Posts Tagged ‘James Lanier Residence NYC’

New York’s most perfectly preserved Gilded Age mansion is in Murray Hill

August 5, 2022

Murray Hill has always had an aristocratic edge. In the 18th century, it was the site of the country estate of shipping magnate Robert Murray and his wife Mary Lindley Murray—about 30 acres of steep terrain with a mansion standing at today’s Park Avenue and 36th Street.

James F.D. Lanier Residence, perfectly preserved from the Gilded Age

In 1847, with the former Murray estate divided into land lots and sold for development, the “Murray Hill Restrictive Agreement” went into effect for lots between 34th and 38th Streets and Madison to Lexington Avenues. “The agreement provided that the lots could be used for residential purposes only, barring businesses and commerce from the neighborhood,” stated Exploring Manhattan’s Murray Hill, by Joyce and Alfred Pommer.

Lanier mansion in 1916

With such an elitist covenant in place, it’s no surprise that Murray Hill became New York’s millionaire colony through the 19th century.

Quiet, well-tended streets of charming brownstones and row houses went up. These tidy rows were occasionally interrupted by marble or stone mansions owned by old and new money characters like Caroline Astor, John Jacob Astor III, department store baron A.T. Stewart, and financier J.P. Morgan.

Lanier knocked down two brownstones exactly like the brownstone on the right so he had a big enough lot.

So at the turn of the century, when banker James Franklin Doughty Lanier decided to build his own residential palace for his family, he chose 35th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. The spot he wanted already had two matching brownstones on it, but brownstones were dour and out of fashion. Lanier had them knocked down to create the 33-foot lot for the showstopper he had in mind.

His five-story Beaux-Arts beauty at 123 East 35th Street was completed in 1903. It was a breathtaking sight like nothing else on the block, with its Ionic pilasters, arched windows and entryway, carved wood doors, iron railing, and copper mansard roof. “The total composition is both elegant and dignified, one that could be at home in Paris as well as New York,” stated the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report in 1979.

Lanier was no stranger to society. An avid sportsman and member of the Knickerbocker Club, he made it on Ward McAllister’s list of the 400 most socially prominent people in New York City. His family founded the banking house where he worked, and he certainly had enough money and clout to build his mansion anywhere he wanted.

That Lanier decided to build in Murray Hill is interesting, considering that some of the neighborhood’s wealthy residents had already decamped to the northern reaches of Fifth Avenue—like Mrs. Astor, who moved to a new mansion on Fifth Avenue and 65th Street. There were also challenges to the restrictive agreement, plus encroaching businesses. Neither of these annoyances pleased the rich who remained, per a 1914 New York Times article. “How long can the Murray Hill restriction be preserved?” the article asked.

Lanier mansion in 1976

Rather than relocating to more fashionable Upper Fifth Avenue like some of his contemporaries, Lanier lived in his Murray Hill mansion until his death in 1928. When his wife, Harriet, died three years later, the mansion went to his only surviving child, son Reginald Bishop Lanier.

Incredibly, as parts of Murray Hill became increasingly commercial—and the feel of the neighborhood transformed from new money rich to more upper middle class—Reginald Lanier retained ownership of the house for the next 50 years. “Reginald’s wife would frequently host tea and cocktail parties until the 1950s, and according to the LPC designation report, the Laniers would retain ownership of the house until at least 1979,” wrote Curbed in a 2013 article.

With the mansion under such a long stewardship by the family that built it, it’s no wonder 123 East 35th Street retains so much of its original Gilded Age loveliness, including the ornamental urns that greet visitors on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.

The best part of this perfectly preserved Parisian-inspired home is that it’s currently for sale. The nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, parlors, a butler’s pantry, and a servant’s wing can be yours for $33 million.

Christie’s has lots of eye-popping interior photos to pour over. Imagine the grand social events and intimate family life in this time capsule of a mansion!

[Second and fifth photos: CUNY Graduate Center Collection]