Monday, May 27, 2024

The Lost Henry G. Trevor Mansion - 28 East 52nd Street


The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

When the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum opened in 1851, the block on which it sat--Fifth to Madison Avenues from 51st to 52nd Streets--was well north of the developed city.  But that had all changed by 1899.  The orphanage was surrounded by the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  Directly across Fifth Avenue, for instance, was William Henry Vanderbilt's three-mansion complex, the Triple Palace.  In 1899, the trustees of the orphanage took title to property in Fordham Heights as the site of a new facility and the "Asylum Block" was put on the market as building plots.

Millionaires like the Vanderbilt family, terrified by the threat to their property values, pressured the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum trustees to write restrictive covenants into the deeds, "that they be used solely for residential purposes," according to the Record & Guide.  

On January 27, 1900, The Evening Post noted that real estate market interest for the past five days "has centered about the Orphan Asylum block."  Among the millionaires who snatched up properties was Henry Graff Trevor, who paid $2,000 per square foot for a 30- by 100-foot lot at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street, across the avenue from the asylum proper.

Trevor was born on April 25, 1865 to John B. Trevor (described by Prominent Families of New York in 1898 as "one of the leading bankers of New York in the last generation) and Louisa Stephania Stewart, daughter of Lispenard Steward.  Henry was a member of the firm co-founded by his father, Trevor & Colgate.  In 1890, he married Margaret Helen Schieffelin.  The couple had five children, George Schieffelin, Margaret Estelle, Louise Stephanie Stewart, Henry Jr., and Helen Lispenard Stewart.  (Another child, Henry Stewart, had died in infancy.)

A very young Trevor, possibly from his college yearbook.  (original source unknown)

The Trevors commissioned architect Augustus N. Allen to design their mansion.  Construction did not begin until late in 1903 when the orphanage had moved and its buildings were demolished.  Completed in 1905, the residence opened onto Madison Avenue where a marble portico supported an iron-railed balcony at the second floor.  Allen's neo-Colonial design included paneled, stepped lintels over the grouped windows of the second floor; and layered, splayed lintels above those of the third and fourth.  The arched dormers of the fifth floor peeked above the stone balustrade that crowned the cornice.

The Trevors opened their home on December 11, 1905.  The New York Times reported they, "gave a novel entertainment last evening in their new residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, to celebrate not only their crystal wedding, but the opening of their new house."  

The ground floor held only the Drawing room, Stairhall and Library.  Entertaining was done on the second floor, or piano nobile.  The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

Two of Margaret's sisters had married into the British Ismay family.  Julia was married to J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line; and Matilda Constance's husband was Charles Bower Ismay.  Matilda was visiting and assisted Margaret and Henry in receiving that night "in the large hall on the second floor."

After the reception, the guests were shown into the drawing room.  The New York Times said, "The entertainment was entitled 'The Crystal Vaudeville.'"  A platform had been built at one end of the room and the chairs arranged "as in a theatre."  Guests were entertained by an orchestra, dancers, a solo musician and vocalist, and the Chihuahua Troubadours.  "There was also cartoonist, Thomas Nast, Jr., who made funny pictures."  (A caricaturist, Thomas Nast is remembered both as a pioneer of editorial cartoons and the creator of the accepted appearance of Santa Claus.)

Also appearing on stage were two of the Trevors' daughters.  The article said, "but perhaps, the most pleasing part of the entertainment was the dancing by the little Misses Margaret E. and Louise S. S. Trevor of a gavotte, a Narcissus dance, and a jig."  After the "vaudeville," supper was served.

The Trevors' summer home was Meadowmere in Southampton, Long Island.  The sprawling home on the estate was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury.

A 1922 postcard depicted the Trevors' country home, Meadowmere.

The townhouse was a center of entertaining.  On January 26, 1909, for instance, The New York Times reported,

Mrs. Henry Graff Trevor gave a dinner last night at her residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, for twenty guests.  The dining room was decorated after the fashion of an Italian garden, and the table was adorned with American Beauty roses.

(Decorating with roses in January was a costly touch in the early years of the 20th century.)

In 1912, Margaret's attention turned to the first of her daughters' introductions to society.  On November 3, The Sun reported, "Another of the debutantes for whom much will be done in the way of entertaining is Miss Margaret E. Trevor."  The article said, "Mrs. Trevor is giving a large coming out tea for her daughter at her house, 28 East Fifty-second street, on December 7, and she will give a dance there on December 30."  It added, "Miss Trevor is a great-niece of Mrs. Hamilton Fish, who will no doubt give her a dinner and dance."

George was the first of the children to marry.  His engagement to Alice Haven was announced in July 1914.  Two of his sisters would follow in quick succession.  

Louise Stephanie Stewart Trevor was married to James Couper Lord (son of architect James Brown Lord) in St. Bartholomew's Church on May 15, 1916.  The New York Times called the event, "One of the largest of the Spring weddings."  Margaret was her sister's maid of honor and Helen was one of the bridesmaids.  The newspaper reported, "The reception was held at 28 East Fifty-second Street, which was decorated with roses, lilacs and many choice Spring flowers from the conservatories and hothouses of Glenview, the country estate of the bride's grandmother, Mrs. John B. Trevor."

Five months later, in October, Margaret's engagement to Dr. Irving Hotchkiss Pardee was announced.  The Sun said, "The engagement is of much interest to the summer colony of Southampton, L. I., where Miss Trevor has passed a good deal of her time at the country place of her parents."

Like her sister's, Margaret's wedding took place at St. Bartholomew's Church.  It was held a year later, on October 27, 1917.  Notably, The New York Times reported, "The wedding reception was held at the residence of the bride's parents, 37 West 51st Street."

On November 24, 1917, the Record & Guide reported that Henry G. Trevor had sold 28 East 52nd Street.  The article said the mansion was already leased "to Chamberlin Dodds, of the firm of Dodds & Wallick, decorators, for residence purposes."  That was only technically true.  Chamberlin Dodds moved into the mansion, but operated his gallery from the ground floor. 

He was instrumental in the organizing of the Society of Interior Decorators of New York City that year.  In January 1918, The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator reported, "The headquarters for the present are the headquarters of the secretary, 28 East Fifty-second Street."

Dodds opened the mansion for a suffrage benefit on April 15, 1922.  The New York Herald reported, "At the home of Mr. Chamberlain Dodds, 28 East Fifty-second street, today thousands of prize winning blossoms coming from one of the largest private greenhouses near New York and Easter baskets and fresh eggs from the farms of Mrs. Frank A. Vanderlip will be sold for the benefit of the New York State League of Women Voters."   Among the patronesses were Eleanor Roosevelt.  

The New York Times, February 5, 1922 (copyright expired)

Dodd had at least one tenant in the mansion in 1922, actress Marie Doro.  Marie was visited by a female reporter from the New York Star, who reported on March 4 that when she arrived, "In her super-artistic home at 28 East Fifty-second Street, [Marie] was testing perfumes."  The smell-test was necessary because whichever scent Doro chose would be named after her.

Marie Doro, The Theatre magazine, July 18, 1913 (copyright expired)

Marie Doro had begun her career as a chorus girl, moved to Broadway under impresario Charles Frohman, and, following his death in 1915, went into silent films under contract to Adolph Zukor.  In 1921, she appeared on Broadway for the last time, in Lilies of the Field.

On August 15, 1925, the Record & Guide reported that Harry T. Peters had sold his mansion at 32 East 52nd Street to Arthur Brisbane.  The article noted that Brisbane had already acquired "the former Trevor house" and the abutting 30 East 52nd Street.  The following year, on July 30, 1926, the Board of Standards and Appeals approved a petition to permit the construction "into a residence district of a proposed business building" on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street.  The mansions, including the Trevor residence, were demolished to make way for the 24-floor office building designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, which survives.

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  1. Doug Floor Plan
    Too bad this house stood for only 21 years. If my math is correct, Henry Graff Trevor paid $6,000,000 for a 3,000 sq ft lot in 1900. Can that be correct? Also, I believe the floor plan shown is for the piano nobile level, judging by the windows. The New York Architect editors may have labeled the floors: ground, first, second, etc. instead of first, second, third.

  2. The replacement building, 485 Madison Avenue, was the headquarters of CBS for many years.