UES016-01.jpg (83554 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Upper East Side

Edith and Ernesto Fabbri House


Haydel & Shepard


11 East 62nd Street, bet. Fifth and Madison Aves.










The house, at 11 East 62nd Street, New York City, was Margaret Vanderbilt (Mrs. Elliot Fitch) Shepard’s (daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt) wedding present to her daughter Edith (1872-1954), bride of the banker, Ernesto G. Fabbri. It was designed by the architectural firm of Haydel & Shepard, the latter partner, August Dennis Shepard Jr., was related to the bride’s mother. The townhouse’s five floors contain 22,500 square feet and include a mahogany paneled 25-by-41-foot dining room, gentlemen’s and ladies’ reception rooms, a ballroom with an ornate plaster ceiling, a sweeping staircase leading to the second floor, the banister of which supports a pair of Louis XIV-style bronze candelabra with cupids nearly six feet high. The Aeolian organ is in the second-floor music room; the pipe chamber is on the third floor.* The Fabbri’s lived in the house until 1916, when they moved to 7 East 95th Street (and in 1916 ordered Aeolian Op. 1398, a II/21-rank with a Duo-Art player in the console). The house was then sold to Charles Steele. The house, now the Johnson O Conner Foundation, is on the market for $30 million.** The organ is still in place, though not playable. A peculiar aside is given by Louis Auchincloss in "Maverick in Mauve" (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1983) 131: "Edith Shepard Fabbri was in love with Alessandro Fabbri, her divorced husband’s brother, and ultimately had him buried in her lot in the Vanderbilt cemetery on Staten Island."  


At 1916 Fabbri House, Artisanship of Bygone Era


Published: April 25, 2004 NYT

THE austere, dramatic Fabbri house, built in 1916 at 7 East 95th Street, was part of a planned enclave of three mansions never fully realized. Now, as one of its siblings is redeveloped as condominiums, dramatic change is about to sweep over the 34-room building, even though no brick or stone will be changed. 

Ernesto Fabbri came from a well-to-do Italian family — his obituary in The New York Times in 1943 described him as "a linguist and world traveler" — but surely his wealth increased when he married Edith Vanderbilt Shepard, great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. At first, the Fabbris lived in an expansive Beaux-Arts-style mansion they built in 1900 at 11 East 62nd Street, but by 1912 they had sold it and moved abroad.

Wealth offers its own prerogatives, and the Fabbris returned to the United States within a few years and built an entirely new house. They chose a site at 7 East 95th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. Marion Carhart was just finishing her own grand limestone house at 3 East 95th Street, and the block seemed to be developing into a side street mansion enclave. The Fabbris sold part of their lot — what became 5 East 95th Street — to the family of Goodhue Livingston, who planned to build on that plot.

In 1914, Edith Fabbri made an agreement with Livingston to leave flanking sections of their future front yards — 11 feet wide on Livingston's side, 36 feet wide on the Fabbri side — "unbuilt upon to furnish light, air and prospect," according to the deed. This would have created a courtyard 47 feet wide and 45 feet deep between the houses. Livingston never went ahead with his building, but the Fabbri house reflects the restriction, with a great notch on its western side. 
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The Fabbris retained the architect Grosvenor Atterbury, a deft and intelligent designer who was working on Forest Hills Gardens in Queens around this time. But lead credit for the design is usually given to the painter Egisto Fabbri, a brother of Ernesto who had worked in Paris for several decades and had been an early patron of Cézanne. 

The severe, rectangular character of the facade — with its flat stone trim around the bull's-eye windows on the attic story — seems to suggest the spare perspective of the painter Piero della Francesca, and makes the typical large New York town house look stale and predictable. 

The interior was equally spare, with little furniture and simple wall surfaces, like an Italian palace in the country. Indeed, in her 1937 memoir, "Egisto Fabbri, 1866-1932," Mabel La Farge, an artist, says that the woodwork of the grand library on the second floor came from Perugia, in central Italy. She praised the quiet simplicity of Fabbri's design: "Even the entrance hall was not New York: it suggested peace, calm, low voices, the beauty of some Brunelleschi sacristy."

To enclose the open space, the Fabbris ran a limestone and iron fence down their side of the property line; original drawings for the house show a courtyard with a revolving turntable to switch the direction of a parked automobile, surrounded by plantings.

The drawings also show a photographic darkroom on the fourth floor and a "moving picture booth" in the second-floor library. These perhaps reflected the interests of Egisto's and Ernesto's brother Alessandro, who also lived there. He was a naturalist and inventor who developed a motion picture camera for microscopic use. He gave at least one presentation there on the life in a drop of water.

The 1920 census shows the Fabbris, including Alessandro, at the house with 11 servants, including a valet and chauffeur. After Ernesto and Edith divorced in 1923, she kept 7 East 95th Street.

An account of the party she gave in 1937 for the debut of her grandniece, Anne Louise Schieffelin, gives the flavor of life in such a house — and its milieu. Supper was given in the wide, vaulted dining room on the ground floor, while the dance was held in the library above, where fruit was strung in garlands around the balcony railing. The New York Times reported that members of the Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Redmond, Iselin, Auchincloss and other leading families were there. In fact, The Times listed all 283 guests. It observed that the house had "the artisanship of a bygone era."

Indeed the era was flying quickly away. The
Lycee Francais de New York, the private school, bought the old Carhart house in 1937, and in 1949 Edith Fabbri created an Episcopal retreat, the House of the Redeemer, to which she donated 7 East 95th. She died in 1954 in an apartment at 116 East 63rd Street, a comfortable but modest building.

In 1957, the Lycée Français built a three-story, white-brick annex on the Livingston lot, at 5 East 95th Street, and earlier this year it was demolished for a new building that will be joined to the old Carhart house at 3 East 95th Street. Both will be as sold as condominiums by 95 LLC, a Hong Kong developer.

Renderings of the new project, designed by the architects Zivkovic Associates and John Simpson & Partners, appear to show an unusual hybrid. The bulk of the new building is in a restrained French neo-Classical design, but a setback rooftop addition has a temple front, and the side elevation facing the House of the Redeemer has a Regency-style character, perhaps after the style of the 18th-century Scottish architect Robert Adam. The facade, of Indiana limestone, required approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

THE new building mimics the character of a large town house, but instead of responding to the Fabbri courtyard with one of its own, as envisioned by the 1914 restriction, the new portion of the condominium is being built out to the building line — like the white brick Lycée Français — right up against the old Fabbri property.

Although it functions as a nondenominational retreat, the House of the Redeemer is a de facto house museum. Mrs. Fabbri left most of her furniture to the house, from the Renaissance and later periods, and most of it is still in use, like the eight grand gilt torchères that light the library. The pantry — with its 16-foot ceiling and a mezzanine office from which the butler could supervise the staff — is almost completely intact.

The top floor, with the oval windows, is the servants' floor, used as bedrooms for those on retreats, and looks like the housemaids are at their posts, serving the Fabbris. It has its gas dryers, simple finishes, an intercom, and servants' bath, with two marble sinks. It could be a set for a New York version of "Upstairs, Downstairs."

Mrs. Fabbri's bathroom has a fireplace, and if the public rooms have seen any architectural changes, they were invisible to a recent visitor. The original parlor is now a chapel — a gong calls worshipers — and the library and dining room are used for concerts and lectures. A schedule of chapel services and other events is posted at the House of the Redeemer's Web site, .

There are about 100 chairs and other pieces of Mrs. Fabbri's furniture in the basement, too deteriorated to use but too expensive to repair. The House of the Redeemer has a $200,000 annual budget and a very small endowment, says Margaret German, a vice president of the board of trustees. Downstairs, in a new restroom, they reused extra Italian tiles Mrs. Fabbri had stockpiled. "We don't throw anything away" Mrs. German says. "Our big asset is really the house." 
Need a Deal on a Gym? Lycee Francais Pushes 6 Classroom Buildings - FinancialObserver
New York Observer, The,  Feb 12, 2001  

Byline: Deborah Schoeneman and Deborah Netburn

Sharon Baum, a broker with the Corcoran Group, stepped out of her chauffeured Rolls-Royce in front of 9 East 72nd Street on the afternoon of Feb. 5., a rhinestone pin that read "SOLD" sparkling on her lapel. Ms. Baum headed inside the Beaux Arts mansion, one of six Upper East Side townhouses, spread out over three locations, that comprise the Lycee Francais de New York, a bilingual school started in 1935. Just three days earlier, the Lycee had hired Ms. Baum and her colleagues at Corcoran to sell the buildings, thereby replacing Massey Knackal Realty, the firm that has been marketing the properties since last August.

Ms. Baum's first step was to begin referring to the string of buildings as "The Lycee Collection": They include Nos. 7 and 9 East 72nd Street, priced at $21 million and $30 million, respectively; 3 and 5 East 95th Street, priced at $19.5 million and $10.3 million, respectively; 60 East 93rd Street, priced at $17 million; and, finally, 12 East 73rd Street, priced at $8 million.

Her second step will be to slash the prices almost 20 percent on Feb. 8.

The school has also hired a spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, who said that the change in representation reflected a lesson learned over the past six months. He said the school had switched from Massey Knackal, a primarily commercial real estate firm, to Corcoran, a primarily residential firm, because most of the interest in the properties has been from people who wanted to return the buildings to individual homes. The Lycee has had "an enormous number of people coming to look at the buildings and inquire," said Mr. Rubenstein. "Seventy percent of those people want the buildings for residential use."

Mr. Rubenstein also said that the Lycee thought Corcoran could better reach possible overseas buyers. Ms. Baum said that she and Carrie Chang, another Corcoran broker, are marketing the properties around the world to individuals, institutions and developers who could turn the mansions into apartments.

Mr. Rubenstein said the Lycee has turned down some offers, but it now seems as though the buyers are the ones who are balking, turning down the school's high prices. "My sense is that Lycee is getting anxious," said one townhouse expert about the school's having switched real estate firms. "I had heard that they had a $43 million offer for the two buildings on 72nd Street. They should have run screaming to the bank." The broker said the rejected offer was made by a foreigner who wanted to turn the townhouses into a foundation.

In November, New York magazine reported that Band-Aid heiress Libbet Johnson was close to a deal to buy the six mansions. The report said she planned to live at 9 East 72nd Street (known as the Sloan Mansion) and sell off the other buildings. "That was just a rumor," said Ms. Baum. But two of the properties have offers on the table now, one made by an individual and one by an institution, she said.

The de-institutionalizing of the mansions of New York-especially those on the Upper East Side-has been going on for the last couple of years, and is gaining as the de rigueur move in real estate. The buildings are being renovated back into individual residences. One of the first significant purchases was that of New York investor Bruce Kovner, who paid $17.5 million in November 1999 for the uptown outpost of the International Center for Photography, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 94th Street. (The museum has still not vacated the building.) A year later, socialite Sloan Lindeman spent $11.25 million on the English Speaking Union, a 33-foot-wide mansion at 16 East 69th Street that had been the union's headquarters for 44 years. And on Dec. 6, a 40-foot-wide house at 10-12 East 94th Street that housed the offices of Louise Wise Services, an adoption agency, was purchased by Nicholas Rohatyn, son of the former ambassador to France, for $7.4 million.

Comparatively, the Lycee properties are treasures, but aside from being overpriced, they will be extremely difficult to un-renovate. A typical floor plan includes a biology lab, a nurse's office and a dining room. Then again, the grand staircases have been retained, and there are spaces with designations like "Salle d'Honneur" and "The Marble Room." The school, which currently enrolls 970 kids from preschool to the 12th grade, started at the two buildings at 3 and 5 East 95th Street. The five-story house at 3 East 95th Street was built in 1921 in the 18th-century French style and was purchased by the Lycee in 1937. The three-story building at 5 East 95th Street was constructed the same year, after the school bought a garden from a neighbor. Ms. Baum showed the latter property on Feb. 2.

In 1964, the Lycee bought the two buildings at 7 and 9 East 72nd Street, which now house the preschool-through-elementary-school facilities. Built in 1896 for Henry T. Sloan, a carpet upholsterer, 9 East 72nd Street is the prize among the properties: It's 59 feet wide, has five stories and boasts approximately 25,363 square feet. The neighboring five-story house at 7 East 72nd Street, which was built in 1899 for Oliver Gould Jennings, director of the National Fuel Gas Company, is 28 feet wide, with a limestone facade, large French windows and a total of 18,256 square feet.

As Ms. Baum walked through the mansions, which have been joined, she pointed out marble fireplaces and ornate original moldings. The Sloan Mansion is the largest townhouse to go on the market since the Vanderbilt Fabbri Mansion at 11 East 62nd Street, which Ms. Baum sold to the Japanese government for $21.5 million in December 1998. That mansion had been the headquarters of the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, an aptitude-testing center, for 55 years. Michael Jackson was the only individual who seriously considered buying it.

In 1978, the Lycee bought its fifth building, formerly known as the Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt house, at 60 East 93rd Street. They paid $680,000. Finally, in 1994, the school bought 12 East 73rd Street, a five-story townhouse built in 1920, for $4.3 million. It has been connected to the mansions on 72nd Street.

Richard Speciale, a financial adviser to the Lycee, said the school's decision to vacate the townhouses was based on a drive to improve the academic environment rather than to raise cash. "They came to a truly emotional decision to leave the premises," said Mr. Speciale. "The single best way to re-invigorate the program at Lycee was to find another site and build a facility designed for an academic purpose." Mr. Speciale said a new facility was a more cost-effective alternative to renovating the townhouses.

The Lycee bought a site on York Avenue between 75th and 76th streets in January and is in the process of building a new school, which it plans to open in the fall of 2002. They're hoping Ms. Baum will help them sell their other properties well before then.