The last “vulgar” survivor of a row of four Fifth Avenue mansions

First there were four. Built in 1901 by brothers William and Thomas Hall as speculation developments, the row of mansions from 1006-1009 Fifth Avenue each featured six stories of eclectic Beaux Arts details and a premier address in the late Gilded Age city’s millionaire colony.

Today only one remains. Number 1009, on the corner of 82nd Street across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stands like a long slender ghost of New York at the turn of the last century. It’s one of a handful of row house mansions left on upper Fifth Avenue.

As much as New Yorkers today admire Gilded Age mansions like Number 1009, with its fairy tale balconies, mansard roof, romantic bays, and fanciful facade carvings, not everyone back then was a fan.

Critic Montgomery Schulyer, writing in Architectural Record in October 1901, singled out Number 1009’s “sheet-metal cornice painted to imitate stone,” according to Christopher Gray in a 1995 New York Times article.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Schuyler wrote, via Gray’s article, “that, when a man goes into ‘six figures’ for his dwelling house, he ought not to make its upperworks of sheet metal. That is a cheap pretense which nothing can distinguish from vulgarity.”

1006-1009 Fifth Avenue in 1925

The criticism didn’t put a dent in sales; the Hall brothers sold all four mansions. Number 1006 went to bank president William Gelshenen and his wife, Katherine, according to the 1977 Landmarks Preservation Commission report for the Metropolitan Museum Historic District. Henry and Kate Timmerman, professions unknown, purchased Number 1007, while a William Augustus and Sarah Hall purchased Number 1008.

1006-1009 in 1940

Number 1009 went to major money: Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Duke. Duke was one of the brothers who ran the American Tobacco Company and funded Duke University. The Dukes didn’t stay very long, moving to the Plaza Hotel in 1909, wrote Gray.

The mansions, upper right, in a 1925 postcard

Benjamin Duke’s brother James and his family lived there next, until James Duke relocated to his own new mansion on Fifth Avenue and 78th Street. Incredibly, a succession of Duke family members lived in the house at one time or another through the 1970s, when it received landmark designation.

Numbers 1006, 1007, and 1008 weren’t so lucky. “The two houses at numbers 1006 and 1007 were demolished in 1972, amid strong protest, at a time when the Landmarks Preservation Commission was unable to hold public hearings and landmark proposals,” according to the LPC report. Meanwhile, “the much-altered house at number 1008 was demolished in February [1977].”

The entrance on 82nd Street

A 22-story building, 1001 Fifth Avenue, replaced all three.

Number 1009 Fifth Avenue, known today as the Duke-Semans House or the Benjamin N. Duke House, has had a few colorful owners since the turn of the 21st century. In 2006, a billionaire named Tamir Sapir bought the house for a reported $40 million, according to Forbes. In 2010, he flipped it for $44 million to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Slim put the townhouse on the market in 2015 for $80 million. Some interior shots made it online, though it’s unclear if it sold or is still up for grabs.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; fifth image: MCNY x2011.34.3703]

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11 Responses to “The last “vulgar” survivor of a row of four Fifth Avenue mansions”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    While Senor Slim may be a questionable character, the house definitely is not. I’m happy it was saved, and am one of those Luddites who feel that replacing the other three with an overpriced tower was an overall loss. Tall buildings need air between them to “breathe.”

  2. Susan Wagner Says:

    Absolutely breathtaking buildings….. They are pure beauty and art …..

  3. Andrew Porter Says:

    I well remember this building. I passed it innumerable times when I lived, until late 1968, at 24 East 82nd Street.

  4. velovixen Says:

    Countrypaul–I agree. I’m not anti-skyscraper–at least, not ones like the Empire State or Chrysler Buildings. But even they less impressive when they’re crowded by others.

    And, as much as I like such buildings, a city loses some of its characters when buildings like 1006-1008 Fifth Avenue are replaced by blocky towers.

  5. Lou Agrusa Says:

    At least a fine example of NYC best craftsmanship
    Endures and continue to inspire those who are moved by art.

  6. Robin Taylor Says:

    I wished I could afford this beautiful home. It should never be torned down. Cherish it forever. New York.

  7. Brian a holeman Says:

    The building is amazing. The design is very nice. Has incredible architecture.

  8. Wait until you see inside this $80M mansion for sale in Manhattan - Manhattan Express News Says:

    […] mansion was built with a trio of others; the other three have been demolished, the blog Ephemeral New York explained. The homes weren’t universally beloved with one critic complaining about the sheet […]

  9. An $80M mansion is now for sale in Manhattan’s Upper East Side – UK Poperty Guides Says:

    […] mansion was built with a trio of others; the other three have been demolished, the blog Ephemeral New York explained. The homes weren’t universally beloved with one critic complaining about the sheet […]

  10. An $80M mansion is now for sale in Manhattan's Higher East Facet - Homeimprovement-coach Says:

    […] mansion was developed with a trio of some others the other three have been demolished, the web site Ephemeral New York explained. The properties weren’t universally beloved with 1 critic complaining about the […]

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