Friday, July 30, 2010

Mansions on the hill

The Renaissance palazzo built in 1914-1918 for Wall Street financier Otto Kahn, on the northeast side of East 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. To the right, next door, is the James Burden mansion and the John Hammond mansion, both built at the turn of the century. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
July 30, 2010. Hot and humid in New York yesterday with a torrential downpour in the middle of the afternoon and eventual cooling off (slightly) by nightfall.

JH was over on the Upper East Side in the high 80s and low 90s on Fifth Avenue yesterday afternoon, and took these shots of what was once a veritable millionaires’ row of mansions. The Andrew Carnegie house was built in 1903 when that part of Fifth Avenue was “farther up” and had more open plots of land. Carnegie purchased the entire west half of the block between 90th and 91st Streets on Fifth Avenue for his house because he wanted room for a garden.

He also purchased the entire block on the other side of 91st Street, running from Fifth to Madison Avenues. He sold two lots off to two sisters -- members of the W&J Sloane family who were great-grandchildren of Commodore Vanderbilt, Emily – who married a banker, John Hammond; and Adele who married James Burden.
The Andrew Carnegie mansion, now the Cooper Hewitt Museum, on the southeast corner of 91st Street and Fifth Avenue.
Both families occupied the houses for the next four decades. The Burden mansion was sold to the Convent of the Sacred Heart (already occupying the Otto Kahn palazzo next door) in 1940 after the death of Mrs. Burden. The Hammond mansion next door was sold to an eye doctor in 1948.

In their heyday, all houses were centers of grand social activity varying according to the personalities of the owners. The Burden mansion had a ballroom inspired by the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, and Mrs. Burden, who was musical (and played concert piano) often held receptions there.

The Kahn, Burden and Hammond mansions today, now the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the Convent's lower school and the Russian Consulate respectively.
As popular as the Burden parties were, they were sedate as Mrs. Burden did not serve liquor. To a crowd that basically liked to drink, they did not last the night.

The parties at the Hammond house were musical too but the music was often Jazz. The Hammond son, John Jr., played viola and cello and eventually went into the music business, became the premiere record producer for Columbia records, and is credited with discovering Billie Holliday, Lionel Hampton, Bob Dylan and many other greats. Benny Goodman, at the beginning of his career, played at a Hammond evening and became a close friend of young Hammond. In 1942, he married Hammond’s sister Alice.

The big 80-room Renaissance palazzo on the corner was built fifteen years after the Burden, Hammond and Carnegie palaces, begun in 1914 and completed in 1918.

For a long time leading up to the eventual sale that plot was a bone of contention between Mr. Carnegie and his neighbors. Carnegie wanted them to buy that lot to protect his property and they didn’t. Finally, in 1913, Otto Kahn, the Wall Street banker bought it and erected a great Italian palazzo with an inner courtyard.

Otto Kahn’s move into the neighborhood gave it another kind of celebrity. Whereas they were all wealthy and prominent, Otto Kahn was a character of literary proportions who liked the Big Casino that is also New York. He was drawn to the worlds of arts and entertainment and consorted with society, showfolk, composers and conductors, artists and operatic stars.

Andrew Carnegie.
Otto H. Kahn with his son and daughter, May 1931.
Kahn owned three great estates besides this house. Oheka, his palace on Long Island which was also built at the same time the house in town was going up. It was the second largest house in America when it was finished. His parties, often eclectic and huge, were famous for their length and revelry.

He had been a kind of wunderkind, emigrating from Germany at 26, three years later he married Adelaide Wolff, the daughter of another Kuhn, Loeb partner, and a year later became partner with his father-in-law, and the Warburgs, Schiffs and Loebs. He was a patron of artists – Hart Crane, Caruso, George Gershwin, Arturo Toxcanini, and was the single greatest backer of the first Metropolitan Opera House and company.

He is credited with bringing Nijinsky to America. Caruso often sang at his dinner parties. Robert Moses even moved the construction path of the Northern State Parkway so that it would cut through Otto Kahn’s private golf course at Oheka.

Married with children (including the late Nin [Mrs. John Barry III] Ryan and band leader Roger Wolf Kahn), he had a long affair with Rose Cumming, the interior decorator whose business he also financed.

And although the man singlehandedly saved the Metropolitan Opera from collapse more than once, the anti-Semitic founding members wouldn’t permit him to purchase a box because he was a Jew. This went on for years until finally when it was impossible to overlook his generosity, he was offered the opportunity. He didn’t take them up on it, and remained happily with his seats in the orchestra.

The Kahn palazzo was completed in 1918, and the family lived in it for a little over sixteen years. Otto Kahn died in 1934 at 67. After his death, his widow sold the house to the Convent of the Sacred Heart which turned it into a private girl's school.

Six years later, in 1940, the Sacred Heart bought the Burden house next door for use as a lower school. Today the Hammond house is the Russian Consulate. I attended a party in that house, and also in the Burden house (in the ballroom) several years ago. They remain well maintained.
Across the Street from the Otto Kahn and Carnegie mansions.
Now the whole world knows. Saturday afternoon in Rhinebeck, New York at Astor Courts, Chelsea Clinton will marry Marc Mezvinsky in the presence of 500 guests in a wedding which is said to cost, in the final tally, $5 million. Ms. Clinton’s engagement diamond is said to cost $1 million. It is wise to remember that these numbers are all unconfirmed by the parties-that-be.

However, spectacle weddings have become the norm with the Clinton/Mezvinsky generation and there have been many weddings in the past few years that came with that price tag and even larger. No doubt the bride-to-be’s parents and perhaps even the bridal couple themselves have attended such affair because the international rich spend bigtime when it comes to tying the knot. Several weeks ago in Turkey there was a marriage of an Indian/Turkish couple in a wedding that took place over several days and is said to have cost as much as $20 million.

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky married yesterday, Saturday, July 31, 2010 in Rhinebeck, New York at Astor Court on the old Astor estate formerly known as Ferncliffe.
All of this is a far cry from the custom of weddings in the bride and groom’s parent’s generation. In the 1970s, the tradition of wedding borne of the Victorian age, fell out of favor with the hippies and the liberation movements. Many couples simply lived together or married in rustic, simple ceremonies eschewing any symbols of materialism. There were also many couples who married in the traditional fashion of church and gown followed by formal dinner dances but these were considered “square” to many.

However, all of that has changed steadily since the financial prosperity that began with the Reagan era and was capped by the Clinton-Bush era. Spectacle weddings would almost appear to be a holdover from the great financial bubbles of this age of ours.

Nevertheless, in the case of the Clintons, the brides’ parents can afford something spectacular for their only child, the light of their lives, the gift of their marriage and a very good daughter. And obviously she wants it, or someone close to her wants it.

Ironically the world media being what it is today have turned it into a nuptials on the par with marriages of the previous Gilded Age, like that of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough, not to mention Charles and Diana, simply because her parents are two of the most famous Americans in the world.
Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky with the ketubah behind. The ketubah is a special type of Jewish prenuptial agreement. It is considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride.
Astor Court, the location of the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky on the grounds of the old Astor estate in Rhinebeck, New York. Behind is a large tent set up for the reception.
Click here to read An Astor Legacy fit for celebrating Chelsea Clinton's wedding
The Young Fellows of the Morgan Library hosted their annual Summer Cocktail Party last night. The party got started around 7 o'clock with a private tour of two current exhibits, Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design and Defining Beauty: Albrecht Dürer at the Morgan. After that, the revelers schmoozed around an installation of Mark di Suvero sculptures in the glass-enclosed central court. Lobster rolls, along with chicken and vegetarian options, were served. DJ Phil South, also known as No Ordinary Monkey, provided the musical entertainment.

Like other junior museum membership groups around the city, the Young Fellows is made up of professionals in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s. Along with a holiday cocktail party, the summer cocktail party is one of the most prominent social events on the Young Fellows' schedule.
But there's more to the Young Fellows than just parties. Three years ago, the group's Steering Committee established a Special Projects Fund with the purpose of supporting a variety of initiatives at the Morgan. The inaugural effort of the Fund was the Steinbeck Project, undertaken between the fall of 2007 and the summer of 2008, which digitized John Steinbeck's recorded audio notes for America and Americans, the author's final work published during his lifetime. The recordings are now available at a computer terminal in the Morgan's Reading Room.

-SD for NYSD
Young Fellows Co-Chairs Catherine Corman and Jed Freedlander. Madeleine Saraceni and Sophia Zahoudanis.
Nicholas Lamb, Ed Brown, and Alex Cicogna.
The bar.
DJ Phil South (No Ordinary Monkey).
Richard Watson and Victoria Mukovozov. Isaac Lacey and Lauren Gould.
Campbell O'Shea, Thomas Shelton, and Katy and Christian Garry.
Erica Paik, Michael Tanzer, and Perrin Lathrop.
Last Friday in East Hampton, John and Jodie Eastman hosted a reception marking the New York Stem Cell Foundation’s fifth anniversary. They have reason to celebrate. Last May the NYSCF received a grant of $27 million from the Robertson Foundation, established by Julian and Josie Robertson.
John Eastman, Susan L. Solomon, Julian Robertson, Jr., and Jodie Eastman
Dorothy Lichtenstein, Kevin C. Eggan, Ph.D., Susan L. Solomon, and Jo Carole Lauder
Dr. Roy Geronemus with Carl Spielvogel and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel
Katama Eastman, John and Amy Griffin, and Julian Robertson, Jr
Alec Baldwin and John Eastman Robert A.M. Stern and Stephanie Douglas
Lee Eastman, Vanessa Eastman, and Liz Robbins
Lorne Michaels, Susan L. Solomon, John Eastman, and John Sykes
Paul Goldberger, Bette-Ann Gwathmey, and Dick Oldenburg
Susan L. Solomon and Charlotte Moss
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