Thursday, April 11, 2024

Rosario Candela's 1930 740 Park Avenue

In 1928, a year before the Stock Market crash, George Stephenson Brewster and his wife, the former Eleanor Grant Bosher, lived in a handsome mansion on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 71st Street.  The massively wealthy Brewster was among the largest stockholders of the Standard Oil Company.  That year, the Brewsters' next door neighbor, real estate operator James T. Lee, proposed that they give up their mansions in favor of opulent apartments in a luxury building on the site.  By March 1929 when ground was broken, Lee had acquired a third mansion on Park Avenue and a nurses' residence on 71st Street.

Lee commissioned architect Rosario Candela, known for his high-end apartment buildings, to design 740 Park Avenue.  Working with him was Arthur Loomis Harmon (who joined the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon later that year).  Construction was completed in October 1930 and, despite the onslaught of the Great Depression, James T. Lee had little trouble filling his opulent building with millionaires.

Candela and Harmon had produced an aloof, 17-story structure with little outward flair.  Its style has been called by one architectural historian, "Classicizing Art Deco."  Faced in limestone, the building's minimal decoration included a dignified, monolithic entrance flanked by fluted shafts topped with foliate, cabbage-like finials.  A bracketed cornice above the second floor introduced the upper section.  The topmost floors were decorated with carved panels, urns, and rosettes; and the balconies given decorative iron railings.

It was not the exterior, but the cooperative apartments that were meant to astound.  The New York Times said the building was "literally twelve mansions built one on top of another."  (In fact, there were 30 apartments.)   On September 6, 1930, a month before the building opened, The New York Sun had described the duplex apartments as being designed around "a spacious central gallery opening on separate corridors, which definitely set apart the servant, master and guest quarters."  The article said in part,

The main gallery has a marble floor and base and the second floor gallery is teakwood, as are the floors of the principal master room throughout the quarters.  The typical duplex floor plan has six master bed chambers with private baths and dressing rooms surrounding two sides of the gallery.  The guest suite has a private corridor.  On the opposite side of the gallery is the corridor leading to the servants' quarters, containing four maids' rooms and baths. 
On the main floor the gallery has the sweeping brass stair rail and alcove taking the space opposite to the living room and the library entrances.  Also opening off the gallery are a large reception room and a dining room...Numerous wood-burning fireplaces are provided in every large apartment.

Along with the Lees and the Brewsters, according to The New York Times, residents included Bayard C. Hoppins, Frances W. Scoville, James Watson Webb, G. Beekman Hoppin, and Langdon K. Thorne.  (The Thorne apartment consisted of sixteen rooms and seven baths.)

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

On October 14, The New York Times reported that James T. Lee's daughter and son-in-law, Janet and John Vernou Bouvier 3d, had purchased "an apartment of eighteen rooms and six baths."  Despite the building's being brand new, the article said, "The purchaser...will occupy the suite upon completion of alterations."  At the time, the Bouviers' daughter, Jacqueline, was just two months old.  She would, of course, go on to become First Lady of the United States as Jacqueline Kennedy, and subsequently wife to millionaire Aristotle Onassis.

Among the of the first social events was the wedding of Electra Webb.  Her pedigree was sterling.  Her father, James Watson Webb, was the son of William Seward Webb and Elizabeth Osgood Vanderbilt; and her mother, Electra Havemeyer, was the daughter of Henry Osborne Havemeyer, whose family had made its extensive fortune in the sugar industry.  The Webbs' country estate was Shelbourne Farm, in Shelbourne, Vermont.

The Webbs announced Electra's engagement to Dunbar Wright Bostwick on December 21, 1931.  The groom held his own in regard to familial prestige.  The Evening Post said, "Mr. Bostwick is a grandson of the late J. A. Bostwick, and on his mother's side he is a grandson of the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Stokes and a nephew of Mr. and Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark."

The Brewster apartment was the scene of a burglary around the same time.  Just over three weeks later, The New York Age reported that five detectives had been presented a $4,000 reward "for the recovery of $80,000 jewelry stolen from the home of Mrs. Eleanor Brewster at 740 Park avenue."  (The heist would equal about $1.78 million in 2024.)

On July 26, 1937, The New York Sun reported that plans had been filed "for alterations to be made in the apartment to be occupied by John D. Rockefeller, Jr."  The millionaire and his wife Abby Greene Aldrich were combining apartments 15B and 16B on the 15th and 16th floors.  "They are to be connected by private elevator and a new private stairway," said the article, noting, "Other changes also are to be made."

When completed, the Rockefeller apartment engulfed 20,000 square feet with 37 rooms and 14 bathrooms.

Two views of the Rockefeller apartment.  images via Vanity Fair, October 30, 2003.

Among the residents as mid-century approached were Marshall Field III and his wife Ruth Pruyn Phipps.  Like all socialites, Ruth involved herself in worthy causes.  On June 5, 1948, for instance, The New York Age reported, "Mrs. Marshall Field and Miss Lillian Hellman were co-hostesses at a tea for the benefit of the Wiltwyck School for Boys on Thursday, in Mrs. Field's apartment, 740 Park avenue."  That day, two judges spoke on the "problem of juvenile delinquency" in the city and the work of the school, which, the newspaper explained, "is interracial and non-sectarian, [and] cares for delinquent boys between the ages of 8 and 12 years."

On August 3, 1952, The Sunday Press of Binghamton, New York, reported that Webb & Knapp, Inc., headed by William Zeckendorf, had purchased 740 Park Avenue.  The article noted, "Among those who have apartments in the building are John D. Rockefeller, Jr., R. T. Vanderbilt, Jack F. Chrysler, Countess Allene de Kotzebue, Mrs. S. R. Guggenheim, Mrs. Langborne Williams, Col. William Schiff and Mrs. Janet Auchincloss.   

Abby Green Aldrich Rockefeller died in 1948.  Three years later Rockefeller married former concert pianist Martha Baird.  The ceremony was held at Martha's Providence, Rhode Island home. 

John D. and Martha Rockefeller were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona on May 11, 1960 when the multi-millionaire died at the age of 86.  Although he had given away hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime, he left an estate appraised at $160,598,584.  The New York Times reported, "The bulk of his estate was left about equally to his widow, Mrs. Martha Baird Rockefeller of 740 Park Avenue, and to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc. of New York."  Among Martha Baird Rockeller's inheritances was the apartment.  She died of a coronary occlusion in the apartment on January 24, 1971 at the age of 75.

Another prominent resident died two months later.  Flora Ettlinger Whiting had moved into a 14-room duplex in June 1940.  Her husband, Giles Whiting, had died three years earlier.  She maintained a 100-acre summer estate in Scarborough, New York, and a "porticoed Greek Revival mansion," as described by The New York Times, near Tarrytown.  She filled the three residences with early American furnishings and artwork.

When Flora Ettlinger Whiting died on March 8, 1971 at the age of 93, she left an estate "estimated at $20-million to $25-million," according to The New York Times.  On May 1, 1972, an auction of her furnishings and artwork was held at Parke-Bernet.  The array of items ranging from Federal tall case clocks, to an 18th century camelback sofa purchased by the State Department, to Etruscan, Roman and Greek antiquities drew bidders from across the nation.

Retired publisher and philanthropist Enid A. Haupt purchased her duplex penthouse apartment in 1967 for $350,000.  The widow of Ira Haupt, who died in 1963, she maintained a country home in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Intensely interested in horticulture, she donated the Haupt Fountains at the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument, and the four-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden beside the Smithsonian "Castle" in Washington.  She also provided the funding for the American Horticultural Society to purchase River Farm, an 18th century plantation near Mount Vernon.

Enid Haupt died in her Greenwich home on October 26, 2005.  The following year, her 740 Park Avenue apartment with two terraces on the 17th floor and a "very large, rambling terrace on the 18th floor," as described by The New York Times, went on the market for $27.5 million.  It was purchased by John A. Thain, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, and his wife Carmen.  Their country home was in Harrison, New York.  The couple put the apartment back on the market in 2018 for $39.5 million.

Two views of the Thain apartment.  photos by Jon Nissenbaum, The New York Times April 27, 2018.

After nearly 100 years, 740 Park Avenue remains one of Manhattan's most prestigious addresses--its placid Candela-Harmon facade belying the sumptuous, house-like apartments inside.

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


  1. I checked out some of the apartment floor plans on the computer- pretty impressive! Thanks for posting.

  2. "Abby Green Aldrich Rockefeller died in 1948. Three years later Nelson married former concert pianist Martha Baird. The ceremony was held at Martha's Providence, Rhode Island home.

    Nelson and Martha Rockefeller were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona on May 11, 1960 when the multi-millionaire died at the age of 86."

    Did you John D Rockefeller Jr, Nelson's father?

    1. I don't know how I brought Nelson into the story. That's corrected. Thanks

    2. My pleasure!

  3. I hear there are maintenance issues regarding the infrastructure of this building.