Monday, July 30, 2012

Woolworth Mansion for Sale

Woolworth Townhouse at 
4 E. 80th Street

In 1910 Frank Winfield Woolworth had just built his landmark skyscraper (at 792 feet, the tallest in the world when built) at Broadway and Park Place. Just afterward he again hired famed society architect C. P. H.  Gilbert to design contiguous town houses for his daughters Edna (Mrs. Franklyn Hutton) at 2 East 80th, Helena (Mrs. Charles McCann*) at 4 East 80th, and Jessie (Mrs. James  Donahue) at 6 East 80th. Amazingly, all three townhouses still stand. Flanked by two 25' wide sister structures, the center townhouse mansion (photo above, click to enlarge), 4 East 80th St., is again for sale.

Built in 1916 for Woolworth’s daughter Helena, the 35 foot-wide mansion, located a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been fully renovated in traditional prewar style. This property, the central one of the three, is seven stories high with a total area of just under 18,000 square feet. The house, with its limestone facade, features 14-foot ceilings on its parlor floor. It boasts 10 bedrooms, 3 kitchens, 11.5 bathrooms, an elevator, a formal dining room with a capacity for 50 people and a large paneled library, running the full width of the house.

The imposing Neo-French Renaissance style mansion features a central foyer opening to a grand entry hall (photo below). With a massive fireplace, the spacious entry includes closets and a powder room, access to a kitchen in the rear as well as a wide landing of the grand staircase. The parlor floor begins with a front drawing room spanning 35 feet with a fireplace. The center landing affords a large sitting room that connects the front drawing room to the formal dining room with the capacity to seat 50 in front of a large fireplace that ends in a rear solarium morning room ideal for breakfast, as it is positioned next to a serving kitchen. The kitchen includes a seating area, storage and a dumb waiter to the service kitchen below. The third floor includes a 35 foot-wide wood-paneled library, wet bar and powder room. In the rear there is a two-bedroom suite with two large bathrooms and generous closet space.

The fourth floor master suite includes a bedroom, two sitting rooms and two full baths with dressing rooms positioned on opposite ends of the master suite. The fifth floor features two large bedrooms with full baths and a gymnasium. The first five floors are capped by a brilliant stained-glass skylight positioned above the staircase. Above the sixth floor is an additional level presently built out for a private office with a full bath and a powder room and the seventh floor is a two-bedroom staff suite with two full baths, a separate kitchen and elevator access. The lowest level includes a suite of offices and outdoor space. An elevator services all levels. While the other great mansions that have come on the market in New York have been shells requiring near total renovation, this is the only mansion for sale that has been fully renovated in traditional prewar style.

Listing price: $90,000,000. For rent at $210,000 per month (not a typo). Purchased in 1995 by fitness mogul Lucille Roberts (d. 2003) for $6,000,000; currently owned by her estate.

In January of this year a lurid act of retribution took place here. David Allen, a disgruntled former employee of the Lucille Roberts workout chain, vandalized this mansion and was charged with attempted grand larceny, attempted coercion, placing a false bomb or hazardous substance, and criminal mischief. Allen, age 38, splashed the Woolworth mansion at 4 East 80th Street with white paint and shot it with projectiles. Allen had been dismissed from his position at the Lucille Roberts company in December, 2011, after joining the women’s fitness company as real estate manager in June of last year. The firing did not sit well with Allen, who felt he was entitled to a six-figure commission and severance. He faxed the family notes demanding what he believed was owed to him, and when he did not receive it, he engaged in acts of vandalism. He also delivered an object to the townhouse containing what appeared to be a toxic substance but was harmless and “meant only to raise public alarm,” according to the defendant. Allen was charged with intentionally damaging property of another in an amount exceeding $1,500. It was also discovered that projectiles had been fired into glass window panes of the mansion. The next day he mailed the Roberts family three envelopes. One held a white powdery substance, and one was filled with small metal screws and copper wire. The third contained a letter that read, "1. Paint. 2. Glass. 3. Bleach. 4. Bullet in the leg,  Jail." The letter had Allen's fingerprint on it. He pled guilty in May 2012 to felony criminal mischief. Allen had spent months in jail following his January arrest. Before leaving court he signed orders of protection requiring him to stay away from Roberts family members Bob, Kirk, and a second son, Kevin, for eight years. Under his sentence on July 18, 2012, David Allen was ordered to get psychiatric treatment, serve five years probation and reimburse the Roberts family for $10,000 in damage caused by white paint he splashed on the exterior of the family mansion. The sentence did not include any jail time. The historic mansion is back on the market.

*Helena Woolworth McCann (and her attorney husband Charles) also owned the Sunken Orchard estate in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, that included a sprawling 29-room Georgian style mansion. They added a pool, playhouse and indoor tennis complex to the original Fay Ingalls estate, which they purchased in 1914. As well, the McCanns had Annette Hoyt Flanders design French Gardens which won the Gold Medal of the Architectural League in 1932. Ingalls sold Sunken Orchard to the McCanns in order to take over the 16,000 acre Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA, an important Ingalls asset in the decades to come.

The playhouse and tennis court complex were divided from the Sunken Orchard estate when purchased by William “Billy” Woodward, Jr., who would go on to have his head blown off by a shotgun wielded by his wife, Ann, in 1955 – in the indoor tennis court building. Woodward, heir to the Manufacturer’s Hanover banking fortune, was a famed financier, sportsman and owner of famous race horse Nashua. He was just 35 years old at the time of his death. His wife, a former model, actress and dancing showgirl, claimed she mistook him for a prowler, but she committed suicide after Truman Capote published Answered Prayers (1975), a thinly veiled account of the Woodward shooting which accused Ann of outright murder (the story was later adapted by Dominick Dunne as The Two Mrs. Grenvilles). Billy had asked for a divorce just four years after their wedding, but Ann refused, unwilling to give up her wealth and social status. Though the question remains whether it was an accident or murder, a grand jury did not indict her. After Billy's death, the door to society slammed shut for Ann. Both of her sons would eventually commit suicide, as well. So there you have it.

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