De Lamar Mansion on Madison Avenue

“IN its purdah of construction netting, Joseph De Lamar’s ebullient Parisian palace of 1905, at Madison Avenue and 37th Street, is essentially invisible. Now occupied by the Polish Consulate, this architectural explosion, one of the most opulent mansions surviving in New York, was designed by C. P. H. Gilbert.
Mr. De Lamar, born in Holland around 1843, left home and served on a ship until the 1860s, acquiring in the process the “Captain” that often precedes De Lamar. He settled in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he had a marine salvage business. In the 1870s he went West in search of nickel and other metals, making his fortune within a few years.

Mr. De Lamar came to New York in the early 1890s, and first lived in a modest apartment building at 217 West 115th Street. Around 1893 he married Nellie Sands, the daughter of an apothecary, and according to The Boston Daily Globe in 1897, “for two seasons the De Lamars spent money like water at Newport,” but made no social progress. The same newspaper called him a “grim eccentric” in 1919. Their only child, Alice, was born in 1895, and the De Lamars soon divorced.

In 1902, Mr. De Lamar retained Mr. Gilbert, the mansion specialist, to build him a house in the heart of Murray Hill. The area had been at the top of the heap in the 1860s but was by then in its declining years.

The De Lamar house was quite different from Mr. Gilbert’s light and lacy French Gothic houses — for instance, the residence at 79th and Fifth Avenue, now the Ukrainian Institute of America. Mr. Gilbert’s mansion for Mr. De Lamar was robustly Beaux-Arts, heavy with rusticated stonework, balconies and a colossal mansard roof.

The 1910 census taker found Mr. De Lamar in residence with Alice, by then 15, and nine servants, a typical ratio. He died in 1918, and his obituary in The Boston Daily Globe described him as a “man of mystery” and an accomplished organist. He left an estate worth $29 million.

Alice De Lamar soon deserted her father’s house for a Park Avenue apartment, and went on to become a volunteer driver and mechanic for the Red Cross and an advocate of housing for working women.”



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