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The American Irish Historical Society is for Sale

by habituallychic

02 . 01 . 21

If you’re in the market for a Gilded age mansion, one of the last remaining ones on Fifth Avenue is now for sale. The American Irish Historical Society just just listed their landmarked 15,000 square-foot headquarters at 991 Fifth Avenue. The price tag of $52 Million townhouse that sits directly across from the south wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art does not include any bedrooms or bathrooms with showers, there are powder rooms, so you’ll have to factor in another $5 to $10 Million to create them on the 4th and 5th floors and decorate. By the time it’s completed, New York should be back and running at full speed so think of it as a long game project.

One claim to fame for the American Irish Historical Society is that it’s used as the exterior and entrance lobby of home of Succession patriarch Logan Roy. The interiors are filmed on a soundstage.

I often photograph the American Irish Historical Society building and post it on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve noticed that the flags haven’t been up for well over a year. The building hosts its own events and is also rented out as an event space. Since that hasn’t happened during the pandemic, I suspect they are having money troubles which might be part of the decision to sell now.

The Real Estate Record and Guide of December 22, 1900 describes in full detail the construction of 991 Fifth Avenue by architects James R. Turner and William G. Killian as “something superior in all details”. It was built in 1900-1901. Its neighbor to the south for Frank W. Woolworth was by architect CPH Gilbert and the stunning mansion just to the north would be for Mr. Philip Livingston. The north corner would have a lavish structure in Francois I style for Mr. Louis Stern. A stunning assembly but by 1925, only 991 Fifth remained.

The Daytonian in Manhattan website always has the best history on all the important buildings in New York including 991 Fifth Avenue.

“By the turn of the 20th century, the exodus of Manhattan’s wealthy from Millionaire’s Row on Fifth Avenue below 59th Street was well under way.   In 1900 Mary Augusta King commissioned architects James R. Turner and William. G. Killian to design her new residence at 991 Fifth Avenue just steps from the corner of 80th Street and far north of the encroaching hotels and businesses. 

Mary was the widow of John King who had died in September 1875 leaving an estate of around $5 million–in the neighborhood of $113 million today.  The King cottage in Newport, completed in 1847, was the largest and more impressive house of its day.  

Included in her husband’s will were his extensive real estate holdings both in Manhattan and Newport.  Mary was not only a highly-visible socialite; but a shrewd businesswoman.  She continued to wheel and deal in real estate; including converting her four-story former mansion at No. 431 Fifth Avenue for commercial purposes..

Completed in 1901, her lavish new Beaux-Arts style mansion uptown was a showplace. With a rusticated limestone base, the first three floors bowed out creating a stone-balustraded balcony at the fourth floor. The architects chose ruddy-colored brick with carved limestone detailing for the middle three floors, capping it with a dramatic mansard roof with three elegant copper-clad dormers.

Here Mary lived with her five Irish servants for only a few years until her death in May 1905.  Banker David Crawford Clark purchased the home on April 16, 1906.  A member of the firm Clark, Dodge & Co., Clark and his wife were socially prominent and in 1911 commissioned Ogden Codman, Jr., to redesign the interiors.

In the meantime, millionaire William Ellis Corey, the president of the United States Steel Corporation, was raising eyebrows. The year that the Clarks bought No. 991, the steel magnate became smitten with an actress, Mabelle Gilman. In a string of events that shocked New York society, Corey divorced his wife and openly courted the entertainer, finally marrying her in the Gotham Hotel on May 14, 1907.

The giddy Corey gave his new bride a French chateau valued at around $1 million as a wedding present, while public opinion boiled over. The New York Times referred to Miss Gilman as “the actress for whom he had already sacrificed the wife of his youth,” and a spokesman for the United States Steel Corporation hinted that the president would be forced to resign.

“When a man occupies a position as prominent as that of President of a great corporation like the Steel Corporation, or the Pennsylvania Railroad, or any similar semi-public position, he is expected to observe the ordinary forms of propriety,” he said.

In 1918 Corey purchased No. 991 5th Avenue and the house became, according to The New York Times years later, “the scene of brilliant functions.” Neither the grand home nor Corey’s millions would keep Mabelle happy, however, and in 1923 she divorced, leaving him to live out his life alone in his Fifth Avenue mansion.”

Via Daytonian in Manhattan

“William E. Corey died on May 11, 1934, leaving the house to his son. In 1939 the American Irish Historical Society purchased the residence for $145,000 and moved in a year later after renovations were completed.

The Society, which was founded in 1897, houses a vast collection of Irish and Irish-American artifacts, newspapers, rare books and papers and hosts lectures, readings, concerts and other events.

By 2006, the house was what the president-general of the Society, Dr. Kevin Cahill, called “in a state of utter disrepair.” The basement regularly flooded, the electrical and plumbing systems were outdated and the masonry required overall restoration.

An aggressive, two-year restoration and renovation was initiated under the direction of Joseph Pell Lombardi. (His drawing is above.) In some cases, the walls were taken down to the studs and lath before the building could be brought into the 20th Century and returned to its original grandeur. Original drawings by Odgen Codman Jr., maintained in the New York City Department of Buildings, were consulted to ensure accuracy.

The $5 million restoration was completed in March 2008.”

Via Daytonian in Manhattan

The American Irish Historical Society has floor plans for the first three floors online for event rental purposes. The first floor probably originally housed the kitchen which would have been taken upstairs via the servant’s staircase and through the butler’s pantry to the dining room on the second floor. The only kitchen now is in the old butler’s pantry. I’m assuming there are offices upstairs on the fourth floor which would have been the floor for the original bedrooms. The fifth floor would most certainly have housed the servants and other staff in small bedrooms. There is an exterior entrance to a basement level. I assume it housed the original laundry and store rooms. It also looks like there is a staircase that connects the old kitchen area on the first floor to a basement level. It’s too bad floor plans weren’t included in the real estate listing.

Here’s a look at the entrance into the townhouse as seen in Succession.

I love the classical sculptures in the entrance hall. I really hope someone who understands architecture and the importance of Ogden Codman Jr. buys 991 Fifth Avenue. I’d also love to see his original drawings for this home. If anyone know how to do that, please let me know.

Another scene from Succession. I wonder what they will do after the building is sold.

The elevator is just before the staircase on the right.

I think the door on the left houses a coat closet or coat check. The door on the right leads to the restrooms and to a back office area that was created in what was probably the original kitchen.

Another scene from Succession in front of the elevator. The weird thing about this scene is the uniformed doorman in the background. Usually only apartment buildings have doormen in New York. Townhouses and brownstones have house managers and other staff who would open the door and accept packages. I think one of the reasons I don’t love Succession is that it gets a lot of things wrong.

The Music Room is located on the second floor and has a balcony overlooking Fifth Avenue which was used during the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The boiseries in this room look perfect and whoever buys the building better not rip them out or I will hunt them down and hurt them.

The fireplace in the music room.

The music room during an art exhibition.

The jib door on the left side leads to the old butler’s pantry. I wonder if the side of the doorways on this floor are original or were widened to allow for crowds during events.

There is an lightwell/airshaft window behind the curtain on the left. They are often used in New York to allow light and air into back areas of buildings.

The original dining room sits on the back of the second floor and includes rear windows and a skylight. I wonder what the back windows look out on.

The light shaft is on the right and the butler’s pantry is behind the windows on the left.

There is a virtual tour on the American Irish Historical Society website where you get a glimpse of the current kitchen in the old Butler’s pantry. The door at the end leads to the servant staircase. I wonder if there was a dumbwaiter in here originally since it would have been hard for servants to bring up all the food from the kitchen via the servant’s staircase.

According to the real estate listing, “The main stair is arranged to the side capped by a skylight to bring light into the home while maintaining the sight line of the full expanse of 100 feet front to back.” I took a screenshot of the Virtual Tour video which is why there is dot on the painting.

The “boardroom” which is really a library is located in the front room of the third floors.

Another view of the bordroom/library.

The American Irish Historical Society “houses more than 10,000  volumes, the most complete private collection of Irish and American Irish history and literature in the United States.  The library features a temperature-controlled rare books room that holds another 1,000 volumes, and an unparalleled collection of newspapers and newsletters dating back to the late-18th century, and several early and mid-19th century newspapers, such as The Nation, The United Irishman, and the Dublin Penny Journal.” The books must be located on the fourth or fifth floor.

The boardroom/library during an exhibition.

The hall that runs parallel to the stairs and elevator on the third floor.

The back room on the third floor currently houses permanent exhibition space for the American Irish Historical Society.

This room could easily be converted to a small bedroom or sitting room since there is a bathroom that sits behind a door on the right not seen in this photo. This room actually sits above the small middle sitting areas on the second floor because there is a skylight above the dining room.

“Many buyers find a townhouse to be the most exquisite form of city living – so much space, utterly self-contained, flexible renovation options, with private outdoor spaces that can span an entire roof top, rear gardens and elegant terraces.”

I pray that someone with taste and a a respect for history buys 991 Fifth Avenue who will restore it to it’s GIlded Age splendour. If anyone would like to hire me to consult, I will happily oblige.

Exterior views and screenshots of Succession by me. Interior photos via Brown Harris Stevens and American Irish Historical Society. Historical photos via Daytonian in Manhattan.