Thursday, April 18, 2024

The 1918 Harvey D. Gibson House - 52 East 69th Street


In 1881 developer William a. Hawkinson completed a row of five high-stooped houses at 50 to 58 East 69th Street.  Each 18-feet wide, they were designed by Lamb & Wheeler.  The first resident of 52 East 69th Street was Anne White Schermerhorn Suydam, whose husband Charles Suydam died on December 31, 1882.

In the first years of the 20th century, the outdated brownstones in the neighborhood were being replaced by sumptuous, modern mansions.  Banker Henry P. Davison purchased the southwest corner of Park Avenue and 69th Street in 1916 as the site of his new home.  Included in the parcel were 50 and 52 East 69th Street--50 as part of his site and 52 to guarantee that no apartment building was erected next to his mansion.

Davison was well acquainted with another banker, Harvey Dow Gibson.  As his own residence was under construction, on December 27, 1916, The American Architect reported that Davison had sold "to Harvey Gibson, vice-president of the Liberty National Bank, the lot at 52 East Sixty-ninth Street.  Mr. Gibson will erect a dwelling for his own occupancy."

The close relationship between the two financiers was reflected in Gibson's choosing the same architectural firm that had designed the Davison mansion--Walker & Gillette.  Completed the following year, the architects' neo-Georgian design complimented the Davison house.  Both sat on a limestone base and were faced in the same Flemish bond red brick.  

The fluted columns that flanked the entrance of 52 East 69th Street supported an entablature decorated with rosettes and bellflowers.  Full-relief rams' heads upheld its cornice.  The paneled lintels of the second floor openings were carved with neo-classical urns and swags.  The fifth floor, behind a brick parapet, took the form of a steep, slate shingled mansard with two pronounced dormers.

Born in 1882 in New Hampshire, Harvey Dow Gibson graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1902.  He started with American Express before moving to the Liberty National Bank where he quickly rose to vice-president.  He married Carrie Hastings Curtis on June 10, 1903.  

The couple's 32-acre summer estate, Land's End, was in Locust Valley, Long Island (where the Davisons' country home, Peacock Point, was also located).  The mansion there, built in the 1850s, was given a Georgian remodeling by Walker & Gillette.  The Gibsons also owned a home at 5 Rue Mesnil in Paris.

Henry Dow Gibson in 1917, the year he moved into 52 East 69th Street.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

America entered World War I in April 1917, just as the Gibsons were preparing to move into their town home.  Henry Davison was appointed chairman of the War Council of the American Red Cross and The New York Times reported that Davison "called upon" Gibson to become the Red Cross Commissioner in France.  Both he and Davison traveled to the war front throughout the remainder of the war.

The year 1917 was additionally eventful for Gibson when, in addition to his new house and Red Cross position, he was promoted to president of the Liberty National Bank, as reported in The American Elite and Sociologist Blue Book.  (Upon Liberty National Bank's merger with the New York Trust Company, Gibson became president of the latter organization.)

Gibson was, according to The New York Times, "a close friend of Helen Keller."  He would eventually be treasurer of the Helen Keller Foundation and a trustee of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Untypical of millionaires, Gibson was driving himself on the night of June 20, 1921.  As he entered the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, former tennis champion Beals Wright, who was drunk, smashed into Gibson's automobile.  According to the policeman who witnessed the collision, "As soon as he became disentangled from the Gibson car...Wright continued up the avenue."  The New-York Tribune reported "at Fifty-sixth Street, it is alleged, [Wright] struck and upset a horse-drawn carriage, driven by Denis Ryan."  The tennis star was arrested for intoxication and reckless driving.  Gibson was apparently unharmed.

Domestic clouds were forming over the East 69th Street house before long.  On July 1, 1925, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Harvey Dow Gibson of New York, wife of the President of the New York Trust Company, has filed a petition for divorce in the Paris courts." 

The following year, on March 13, 1926, The New York Times reported that Gibson had married Helen Whitney Bourne in Berne, Switzerland.  The article said the marriage "is of wide interest in New York.  Mrs. Bourne obtained a divorce from George Galt Bourne in Reno in October, 1924, and Mr. Gibson and his first wife, the former Miss Carrie H. Curtis, were divorced in Paris last Summer."

On May 15, 1933, The New York Times reported that the 51-year-old banker "broke his collar-bone yesterday when he was thrown from his horse while hurdling a fence near his estate, Land's End, Locust Valley."  The millionaire spent the night in the North Country Community Hospital.

About two months later, the Land's End house was burglarized.  Then, on August 13, Gibson reported $200 in cash was missing from the residence.  The Gibsons may have had a light-fingered servant in their employ.  The New York Times recalled, "The theft follows another and larger loss in the same manner several weeks ago."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Interestingly, although Harvey and Helen Whitney Gibson continued to live in the East 69th Street house, Carrie Gibson had received it in the 1925 divorce.  It was not until February 2, 1935 that The Sun reported that Gibson "acquired the town house he occupies at 52 East Sixty-ninth street, at an indicated consideration of $90,000" from Carrie (who was now married to Griffith E. Thomas of the U.S. Navy).  The price would equal about $1.9 million in 2024.

Harvey Dow Gibson died "of a heart ailment," according to The New York Times on September 12, 1950.  In reporting his death, the newspaper called him a "banker of world-wide fame," and noted that he had served as a "Red Cross leader in both World Wars."

Helen Whitney Bourne Gibson's daughter, actress Whitney Bourne, who married Roy Atwood in 1956, inherited the East 69th Street house.  On December 24, 1964, The New York Times headlined an article, "Actress Buys East Side House" and reported that Whitney Bourne Atwood had sold 52 East 69th Street to Jayne Mansfield.  The article noted, "Miss Mansfield plans alterations to the residence."

Jayne Mansfield and husband Matt Cimber with their newborn son and her four other children.  Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1965.

Mansfield had married her third husband, Italian-born director Matt Cimber exactly three months earlier, on September 24, 1964.  The couple separated on July 11, 1965.

Two months before that, on May 10, 1965, the Long Island City newspaper Star Journal reported, "Actress Jayne Mansfield's East Side town house at 52 East 69th street, Manhattan, was burglarized yesterday of $51,000 in jewelry."  The amount of the heist would translate to about $473,000 today.

Mansfield was in Biloxi, Mississippi appearing at the Gus Stevens Supper Club in the early summer of 1967.  After midnight on June 28, a driver for the club chauffeured the actress and three of her children, her attorney, and her romantic partner Sam Brody on a trip to New Orleans where Mansfield was to appear on an afternoon television show.  The automobile slammed into the rear of a tractor-trailer, killing Mansfield and the two other front seat passengers.

The former Gibson house later became home to Peter M. Robbins.  It was sold in 2022 to historian, author, and collector of Old Master paintings Davide Stefanacci for $9.1 million.

photographs by the author
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