Joseph Pulitzer Mansion
11 East 73rd Street, Manhattan, New York
This house is best associated with...
Roy Chapman Andrews
Explorer, Naturalist & Director of the American Museum of Natural History
In January, 1900, tragedy struck the Pulitzer household when their double townhouse at 10 & 12 East 55th Street - renovated by McKim, Mead & White - burned down. Aside from the house and all its valuable contents (his prized collection of paintings by Millet and one of the city's two or three finest libraries), more tragically they also lost two of their 17-servants, Mrs Pulitzer's housekeeper/companion (Mrs Morgan Jellett) and the children's governess, Elizabeth Montgomery. As a stopgap, they leased the Henry T. Sloane House at 9 East 72nd Street before Pulitzer purchased four plots of land to the north of 73rd Street on which to build their new home that would sit on a footprint of 76-by-100-feet.
Not Exactly "An American Home... Not For Show or Entertainment"
To assist his blind client, Stanford White made a miniature model of the house that he proposed building, allowing Pulitzer to handle and picture it. As for its interior, Pulitzer famously asked for, "no ballroom, no music room, or picture gallery under any disguise (and) no French rooms, designed or decorated to require French furniture... I want an American home for comfort and use and not for show or entertainment". His wife however had different ideas and wasted no time ensuring quite the opposite happened!
The house was entered via a magnificent set of wrought iron gates and the stairs in the great hall are said to have been very loosely based on the same at the Palais Garnier in Paris. On the second floor, entered through a pair 20-foot marble columns is the 48-by-24-foot Drawing Room/Ballroom. The ceilings in this room (since divided into two rooms) reach up 19-feet in height and the row of arched floor-to-ceiling windows topped by golden cherubs that overlook the street stood opposite five equally elegant French doors.
Of the initial requests made to White, he was only surprised by Pulitzer's lack of interest in a music room as Pulitzer was well-known for his love of music. But, as it transpired, in addition to the music room, a beautiful Aeolian Organ with an electro-pneumatic action was installed in the main hall at the top of the first flight of stairs. Its beautiful housing can still be seen but as for the organ itself, that disappeared some years ago.
Pulitzer's Proverbial Pea
Aside from his request for simplicity, Pulitzer required the house to be fireproof and his sleeping quarters made soundproof in consequence of his acute sensitivity to noise. White designed his rooms (as well as the 40-square foot "Tower of Silence" at Pulitzer's summer home, Chatwold) in conjunction with Harvard's expert on acoustics, but despite his repeated best efforts, Pulitzer became the proverbial 'Princess-and-the-Pea' so much so that White eventually accused him of purposefully trying to drive him insane!
White was subesquently fired and Pulitzer leased Moray Lodge in London in an attempt to find some peace while another firm built a new set of rooms towards the back of the house. But, after just one restless night in his new rooms Pulitzer re-hired White. This time White was better able to identify the weak point in his bedroom and thousands of silk threads were now stretched across the flue opening of the chimney, finally solving the problem and with it creating almost undoubtedly the quietest corner of Manhattan!
Dodging the Wrecking Ball
The house was finished in 1903; Pulitzer's rooms were finally soundproof by 1904; but, in 1911 Pulitzer was dead and his family did not linger in the mansion for one moment longer than they had to. Incredibly, it sat empty and on the market for nearly 20-years and only saw a brief flurry of life in 1928 when it was opened to the public for the purpose of auctioning off much the furnishings that after two days raised $69,428.
In 1930, Pulitzer's sons finally managed to drop the yolk from their necks, getting rid of the mansion to a group of investors who intended to replace it with an apartment block. The Great Depression derailed those plans and instead the consortium leased it for 20-years to another developer, Henry Mandel, who employed James Casale to maintain the limestone facade but divide the interior into apartments. Just as Mandel's enthusiasm for the project waned, Pulitzer's sons interest were reinvigorated. On retaking possession, in 1937 they approved Casale's plan and the interior was divided into 17-apartments and then promptly sold to the William Waldorf Astor Estate to add to their investment portfolio.
In 1952, it changed hands again and for a second time found itself staring the wrecking ball in the face as The New York Times announced the new owners plans for, “improvement of the site with a modern apartment building”. At the last minute, public nostalgia for Stanford White's slice of Renaissance Venice in Manhattan won the day and it finally became what it remains today: 17-highly-prized cooperative apartments.
Life Since & "The Raider (Resident) of the (Nearly) Lost Ark"
To all outward appearances, the mansion remains entirely unchanged and many interior features also remain even if altered, eg. the 48-by-24-foot Drawing Room/Ballroom which although now divided into two separate rooms, still retains its original features; and, the former breakfast room is now a library in the same apartment that contains Pulitzer's soundproof rooms. Perhaps most notable among its many residents since subdivision is the said-to-be real-life Indiana Jones (Roy Chapman Andrews) who lived here with his second wife, Billie Christmas, and whose whip is now owned by The Explorers Club.
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