|The free-standing mansion boasted a private piazza to the side. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
Architect Charles A. McKim received his first major commission from Moses Taylor, one of America’s wealthiest men. Taylor (whose fortune was estimated at around $70 million and who controlled the National City Bank of New York, a railroad and an import business) hired McKim to design a summer house in Elberon, New Jersey.
Moses Taylor died in 1882. McKim had already designed another Elberon mansion for the millionaire’s son, lawyer and financier Henry Augustus Coit Taylor, when on September 20, 1884 The Record & Guide announced that McKim, Mead & White was designing a $40,000 “handsome stone villa and stable” in Newport for Henry A. C. Taylor.
The relationship between Henry A. C. Taylor and the architects was not merely a professional one. Taylor had become a close friend of Charles McKim and was a co-member of the Metropolitan Club with Stanford White. He owned two abutting mansions facing Gramercy Park, Nos. 119 and 121 West 21st Street, and in January 1892 he leased No. 119 to Stanford White and his family.
Henry Augustus Coit Taylor was born in New York City on January 18, 1841. He married Charlotte T. Fearing, the daughter of merchant Daniel Fearing, in 1868. (The Fearing estate in Newport, The Cliffs, abutted the Taylor property.) The couple would have three children, Harriet, Henry Richmond and Moses.
In the fall of 1894 Taylor sought the services of McKim, Mead & White again. On October 13 The Record & Guide mentioned that the firm was working on three projects for Taylor—a mansion “on 71st street, near 5th avenue, estimated to cost $190,000, and two on 72d street to cost $75,000.”
Taylor’s 71st Street mansion straddled three building lots—Nos. 3 through 7—and would be a rare free-standing residence. Completed in 1895, its cost would translate to around $5.5 million in 2016. McKim, Mead & White had produced an imposing five-story Renaissance palazzo. Because the mansion was free-standing, there was no need for a service entrance to disturb the symmetry of the 71st Street façade.
|photograph by McKim, Mead & White, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The double-doored entrance was centered within the rusticated base. Each succeeding story was defined by a crisp cornice and rusticated piers ran up the sides. The architects’ attention to detail was evidenced by the triangular and arched Renaissance pediments at the second and fourth floors. The A-B-A pattern of the second quietly changed to B-A-B at the fourth. Each of the second floor openings was flanked by rather unexpected niches on the 71st Street front. The eastern windows at this level were graced with cast iron balconies which overlooked the side piazza.
The first of the Taylor children’s weddings took place the following summer. On August 19, 1896 The New York Times reported from Newport: “The marriage to-day of Miss Edith Bishop, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Heber R. Bishop, to Moses Taylor, was a quiet affair, as was intended and desired by all concerned, but, nevertheless, society took great interest in it.”
The “quiet affair” in Newport’s Trinity Church was attended by the cream of Newport and Manhattan society. In the pews were several Vanderbilts, Burdens, Schermerhorns, Oelrichs, and Belmonts. Other elite family names included Sloane, Gerry, Townsend, Lanier, Mills, Goddard, Morgan, and Whitney.
|The second floor stair hall carried on the Renaissance theme. photograph by McKim, Mead & White, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York .|
Three years later, at 3:00 on the morning of Sunday, December 3, 1899 Charlotte Fearing Taylor died in the 71st Street mansion. The Sun mentioned “She had been ill for a year.”
In the spring of 1903 the Taylor household prepared for a glittering function in the house. On May 3 it was announced that “the marriage of Count Giuseppe della Gherardesca…and Miss Harriet Taylor, daughter of Henry A. C Taylor will take place in the residence of the bride’s father.”
The society affair took place at noon on May 20 in the drawing room. The Times mentioned that “An orchestra stationed behind a bank of ferns in one of the upper halls played softly during the ceremony and the breakfast following.” There were 120 guests at the breakfast. The newspaper commented on the lavish gifts, including those from the Gherardesca family: “a diamond diadem, a chain of pearls, and a large diamond bow-knot, with a huge pear-shaped pearl pendant.”
|The family dining room was surprisingly intimate. photograph by McKim, Mead & White, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.|
Not long after Harriet’s marriage society received “with the greatest interest” another engagement announcement—that of her father to Josephine Whitney Johnson. The Evening World called Taylor a “multi-millionaire” and said that both he and Josephine “are of the first social importance.” The newspaper noted “Mr. Taylor is reputed to be worth $40,000,000, and in addition to his fine estate [in Newport] and the Glen Farm [in Plymouth, Rhode Island], adjoining Alfred and Reginald Vanderbilts places, he owns one of the handsomest modern residences in East Seventy-first street.”
Josephine Whitney Johnson’s father, Hezron A. Johnson, had died a year earlier leaving both his widow and Josephine substantial fortunes. The Evening World called Josephine “the best dressed woman in New York and Newport society” and added “The name of Empress Josephine has long been given to her on account of her regal bearing and stately presence.”
|Henry's wood paneled library featured marble-framed doorways and an Adams ceiling. photograph by McKim, Mead & White, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The couple was married “in the presence of less than twenty-five friends” in the Johnson villa on Gibbs Avenue in Newport on June 24, 1903. The Evening World explained that Taylor’s “wife, who was a Miss Fearing, died three years ago, and to the fact of his being a widower is due the quiet informality of to-day’s wedding.”
A newspaper reported that following the wedding breakfast “Mr. and Mrs. Taylor boarded the newly purchased steam yacht Wanderer upon which, should the weather prove favorable, they will take a short cruise, returning in time for the Newport season.”
Henry and Josephine settled into the lives of New York and Newport aristocracy. In 1907 an exhausting list of Taylor’s club memberships included the Union, Knickerbocker, University, Metropolitan, New York Yacht, Tuxedo, Down Town, Hope of Providence, Travelers of Paris, Newport Gold and Newport Country Clubs. Rather ludicrously, The Delta Phi Catalogue that year listed his occupation as “farming,”
As World War I was raging in Europe, another battle was taking place in Henry A. C. Taylor’s exclusive neighborhood. Lavish mansions were being demolished to be replaced with modern apartment buildings. In February 1916 the grand home of widow Nathalie Baylies came on the market. The dowager had died in December 1912. Taylor scrambled to protect his property and the exclusivity of the area. He purchased the Baylies mansion “as a protective measure to safeguard his adjoining home at 3 East 71st street, from an apartment house neighbor,” explained the Record & Guide.
A year later he sold the vacant mansion to Francis P. Garvan for $500,000 with the clear understanding that he would either remodel it or replace it with another residence.
In February 1921 Taylor was confined to his house with “an attack of bronchitis.” Two weeks later, on March 9, the household staff reported he was doing much better. The New York Herald reported “his condition is not giving them alarm in spite of his age. Mr. Taylor is 80 years old.”
But the retired financiers never recovered. He died in the mansion that had been his home for more than a quarter of a century on Saturday, May 28, 1921. Grace Church, where his funeral was held on May 31, “was crowded…with prominent residents of New York,” according to The New York Herald. Indeed names like Havemeyer, Belmont, Whitney, Ledyard, Burden, Pyne and Winthrop filled the pews.
Henry A. C. Taylor’s estate amounted to about $36,250,000. His will provided Josephine with “life interests in their city home at 3 East Seventy-first street, together with the household belongings, and in a trust fund of $5,500,000.”
In December 1925 Henry Richmond Taylor died at the age of 57. His estate increased Josephine’s personal fortune by another quarter of a million dollars. She remained in the 71st Street mansion until her death on March 10, 1927.
Her will revealed a truly altruistic act. It read in part “My stepson, Henry R. Taylor, who recently died, bequested to me in and by his will a legacy of $250,000. It is my desire to dispose of this legacy in such manner as I believe would have been agreeable to my said stepson.” She went on to divide that money among her household servants.
Frederick Bucher had been the Taylor butler for 20 years. He received $100,000—in the neighborhood of $1.37 million in 2016. Among the other gifts was $5,000 to Malvine Le Franc, Josephine’s maid. Bucher declined to comment on the generous windfall, other to say he would continue to work because “one doesn’t retire when there are three children.”
The trend of apartment house construction against which Henry A. C. Taylor had so vigorously battled soon threatened his 71st Street mansion. On February 2, 1928 a syndicate headed by architect F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr. and millionaire Thomas Crimmins announced plans to construct a $5 million cooperative apartment house to replace what The Times called “some of the finest residences on the crest of Lenox Hill.” Among the mansions to be razed was the Taylor house.
But something—most likely the Great Depression—stopped the ambitious project. No. 3 East 71st Street survived until 1946 when it was demolished, to be replaced with the Emory Roth & Sons-designed cooperative apartment building that survives today.
|Emory Roth & Sons released a sketch on May 15 1946. In the foreground is the northern wing of the Frick Gallery. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|