Lord Duveen's House
15 East 91st Street, New York City
This house is best associated with...
Charles Mather MacNeill
Colonel C.M. MacNeill, Mining Executive, of Colorado & New York City
MacNeill was reported to have died of pneumonia in 1923, but those close to him suspected murder at the hands of the Western Federation of Miners. To add to the mystery surrounding his final years, his wife left for Europe in 1921 and although she inherited the bulk of his $1.5 million estate (they didn't have children), she didn't return to the States until 1924 and by 1925 was married to husband number three, Willing Spencer. In the same year that Charles died, their elaborate townhouse was sold to the legendary art dealer, Joseph (later Lord) Duveen, a debonair Englishman who personified taste and charm that he united with a sense of style that was irresistible to America's super rich.
The Art Dealer's Art Gallery
The house was unusual in several respects: it was entered via a gate on the street that led into a courtyard garden before reaching the front door so that the house occupied just two-thirds of the 12,000-square foot plot. Inside, the central hallway rose up the full 5-stories with a pair elevators on each side and an organ. The Drawing Room (35-by-35 feet) was at the front on the first floor, marked by the distinctive Palladian window.
When Duveen purchased the house, he commissioned John Russell Pope to make several alterations, most notably adding the "striking" and absolutely obligatory two-story art gallery that was filled with light from vast, tall windows. It was from this room that many of the most expensive paintings ever sold in America made their way into the mansions of people such as Mrs Anna Dodge, Andrew W. Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, J.P. Morgan etc.
In the 1920s, a young Kenneth Clark (future art historian) was invited to dine here. Dinner was served on a legendary service of blue Sèvres porcelain that had been made for Catherine the Great circa 1780. Clark naturally complemented his host on its beauty and expressed what a privilege it was to be using the service. Duveen shrugged jovially, "Sèvres service? Nothing. Eat off it all the time!" Meanwhile, Lady Duveen had thought that Clark was addressing her and replied: "Yes it is nice and we don't get it out every day, I can tell you. The last time we used it was for (Prime Minister) Mr Ramsey MacDonald"!
Down Comes the Hammer
The Duveens spent half their year in New York and the other half in London at 39 Green Street off Park Lane. In 1931, he purchased Fowler's Park in England, a 23-bedroom house on an estate of 50-acres where he intended to retire. By 1937, his health was failing and he returned to England, putting his New York townhouse on the market for $1 million the following year. In 1939, it was held by the Gainsborough Real Estate Corporation when the Mutual Life Insurance Company foreclosed on the mortgage. Even though the house ($440,000) was more valuable than the land ($320,000), it was demolished in June, 1940, and replaced by the principally nondescript 16-story apartment building found at the same address today... I think we can guess which Carnegie would have preferred.
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