Monday, September 22, 2014

90 Fifth Avenue NYC - Arthur and Countess Annie Leary Cottage - 1890

This a rough sketch of one of the lesser known members of Mrs. Astor’s 400 Society types from the late nineteenth into early twentieth century gilded era New York.

I began, out of curiosity, a search for existing records and images on the Internet for a picture of 90 Fifth Avenue in 1893, the year of death of Arthur Leary, one the extremely few Roman Catholics on “The” Mrs. Astor’s “400” society list. He made the cut not I think by social graces as much as by sheer wealth and having gone to school as a child with “The” Mrs. Astor’s husband, William B Astor Jr..

That personal and probably business as well  connection of Arthur’s was in imitation of the original part of Arthur’s inherited wealth of his father James, who in turn was a business client and associate of William B. Astor Jr’s grandfather, John Jacob Astor, the German born immigrant that founded the American Astor family dynasty line. 

James Leary had been a hatter, using the infamous Astor monopoly controlled beaver pelts, in a shop in the basement of the original luxury hotel “The Astor House” in downtown NYC across from City Hall and before the Civil War.

The three older Leary brothers Arthur, Daniel and George seemed to have made a fortune off of shipping during the Civil War and beyond which ended up being invested soundly in Insurance Companies and Banks by Arthur.

Arthur was unmarried and so his old maid sister Annie Leary usually accompanied him to society balls and to Newport in summer to visit with their peers, the gilded age rich in their million dollar plus “cottages” on the ocean.  After Arthur's death, sister Annie spent the next twenty six years giving much of his estimated anywhere from seven to twenty million dollar fortune away to charity, mostly to Catholic related charities and building projects. 

Anne became “Countess”Annie Leary after the early 1900s who had a Papal title bestowed on her for philanthropy and charity work and most notably towards NYCs Italian immigrant community.

“I began, out of curiosity, a search for existing records and images...” because of the Arthur Leary NYT’s Obit in typical effete NYT’s fashion describing his house at 90 Fifth Ave. as “quaint”. It was no doubt a small simple house not reflective of his immense wealth and social standing as compared to the other urban castles of the rich built further up Fifth Avenue. 

Leary NYT Obit 1893

The Leary’s I suspect were very frugal. From what I have read the house at 90 Fifth Ave may have been rented at one time, waiting for its original owner Dr. Thaddeus Halsted (not Halstead) to die about 1870. He has various addresses in various NYC directories for his doctor’s practice and or residence. I suspect that as a rental property, it did not have many changes or alterations along the time line from when it was built around 1835 as three small houses for the children of William Halsted who had a big mansion built there at the same time at 1 West Fourteenth Street and or “84” Fifth Ave on the lot per city lot maps. The three children’s houses were of course “86”, “88” and “90” Fifth Ave.

As the other buildings on the block went commercial with rebuilds, upgrades and add-ons I suspect that the Leary Cottage remained a simple house, probably two rooms on two rooms in a house footprint of 18’8” X 100’ on an 18’8” x 199’ lot per the Bromley 1891 Atlas of the City of New York Lot Map.

Papal Countess Annie Leary of NYC
Photo by Theodore C. Marceau 1859-1922
(original copyright expired)

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