Let’s face it — 1969 was a big year. Our Executive Director Andrew Berman was born in January. The Greenwich Village Historic District was designated in April. The Stonewall Riots launched the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the United States in June. The first man landed on the moon in July, and a few days later the New York Chapter of the Puerto Rican nationalist group the Young Lords was founded in Tompkins Square Park. The Woodstock festival lit up the music and counterculture worlds in August. But today I’ll ask you to forget the moon, forget Woodstock, and to join us in celebrating the anniversary of the landmark designation of the former Irad Hawley house, home of the legendary Salmagundi Club since 1917.
It all started on September 21st, 1965, the very year the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was founded, when a public hearing was held proposing the designation of the Salmagundi Club. Four people spoke in favor of the designation, the Deputy Borough President sent a letter of approval, and no one objected (why would they?). Four years later, on September 9th, 1969, the Salmagundi Club became a New York City Individual Landmark.
As written in the designation report, the four-and-a-half story Italianate style building at 47 Fifth Avenue was constructed in 1852-1853 for Irad Hawley, the president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, which had yards along the Hudson River in the West Village. The building’s arresting entrance, up a flight of wide steps, is framed in original stone ornament and flanked by French doors that open onto cast-iron balconies. And, the report indicates, the inside is no less stunning. The first floor of the building showcases Italianate-style carved marble chimney pieces, rose wood doors, and an arcaded Corinthian screen dividing the front and back parlors. The dining room features elements of the Gothic Revival style and is one of the few remaining interiors in New York to do so.
The Salmagundi Club, by 1969, was one-of-a-kind, the last architectural relic of the swath of mid-nineteenth century Anglo-Italianate brownstone mansions that once lined the lower portion of Fifth Avenue. Its dignified, former northern neighbors at 49 and 51 Fifth Avenue were razed to make way for a 19-story apartment building, built in 1929 by Thomas W. Lamb, but the Salmagundi Club stayed put.
Beyond the architectural significance of 47 Fifth Avenue, the designation report cites the building’s cultural significance as a key reason for its designation. The Salmagundi Club, before moving into its longtime home, was organized in 1871 for the “the promotion of social intercourse among artists and the advancement of the art” and named for the “Salmagundi Papers,” a satirical magazine published by short-story writer Washington Irving in which he coined the term “Gotham.” The Club purchased the grand Fifth Avenue mansion in 1917, and has resided there ever since. The designation report credits the maintenance of the historic building to the club, which had been, and continues to be, a reliable and generous steward. Notable members of the Club include illustrators Edwin Abbey, N.C. Wyeth, and Howard Pyle; Impressionist painters William Merritt Chase and Childe Hassam; Arts and Crafts pioneer John LaFarge; designer Louis C. Tiffany; Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran; and architect Stanford White.
But that’s not all there is to celebrate today. The building is not only a historic cross-section of Fifth Avenue history and an esteemed center of orbit in the city’s art world. It is noteworthy also as one of the first individual landmarks named and protected by the city. The designation report is a mere page long, absolutely minuscule compared to the over 50-page reports put together today, but it set a crucial precedent in New York City’s landmarking process. And, from April 1, 1982 until 1999, Village Preservation’s offices were located in the building’s attic!
The Salmagundi Club, which we named a Village Awardee in 2008, is more than just a club, and continues to be a vibrant part of the Village today. Notably, East Village artist Carole Teller, who donated a rich collection of photographs of our neighborhoods over the last half-century to Village Preservation, is part of the Salmagundi and is even one of their most sought-after artists by collectors. The organization owns a collection of over 1,500 works of art, undertakes small restoration projects, and opens numerous events and classes to the public, some of which are co-sponsored by Village Preservation.
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