Friday, December 23, 2011

Cobblestone to Asphalt

Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets 1867

Looking northwest from the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street in 1870. The White building at top left is Mrs. Mary Mason Jones's "Marble Row" at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh.
"It was her habit to sit in the window of her sitting room on the ground floor (imprisoned by her obesity), as if watching calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her solitary doors. She seemed in no hurry to have them come, for her patience was equaled by her confidence. She was sure that pres­ently the hoardings, the quarries, the one-story saloons, the wooden greenhouses in ragged gardens, and the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before the advance of residences as stately as her own-perhaps (for she was an impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble­stones over which the old clattering omnibuses bumped would be replaced by smooth asphalt, such as people reported having seen in Paris."

Mrs. Mary Mason Jones, whose banker father had paid fifteen hundred dollars for the site in 1825, had unshakable faith in the future of the area. She was portrayed as Mrs. Manson Mingott by her niece Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence.

Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets 1885

Marble Row 1894 view from the southwest

Marble Row was a Fifth Avenue house built in 1869 designed in the mode of a French chateau, by definition a large house erected in the country and therefore surrounded by broad, open spaces. As an architectural form, it was transplanted, in America's Gilded Age, from a rural to an urban setting. It was a harbinger of things to come. Remembering fondly such non urban palaces as Fontainebleau, Mrs. Jones herself produced the basic design for her house before turning it over to Architect Robert Mook.
Marble Row 

It was faced with a glistening cream-colored marble that set it apart from almost all other houses of the wealthy in the years following the Civil War. In Parisian fashion, the entire block between 57th and 58th streets was treated as a single unit, although there were actually eight houses within the block. Mrs. Jones took the one at the corner of 57th and Fifth for herself and rented the other seven to wealthy socialites.
View looking south down Fifth Avenue with the Cornelius Vanderbilt II house to the right

Mary Mason Jones saw herself as New York's true aristocracy, and she resented the efforts of the new-money people to assert themselves as so­cial equals. The confrontation of the two groups was nowhere more apparent than in the clash between Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Paran Stevens, the wife of the parvenu owner of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Mary Mason Jones's animosity toward the "climber" Mrs. Stevens was so intense that she declared openly that the latter would never set foot in Marble Row by invitation, and she did not. But Mrs. Stevens did have her tri­umph in the end, for after Mrs. Jones's death, her husband, Paran Stevens, bought the property, and in 1893 Mrs. Stevens moved into one of the units of Marble Row, where she became one of New York's presiding social queens.
1883 view looking east past the Cornelius Vanderbilt II house towards Marble Row at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue  

1 East Fifty-seventh Street(739 Fifth Avenue) became the home of Hermann Oelrichs  and wife Tessie(owners of Rosecliff in Newport). Tessie link above has Mrs. Oelrichs living at corner in 1906. 
Hermann Oelrichs Residence circa 1910
Circa 1911

Great-grandson Arthur Mason Jones inherited 741 Fifth Avenue and inserted a seven-story bachelor apartment into the block sometime after 1894 when his father died.
Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets 1912
Other residents of Marble Row were Solomon R. Guggenheim at 743 and William E Iselin(brother of  C. Oliver Iselin) at 745. Iselin was married to Alice Rogers Jones, granddaughter of Mrs. Mary Mason Jones.  By the 1890s the commercial possibilities of the row house became irresistible and the the corner pavilion at 58th Street was made into a bank. 747-751 were altered for business on the ground floors with small apartments above. In a 1912 NYTimes article William Iselin is mentioned purchasing a vacant lot at  11 and 9 East 86th Street. He later changed his mind and sold property to William Woodward. Woodward went on to build a Delano & Aldrich designed townhouse in 1916 at 9 East 86th Street

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  In 1928 the 58th Street end of Marble Row at 753(absorbing 745-751) was demolished for the Squibb Building

Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets 1928

743 was replaced by a nine-story white marble bachelor apartment designed by Hazard & Erskine in 1915. Later the New York location for Gilan.  
743 Fifth Avenue 

In 1918 the New York Trust Co. purchased and remodeled  the last remaining original section, Mrs Mary Mason Jones's, as a bank.

Marble Row, 1925
Along with 741 the home of Mrs. Mary Mason Jones was demolished in 1929. It was replaced in 1931 with the New York Trust Co., building by Cross & CrossCorner is now the location for Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton has since purchased  743 and will expand into the building.  
North-east corner Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street

Mary Mason Jones's patience was rewarded in 1879, when the Vanderbilt family began a lavish building program that soon gave the ten blocks of Fifth Avenue below Central park the popular name of Vanderbilt Row.


  1. HPHS -
    Thanks for the focus on this block. In the eighties I was involved in a major renovation of 745 Fifth. The building now known as 743 was a part of the parcel. It had been built as bachelor's quarters and was a narrow - one office suite per floor - building.

    I spent a lot of time trying to find an appropriate chandelier for that lobby to replace the 60's fright that was there. I suspect this was the same building as the one built by Arthur Mason Jones. Do you know what year that building was built?

    Merry Christmas.

  2. ChipSF conflicting dates on some of the above links. One NYTimes article has a story dated 1915 with a mention that Arthur had built a few years back. Another has build date as 1915. Old maps show a change from 1891(when she died) to 1912. 1894 photo still has block intact, 1911 photo shows the apartment. Property went to son(he died 1895}, add some years for it to cycle to grandson and my guess is.... As I come across more definitive information I'll update the post.

  3. OK ChipSf check the updated information. Building in question was built in 1915. It was mentioned in one of the NYTImes link. Article said Arthur Mason Jones was planning a nine-story building at 743 Fifth. I added a photo from 1925 showing it.

  4. Thanks for the follow -up. By Jove I think you've got it! I hope the new owners will be gentle with 743 - it is a lovely survivor. So, what about the other corners of 57 & Fifth?

    Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

  5. The entire story of this row touches me---from Mrs. Jones' attempts to bring a little Paris to New York, architecturally if not socially(but New York had not yet learned how to do Parisian, so there is still that top-heavy clumsiness to the design) to the gradual dissipation of her grand idea. Great research.

  6. I'm sure records exists for who lived in the other addresses at Marble Row. My guess is those townhomes were more of a transient location for people moving up or down within "Society". For whatever reason they ended up being less desirable and forced into the commercial market.

  7. Great post, wonderful complete job!

  8. Mrs.Jones was so passionate about building. Loved that.