Faded outlines of an infamous Flatiron love nest

Stanford White was one of New York’s great architects. He was also a notorious womanizer known for seducing teenage girls, preferably showgirls.


To facilitate this, the married White kept a secret apartment at 22 West 24th Street, just off Madison Square Park. From the outside, it was plain and unspectacular.

StanfordwhitephotoInside, however, was a seducer’s love nest, complete with mirrored walls, velvet couches, colored lights, a four-poster bed, and of course, a red velvet swing.

It was the same swing he pushed 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit in, not long before he lowered her defenses with champagne and raped her in 1901.

Nesbit wasn’t the only girl he took to 22 West 24th Street. But she was the only one who ended up telling the world about what happened there, after she took the stand during a murder trial that had the entire city’s attention.

Five years after White assaulted her, Nesbit’s new husband, Harry Thaw, took out a pistol and shot and killed White in the rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden.

Thaw was unstable, wildly jealous of White, and obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor.

Evelynesbit1901At Thaw’s trial in 1907, Nesbit recalled the events of the night White raped her and what the inside of his multi-level seduction lair was like.

[As a reader points out below, Nesbit’s take has to be looked at through a gimlet eye. She had her own interests (and reputation) to protect, and White was not around to counter her testimony. But here is her story.]

The first time she visited, she was with a girlfriend; White and another man convinced the two girls to get in the swing, and they pushed them from behind.

“Their toes struck the crisp paper covering of a great Japanese fan swung from the ceiling, ripping the fan to tatters,” wrote the New York Times in an article chronicling the trial.

The second time, with her mother out of town, White invited Nesbit to a party he said he was having at 24th Street. When she arrived, she was the only one there.

EvelynnesbitnytimesWhite “asked her to let him show her his antiques and beautiful things, and disclosed a narrow stairway leading from the studio upward,” stated the Times.

“She followed him to a room in which there was a piano and many objects of art. She thrummed the piano for a moment, then White bade her to go into the next room with him.”

“The room was chintz covered. It was a bedroom, and there was a table and chair beside the bed in it.”

Evelynnesbit22west24thstphoto2007White poured her a glass of champagne and made her drink it, she told the court. Then, “there was the sound of thumping in her head, she said, and the chintz bedroom began to whirl about.”

Next thing she knew, she woke up in the bed surrounded by mirrors. She screamed and went home, and the next day, White “praised her beauty and her youth, told her how he liked girls, and said he would do a great many things for her,” wrote the Times.

After two trials, Thaw got off on an insanity defense. White’s former love nest on 24th Street fell into disrepair and collapsed in 2007 (right). All that remains is its faded outline.

[Bottom photo: Don Hogan Charles/New York Times]

Tags: , , , , , ,

15 Responses to “Faded outlines of an infamous Flatiron love nest”


    I had never known the particulars of this story, so it is fascinating to read excerpts from the original article. I question the usage of the word “seduction” if in fact it was rape. Seduction means “to be won over.” White, it seems, was a serial date rapist.

  2. Linda D. Says:

    I’m a woman. And I think of myself as a feminist. And I know that terrible men are also capable of great things. BUT…I find myself unwilling to believe the bald language used in your post. From all the material I’ve read – both contemporaneous to the events and from analytical historians, Nesbit was no innocent who was drugged and raped. The relationship between White and Nesbit was a much more complex and nuanced thing, abetted by Nesbit’s own mother. Did White have a thing for young showgirls? Undoubtedly.Did he use his wealth and position to seduce them? Sure looks that way. Did he drug and rape them? Ah, for that we have only Evelyn’s word at her millionaire (and insane) husband’s trial(s). There is evidence that Nesbit’s testimony was not entirely credible. In any case, her testimony was meant to distract the jury from Thaw’s documentable history of violent insanity and create the impression that the murder was a single act of violence in defense of the purity of women. The strategy worked. The first jury was hung and the second found Thaw not guilty by reason of insanity.

    It was in Thaw’s interest to make the question of consent as black and white as possible to aid in his defense. I’m just uncomfortable seeing Thaw’s defense strategy written as fact. We’ll never really know what went on in that room.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you for this, and I should have been clearer. As you say, Evelyn was no innocent; she also continued to see White after that night in the apartment. Thaw’s defense strategy was to paint White as a cad who preyed on young girls. His side of the story would never be told, of course.

  4. Bill Cosby Says:

    Stanford White is my hero.

  5. Jon Phillips Says:

    The public’s fascination with this story resides in the question of how much of it was fiction along with so many of the players being famous or infamous that it would have seemed pure confection if conceived of by a novelist. For example, when young Evelyn was first taken to dinners as Sanford White’s new possession, she was introduced to a young illustrator by White himself. This young artist, much closer to her age, fell head over heels, and proceeded to pursue her hotly during White’s absence on a fishing trip. He later became a famous stage and film actor: John Barrymore. It was rumored that at least one of Ms. Nesbit’s three operations in New Jersey for appendectomy was linked to Barrymore. Ms. Nesbit was paid $400,000 by Shaw’s family in coincidentally with her testimony. Ephemeralnewyork and Linda D. are on solid ground concluding that no one’s story in conjunction with this can be taken at face value. For those who like the blowsy technicolor fantasy version of events for which Ms. Nesbit served as a paid consultant – there “The Girl on the Swing” 1955 with Joan Collins as Nesbit and Ray Milland as White.

  6. Tom Hakala Says:

    Excellent piece on a fascinating NYC scandal of the early 20th century. Also, thanks for the photographs!

  7. Kenny Says:

    … and the neighboring Flatiron Building (1902) was still a new novel phenomenon at the time.
    Shortly before his being shot point blank in the face Stanford suffered major financial set back during an economic depression. His plans to re coop those losses by selling his valuable art fell flat when those treasures were destroyed in a fire. Had he survived he was on tap to face charges of raping a minor.
    So he was having a bad week.
    A visit to his grave out in St James Long Island is a great trip.

  8. Blakeney Says:

    Nesbit’s innocence is not on trial, nor should it be. This girl and later woman was pimped out by her family, abused by two men and vilified by the public.Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first case of date rape, nor the first case of blaming the victim.

  9. What remains of Jefferson Market’s police court | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] K. Thaw, the jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit who killed Stanford White ten years later on the roof of Madison Square Garden, also appeared before a judge here, who […]

  10. The daises hidden on a Stanford White building | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] can see them on the underside of the Nottingham, a handsome apartment residence designed by Stanford White that has kind of a Byzantine or Tuscan look to […]

  11. trilby1895 Says:

    Being a nearly obsessive student of Gilded Age New York history, when I learned that the “Red Velvet Swing” building was amazingly still extant, I would go and stand in front of the now totally-undistinguished brownstone on 24th Street. Some of the windows were boarded up but there was at least one tenant occupying space in the building evidenced by a name card next to a buzzer. At the time of White’s occupancy of the building, F A O Schwartz, world-famous toy store, had what was probably it’s original store located on the ground floor. I would gaze at the door leading into the infamous building imagining the various visitors passing through ranging from small children, hands held by doting grown-ups going into the shop to peruse and choose enchanting toys for themselves to the lecherous Stanford White, his fellow “gentlemen” friends along with the showgirls eager to find favor with what we’d now call, “pervs”. Gilded Age New York history still alive, now gone.

  12. The 1905 hotel named for a Gilded Age beauty | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] He was introduced to Nesbit by another chorus girl, who brought her to the apartment he kept at 22 West 24th Street. […]

  13. Madison Square Garden, luminous by moonlight | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Nesbit—the young showgirl White sexually assaulted after lacing her drink years earlier at his East 24th Street hideaway across Fifth […]

  14. The Fifth Avenue wedding present gifted to these rich Gilded Age newlyweds | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] major interruption during construction, unfortunately, was White’s demise in 1906; the architect was shot and killed on the roof of his magnificent Madison Square Garden. By the time of White’s death, […]

  15. This 1905 power plant is one of the West Side’s most beautiful buildings | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] of the building, IRT officials gave the responsibility of the exterior to Stanford White—the celebrated (and scandalous) architect whose brilliant artistic and architectural aesthetic was on display all over New York, from the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: