Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Edmund Haas House - 40 West 74th Street

The wedding of Helena Guggenheim to Edmund L. Haas was intended to be a lavish affair.  Both came from wealthy families and 500 invitations to the event at Sherry's restaurant had been sent out.  But things were necessarily toned down when the bride's grandfather, Meyer Guggenheim, died shortly before the date.  Instead it was held in the dining room of the Guggenheim mansion at No. 763 Fifth Avenue on April 12, 1905.

While the guest list was shaved down to about 50 and The Evening World described the ceremony as "unostentatious;" that was a relative term.  The choir of Temple Emanu-El sang and the New-York Tribune described the house as "beautifully decorated with flowers, Easter lilies, lilacs and other spring blossoms in profusion."

After what The Evening World described as "an extended tour abroad," the newlyweds needed an appropriate place to live.  They found it in the newly-completed row of striking residences on West 74th Street known as the Clark Estate Houses.

Frederick Ambrose Clark followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Edward C. Clark, who had not only erected the Dakota, but rowhouses and apartment buildings on the Upper West Side.   Designed by Percy Griffin and completed in 1904, the eighteen houses at No. 18 through 52 West 74th Street were architecturally exceptional.  Each of the neo-Georgian mansions was slightly different; but the group, as described in The Architectural Record in November 1906, "presents the appearance of a composite whole well studied in its entirety."

Each cost about $3 million to build in today's dollars and contained up to 20 rooms, its own steam-heating plant and electric dynamo which, among other tasks, ran the elevator.   The Haas house, No. 40, had a rather severe limestone base which upheld three stories of red brick trimmed in tone.  Each floor had a slightly different balcony accessed by French doors.  The fifth floor mansard and copper-clad dormers were nestled behind a pierced stone railing.

Clark held onto all the residences as income-producing properties.  So, unlike their parents, Helena and Edmund rented their home.  However the appointments were no less impressive.  Griffin had designed the rooms in a mixture of historic styles and Helena furnished each with the appropriate pieces.   She entertained her female callers in a white-paneled, French drawing room; the couple's bedroom was furnished in the Edwardian interpretation of French Empire; and Edmund's library featured an English Georgian mantel and glass-doored bookcases.

The stately entrance hall contained rather utilitarian furnishings during the Haas residency, offering visitors benches on which to wait.  The staircase rose to a striking shell niche at the second floor.  Painted panels adorn the doorways.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Edmund Haas did not confine himself to the world of finance.  In 1906 he diversified by co-founding The United Cigar Manufacturers Company.  The massive corporation started out with capital of $20 million--more than 25 times that much in today's dollars.

An art nouveau statue sits on a marble-topped, gilded center table in the drawing room.
Another angle shows the fireplace and mantel.  Just above the side chair to the right are three buttons to summon various servants.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Haas was interested in the emerging automobile industry and paid close attention to a new type of tire in 1910.  The New York Times explained it "is the invention of Col. William F. Beasley, a Confederate veteran, of North Carolina.  The tire is described as airless and punctureless, and the construction is a patented truss system of rubber cells."

Edmund decided to test drive the tire by driving to Chicago.  His adventure was to have started on November 21; but his plans were upset by what he explained were "business engagements."  He promised reporters he would make the trip "soon after the Christmas holidays."  Whether that came to pass in unsure.
Helena's dressing room and the couple's bedroom were furnished in dainty French pieces.  The fabric-draped walls were undoubtedly an annoyance to dusting chambermaids.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
If the multi-faceted Edmund Haas had any spare time, his appointment to special Deputy Sheriff on February 28, 1912 helped fill it.   Responsible citizens were sometimes accepted as auxiliary forces for the Police Department.  Among the dozen men appointed with Haas that day were five bankers and even well-known artist J. Ben Ali Haggin.  The Sun reported on the appointments with a headline that read "More Men Who May Carry Pistols."

Edmund and Helena, like so many wealthy Jewish families, summered in Long Branch, New Jersey.   While there during the last week of June 1913 Helena discovered that $50,000 worth of jewels (more than $1.25 million today) had been stolen from her rooms.

Her bad luck continued one week later.  On July 6, she and Edmund joined her sister and her escort, Raymond J. Burns, for dinner on the boardwalk.   The Sun reported "When Mrs. Hass got up to dance she left her vanity box on the table.  It has her initials, H.C.H., wrought in diamonds."   When she returned to the table the box was gone.

This time the thief had a formidable adversary.  Raymond Burns was the sons of detective William J. Burns and was no stranger to investigations.  He telephoned chief of police and joined in the hunt for the crook.  Within an hour Peter Colombo, a bus boy, was arrested.

The Sun explained that when everyone left the table, the "omnibus boy covered [the box] with a napkin and removed it with the dishes.  This passed unnoticed."  But when the staff's belongings were searched, not only was the "$650 trifle" found in Colombo's possession, but "also a black mesh bag containing a silver vanity box."   The owner of that article was still unknown.

The walls of the masculine library appear to be covered in flocked velvet.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Around the end of World War I Edmund and Helena left West 74th Street.  The new tenants were the family of Lewis Mercer Borden.  Borden was a grandson of Gail Borden, who invented the process by which condensed milk is made.   He had married Marie Jaeckel, whose father ran the furrier firm of A. Jaeckel & Co., on January 4, 1906.  Although Borden was a director in the Borden Company, his new father-in-law made him a vice-president of the Jaeckel company.

The couple had four children, Lewis, Jr., Penelope, Gail and Albert.   The family was highly visible in Manhattan and East Hampton society.  The Borden's summer estate in East Hampton was known as Seaholme.

After they had lived at No. 40 for a few years, Frederick A. Clark began selling off the row.  On February 21, 1920 the Record & Guide reported that Borden, "the tenant," had purchased No. 40.  He paid Clark the equivalent of $555,000 today.

Tragically, Lewis Jr. died in the house at the age of 14 on April 23, 1923.  His funeral was held at All Angels' Church on West End Avenue two days later.

Like Edmund Haas, Borden broadened his professional interests.  He became a director in the Borden Realty Corporation and the sporting goods firm of Ambercrombie & Fitch.   A well-known sportsman, he was a member of the New York Athletic Club, the Maidstone Club of East Hampton and the Westminster Kennel Club, as well as the Union League and Bankers' Clubs.

The Jacobean style dining room.  Note the interesting ceiling fixture with tear drop art glass globes.   photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Gail, too, was an athletic, focusing on figure skating.   But his accomplishments in that sport would be nearly overshadowed by his romantic life.  On October 27, 1929 the parents of Margaret R. Henry announced her engagement to Gail.  Margaret was the daughter of Philadelphia candy manufacturer De Witt P. Henry.  The wedding took place on June 10, 1930.

But two years later Margaret went to Reno where she sued for divorced, charging Gail with cruelty.  The divorced was finalized in November 1932.  Then, just five months later, London newspapers announced that the 25-year old Borden "soon will remarry his former wife."

In the meantime, Gail had become the Middle Atlantic champion figure skater on March 2, 1930.  The year that he re-proposed to Margaret, he competed on the United States Olympic figure skating team, and would do so again in 1936.

His father would not see his second Olympic competition.  In February 1935 Lewis Borden was admitted to Doctors Hospital for an "intestinal ailment."  He died there at the age of 55 late on Sunday night, February 24.

Rather surprisingly, less than three months later the 74th Street house was again the scene of entertainments.  On May 7 Penelope gave a dinner for her cousin, Audrey Jaeckel and her fiancé, John Hamilton Baker.  Afterward she took the group to the Persian Room of the Plaza "for supper and dancing," according to The New York Times.

And later that summer Marie and Penelope entertained "several hundred East Hampton and Southampton friends at their Woods Lane estate" in East Hampton, as reported by the society columns.  The event was held to announce Penelope's engagement to Summitt Edward Boone.

If social eyebrows were raised by Penelope's fashionable wedding just seven months after her father's death, no one seems to have mentioned it.  The ceremony took place in St. Luke's Church in East Hampton.   Things were well patched up between her ice skating brother and Margaret, and Margaret stood in as matron of honor.

The newlyweds moved into the 74th Street mansion with Marie.  On February 2 they welcomed their first daughter, Penelope Ann.

The last of the Borden children to marry was Albert, who wed Lesley Stodart Smith in 1940.  The following year Marie was living at No. 555 Park Avenue and the No. 40 West 74th Street was converted to two apartments and a doctor's office on the ground floor and four apartments each on the upper stories.

That configuration lasted until 2008 when a renovation resulted in one duplex and one triplex apartment.  Outwardly, other than the sad loss of the Georgian-style leaded paned windows, the Haas house is essentially unchanged.

photographs by the author

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