The breathtaking changes along Manhattan’s streets and across its skyline in 1927 were reflected in the New Yorker’s frequent accounts of venerable landmarks giving way to new skyscrapers.
We’ll skip ahead for a moment to the March 5 issue in which the “Talk of the Town” editors reflected on the upcoming demolition of the William A. Clark house on Fifth Avenue and 77th Street, just 16 years after its completion in 1911. The editors noted that the empty house received many curious visitors in its last days, including the silent film star Charlie Chaplin:
Clark was an enormously wealthy Montana entrepreneur (copper and railroads) and politician. His New York mansion, dubbed “Clark’s Folly,” took almost as long to complete–13 years–as its actual lifespan–16 years. In today’s dollars the house would cost nearly $200 million. It included imported marble from Italy, oak from England’s Sherwood Forest, and sections of whole rooms from old French Châteaus.
According to Wikipedia, the second floor featured a 36-foot-high rotunda, used as the statuary room. This opened onto a conservatory of solid brass and glass, 30 ft. high and 22 ft. wide. Across the rotunda was the marble-paneled main picture gallery that was 95 ft. long and two stories high. An organ loft housed the largest chamber organ in America.
The nine-story house contained 121 rooms, 31 bathrooms, four art galleries, a swimming pool and Turkish baths. High-tech for its times, with electricity and central air conditioning, it required seven tons of coal per day, brought in by a private subway line.
After Clark died in 1925, his daughter, Huguette, and her mother, Anna, moved to 907 Fifth Avenue and the mansion was sold to developer Anthony Compagana for $3 million (more than $40 million today). Compagana had it torn down, replacing it with a luxury apartment building.
A footnote: Clark’s daughter and heiress, Huguette, would go on to own a $24 million Connecticut country estate and a $100 million estate in Santa Barbara, but would keep them uninhabited. Briefly married from 1928 to 1930, she became reclusive, holed up in her apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue until she moved to a series of hospital rooms beginning in the 1980s.
Huguette died at age 104 in 2011. You can read more about her strange and fascinating life in Bill Dedman’s Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.
Architecture’s Middle Finger
Continuing the theme of the changing skyline, the Feb. 26 New Yorker featured this advertisement for the new Drake Hotel at Park Avenue and 56th Street:
The hotel was built in 1926 by the real estate organization of Bing and Bing, 21 stories with 495 rooms. Like Clark’s Folly, it was innovative for its time, with automatic refrigeration and spacious rooms and suites.
It saw plenty of famous guests, from silent star Lillian Gish (she lived there for three years) to ’60s and ’70s rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who.
Razed in 2007, the Drake Hotel was replaced by 432 Park Avenue. At 96 stories and 1,400 feet, 432 Park it is the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.
Completed in 2015, the supertall 432 Park was designed for the superrich. The building has been maligned by many who find it not only ugly but also a stark representation of the city’s increasing cost of living and conspicuous displays of wealth. One blogger suggested that the building was giving the city “the finger.”
Even Fortune magazine’s Joshua Brown (“Meet the house that inequality built: 432 Park Avenue,” Nov. 24, 2014) noted “in a building so tall and imposing, with over 400,000 square feet of usable interior space, there are only 104 units for people to live in. 432 Park Avenue is, in short, a monument to the epic rise of the global super-wealthy. It is the house that historic inequality built.”
After reading about 432 Park, it seems appropriate that I spotted this advertisement in the New Yorker’s March 5, 1927 issue:
Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis was set in a futuristic urban dystopia where the upper classes lived high above the toiling masses. Hmmm.
Next Time: World of Tomorrow…