Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Tiffany House - The House of a Hundred Flues.

    The mansion of Mr. Tiffany at Madison avenue and Seventy-second street is virtually completed as to its exterior. It must be almost, if not quite, the largest private dwelling in New York, measuring 100x100 on the ground, and thus filling four lots. The northernmost 20 feet on the avenue side are given up, apparently, to another house, which, however, counts architecturally as part of the main building. There is a basement of a story and a half, three full stories below the cornice and one full story above, lighted on one side from the main gable, and on the other from openings in smaller gables and by dormer windows. The main ridge runs east and west, and the pitch of the main roof is steep. The foot of the gable is 80 feet wide, and being above the fifth story its crest cannot be very much less than 100 feet from the ground.

NW corner of Madison Ave. and 72nd St.
Date of View c.1885
    These dimensions would suffice to make the house very conspicuous. It is further made conspicuous by its unusual material, the basement being of rock-faced blue stone, the walls above of a yellowish brown clay curiously speckled with black, which is used both in brick and terra cotta, and the roof is of glazed and corrugated black tile. It is only the novelty of this material that makes it conspicuous. It is quiet in color and its mottled surface offers a very effective coutrast to the blue stone of the basement. It has the great advantage of making a brand new building look as if it might be old, without invoking any trickery to that purpose. Upon the selection and arrangement of material in their work at least the architects, Messrs. McKim, Mead & White, are to be heartily congratulated.

    The composition of the Madison avenue front is broad and simple, perhaps too simple for its dimensions and tending to monotony, but this, as our buildings go, is a fault on the right side. At the street corner there is above the basement an attached turret, carried on a heavily but simply moulded corbel of blue stone. The openings in the basement are square-headed, treated with entire simplicity to as to give additional value to the masaiveness of the masonry, and surmounted by a moulded string course, repeated a foot or two above in the brickwork, which might properly have been moulded more emphatically. Nevertheless, there is no niggling in the handling anywhere, and the rocky field of wall has its full value and becomes not only an impressive but a very agreeable object.

    It is in the brickwork that the simplicity of the general composition tends to monotony, while there is here a niggling in the treatment of detail that contradicts to some extent the absolute magnitude and the broad treatment of the masses. There is no "rhythm", as the Germans say, in the arrangement of the openings, and one source of effect is thus foregone. Fortunately the lateral piers are kept ample, and the expanse of wall is so great that many more holes might be punched in it without seeming to weaken it. The openings themselves, except in the gable, are covered with flat arches in narrow bricks, carrying each a series of mouldings, and these same mouldings are repeated down the jambs, while the sills also are in brickwork. It is this minute treatment, repeated everywhere, that gives the effect of niggling.

    The features of this front are a balcony, with a brick "breasting" apparently corbelled out in brickwork, that is projected from the northern half of the wall and stops against the angle turret, and a large mullioned window of five openings, with a semi-ciicular arch turned over the central three, in the central field of the gable, the mullions and transoms apparently in terra cotta.

    The feature of the basement on the street front is an arch of unusual span, and with very deep voussoirs nearly in the centre, which contains a driveway, and also a small stoop of rubbed blue stone within the recess. There is a corbelled window also in blue stone west of this arch. Above, the brick wall is deeply withdrawn at the centre of the front, and the masses flanking this recess are crowned with gables. Over the centre of the recessed wall is a large dormer with three tiers of openings. An open balcony in an upper story at the west end of this front is another of its features. The treatment of the openings in this front is in general similar to that already described, and has the same effect of contradicting rather than enlivening the breadth of the general treatment. The basement is excellent. The only quarrel one can pick with it is that it is scarcely appropriate to the domestic character except of a fortified dwelling; but it is so good in itself that we are glad to let that pass. The recessed balcony at the west end is also very good in itself, but the boldness and massiveness of its treatment are out of keeping with the framing of the other openings, and it is so placed that its own outer abutment seems insufficient, while for the first time in the whole design the terminal pier is apparently weakened.

     The disposition already described of a recessed centre and projecting wings is effective in relieving the monotony of the great roof, which is further diversified by the emergence at the angle of the turret-hood. This makes the unbroken gable on the avenue front seem all the balder, and the architects must now regret that they did not arrive at some device for subdividing it without interfering with its repose, as has been discreetly and successfully done with the south front.

    The composition in perspective is very spirited and picturesque, in spite of the blankness of the great gable. The fault one finds at last with the building is that it is scarcely a building, as a work of architecture must primarily be. That is to say, it seems like an attempt not so much to make a picture out of a building as to make a building out of a picture. For example, besides the features which break it, the roof is animated by a number of chimney stacks, which have the air of having been employed without reference to the interior economies, solely to punctuate a perspective. They come in very well, but so very frequently that one is forced to believe most of them dummies. They appear to contain something over a hundred flues, and, large as the house is, a hundred and odd flues really stagger credulity. The same disregard for structural propriety appears elsewhere, and notably in the two chief features of the avenue front, the brick balcony and the great mullioned window of the gable. It seems mechanically impossible that a balcony of this projection should be really built in brick, and the spectator is driven to assume an iron girder upon which the bricks that pretend to carry the balcony are merely plastered. Again, the great window has an arch turned over it, the constructional function of which would be to relieve the mullions of the window from the weight of wall above. For this purpose the arch should either span the whole opening, or the vertical supports under it should be thickeoed, and a flat arch or a heavy lintel, or some constructive appliance visibly sufficient to its work, should protect the lateral openings not relieved by the arch. Here, however, the relieving arch is actually turned between two intermediate mullions no heavier than the rest, and the wall on each side bears directly upon the window frame which the presence of the arch asserts is incompetent to sustain it. Such structural solecisms as this go far to give an unreal and fistitious character to a building which in general composition, in choice and arrangement of material and in many points even of detail is thoroughly admirable.

Made under Stanford White's own direction.

Follow THIS LINK  for all past posts relating to the Tiffany house at Madison Avenue and 72nd Street.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Greville Rickard, 1925

      Pulitzer Fountain, with Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion and Heckscher Building in the background.

 Architect Greville Rickard climbed to considerable fame, receiving the Architectural Gold Medal Award of the Fifth Avenue Association and a similar award from the Greenwich Real Estate Board for the finest residence.

   The Fifth Avenue Association awarded annual medals for the best new and altered buildings in the Fifth Avenue District. 

Monday, November 23, 2015


    At the corner is William H. Vanderbilt's 640 Fifth Avenue home. William K. Vanderbilt's home can be seen along with St. Thomas church and the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church further down the avenue. Follow THIS LINK for more. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

If Jay Gatsby Knew Marshall Field III

    Jay Gatsby lived on the North Shore of Long Island, and if he had existed he would have met Marshall Field III at one party or another; they might have discussed English education, or the war, or, eventually, the Middle West. Gatsby's diary would have been fascinating:

Marshall Field III
    "Marshall Field. Very handsome. Well-dressed. Always the proper tie, accessories, etc. Always considerate, if anything over polite. Shy, quiet voice, noticeable but not offensive British accent, natural result of life abroad. Drinks; partial to martinis and Scotch; never drunk. Sign of responsibility. Tipsy once; sat down and stopped drinking. Talked to the crew of his boat: they have never seen him drunk or really angry. (Possibly just being loyal; they like him; but I incline to believe them.) Generous; prefers to be host, but will accept invitations. Brings small gifts, always the best. Women very fond of him. Daisy says it's not his money but his calm, plus a remarkably attractive and hearty laugh. Some gossip about him now and then, but I suppose that's natural; they gossip about me, too. Newspapers call him a playboy, but I'm not sure he's happy. Moody now and then, in the middle of a party at that. Friends call him a good banker. Average polo player; has a practice field on his place, Caumsett; his children learning the game. Pheasant shoots almost imperial; he breeds them, and Charley told me that ten men, with twenty-five beaters, shot 1,500 in one day last fall. Awful, but then he raised them. What do they do with the meat? Refrigerate, maybe; or hospitals. Also raises Labradors. Likes to talk about his grandfather; terrific respect for the old man. Plays tennis (indoor and outdoor courts at Caumsett, with floodlights indoors) and golf; concentrated hard, and got down to the low 80's in his first year. Said he enjoyed chess. (I must learn. Buy necessary books.) Liked Surtees (first name?), now reads mostly nonfiction, voraciously, all subjects, but mostly history, biography, current events. Catholic, but not conscientious. (Religion doesn't seem to matter a lot here. All kinds of people. Must remember that. Occasional nasty remarks made privately; never by Field.) He lost $70 to M--- at golf the other day; sickening to hear M--- flatter him: 'Great drive on tenth; bad luck in that bunker on twelfth; classic swing,' etc. Field paid up with a laugh. Has a string of horses: Kentucky, and Newmarket in England. Brings Kentucky horses to Belmont for training. No big winners, but one of them took the Futurity at Pimlico last year. Paid 7-2. Look up name and jockey; drop it into conversation. Asked him about market; he said he didn't like to offer tips, but everything was on the rise. Reads Times and Herald Tribune, occasional afternoon papers. Very loyal — even adamant — about staff and old friends." Marshall Field III; a Biography by Stephen Becker

    Follow THIS LINK for all past posts related to "Caumsett".

Monday, August 17, 2015

William A. Fisher 1791 Wellesley Drive Detroit, Michigan

September 21, 1886 – December 1969

     William Andrew Fisher was born in 1886 in Norwalk, Ohio. William was the last of the Fisher brothers to join Fisher Body, arriving in 1915. A year later, he built a house at 111 Edison Avenue in Detroit where he lived until the mid 1920's. Architect Richard H. Marr designed his new home at 1791 Wellesley Drive, in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit in 1925. Bryant Fleming was the landscape architect. 

111 Edison Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

CAPTION: The well known society florists, Dale Morgan and Norm Silk are selling their famous house and buying another well known home in Palmer Woods, the A. William Fisher house at 1791 Wellesley in Detroit. The neglected William Fisher mansion in Palmer Woods will draw a purchase offer from florists Norm Silk and Dale Morgan, who lived nearby. 1993 Press Photo 
    At the time it was built, it was the largest and most expensive home in Detroit. No expense was spared. It had 2 pipe organs including one that was a player. The detail was unbelievable. All kitchen sinks that appeared to be stainless were actually pewter.

    The exterior was red brick and slate with marble inlaid carvings around the windows. The house used many of the same artisans who worked on the Fisher Building. In its heyday, the house boasted Baccart crystal chandeliers and fireplaces with floor-to-ceiling marble, inset with original oil paintings. Even the basement, used as a ballroom, had a marble floor. The grand foyer looked much like the foyer of the Fisher Building, with all kinds of marble and onyx.

    Every window was loaded with leaded glass, and every bit of material used in construction was the finest available. Many of the features had been constructed by artisans brought from Europe, or imported intact from Europe. The mansion encompassed 35,000 square feet. The mansion was known as the Clipper House because of its sailing motif.
Historical Title Residences; William A. Fisher
WSU Virtual Motor City Collection
 Record ID 3265 
The Fisher Family Estate Photo Album
 Lot # : 72
The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley. 
The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.

The William Fisher Manor located in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit on 1791 Wellesley.
1973 aerial showing William's house at the left and his brother Alfred's house center-right.
    The house’s architectural fraternal twin and former neighbor, the Alfred Fisher mansion, also by Marr, is back on the market for $1.57 million after plans to convert it into a dormitory for addiction treatment patients met pushback and zoning challenges. 

    The Alfred and William Fisher residential block  was bordered by Gloucester, Lucerne, Wellesley, Balmoral, and Lincolnshire. They had a nine-hole golf course in the rear along Lucerne where modern homes currently stand. 

Firefighters battle the blaze at the historic William Fisher in Palmer Woods. The roof collapsed; the interior was a complete loss. 
January 4, 1994
     From 1971 to 1989 it belonged to Louis H. "King" Narcisse. A fire significantly damaged a portion of the 48-room mansion's roof and upper floors during restoration in 1994.

NEOCLASSICAL STYLE CARVED MARBLE COLUMNS, EARLY 20TH CENTURY, SET OF FOUR, H 94":Caramel to white in color, leafy capitals on fluted columns with pedestal bases. Provenance, William Fisher mansion, Palmer Woods, Detroit. Lot 32064

   The homeowner's association declared that vandals were gutting the fire-damaged home and wanted the owner to repair or demolish it. The association charged that marble and other fixtures were being stolen. Soon after the house was demolished. The lot remains vacant today.

Architectural rendering for Grayhaven, a proposed residential boating community on the Detroit River. Printed on drawing: "Grayhaven, Edward Gray, owner; foot of Continental Ave., Detroit; tel Hickory 4585; drawing by M.R. Williams." Resource ID: EB02g007
    Henry Ford had purchased swampland on the east side and planned on building another massive complex. Ford had the canals dredged for his new complex but it never came about.

    Edward Gray was Chief Engineer at Ford Motor Company and bought the land from Henry and developed it. Grayhaven was one of the most exclusive residential developments in the country at that time. Restrictions provide that every home have a drydock in which the owner can keep his yacht safe and clean winter and summer. The Depression ended full deployment.

William A. Fisher's Starboard Lagoon Boathouse under construction at Grayhaven
Record ID 9937 
    Somehow the Fishers got involved and bought the whole strip of land along Starboard Lagoon. Charles & William built on the far east, both of which are gone, and Lawrence on the west

The famous Garfield Wood mansion in the foreground, William's finished home and brother Charles are across the canal.

  Follow THIS LINK to view a post on the Grosse Ile summer home of William Andrew Fisher.

Bishop's Residence
 1880 Wellesley Drive
    The Fisher Brothers, in 1925, built the largest home in Detroit and gave it to Bishop Gallagher to serve as a residence of whoever governed diocese. The Boston church architects, Maginnis and Walsh, designed this Tudor Revival mansion at 1880 Wellesley, tactfully incorporating many religious symbols and much Pewabic Tile. This is a 40,000 square foot mansion, no longer owned by the Catholic diocese.

Few photos exist of all seven of the Fisher brothers together.  This one was taken on August 22, 1927 during a rainy groundbreaking ceremony for the Fisher Building in Detroit. From left are: Alfred, Lawrence, Charles, Fred, William, Howard and Edward Fisher.




    The mansion's dock is able to accommodate a 250-foot yacht, making it the largest dock in the entire state of Michigan. 




Additions to pool building were done in 1960.
Opening has been cut through the original closed wall and into the then Staff Quarters.
Pewabic tile ornamentation, newer mural.

Original Dressing Room portal, now used as a Dining Room.
Original Art Deco Dressing Room with atmospheric vaulted ceiling.
Now a dining room.

 Pool House Dining Room with vaulted ceiling and light fixture. 

Vaulted Lounge.
Pewabic tiled fireplace. 

    I don't know the circumstances to the final history of the house. Another Fisher mansion fire? The new house is attributed  to Architect Don Paul Young, built in 1960. I'll assume he did the additions to the Pool House.  Heinz Prechter, a German immigrant, owned the property for a number of years. Prechter was a major contributor to charities and Republican Party causes. He made his fortune by turning a few hundred dollars worth of tools and parts and an idea into American Sunroof Co. The company, later known as ASC Inc., made affordable sunroofs for U.S. cars. Eventually, Prechter owned manufacturing, real estate, investment and newspaper companies with interests in the United States, Canada, Germany and South Korea. 

    The Prechter estate was listed for $11.2 million in 2004.  Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, purchased property for $5.4 million around 2011. Forbes has him ranked as the 190th wealthiest person in the country, worth around $3.2 billion.

1964 aerial 
    Although I can't confirm its plausible brother Charles had his Grosse Ile home next door. That house still stands. From wikipedia - Grosse Ile Township, Michigan"Charles and William Fisher, co-founders of the Fisher Body Company that later became a division of General Motors, built large summer homes at the north end of Parke Lane (one remains today)."

Charles Thomas Fisher residence???
18603 Parke Ln, Grosse Ile, MI

    Several of Detroit's automotive pioneers had summer homes on Grosse Ile in the early 20th century. 

Grosse Ile’s largest house
    R. E. Olds (Oldsmobile) built a magnificent summer estate on Elba Island in 1916. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, the mansion was converted into five apartments. Gen. William S. Knudsen (General Motors) spent summers at an old remodeled farm home near the county bridge. It later became the clubhouse for Water's Edge Country Club, owned and operated by the township. In the 1920s, Henry Ford and his wife bought a substantial piece of land between West River Road and the Thoroughfare Canal. Although they never built a home, they did sell pieces of their property to Ford employees.

    One unique structure on the water, known as the Pagoda House, was built in 1939 by Ford's personnel director Harry Bennett.

1960's LOGO