Thursday, April 6, 2017

Elegance Lost -- The Alfrederick S Hatch House - 49 Park Avenue



Little is left as evidence of the mansion's former glory.  A scar of light-colored brick outlines the location of the three-story bay that graced the side.

Alfrederick Smith Hatch was 36 years old in 1865 when the Government exhausted its borrowing power during the Civil War.  Hatch and his partner, Harvey Fisk, had formed the finance and insurance company Hatch & Fisk just three years earlier, with its office at No. 5 Nassau Street.  The two men embarked on an ambitious project to fund the Union.

The New York Times later noted "Although bankers in those days were not considered in the best of standing if they advertised, yet the firm sent broadcast over the country a circular appealing to the patriotism of the people."  The response of patriotic citizens willing to buy bonds to help the cause was staggering.

"In one case a farmer traveled 300 miles from the interior of the State in order to offer the savings of the family," reported The Times.  "He brought the money in a carpetbag and dumped it on the table in the office of the firm.  It was a curious collection of coins and it took over an hour to sort them out, but when this work had been completed it as found that the farmer had brought $17,000 in his old bag."

The cash in the carpetbag would amount to more than a quarter of a million dollars today.  In all, Fisk & Hatch floated a "popular loan" of $500 million to the Government.

Alfrederick Hatch was born in Norwich, Vermont, the son of the well-known physician Dr. Horace Hatch and Mary Smith Hatch.  He had married Theodora Ruggles in 1854, and the couple would have 11 children.  The family moved into the exclusive Murray Hill neighborhood, their brick and brownstone house located at the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 37th Street.

A commodious 28-feet wide, the Italianate style house stretched 80 feet along 37th Street. The brownstone front connected to the red brick side elevation by a row of quoins.  A three-story angled bay on the 37th Street side provided dimension and added space inside.  Four stories tall above an English basement, the residence was capped by a bracketed cornice.

Hatch filled his mansion not only with European art works, but with American paintings.  One would stand out among the collection.  So proud of his fine mansion and contented home life was Hatch that in 1869 he commissioned American painter Eastman Johnson to paint a group portrait of the extended family within the Park Avenue parlor.

Theodora's mother and Hatch's father were included in the charming setting.  The relaxed scene included a scattering of toys among the Renaissance Revival furnishings and draperies.  Because the ambitious painting took a year and a half to complete, a problem arose--Alfrederick and Theodora had another baby, Emily Nichols Hatch.  Johnson received a wire offering him an extra $1,000 to include the newborn.  Edward Payson Hatch was born in 1869 and was depicted on his sister's lap.  That figure now became Emily, and Edward was painted in as a toddler.  

The Hatch Family portrait included Theodora's mother, knitting, and Alfrederick's father reading the newspaper.  Hatch is leaning back in his chair, while Theodora stands by the mantel.  One set of interior shutters allows light for Dr. Hatch's reading.  The others are closed, protecting the pricey textiles from sunlight.  The painting on the wall may be by Frederick Church. from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The finished portrait, considered one of Johnson's masterpieces, did not come cheaply.  Johnson's nephew later reported that the most the artist ever received was $10,000 "for the picture of a family group."  Natalie Spassky, writing in the 1985 American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests that it was most likely The Hatch Family.  That commission would be equal to $200,000 today.

The Hatch family left No. 49 Park Avenue a few years later, selling it to the widowed Mary Flagg.  A forgetful servant left the door unlocked on the night of September 1, 1879 and while the household slept, burglars entered.  Three days later New York Times reported "Monday night sneak-thieves profited by an open door to rob Mrs. Mary Flagg, of No. 49 Park-avenue, of a French gilt and enameled clock worth $300."  Although only one item was missing, it was a substantial loss, valued at more than $7,300 today.

By the mid-1880s Mary had sold the mansion to actress Helen Dauvray.  Helen, whose real surname was Gibson, was born in Cincinnati in 1858.  The Evening World wrote in 1887 "Her parents were well-to-do, and their home was in San Francisco.  The little girl showed early promise of dramatic talent, and at five years of age she made her debut at the California Theatre, San Francisco, as Eva in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"

Helen spent seven years studying acting in Paris, accompanied by her mother, now remarried.  By the time she purchased the Park Avenue house, she was highly successful and divorced from dramatic author Herbert Tracy.  Moving into No. 49 Park Avenue with her was her sister, Clara Helm, her brother Adolph, and their mother.  The World noted "Mrs. Helm is a wealthy widow, her husband, Mr. Jordon Helm, having left her much valuable city real estate at his death."

Helen as she appeared around the time she lived in 49 Park Avenue -- from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the early months of 1887 the household was gripped by near terror by a stalker.  A businessman named Joe Golding had earlier seen Helen perform in Chicago and become smitten. He abandoned his job and moved to Manhattan to pursue her.  At first he was content to sit through every performance in the Lyceum Theatre; then his obsession grew to the point that he felt compelled to talk to her.

He wrote a flood of love letters requesting "an interview."  They pronounced his love saying "You are my guiding star, my light, my beacon."  One said "I adore you.  I have found out that you are not married.  If I am mistaken, God pardon me, and pardon you."  When Helen did not respond, he showed up at the stage door, saying he wanted her to come out and meet him.

When that did not work, he knocked on the door of No. 49 Park Avenue.  Helen's mother was "terribly frightened" as Golding insisted "I have written her letters and she has not answered them.  I feel that she is held in bondage by something or somebody or she would come to me."  Told that Helen was not at home, he threatened to wait until she came back.

Golding's stalking became worse, and was noticed by the neighbors.  Finally, on March 8, 1887 Helen and Clara went to the Yorkville Police Court asking for protection.  Clara explained "For some time past we have been much annoyed by a man prowling around our house at all hours of the night, and standing beneath my sister's bed room window in the most ridiculously dejected manner."

That night was opening night of a new play.  An undercover detective was in the theater lobby, waiting for Golding to appear.  When he purchased his 50 cent ticket, the officer sat directly behind him.  But Golding did not attempt to see Helen that night; and he filed out with the other patrons.

Police therefore waited in the shadows around the Park Avenue house.  And sure enough Golding appeared.  At 2:30 in the morning, the doorbell rang.  Clara described the scene, saying that an officer entered the house "bringing with him the crank by the coat collar.  I identified him, of course."

When the officer asked Golding why he had been annoying the actress, he replied "I couldn't control myself.  I had to go.  Oh, yes, I am perfectly sane...When I see the light in her window I think I see her.  I watch it every night until it goes out."

The creepy stalker was arrested.  He only had $1 on his person, and his bail was set at $300.  Despite his actions, Helen was sympathetic and wrote a note to Judge White, asking that his mental health be examined.  "I am quite sure he is insane, poor man."

The New York Times was a bit flippant in describing Clara's reaction following the arrest.  "Mrs. Helm became nearly lachrymose as she thought again of her would-be brother-in-law's melancholy fate."

In fact, even if Golding had been a reasonable suitor, he would have been out of luck.  In 1885 Helen met a dashing professional baseball player, John M. Ward.  A lawyer with a Columbia Law School education, he had played amateur baseball for several years while he garnered a fortune large enough to earn memberships in the Lotos and Manhattan Clubs.  In 1877 he gave up law to become a professional athlete, first with the Providence Club.  Then in 1882 he joined the New York Club as pitcher, later moving to short stop.

John M. Ward was the epitome of the dashing Victorian athlete.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Suddenly Helen was an avid baseball enthusiast.  She never missed a game at the Polo Grounds and even initiated the Helen Dauvray Cup to the baseball world champions.  She had gold medals designed and struck to be awarded to the individual members of the winning team.

The Evening World commented "It was noticed that she always applauded Mr. Ward when he appeared on the field, but her demonstration was never so pronounced as to enable the gossips to guess where her affections were placed."

Behind the scenes a romance had blossomed between the two celebrities.  And it was not hard to understand.  Not only were both wealthy, but they were attractive.  The Evening World described Helen as "of medium height and of graceful, though rather slim figure.  She has bright, dancing black eyes, and a wonderfully fine head of jet black hair."  And the newspaper was equally complimentary to Ward.  "He is a splendid looking fellow, about thirty years old, tall and light complexioned, and wears a short blonde moustache."  He was making $8,000 to $10,000 a year as a star player (around $257,000 today).

The romance was kept secret.  Only family members and the team's manager knew that the couple became engaged in the spring of 1887 (around the time of the Golding affair), with the wedding planned for a year later.  Those plans were upset when a reporter from The New York Times knocked on the Park Avenue door on the night of October 11.  He asked Helen "as to her union with Mr. Ward."

John Ward was in the house that night and as soon as the reporter left, a "family consultation," according to Adolph Ward, was "hastily called."  With the likelihood of the story appearing in the newspaper the following morning, Adolph explained "I advised that the ceremony should take place as quickly as possible, and it was settled to have the marriage solemnized to-day."

Adolph had been correct.  The Times reported on October 13 "The house of Miss Helen Dauvray, 49 Park-avenue, was besieged all day yesterday by people curious to know where and how the actress had been married to John M. Ward, ex-Captain of the New-York baseball team."

John B. Day, president of the New York Baseball Club, told an Evening World reporter "The couple wished the affair to be kept a secret."  He had granted Ward a leave of absence.  "He has served the club very faithfully and has worked hard during the past season, and deserves his pleasure."

Helen's mother and sister accompanied the couple to Philadelphia where they were married.  Adolph stayed home; and he took advantage of the privacy to do the unthinkable.

Two months earlier the family had hired a new servant girl, 22-year old Scotch-born Annie Allen.  Although she was married and had two children, her family lived in Nova Scotia.  Around the first week of October, according to Annie, Adolph "took liberties with her," which she resented.

Now, with his sisters and mothers gone, on the night of October 12 he made his move.  According to The New York Times three days later, he "insulted her on a staircase in the house, and she resisted him so forcibly that his eyeglasses were broken."  Undeterred, Adolph sneaked into Annie bedroom at 4:00 on the morning of October 14.  He gagged her by stuffing the bed sheets into her mouth.  The Times reported "She struggled successfully for nearly an hour, and then, quite exhausted, she found herself helpless in Gibson's grasp and became his victim."

Annie escaped the house the next morning and went directly to a lawyer.  Adolph was arrested later that day and held on $15,000 bail.  His sister, Clara, gave the Park Avenue mansion as security and he was released.   At the trial, on November 6, Adolph's attorney attempted to paint Annie as a thief and con artist.

An account said "The defense consisted of absolute denial of the charge of assault, while it attempted to show that Annie Allen had in her trunk articles belonging to members of the family, and had, some time ago, stolen two pocketbooks in a store.  It also attempted to prove that the defendant had boasted that she could make Gibson pay her $5,000."

If, indeed, Annie thought she could obtain money, she may have been correct.  Five months later she withdrew all charges against Adolph, with no explanation.

The events of 1887 may have been too much for the Gibson family to remain on Park Avenue.  The house soon became home to the family of Anson Ward Hard, founder of the coffee importing firm Hard & Rand.  Eight servants took care of Hard, his wife, the former Sarah Elizabeth Brown, and their nine children.

During the winter of 1893 Sarah's schedule focused on the coming-out entertainments for daughter Sallie.  On December 8, for instance, The New York Times reported "Mrs. Anson W. Hard will, at a tea which she proposes giving at her home 49 Park Avenue...introduce her daughter, Miss Sallie Hard, and her nieces, Miss Julia Soutter and Miss Isabel Brown."

But she was also involved in conducting a dancing class for girls whose debuts were years away.  The following year The Sun noted that "The class is intended for young girls and youths from 14 to 16 years old."  The article stressed "Dancing never continues after 11 o'clock."  Joining Sarah in running the classes were high level socialites like Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes, Mrs. Alexander T. Van Nest and Mrs. C. O'D. Iselin.

On January 6, 1897 another daughter, Laura, was feted in the Park Avenue house for her coming out.  Sarah hosted a tea and reception that afternoon.

The following year, with similar dancing classes appearing around town, Sarah decided to discontinue hers.  On April 10, 1898 The Sun reported "The warfare of the dancing classes has been waged in spirited fashion during the Lenten period.  Some of the most important which have been going on for years are to be dropped.  The Tuesday evening class and that of Mrs. Anson W. Hard are said to be of this number."

Sarah, it seems, was the victim of plotting mothers.  The article went on "The impression exists that it is due to the efforts of a small clique of the very rich that the classes are to be given up.  They intend to give series of dances at their own houses, and to invite all the eligible beaus."

In January 1899 Julia Post Hard was married to Augustine Jacquelin Smith in the fashionable St. Bartholomew's Church.  The ceremony was followed by a reception in the mansion.  But it would be among the last of the glittering entertainments held here by the Hards.

On January 27, 1902 a massive explosion occurred when the dynamite shed connected with the excavation of the Park Avenue subway detonated.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported "With a roar that was heard for miles and a concussion that badly damaged two big hotels, the Murray Hill and the Grand Union, shook the walls of scores of houses and smashed windows and crockery in scores of others, two tons of dynamite exploded in the Rapid Transit subway at Park avenue and Forty-first street at noon to-day."

Eight men died instantly and hundreds were injured.  Many houses and commercial buildings were severely damaged, including No. 49 Park Avenue.  The Rapid Transit Subway Company purchased many those properties in settlement actions, including Anson Hard's house.

The company repaired the structure and leased it to Dr. Peter J. Gibbons.  The well-respected physician remained here until 1909, when in April the Rapid Transit Subway Company sold it.  The buyer, Augusta H. Bliss, reported on April 13 that she would have the house modernized into an "American basement dwelling."  That meant that along with other renovations, the stoop would be removed and the entrance lowered to sidewalk level.

No. 49 Park Avenue (behind the second automobile) retains all its original elements, including the side bay, in this photo. photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Augusta was the widow of millionaire banker George J. Bliss, partner in Morton, Bliss & Co., who had died in 1896.  Her unmarried daughter, Catherine Anita, moved into the remodeled residence with her.   Catherine's married sister, Augusta Reese, had moved into the neighborhood two years earlier, remodeling an old house at 103 East 37th Street to a stylish mansion.


Catherine died on March 3, 1915, leaving an estate of more than $100,000, or about $2.4 million in today's dollars.  Of Augusta's six children, only two were now alive.

By 1920 the elderly dowager had become an invalid.  Finally, on December 20 that year she died in her bed.   The New-York Tribune noted "Mrs. Bliss, who was advanced in years, had been confined to her bed for some time."  Her estate was appraised at $4.6 million.

Augusta Reese leased the house to Dr. Charles A. Holder and his wife.  Holder was president of the Park-Union Foreign Banking Corporation.   Rather surprisingly, while Park Avenue experienced marked changes from an exclusive residential district to a commercial neighborhood, No. 49 Park Avenue remained an upscale private dwelling.


By the first years of the 1930s it was home to wealthy bachelor William de Forest Haynes and his spinster sisters Caroline and Louise.  Their summer home was in Highlands, New Jersey.

Haynes had made his fortune as a dry goods commission merchant.  He had retired in 1914.  By now he had a history of heart problems.  On November 11, 1932 the 70-year old took a trip in his limousine to the Bronx Botanical Gardens.  As a precaution, his nurse, Mary C. Anson, rode along.

On the way home, at around 4:00, he suffered a heart attack.  Mary Anson alerted the chauffeur, who pulled over and notified a police officer.  An ambulance was called, but Haynes was dead before it arrived.

It is unclear how long the Haynes sisters remained in the house; but on November 20, 1945 it was opened as a "residence club" for girls aged 16 to 21 years old who came from broken homes.  The Vocational Foundation, Inc. had been formed at the request of judges from the Girls Term Court.  It spent $75,000 to furnish and decorate the building.  City officials attended the opening, and The New York Times reported "All praised the foundation's aim to help girls...who might become delinquents if they were returned to their homes or sent to a city of State institution."


Eight years later the former mansion was converted to four apartments per floor.  At some point a pseudo-Colonial doorway was affixed to the entrance and the brownstone slathered in a concrete-stucco material.  Other than the Italianate cornice, little remains to suggest that once a family of immense privilege gathered in the parlor here for group portrait.

photographs by the author

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