By Carter B. Horsley
With its exceptional long frontage on a prime
location on Park Avenue, this is one of the most visible red-brick,
Georgian-style mansions in the city.
While it is rather plain and severe, it is
elegant and it is surprising, therefore, that it remained vacant
for a decade or so at the end of the 20th and the beginning of
the 21st Century, a fate that also befell another Georgian-style,
red-brick, Park Avenue mansion, the former Lewis Gouverneur Morris
and former New World Foundation building at 100 East 85th Street
that was designed by Ernst Flagg (see The
City Review article).
This building was by designed by Walter Lund
and Julius F. Gayler in 1920 for Thomas A. Howell and his wife,
Emilia for $65,000. Mr. Howell was a sugar wholesaler, James Trager
wrote in his excellent book, "Park Avenue Street of Dreams"
"The Howells sold 603 in 1923 to James
W. Ellsworth, a retired coal mining magnate, who died of pneumonia
in 1925; his son Lincoln was stranded at the time on the Artic
icecap with Roald Amundsen. Dr. James B. Murphy, who later headed
cancer research at Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University)
leased the house in 1927 from Lincoln Ellsworth. American Architecture
of Today, published in 1928, called 603 Park a 'friendly,
pleasant building....a most interesting adaptation of the American
Colonial to a long, thin site.' Dr. Murphy died in 1950 and his
widow married Ray S. Blakeman. Mrs. Blakeman lived there until
her death in 1987. The house was still a private residence in
the spring of 1989, "when it was offered for sale at $20 million,"
Mr. Trager wrote.
The house was used soon after it was put on
the market for the very prestigious annual interior design show
benefitting the Kips Bay Boys Club. Many different brokers tried
to sell the house and its asked price eroded to $12 million but
still found no takers.
The building has a central skylit staircase
but it is only 20 feet deep and its interiors while handsome are