There is so much fascinating history to this pair of charming buildings in New York’s historic Greenwich Village, it is difficult to know where to begin.
The residence is small, but the interiors have been so skillfully designed, they feel much larger. Certainly, the double-height living room adds to the illusion of space, and there is even a mirror in the garden to trick the eye into thinking it’s larger. In all, there are two bedrooms, two full baths, one powder room and a small garden in the rear. The place is owned by well known classical architects Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons, whose clients include Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Liv Tyler, and Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie Chantal of Greece.
Built in 1897, the little house on the left — which appears to be one story but is actually two — started out as the carriage house for a townhouse on neighboring Washington Place. It was converted to a single-family home in 1917, and the architect gave it a Colonial Revival look, with an arched doorway and fanlight. About five years later, the famous landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders moved in, and in 1936 the house acquired a new mansard roof with a Chippendale-style railing.
Next door was an artist’s studio. Anne Fairfax remembered, “In 2000, when we’d just bought the place, we got a knock on the door. A man was there, a professor at the University of California, and he had a letter from his father to his mother in Italian.” This letter dated back to WWI. The letter said he was living in the house, and he had a sculpture studio there, and would she please come to America and marry him.” And she did! Anne added, “He [the sculptor] did the Caruso bust at Lincoln Center, I think it is, and the hood ornament for the Pierce Arrow car.”
Over the decades, both buildings served as the home and/or studio of a number of artistic and interesting owners and tenants. Then, in 1962, businessman Armand Hammer purchased both buildings and converted them to a single home. It was not, however, the first time a member of the Hammer family occupied the premises.
One of the more interesting figures of the 20th century, Armand Hammer (1898-1990) is known for his Cold War era “citizen diplomacy” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He was called in his day “Lenin’s chosen capitalist,” and despite being friendly with major Soviet figures, was an avowed capitalist who made a fortune in the oil business. (And yes, now-disgraced actor Armie is his great-grandson.)
Armand’s father, Julius Hammer, emigrated to New York from Ukraine in the late 19th century. He was a pharmacist, but also, as Anne says, “a flaming socialist inflaming insurrection. I think he was laundering money for Lenin at that time.” Interestingly enough, Julius rented the art studio around 1915, and Anne thinks it became the very first Communist Party stronghold or club in New York. After the Russian Revolution, the Hammer family returned to Russia, where they were put up in the confiscated Fabergé mansion. Eventually, young Armand, ever the keen businessman, was given several manufacturing concessions in the Soviet Union, including asbestos in the Urals.
By 1962, Hammer had returned to the United States and was very wealthy, both as a shrewd businessman and as someone with close ties to the Soviet Union at a time when almost no Americans did. It was no financial stretch for him to buy these two buildings and combine them. He used them for storing art and also as a downtown bolt hole for going to jazz clubs at night. Presumably, he must have been tickled by the idea that the place had been his father’s Communist meeting place back in the day.
In 2000, Hammer’s estate sold the property to Fairfax and Sammons. Anne says, when they first bought the place, they wondered what to do with it. The wedge shaped building, odd angles and so on were challenging. But the couple set their minds to it and got to work.
The Anglophile and classical-loving pair applied the Golden Ratio to each room, to ensure harmonious proportions. Erm… what? Well, the Golden Ratio is simple math. This proportion has been known for thousands of years. It makes for a pleasing shape, such that human brains are hardwired to prefer it. Math aside, the interiors seem more London than Manhattan, with color and pattern typical of the English style. Out back, the garden was designed by Charles Stick, for a serene yet urban natural space.
The results of the couple’s sensitive restoration and update almost speak for themselves, really. The kitchen, while small, is all that’s needed, while details such as the Delft tiles around the fireplace, antique mirrors, aged bras chandeliers, and even an English-style bar make for the feel of a cozy British mews house. Smaller furnishings don’t overwhelm the space, and the couple were careful to use pairs of accessories and chairs, in best Classical Revival style.
Without question, this is a very special house. Listed with Debbie Korb at Sotheby’s Int’l Realty, asking $7.5 million, now all it needs is a special new owner to add their own stamp to its rare provenance.