The Irving Place “bachelors” host Sunday salons


A plaque outside the three-story brick house on the southwest corner of Irving Place (right) and 17th Street identifies it as the one-time home of Washington Irving.

Though it’s debatable whether Irving actually lived there, a bohemian power couple of late 19th century did.

ElsiedewolfeActress-turned-interior designer Elsie de Wolfe (left, in 1880) and Elisabeth Marbury, a literary agent, met in Paris.

There they lived openly as a couple before returning to New York in 1892 and renting the Irving Place house.

The two cheekily called themselves “the bachelors” and hosted Sunday afternoon salons with an eclectic array of celebrities of the day.

Among the guests were Oscar Wilde, Ethel Barrymore, Stanford White, and Sarah Bernhardt, all sipping tea and mingling with New York’s old money society.

“From 1897 to 1907, Bessie and Elsie’s house was a salon famed for its fascinating artists, writers, and performers,” writes Cherie Fehrman in Interior Design Innovators 1900-1960.


“People came because, in the words of millionaire William C. Whitney, ‘you never know whom you are going to meet at Bessie and Elsie’s but you can always be sure that whoever they are will be interesting and you will have a good time.'”

ElsieandbessieThe salons ended, perhaps because de Wolfe’s decorating career had taken off.

She’s credited as being the first interior designer ever, transforming dark Victorian interiors into lighter, airy living spaces and publishing the pioneering book A House in Good Taste in 1913.

In 1926, de Wolfe shocked society by marrying a British diplomat. She became known as Lady Mendl; a tea parlor currently operating on Irving Place called Lady Mendl is a nod to her salon-hostess past.

[Photo above: Irving Place and 17th Street in 1905. Right: Elsie and Bessie in later years]

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3 Responses to “The Irving Place “bachelors” host Sunday salons”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Place was horrible in the early 1960s, tough teen boys of every color hung in the doorways waiting for their girls from Washington Irving HS, right across Irving Place, as they’d stand around glaring at everybody Most every time I’d pass by a fist fight was breaking out between them. I sure as hell missed out on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, that’s for sure.

  2. James Says:

    It’s not debatable–Irving never lived there.

  3. EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition | NYC Real Estate News Says:

    […] Some history of 17th Street and Irving Place (Ephemeral New York) […]

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