Always wanted to live in a New York Gilded Age mansion? Well, duh. Here’s a townhouse that’s been virtually untouched since it was built between 1901 and 1903. The reason for that is that it’s only been owned by two families in the past 120 years. Interested in being owner number three? The 33-foot-wide building, on East 35th Street in the Murray Hill neighborhood, is available for $33 million. It’s listed by Edward F. Joseph at Christie’s International Real Estate.
The building is currently owned by Bassam Alghanim, the Bel Air, Calif.-based billionaire who inherited part of Alghanim Industries, a diversified company founded by his late father Yusuf and chaired by his brother Kutayba. Alghanim paid just $4.2 million for the townhouse in 1984. Sellers were family members of the original owner.
Arranged over eight floors, including the cellar, the mansion is still magnificent. There are twelve bedrooms, nine and a half baths set in 11,367 square feet. Up-to-date amenities include a gym with a sunken hot tub and cold plunge pool, sauna and massage rooms, and a full bathroom. Brand-new HVAC, a security system, and smart-home automation would be the envy of the original owners, while there’s also a temperature-controlled wine cellar. A huge kitchen could, admittedly, use some updates, but we imagine the current owner never ventures in there. There’s also a tranquil courtyard garden and views of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings from the roof. A mahogany staircase and an elevator serve all floors; and there’s a service staircase from the sub-basement to the fourth floor and a service entrance from the garden level.
What’s especially amazing about this house is how little of it has changed. Pictures of it from 1904 show interiors virtually the same as now in the principal rooms. Its first owner would recognize all of it. He was James Franklin Doughty Lanier II, who grew up in a lavish brownstone mansion on East 37th St. James’s grandfather had founded the banking firm Winslow, Lanier & Co., of which his father was the head.
After James’ graduation from Princeton in 1880, he joined the family bank. He married Harriet Bishop in 1885, the couple living with his parents even after they had children. In 1901, Lanier purchased two brownstones on East 35th Street for $31,000. He hired the architectural firm of Hoppin & Koen to design a mansion on the combined plots. The Beaux Arts mansion was completed in 1903. Just as today, a rusticated limestone base supported two stories of red brick, the bays of which were separated by fluted Corinthian pilasters. Above it all was a copper mansard roof with three dormers.
Like other wealthy New Yorkers of the time, the Laniers traveled extensively and also owned country properties. On August 26, 1914, for The New York Press reported “Mr. and Mrs. James F. D. Lanier, who will arrive the latter part of this week from Europe, will go directly to Gravel Court, their Newport villa, to remain until they open their town house, in October.” Gravel Court, by the way, sold for about $3.5 million last year.
One of the Laniers’ two sons, Charles, died in 1918 in the influenza pandemic. Their other son, Reginald, married in 1921. He and his bride lived with his parents. James died in 1921 at age 69, while Harriet passed away in 1932.
Reginald and his wife continued to live on East 35th Street, having two children, Diana and James. Life proceeded happily, with Diana married and gone, until 1954, when a special delivery letter arrived, which read, in part:
We owe society a debt, but society is going to pay a little of our expense. You were chosen from society’s phone book to pay only $5,000 to us. Remember you only get this one note.
The message went on to state if the police were notified there would be “three wooden overcoats in your house,” referring to coffins for Reginald, Helen and James. Reginald went to the police, who had him drop a package into a certain trash can. The street was full of workers and delivery people, who were all police.
The culprit waited 30 minutes before going over to the can and collecting his package. The police grabbed him. He turned out to be an old servant of the family who was charged with extortion and blackmail.
Perhaps left with a bad taste in their mouths, the family moved out shortly thereafter. Yet they retained ownership of the house until 1984; Reginald died in 1979 and Helen sold the property five years later. It’s wonderful to see all the original stonework — the gorgeous fireplaces, the busts, the fountain — as well as the millwork all intact. And it’s to be greatly hoped that the next owner is a good caretaker of a vanishingly rare piece of New York’s past age.