Saturday, November 14, 2015

Generations of East 72nd Street, Part II

David and Richard Hirsch playing in the snow (circa 1947) on East 72nd Street in front of 910 Fifth Avenue, where they lived with their parents Myrtle and Henry Hirsch. Henry Hirsch and his brother Alexander Hirsch acquired the building in the 1950s. On the immediate left is 7, 9, and 15 East 72nd, and on the right you can see the Rhinelander Waldo mansion (now the Ralph Lauren flagship) on Madison and 72nd. And on the corner where the Ralph Lauren Women's store is now located, is the Stanford White-designed mansion that had belonged to Alva Vanderbilt in the mid-1890s after her divorce, as well as the buildings next door to her -- 16, 18, 20, and 22 East 72nd Street.
By 1890, New York was largest city in the country with a population of more than 1.5 million. As it was expanding real estate was escalating. By the mid-1890s, the block of East 72nd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues reflected this expansion grandly. In 1890, James Burden, whose father Henry had founded a very prosperous iron works company in Albany, New York, purchased a double lot on the southeast corner of 72nd and Fifth from the Lenox estate and built a mansion that was completed in 1893.
The James A. Burden residence on the southwest corner of 72nd and Fifth Avenue designed by R. H. Robertson and completed by 1893, replaced 23 years later by the apartment building, 907 Fifth Avenue.
The residence was short lived. Twenty years later it was demolished to make way for a 12 story luxury residential building designed by J.E. R. Carpenter in the Italian Renaissance style with two 12-room apartments on each floor except the top floor which was occupied by one apartment of 25 rooms. These were all rentals. Herbert Pratt, a Standard Oil partner was its first resident in 1916, paying a rent of $30,000 a year (about $750,000 in today’s dollars).
907 Fifth Avenue, 1917. You can see by this photograph that 32 years after the Tiffany mansion was completed down the block, that the area was still sparsely populated.
Robertson's Italian Renaissance palazzo-inspired building won him the 1916 gold medal of the American Institute of Architects.
On the northern corner, John D. Rockefeller’s double lot was sold and a large house of no existing record was built. That house was replaced in 1920 by developer Fred French, who built the 12 story 910 Fifth Avenue, a limestone-covered sister building to 907, also in the Italian Renaissance style. The building was sold in the late 1950s to two brothers, real estate investors and developers Henry and Alexander Hirsch. The limestone façade was stripped away and four floors were added increasing the number of apartments to 49. In 1978, the building went co-op.
910 Fifth Avenue, today.
Two doors from Fifth Avenue, in 1894, Henry T. Sloane, the furniture and carpet retailer, purchased a large lot which was mid-block, two doors west of the Tiffany mansion, and hired the architect Carrère and Hastings to build a French-style mansion.

Before construction was finished, however, before Sloane and his wife Jessie and their two daughters could move in, it emerged that Mrs. Sloane was having a torrid affair with Perry Belmont, son of August Belmont, who was the Rothschilds’ business agent in New York. When it came time to occupy the house, the couple had separated.

In January of 1897, Mrs. Sloane hosted a “housewarming” reception for 200 guests inviting many prominent New Yorkers including Ava and Jack Astor (parents of Vincent Astor), the Stanford Whites, Mamie and Stuyvesant Fish (whose new house, designed by White was close to completion on 78th Street and Madison Avenue – now home to the Bloomberg Philanthropies); Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills, Willie K. Vanderbilt (now divorced from Alva who had married Perry Belmont’s brother Oliver). Mr. Sloane was absent. Mr. Sloane had moved into a hotel.
The Henry T. Sloane mansion designed by Carrere Hastings and completed in 1896 as the Sloane marriage was breaking up, and it was never lived in by Mr. Sloane (and only shortly thereafter by the ex-Mrs. Sloane). The Guggenheim house (number 15) is to the right.
The Sloanes’ divorce was a huge scandal of the day, made more colorful by the fact that Jessie Sloane only a few years before had been a girl from Brooklyn starstruck by New York society. When the divorce was granted in 1899, Jessie Sloane was prohibited from seeing or speaking to her two young daughters -- even on the street -- until they were 21.

Five hours after the decree was granted Jessie Sloane became Mrs. Perry Belmont, and at her new husband’s insistence, she returned the deed to the mansion to Mr. Sloane. He rented the house to Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, and his family and 17 servants. In 1901, Pulitzer vacated and the house was sold to James Stillman, one of the founders of National City Bank (now Citibank), a widower who lived there until his death at 67 in 1918. The house was then sold to John Sanford, a businessman and horse breeder, heir to a carpet fortune. Sanford’s son Stephen “Laddie” Sanford was a famous Palm Beach based polo player as well as director of the family carpet business. One of his daughters, Gertrude Legendre was also a famous explorer, big-game hunter, environmentalist and socialite, who owned the Medway Plantation in Aiken, South Carolina. Today the house is the property of the Emir of Qatar.
Gertrude Sanford Legendre and her sister-in-law Mary Duncan Sanford.
The essence of East 72nd Street that gives it the architectural and social finesse that it retains today was constructed in the mid-1890s. In 1894, across the street from the Tiffanys, on the southwest corner of Madison and 72nd, another McKim, Mead & White design was purchased by the then newly divorced Alva Vanderbilt who had abandoned her famous chateau on Fifth Avenue to her ex-husband Willie K.

The southwest corner of Madison Avenue, directly across the street from the Tiffany mega-mansion was a house designed also by Stanford White for a client who never moved in. Alva Vanderbilt purchased the house after leaving her husband Willie K in the Fifth Avenue chateau. After her divorce, Mrs. V. would marry Oliver Belmont, brother of Perry who would in a few years marry the erstwhile Mrs. Henry Sloane, making the two women sisters-in-law.
It was in this new house that her daughter Consuelo, forced by her willful mother, dressed and prepared for her wedding to Lord John Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim. Alva, it was said, had originally wished to marry her daughter into royalty.

Everything came with a price and the Vanderbilts could provide that. She couldn’t find a suitable king or prince, and so she settled on Churchill who lived in the largest private ducal palace in England. For Churchill it was the answer to the expensive upkeep of such an establishment. It was perhaps the most famous marriage of an American at the end of the 19th century, a financial transaction that embellished Alva Vanderbilt’s strong sense of breeding.

On that fateful day, Consuelo, her eyes still red from sobbing about her fate, was then driven by coach to the church on 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue where outside hundreds of New Yorkers congregated to see the dollar princess arrive. She was met at the church by her father who would escort her down the aisle. Once she had been “given away,” William K. Vanderbilt, on orders from the bride’s mother, left the church and did not see his daughter again for the rest of the day.

Once the unhappy marriage was accomplished/achieved, Alva, the divorcee – another important social statement for the lady – married Oliver Belmont, brother of the aforementioned Perry who married another divorcee.
The domineering mother Alva Smith
Vanderbilt (known in her family as Grannie Smith). Later in life, she admitted that it had been unfair to force her daughter's marriage to the duke, and approved Consuelo's second marriage to Jacques Balsan, a well born Frenchman.
Although mama disallowed her soon to be ex-husband Willie K. Vanderbilt to attend the wedding of his daughter Consuelo, father and daughter remained close. Here are father and daughter after she'd become the Duchess of Marlborough.
Oliver Belmont died a little more than a decade after the marriage, leaving the widow Belmont to pursue her two great passions in life: women’s suffrage and building palaces for herself. When she died in 1933, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s body was transported by ship from London to New York where her funeral and memorial was held at the same church where three decades before her daughter embarked on her ill-fated marriage. Madam Belmont’s service was conducted by women and “God” was referred to as “she.”

Also in 1895, diagonally across from the Tiffany house
on the northeast corner of Madison and 72nd, a real estate heiress Mrs. Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo began a-building. Mrs. Waldo’s architect Alexander Mackintosh from Kimball & Thompson created a mansion modeled after a chateau in Loire. The house was completed in 1898 but Mrs. Waldo, who was then a widow in her forties, never moved in. Instead she lived most her life in a smaller house adjoining it. Since its completion, its history has been entirely commercial. Its first occupants were antique dealers and interior decorators. In the 1980s Ralph Lauren leased for his flagship store which it remains today. Mr. Lauren was the first and only occupant of the mansion who created an interior space that is mentally harmonious with its exterior grandeur.
Diagonally across the avenue from the Tiffany residence was this house built for real estate heiress Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, inspired by Loire Valley chateaux, completed in 1898, and never occupied by Mrs. Waldo who lived in the narrow limestone house (pictured) next door on 72nd Street.
Two doors west of Mrs. Vanderbilt there were three townhouses which went up in 1894-95, numbers 18, 20, and 22 East 72nd Street. The middle house, number 20, was purchased in 1894 by the newly married businessman and one-time mayor of New York, Hugh T. Grant as a wedding gift to his wife. The Grant marriage was solid and so was Mr. Grant’s business. Mr. Grant died early, at age 52, in 1910, leaving his wife an estate in the tens of millions (in today’s currency).

A very devout Catholic, the widow Grant financed and subsidized Regis Academy, a Jesuit run private school free for boys who came from backgrounds that couldn’t afford a private school education. Regis remains a century later one of the finest  schools of its kind in the country. After Mrs. Grant’s death, the house was eventually sold to the Vatican to use for their United Nations representative. One of the selling points, according to Alice Mason, the prominent private residential broker who sold the house for the family, was a private chapel that Mrs. Grant had long ago built on the first floor.
20 East 72nd Street (center) completed in 1894 by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh T. Grant and family. Mr. Grant was a mayor of New York in the late 1880s. The family owned the house until the 1970s when it was purchased by the Vatican for its UN representative. Pope Francis I stayed there on his recent visit to New York. The white house on the right, number 18 East 72nd, was first occupied by newlyweds Frieda Schiff and Felix Warburg, a wedding gift from Mrs. Warburg's father Jacob Schiff. The couple lived there for ten years before building the larger house on 92nd Street and Fifth, now the Jewish Museum.
The same year that the Grants moved in, the house next door, number 18 was purchased by Jacob Schiff as a wedding gift for his daughter Frieda and her husband Felix Warburg, the young banker from Hamburg, Germany. The Warburgs remained in residence for less than ten years when they moved into a palatial mansion designed and built for them on the corner of 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, by C.P.H. Gilbert.

Mrs. Warburg’s father, Mr. Schiff, expressed his disapproval of his daughter and son-in-law’s architectural choices, noting that the opulence and grandeur of the French Renaissance architecture could easily be considered in poor taste, a kind of showing off that lacked the dignity that the Schiffs presented to the community. Nevertheless, a large and creative family emerged from that grandeur – songwriters, cultural impresarios, writers, bankers – and thirty-six years after its building, the now widow Frieda Schiff Warburg donated the house as a permanent home for the Jewish Museum where it flourishes today. Her father would have been proud.
The Warburg mansion on the corner of 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, 1929.
Just across the street from these houses, in 1898, Benjamin Guggenheim, one of the heirs to the immense mining fortune of Meyer Guggenheim, and his wife, the former Florette Seligman, daughter of the prominent banker James Seligman, moved in to their newly built number 15. The house, which is still standing today, was sandwiched between the mountainous Tiffany residence and the Sloane palazzo, had replaced a 20’ wide brownstone of modest note. The Guggenheims lived there with their three daughters Benita, Peggy, who was born the same year as the house was built, and the youngest sister Hazel.
The Benjamin Guggenheim residence, number 15 East 72nd Street, still standing.
The Guggenheim marriage, however, was one of lessening passions. Mr. Guggenheim traveled to Europe frequently on business, enough so that he would have an apartment in Paris. On the 10th of April, 1912, Mr. Guggenheim, returning to New York after one of his business trips boarded the newly launched RMS Titanic. He was accompanied by his valet, his chauffeur, his mistress -- a French singer, Leontine Aubart -- and Mlle. Aubart’s maid. Everyone was asleep when the boat struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15th. Guggenheim, who shared his stateroom with his valet, was awakened not by it but by Mlle. Aubart and her maid who were in the stateroom adjoining. Everyone was being helped into lifebelts and heavy sweaters. The two ladies got into Lifeboat no.9. Guggenheim soon realized that he was not going to be saved. He told Mlle. Aubart and the maid that he would see them later on. However, he and his valet were last seen seated in the foyer of the Grand Staircase sipping brandy and smoking cigars. His body was never found.
Florette Guggenheim and her brother James de Witt Seligman outside the offices of the White Star shipping line in New York, April 1912. They were waiting to enquire about Benjamin Guggenheim's fate, who was a passenger on board the Titanic when she sank.
Florette Guggenheim was devastated by the news and by its personal revelations forever after. Within a month, she and her three daughters, Benita, Marguerite ("Peggy") and Barbara moved out of number 15 and into the St. Regis Hotel, never to return to number 15. Her sister-in-law Cora Guggenheim Rothschild moved into the house with her husband. Florette remained ensconced at the St. Regis. In 1919, the Rothschilds bought the house from Florette.

Number 7 East 72nd Street, still standing, was on the west end of the Sloane house. The last great mansion to be built on that block, it was designed by Ernest Flagg in 1899 for Oliver Gould Jennings, a businessman and heir to another Standard Oil partner’s fortune. Ernest Flagg had studied architecture in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Flagg’s creation, 28 feet wide, is a reflection of his Beaux-Arts training as well as the obvious influence of the Parisian townhouses he saw while studying there. Mr. and Mrs. Jennings lived there until they built another house on Fifth Avenue and 69th Street in 1915.

Number 7 was sold first to a family named Girard, and then again in 1920 to Henry Ingersoll Riker and his family. Mr. Riker died suddenly of pneumonia in 1927 but his family remained there. When his widow, Mary Riker, died in 1947, the house was acquired by the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and used for its growing collection while Frank Lloyd Wright was beginning to work on his designs for the museum. In the meantime, the Guggenheim shared the space with the Danish delegation to the newly formed United Nations. The Guggenheims moved out in 1959 on completion of the museum at 89th and Fifth, and the house was acquired by Lycée Francais which connected it to the Sloane house. Its design complement to the Sloane mansion next door had an enormous influence still visible today on townhouses built in that era on the Upper East Side of New York. Today, number 7 is part of number 9, a private house belonging to the Emir of Qatar.
The Oliver Gould Jennings house, number 7 East 72nd, on the left. Jennings, businessman and banker was also an heir to a Standard Oil fortune, moved in at the turn of the century and lived there unitl 1915 when Jennings sold it and moved to another house he built on Fifth Avenue and 69th. The house was later sold, along with the Sloane house next door to the Lycee Francais, and remains part of number 9, now the private house of the Emir of Qatar. The third house is the former Guggenheim/Rothschild house.
The hall, grand staircase, and drawing room at 7 East 72nd Street, 1901.
By the late 1920s, the gilded block of East 72nd Street had changed noticeably with the large (now cooperative) apartment buildings on both corners of Fifth Avenue as well as 19 East 72nd on the northeast corner of the block. However, when Ralph Lauren expanded his business several years ago, taking over the southeast corner for his women’s store, he revived the Beaux-Arts influence with a magnificent structure that is wholly compatible with the architectural styles that dominated the block from the late 19th century onwards, maintaining  and punctuating the charisma and aesthetic of the late Gilded Age.
The Ralph Lauren Women's store, recently built pays tribute to the architecture of the 72nd Street block, having replaced an ordinary building that had long before replaced Alva Vanderbilt's house. Bravo.
Click here for Generations of East 72nd Street, Part I

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