Monday, May 8, 2017

The Lost Horace Havemeyer Mansion - 853 5th Avenue


The Havemeyer mansion was unexpectedly understated.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When George W. Kidd died in his mansion at No. 853 Fifth Avenue on December 3, 1901, he left an estate of about $1.15 million--around 29 times that much in today's dollars.  His will named more than two dozen beneficiaries.  And Grace Georgette Kidd was not pleased.

The reason behind Grace's anger stretched back many years.  George Kidd was owner of the Illinois-based J. S. Pike Distillery Company.  He married Anna Estelle Slocum, whose daughter, Grace, was from a former marriage.  According to papers released later, Kidd promised his step-daughter that if she would change her surname to his, "Miss Slocum should receive, in her own right, all of [his] property, both real and personal."

Life in the Kidd mansion was a swirl of glittering entertainments.  The guest list at a "luncheon party" on May 13, 1895 included some of New York's wealthiest socialites, including Mrs. John W. Mackay, Mrs. S. Van Rensselaer Cruger and Mrs. Charles Isham.  The New York Times called Anna Kidd "one of the most munificent of hostesses."

Georgette had spent much of her adolescent years in Europe.  Fully expecting to inherit her stepfather's entire estate, she was dumbstruck when the will was read--leaving her just five percent.  After stewing for two years, the 31-year old filed suit in December 1903.

She continued living in the mansion with her mother.  On October 29, 1904 Anna announced Grace's engagement to Charles Courter Dickinson.  In reporting the event, The New York Times noted "Both Mr. Dickinson and Miss Kidd have lived much abroad," and said of Anna "Of late years she has passed her Summers on the other side of the water, where she and her daughter have many friends among the noblesse in France and Germany."

The wedding, termed "a quiet affair," was held in the house on January 19, 1905.   Grace assured reporters that the marriage would have no effect on her still on-going lawsuit.


The Kidd mansion was architecturally outdated by the time of Grace's wedding.  To the left is the home of  Benjamin Thaw; to the right that of Oliver H. Payne.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Dickerson's career was remarkable.  Having graduated first in his Cornell University class, he continued his success both as a lawyer and then a banker.  He founded several companies, including the Carnegie Trust Company and the Carnegie Safe Deposit Company.  He and Grace had a child, Charles, Jr., in 1906.

He suffered a fall from a horse in Central Park in October 1909 which forced him to retire.  He died a little over six months later, on May 24, 1910.  His funeral was held in the mansion two days later.  The New-York Tribune wondered in print if it were truly the fall that led to his death.  It pointed to Dickinson's interest in Dr. F. W. Lange's experiments in turning base metals into silver and gold; and suggested that Dickinson had inhaled deadly fumes.

Dr. Lange said simply, "The discovery I have made is gigantic.  The possibilities of it are sufficient to daze one, but I have not become flighty over it."  He scoffed at the suggestion his chemicals had led to Dickinson's death.

At about the same time Grace won her lawsuit, winning title to the Fifth Avenue mansion.  A month following the funeral she sold it to Louisine Havemeyer, widow of sugar magnate Henry O. Havemeyer who had died in 1907.   Louise lived steps away from the Kidd house, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 66th Street.  The $265,000 purchase was almost certainly a wedding present to her son, Horace, and his new bride Doris Dick.


The Victorian Kidd mansion was nothing if not outdated.  Havemeyer commissioned architects Trowbridge & Livingston to replace it with a modern Edwardian residence.  On December 21, 1912 the Record & Guide barely hinted at its appearance, saying "The facade will be of granite and limestone."  The cost was projected at $75,000--about $1.9 million today.

The new mansion was unexpectedly subdued.  Five stories tall, including the mansard level hidden behind a stone parapet, its minimal ornamentation was nearly spartan.  The mansion was, however, aristocratic in its severe reserve.

By the time the United States entered World War I the Havemeyers had temporarily left their Fifth Avenue home.  In 1917 it was being leased by Florence Van Cortlandt Parsons, widow of lawyer John Edward Parsons who had died in 1915.  While Florence lived and entertained in their home, the Havemeyers rented a spacious apartment at No. 823 Park Avenue when they were in town.

Florence was highly involved in charitable work.  She personally maintained the Catharine Street Mission, was president of the women's division of the Home for Incurables, and was involved in the Woman's Hospital, the Eye and Ear Infirmary, and the House of Mercy Hospital in Massachusetts.  Her summer "villa" in Lenox, Massachusetts, was called Interlaken.  It was there that she died at the age of 70 in October 1922.

The Havemeyers moved back into the Fifth Avenue mansion.  Following Louisine Havemeyer's death on January 6, 1929 her notable collection of Impressionist paintings was inherited by Horace.  He and Doris donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Among the 16 canvases were works by Mary Cassatt, Degas and Manet.

In 1930 modern apartment buildings were encroaching on the Havemeyer block.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

A year later, on July 30, 1930, The New York Times reported that not only Louisine Havemeyer's imperious mansion, but the former Oliver Payne house, and No. 853 were to be torn down.  The article explained that Douglas L. Elliman & Co. intended to "immediately" improve the properties with a cooperative apartment house.

The three mansions, familiar landmarks and among the last vestiges of Fifth Avenue's glittering era of millionaires' palaces, were replaced by architect Rosario Candela's One East 66th Street, which survives.

photo via Douglas Elliman Real Estate

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