal closed their "spacious home" in Paris, as described by a French correspondent.  A week-long auction was held of the antique furnishings, the 18th century French art, and Blumenthal's extensive library of rare books.  The New York Times Paris correspondent described the items as "a remarkable assemblage of paintings, drawings, engravings, bronzes, porcelain, tapestries, rugs and furniture."  Prior to the first day of the auction, a private showing was held for potential buyers that included "many representatives of the nobility."  

On January 10, 1934, Blumenthal was elected president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  (He had already added the presidency of the Mount Sinai Hospital to his resume.)  In reporting the assignment, The New York Sun mentioned, "He and the late Mrs. Blumenthal gave the museum $1,000,000 in 1928."

 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A year later, on December 19, 1935, the 77-year-old married Mary Ann Payne Clew.  His bride was 46.  The Washington Post reported, "the couple's long heralded marriage took place quietly yesterday afternoon at Mrs. Blumenthal's New York apartment."

The newlyweds at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on December 19, 1935.  The Washington Post.

The article noted, "the Blumenthal home at 50 East Seventieth street in New York, where Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal will live after a brief honeymoon in the South, contains one of the finest private art collections in the country."

Mary had just emerged from mourning following the death of her broker husband, James Blanchard Clews, on December 17, 1934.   She received half of his $3 million estate.

Mary Ann Clews Blumenthal's bedroom was a slice of Versailles.   from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On June 26, 1941, George Blumenthal died in the East 70th Street mansion at the age of 83 after what the Times Herald of Washington D.C. called "a lengthy illness."  His estate was appraised at more than $8 million (around $165 million 
today).  A private funeral was held in the mansion on June 30.  The New York Times noted it would be "attended only by relatives, close friends and members of directing boards of organization with which Mr. Blumenthal was connected."

(Mary Ann Clews Blumenthal, incidentally, would marry General Ralph Kenyon Robertson in 1943, and Baron Carl von Wrangell in 1969.)

Blumenthal left the 70th Street mansion and much of the artwork to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The New York Times explained that the bequest was "for the purpose of having the house dismantled, of having such structural parts of his house as possible installed in the present museum building, of having other structural parts disposed of in such manner as the museum authorities might see fit, and of having the land sold."

World War II delayed the museum's careful dismantling of the mansion, including "removing and installing in its own building what is considered the most valuable structural element in the residence, the celebrated patio from the palace of los Velez," according to The New York Times.  The trustees, said the article, had decided to use the mansion during the war, "for such purposes of storage, work space and exhibition as might be arranged with the city authorities."

On  July 21, 1942, The New York Times reported that the Met "has installed a collection of arms and armor in the residence...and opened it to the public as a temporary branch museum."

On August 15, 1945, three months after Germany surrendered and a month before the Japanese capitulated, the careful demolition of the Blumenthal mansion began.  The next day, The New York Times reported, "The patio and paneling of two of the rooms have been taken by the museum and present plans are to use the patio in the museum's post-war building program."

image by Eden, Janine and Jim

In 1948 ground was broken for 710 Park Avenue, a Sylvan Bein-designed apartment building that survives on the site of the Blumenthal mansion.

many thanks to architect Douglas Burtu Kearley, Sr. for suggesting this post.
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Saturday, April 27, 2024

The 1940 Lindley House - 123 East 37th Street


image via streeteasy.com

On December 21, 1937, The New York Sun reported that the newly-formed 37th Street & Lexington Avenue Corporation had purchased "the three four-story houses at 296 to 300 Lexington avenue, northwest corner of Thirty-seventh Street, and the five-story house adjoining at 123 East Thirty-seventh Street."  The firm would add to these initial holdings before hiring H. I. Feldman to design a modern apartment building on the site.

Born in Chelzetz, Austria (now part of Poland) in 1896, Hyman Isaac Feldman, who went professionally by his first two initials, established his architectural practice in 1921.  During the next two decades, he focused much of his work on designing Art Deco style apartment houses in Brooklyn and along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  He would eventually design 2,500 apartment houses in the New York metropolitan area.

The jazzy Art Deco style that gave Feldman his start was no longer current.  His design for the Lindley House is more accurately termed Art Moderne, yet it strongly anticipates the mid-century modern style.  Faced in red brick, it rose stoically to a series of setbacks where the central section was beveled at a 45-degree angle, a trademark of Feldman's designs.  The architect gave the ground floor a neo-Federal touch by creating incised lines that suggested pilasters, and placing a cast concrete fan over the window above the entrance.

image via CityRealty.com

The Lindley House cost $500,000 to erect, or around $10.5 million in 2024.  There were seven apartments per floor through the 11th floor, five each on floors 12 through 14, and three on the penthouse level.  An advertisement in September 1940 read, "Just completed.  Drop living rooms, dining galleries, powder rooms.  Free gas.  Muzak.  Maid-valet service available."  Rents for two- or three-room apartments ranged from $67.50 to $135 (about $2,820 per month for the more expensive by today's standards).

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Lindley House filled with a wide variety of residents.  Among the first was Herbert R. Ekins, cable editor for the United Press Association.  Several early renters were in the military or recently retired.  Among them were Lieutenant William R. Ross of the U.S. Navy, Commander Jacques E. Ledure, and Captain James F. Gorman.

Captain John W. Renchard was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 15, 1941 when he was married to Mary Lisa.  Renchard had graduated from Princeton University in 1928 and received a law degree from St. Lawrence University in 1937.  In reporting their marriage, the Daily Argus mentioned, "The couple will reside at 123 East 37th Street, New York City."

Two weeks earlier, a tragedy affected one family here.  Arthur Knox, Jr., who was in the insurance business, married Jane Elizabeth Hubbard in 1939.  He had graduated from the esteemed Phillips-Exeter Academy, and from Princeton University in 1931.  Jane was a graduate of St. Margaret's School in Waterbury, Connecticut.

In February 1941, Jane and her mother, Mrs. Giles Monro Hubbard, left on a road trip to Florida.  Near Jacksonville, North Carolina, they were involved in an accident and Jane Knox, who was 35 years old, was killed.  Mrs. Hubbard "suffered minor injuries," according to the Daily Argus.

Occupying one of the three-room penthouse apartments in 1949 was Jacqueline Coover Butcher.  Born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1916, the Waterloo Daily Courier said her "beautiful silver-blonde hair" had "started her on the road to fame and fortune."  Butcher went to Los Angeles to launch a motion picture career.  She married an advertising executive there and her future looked bright.  The Waterloo Daily Courier said, "The screen and the stage both wanted her then for her beauty and her dancing ability."

Then, in 1938, Butcher went back to Sioux City to visit her parents.  "There was an auto accident that scarred her nose and kept her in bed for a year," said the article.  "Plastic surgeons fixed it, but never good enough for the movies."  To make matters worse, her husband divorced her soon afterward.

Jacqueline came to New York, rented the apartment in the Lindley House, and, according to the Waterloo Daily Courier, "did her own [hair] styling and her own modelling and made money.  She had a wide circle of friends as any lovely, 33-year-old divorcee, can have in New York."  Butcher was said by her friends to be "an alternately moody and life-of-the-party girl."  

On April 13, 1949, she decided to dye her silver-blonde hair red.  According to friends, the results severely disappointed her.  That night she had a dinner date with Norman J. Edelmann, the New York publicist she had been seeing for about a year and a half.  She left early, saying she did not feel well.  

For the next two days, Edelmann phoned and knocked on Jacqueline's door, getting no answer.  Finally, on the night of April 15, he tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked.  "He found Jacqueline dead in a clothes closet, half sitting, half hanging from a rope noosed around her neck," reported the Waterloo Daily Courier.

The sunken living room of an apartment in 1940.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

 Another actress-model, Bonnie Louise Jones, moved in following her marriage to John A. Lucchese in December 1957.  Bonnie Jones worked for the Emily Brooks Agency, and The Courier of Clinton, New York said "She has appeared on television several times and has been seen on the Jackie Gleason Show, Dave Garroway's program and the Arthur Murray Show."  Lucchese was an attorney, having earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School.

Living here at the same time was actress Charlotte Manson and her husband, singer Dick Brown.  Although Charlotte had appeared on Broadway, her success was on radio.  She had repeated roles in radio shows like Guiding Light and Nick Carter, Master Detective, and was active in commercials.  Like Bonnie Louise Jones, she also appeared on television.  According to the Long Island Star-Journal, "Miss Manson has been seen on TV in the Jackie Gleason Show and as a replacement for Bess Myerson and Betty Furness."

Charlotte Manson as Patsy with Leon Clark as Nick Carter in the 1946 radio program Nick Carter, Master Detective.  image via Mutual Broadcasting System.

On September 7, 1957, the Long Island Star-Journal reported, "Charlotte Manson, 33, radio and TV actress, remained in critical condition today in Bellevue Hospital after taking what police described as an apparent overdose of sleeping pills.  The pretty brunette was found in a coma yesterday by her mother at the actress' four room Manhattan apartment at 123 East 37th street."  After surviving what was apparently an accidental overdose, Manson suffered another serious accident almost exactly one year later.

On September 14, 1958, the actress fell down a flight of steps, fracturing her neck and paralyzing her.  Doctors told her she would never walk again.   

But five months later, on February 27, 1959, The Miami News titled an article "Radio Actress On Road Back / 'I Won't Be An Invalid,' Says Charlotte Manson."  The article explained, "Charlotte is a determined, confident fighter.  She is also an athlete.  She was a member of the Junior Olympics when she was a child and she is a competent horsewoman."  Doctors in Manhattan called her recovery "a medical miracle."  Manson and her mother had arrived in Miami so she could do "therapeutic" swimming."  The article ended saying, "After recuperative works in Miami she will return to New York, television and the stage.  Charlotte Manson doesn't know the meaning of the word quit."

The Lindley House continued to be home to professionals like Paul Barry Owen, a graduate of Phillips Andover Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  After having been vice president in charge of real estate at the Dry Dock Savings Institution, he became head of the mortgage department of real estate firm Cross & Brown Co.  Owen died in his apartment at the age of 79 on March 22, 1971.

As Valentine's Day approached in 2010, readers wrote to The New York Times with their romantic memories.  Susan Dominus recalled that her apartment here while in her 20s was that of a "late-20th-century struggling bachelorette."  But the lobby, she said, was much different.

But the Murray Hill building that housed that apartment, grandly called Lindley House, was a prewar beauty, with a lobby of dark burnished wood and gleaming floors.  I liked first dates to meet me in that perfectly polished space, where they would make conversation with the doormen, who seemed to function at such moments as surrogate fathers.

Inside that lobby, all was hopeful possibility; pure, even glamorous in the ways of old New York.  Outside it, the unpredictable roller coaster of modern dating began.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochrane for suggesting this post
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Friday, April 26, 2024

The Russell C. Leffingwell Mansion - 38-40 East 69th Street

By the time Russell Cornell Leffingwell purchased 38 East 69th Street in 1927, the 49-year-old attorney had made a name for himself in both the financial and legal communities.  In 1917, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.  In reporting on the appointment, The New York Times said, "Mr. Leffingwell is well known as a finance lawyer, and has for several years been a member of the firm of Cravath & Henderson."  Leffingwell presided over the sale of Liberty Bonds, and The New York Times said, "He has given his services without compensation, and has lived almost night and day in the Treasury Building since he took up the work on the loans."

Russell Cornell Leffingwell, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Leffingwell married Luchen (known as Lucy) Hewitt in 1906.  The following year their daughter Lucy was born.  After World War I, he brought his family back to New York City and in 1923 was made a partner in the banking firm J. P. Morgan & Co.

The high-stooped brownstone on East 69th Street that Leffingwell purchased in April 1927 was one of seven identical rowhouses built around 1875.  Noting that the vintage house "is in the vicinity of many fine residences," The New York Times said he bought it "as a site for improvement with his new home...Construction of Mr. Leffingwell's new residence will be started immediately."

Those plans soon changed.  Leffingwell purchased the house next door at 40 East 69th Street and, rather than demolish the four-story residences as originally reported, he hired architect Edward Shepard Hewitt to combine and remodel them.  The entry to No. 38 was closed and an elegant, split staircase replaced the stoop of No. 40 and a handsome neo-Georgian entrance installed.  Interestingly, Hewitt made few other changes to the facade.  The lintels of the first through third floor windows were shaved flat, replaced by prim keystones.  Round-arched openings replaced the originals on the fourth floor, and an impassive parapet took the place of a cornice.

The neo-Georgian doorway was a mere hint of the interiors.  Hewitt lavished the rooms with details inspired by 18th century English architecture, including delicate plaster Adam-style ceilings.

Georgian doorways flanked the marble-tiled entrance hall.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Lucy had been introduced to society while an undergraduate at Vassar College in 1926.  The family had just moved into the East 69th Street mansion when her parents announced her engagement to Thomas John Edward Pulling on January 15, 1928.  

The Library.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

The Leffingwell's 116-acre country estate was Redcote at Oyster Bay, Long Island.  Its picturesque main house was originally a 19th-century farmhouse.

Lucy's wedding took place at St. John's Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island on June 23, 1928.  The New York Times reported, "Following the ceremony at the church there was a reception at the home of the bride's parents on Yellow Cote Road."

Two views of the dining room, with its exquisite Adam style ceiling.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

At the time of Lucy's wedding, in addition to his partnership in J. P. Morgan & Co., Russell Leffingwell was a director of seven corporations and a trustee of Vassar College.  Now empty-nesters, Russell and Lucy remained socially visible.  On June 3, 1930, for instance, the New York Evening Post noted, "Mr. and Mrs. Russell C. Leffingwell are at the Westbury before going to Oyster Bay," and four months later on October 22, the newspaper reported the Leffingwells "who had an apartment at the Claridge during their stay in London, are returning today on the Olympic and will go to...38 East Sixty-ninth Street.  They will be among those entertaining at the opera Monday night."

On December 14, 1931, the New York Evening Post ran a long article about the many entertainments surrounding the debut of Helen Batcheller.  It said in part, "Miss Batcheller was a guest of honor at a large dinner her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Russell C. Leffingwell. gave at their home, 38 East Sixty-ninth Street, before the first Junior Assembly." 

Two years later, on September 24, 1933, The New York Times began an article saying, "A plot to kidnap a niece of Russell C. Leffingwell, a partner of J. P. Morgan and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, was frustrated yesterday by Department of Justice agents and the police of Yonkers, N. Y."  As Helen Batcheller's wedding to John K. Dougherty neared, her parents received letters that threatened "to abduct her and blow up the Batcheller home unless they received $190,000 to insure her safety."

The terror threat derailed the recent debutante's plans for a society wedding.  "On Sept. 13, however, Miss Batcheller and Mr. Doughtery were married quietly at her home, with agents of the Department of Justice as the only witnesses except members of the immediate family."  About a week later, the blackmailers arranged a drop-off point for the money.  Helen's father deposited the package behind a billboard in Yonkers.  Not surprisingly, when a woman retrieved it later, she was arrested, leading to the capture of the other conspirators.

Two views of the living room.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

During the Great Depression and World War II, Leffington was consulted about the economy and was supportive of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's taking the country off the gold standard.  He told a meeting of the Academy of Political Science in 1934, "When the horrible cycle of deflation began to revolve toward the abyss, the only hope for humanity was to stop gold payments, to go off gold...Cheap money opens the door to recover."

Lucy did her part on the social side.  On February 2, 1942, The New York Sun reported, "Mrs. Russell Leffingwell will give a luncheon tomorrow at her home, 38 East 69th street, for members of the executive committee of the Women's Council of the Community Service Society.  Mrs. Leffingwell's husband is an honorary vice-president of the society."

In 1948, Russell Leffingwell was made chairman of the board of J. P. Morgan & Co.  Although he retired in 1955, he remained on the board as a director.

The Blue Room contained colonial furniture.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

In February 1959, Lucy suffered a heart attack.  It was followed by pleurisy and pneumonia, and she died at the age of 78 in the East 69th Street mansion on February 8.  In reporting her death, The New York Times recalled that she "had been active in the Charity Organization and Community Service Societies and, during World War II, in the work of the Lenox Hill Hospital."

The following year, on October 2, 1960, Russell Cornell Leffingwell died at the age of 82.  His decades of accomplishments filled columns in newspapers like The New York Times that reported his death.

In 1966 the Leffingwell mansion was converted to doctors' offices in the basement and two duplex residences on the upper floors.  A subsequent renovation, completed in 1970, resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and a triplex on the top floors.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Rouse & Goldstone's 1914 755 Park Avenue


In 1913 the architectural firm of Rouse & Goldstone, composed of W. L. Rouse and L. A. Goldstone, designed an upscale, 13-story apartment building for the E. A. L. Holding Co. on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 72nd Street.  Anchored by a granite water table, the limestone base was nearly unadorned, other than the entrance on the side street (which, nevertheless, took the more impressive 755 Park Avenue address).

The double-doored entrance and fanlight sat within a frame of  rusticated, radiating stone voussoirs.  Rouse & Goldstone used intermediate cornices to break the mass of the structure into four parts.  Renaissance elements--stone balconies, balustrades and arched pediments, for instance--gave the building the dignified look of a larger-than-life Italian palazzo.

Completed in 1914, 755 Park Avenue was marketed as the "new fireproof apartment house, situated in [a] most exclusive neighborhood."  An advertisement in The New York Times on August 16 boasted, "Splendidly finished and appointed.  All light rooms--beautiful outlook--a locality restricted to homes of the most distinguished character."  Rents for the suites of nine or eleven rooms with three baths ranged from $3,500 to $5,500 (a significant $13,800 per month by 2024 conversion for the most expensive).  

The costly rents did not deter prospective tenants.  On May 21, 1914, months before the building was completed, The New York Times reported on the leases being signed.  One apartment was taken by Robert L. Bacon "of Kissell, Kinnicut & Co., son of Hon. Robert Bacon, ex-Ambassador to France.  Also, an apartment of eleven rooms and three baths in the same building to Waldo H. Marshall, President of the American Locomotive Company."  Two months later, on July 6, The Evening Post reported that "two large adjoining apartments in the new building under construction at 755 Park Avenue" had been leased "to Watson H. Butler and his mother, Mrs. E. H. Butler, at the total rental of about $25,000."  (That figure would translate to $755,000 today.)

Among the other initial residents were Julius P. Meyer, former assistant general director of the Hamburg American Line, and Frederick W. and Harriet Woerz.  Woertz was president of the Beadelston & Woerz Empire Brewery, co-founded by his father in 1878.  Shortly after the couple moved in, Ernest G. Woerz died on May 10, 1916, leaving the equivalent of $22 million today to Frederick.  The couple's country home was in Greenwich, Connecticut.

At least two residents of 755 Park Avenue fought overseas during World War I.  On May 28, 1917, the New-York Tribune reported that Charles Barnett Marr, the son of Charles J. Marr and his wife, had been promoted to second lieutenant.  He served as infantry and liaison officer with the American forces.

Frederick R. Wulsin was also a second lieutenant.  On September 24, 1919, The Evening World reported that he had been awarded the Belgian War Cross.  But unlike Marr, he did not return to 755 Park Avenue.  Although he had earned a degree in engineering from Harvard in 1915, he set out on a career in exploration.  According to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, "After the war, Wulsin participated in several sociological expeditions, traveling to Inner Mongolia, China, and Tibet.  After his return, Wulsin traveled by Model T and camel caravan through much of Persia and Africa.  Having finally found his calling, Wulsin returned to Harvard and received his Ph. D. in anthropology in 1929."

In the meantime, the names of the well-heeled residents of 755 Park Avenue routinely appeared in the society pages.  On January 31, 1919, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Sir Arthur Pearson was the guest last night at a farewell dinner given at the Ritz-Carlton by Dr. Schuyler S. Wheeler of 755 Park Avenue."  

Schuyler Skaats Wheeler in 1914 (original source unknown)

Born on May 17, 1860, Schuyler Skaats Wheeler was married to Amy Sutton.  He traced his American roots on his mother's side prior to 1650.  An electrical engineer and inventor, he invented the electric fan, an electric elevator, an electrical voting device in 1907, and the electric fire engine.  Following the war, he focused much of his attention to disabled servicemen.  He initiated the hiring of blind veterans at the Crocker-Wheeler Motor Company in New Jersey, and established the Double-Duty Finger Guild in 1917, which both trained and provided work for the blind.

By 1920, banker Edward Roland Noel Harriman and his wife, the former Gladys Fries, had an apartment here.  Known to friends as Bunny, E. Roland Harriman was the youngest of five children of Mary Williamson Averell and Edward Henry Harriman.  He and Gladys had two daughters, Elizabeth and Phyllis.  

Gladys was, "a noted driver of pacing and trotting horses," according to The New York Times.   It was a pastime that, no doubt, contributed to her husband's becoming chairman of the U.S. Trotting Association.  Both she and her husband were highly involved in the American Red Cross, and E. Roland was president and chairman of the Boys' Club of New York.  The couple's philanthropies including the establishment of the Irving Sherwood Wright professorship in geriatrics at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

photo by Capital Photo Service from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Like Frederick W. Woerz, George Burton's fortune came from the brewing industry.  Born George Bernheimer (German-Americans often changed their surnames during the rampant anti-German sentiments of World War I), his father had founded the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewery.  Burton was engaged to marry Charlotte Gardiner Demarest in May 1922.  

On May 10, the New York Herald reported that a special car had been hired "to take Burton and his intended bride to his mother's villa at Elberon, N.J." and that "a trip to Europe after a few weeks at Elberon" had been planned.  But those plans would have to be cancelled.

A reporter arrived at the 755 Park Avenue apartment to get Burton's reaction to his fiancée's elopement with Count Edward George Zichy.  It was the first Burton had heard of the news.  The New York Herald reported, "'You don't say!' exclaimed Burton when he heard of it, and after a moment's thought, he added: 'Hell's bells!  Yes, indeed, hell's bells!'  But beyond that he declined to go."

The article said, "Next to young Burton, the most surprised person was Mrs. Warren G. Demarest."  She had just finished consulting with her dressmaker about Charlotte's wedding gown when the doorbell rang.  "She opened the door and saw her daughter with Count Zichy," said the article.  "'Mother,' said the daughter, 'I may as well tell you.  We're married.'"  

The New York Herald reported, "Young Burton and his family, who were preparing to welcome Miss Demarest to their home, at 755 Park avenue, prepared to make the best of the situation."

Few of the wealthy residents of 755 Park Avenue were greatly impacted by the Great Depression.  Living here at the time were Robert James and Sadie B. Eidlitz.  Eidlitz was the president of the building firm of Marc Eidlitz & Son, Inc., founded in 1854 by Marc Eidlitz.  When Robert Eidlitz died in his apartment here on May 17, 1935, he left an estate of $2,289.255, or approximately $49 million by today's conversion.

The second half of the 20th century saw State Senator MacNeil Mitchell and his wife Katherine living here.  The couple had a son and twin daughters.  On October 31, 1964, The New York Times said Mitchell was "generally considered New York City's most powerful member of the Legislature."  He was chairman of the Senate's Judiciary committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on Housing and Urban Development.

Also living here was Anne Colby Vanderbilt, the former wife of William Henry Vanderbilt III (the great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt I).  The couple had married in 1929.  The New York Times recalled, "Their home, Oakland Farm in Portsmouth, R.I., near Newport, was the scene of social events in the thirties."  She had served as First Lady of Rhode Island during her husband's governorship in 1939-40.  Anne Vanderbilt suffered a stroke in her apartment on February 27, 1974 and died shortly thereafter.

Essentially nothing has outwardly changed to 755 Park Avenue since its completion in 1914.  Its retains its aloof presence above the traffic of the two busy thoroughfares, while inside well-to-do residents continue to live in sublime surroundings.

photographs by the author
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