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
Mary Augusta King's house (second from right) abutted the
massive Frank Woolworth residence at the corner. At the far corner is the mansion of Louis Stern,
and next door the bow-fronted limestone residence was home to the Philip
Livingston family. photograph from the
collection of the New York Public Library
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
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. 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.
Wurts Bros. photographed the much-changed block on August
28, 1942 from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Today the rich Beaux-Arts mansion with its equally-rich
society history is vised between soaring 21st century structures, while losing
none if its century-old architectural integrity.