Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lost Rudd Mansion -- Riverside Drive and 114th Street

In 1884, the year that George Rudd died in the house, an unpaved 114th Street had been cut through the property.  The area is still undeveloped and the classic balustrade has not yet been added.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

Born in England in 1812, George Rudd came from one of Great Britain’s most ancient families.  An ancestor, Sr. John Rudd, was a Knight of the Sepulchre who accompanied Richard the Lion Hearted to the Holy Lands.  His wife, Tanglust, was the daughter of the King of South Wales.

George’s parents came to America in 1815.  By 1852 he had amassed a substantial personal fortune in real estate.  That year he erected a magnificent home off the Bloomingdale Road (later renamed Broadway) with majestic views of the Hudson River and New Jersey palisades.

In the decade before the outbreak of Civil War the Bloomingdale area was bucolic.  Large summer estates took advantage of the fresh air and cooling river breezes and the Bloomingdale Road was dotted with inns and road houses that offered respite to weary travelers to and from New York.

Rudd’s two-story Greek Revival mansion was imposing.  Two-story pilasters rose at the corners and a substantial blank parapet crowned the structure.  But the focal point was the soaring Corinthian portico.  Above the entrance at the top of a broad flight of steps, the façade bowed inward, creating a circular veranda that looked down on the lawns which rolled toward the river.

George and his wife, the former Jeanette (she went by Janet) Lockwood, would have five children, George Jr., Marvin, Mary Frances, Eliza and Althea (known as Allie).   Somewhat surprisingly, it was Allie who developed an interest in her father’s business.  New York Supreme Court documents would later recall “From an early age, when she went around with her father, Althea became acquainted with the business of the estate and knew about the property.” 

As New York City edged northward and, simultaneously, Upper Manhattan developed into villages and then suburbs, George Rudd built on his extensive holdings.  Like the other land-holding families, the Astors and the Goelets, he never sold property; instead collecting rents from his many tenants.

In 1865 Parks Commissioner William R. Martin proposed that the cliff side above the Hudson River be transformed into a scenic park, “Riverside.”  Beginning in 1872 construction on the park began, starting at 72nd Street.  Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of Central Park, was hired to design the meandering green space.  Part of the project was Riverside Drive; and by 1880 the road ran through the foot of the Rudds' lawn.  As the Bloomingdale area grew, 114th Street was cut through the property as well, running threateningly close to the south wall of the residence.  The Rudd mansion, built as a country estate, had become an urban home.

On September 13, 1884 George Rudd died in the Riverside Drive house.  He was buried in fashionable Greenwood.   While his will placed the management of the real estate in the name of Janet; it was Althea who actually took over the day-to-day operations, while Mary Frances and Eliza acted as the bookkeepers.  On Sundays, Allie would travel south to the Church of the Holy Apostles at Ninth Avenue and 28th Street, where she was the sole soprano in the choir.

Within a decade Janet would attend the funerals of three of her children.  Marvin died on March 15, 1888, Eliza on August 14, 1892, and Mary Frances died in the Riverside Drive house on New Year’s Day 1894.  (At the time, the mansion was still identified by its location, “Riverside Drive and 114th Street,” rather than a street address.)

The aging widow, now 71 years old, was “frequently confined to her house.”  She petitioned the courts in 1895 to make Althea the legal trustee of the estate.  Her petition pointed out, in part, that Allie “has in fact, since the death of her father, collected the rents and seen to the repairs of the buildings.”  The judge found Althea to be “competent, proper and suitable.” 

Althea replaced the parapet with a handsome balustrade. As apartment buildings close in, the mansion retained its vast front lawn.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

In April 1899 Althea added her name to a petition requesting the City to name the “little triangular piece of land” at 106th Street and Broadway Schuyler Square, “in honor of General Philip Schuyler.”  In doing so she listed her address only as “Riverside Drive and One Hundred and Fourteenth street.”

Althea S. Rudd married T. Edwin Ward around 1900.  The couple had a daughter in 1906, named after her mother.  George Rudd’s far-reaching will provided $1 million in trust for the grandchild upon the eventual death of her mother. 

And that came on May 17, 1909 when Althea Rudd Ward died in the mansion, now numbered No. 420 Riverside Drive.   Her funeral was held in All Angel’s Church, on West End Avenue and 81st Street, on Monday, May 20.

Little Althea’s father wasted no time in petitioning the courts to dip into the child’s trust fund.  On November 14, 1909 the Los Angeles Herald reported that the New York Supreme Court had granted $15,000 a year for the three-year old girl’s support (about $405,000 in 2016 dollars).  The article explained “The child’s invalid father convinced the court that the amount would be necessary for the proper maintenance of the child.”

Althea’s death also signaled the end of the road for the family home.   The grounds of the old mansion had been whittled down to seven building lots by now; and just a year and a half afterward, on January 5, 1911, The New York Times announced that the A. C. & H. M. Hall Realty Co. “are having plans prepared for a high class twelve-story apartment house to cover practically the entire plot.”

Just months before its demolition, Harry A. Cone photographed the mansion.  An apartment building sits just feet from its northern wall.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The article noted that the Rudd house “with the exception of the Claremont Inn…is the last of the famous old country mansions that lined the Bloomingdale Road half a century and more ago.  The house retains its oldtime appearance, and many of the rooms remain exactly as they were a century ago.”  (Other newspaper articles confused the Rudd mansion with the Carrigan mansion, located further north.)

photograph by City Realty
The dignified Rudd mansion, one of the last reminders of the days when this part of Manhattan was tranquil and pastoral, was replaced by the $1 million apartment house, The Hamilton, designed by Gaetano Ajello, which survives.

1 comment: