Architecture Images-Upper East Side
House Of The Redeemer
|Grosvenor Atterbury, Egisto Fabbri|
|7 East 95th Street, Bet. Fifth And Madison Aves.|
|red brick, limestone trim|
The house at 7 East 95th Street was
built between 1914 and 1916 to serve as the town residence of Edith
Shepard Fabbri, a great granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt,
and her husband, Ernesto Fabbri, an associate of J. Pierpont Morgan. The
House was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, an American architect and
town planner trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, noted for the
1908 restoration of New York’s City Hall. The interior decoration,
however, was executed by Egisto Fabbri, Ernesto Fabbri’s brother, who
incorporated Edith Fabbri’s collection of Italian Renaissance and
Baroque furnishings and architectural fragments into his designs.
Egisto Fabbri, well versed in the historic aspects of Italian architecture, helped design and decorate the House when it was built. Whole sections of original wood ceilings and the wood paneling of the historic library were transported in two ships from Italy through U-boat infested waters during World War I, and the House was designed and constructed to contain them.
The House of the Redeemer’s outstanding architectural feature is the library, a treasure built in the 1400’s for the Ducal palace in Urbino, Italy. The Duke was a patron of Raphael, who is said to have painted the medallion of the coat of arms on the vaulted 25 foot high ceiling. There is a monumental fireplace, exquisite paneling, a balustrade gallery, and even a secret passageway.
The House is L-shaped to accommodate the library in one wing and to produce a courtyard and an adjoining but now lost garden. Entry to the House is through tall oak doors. Inner marble steps lead to a second set of doors of wrought iron which open into the entrance hall. The design and position of the grand stone stairway, the earth-tone tile floors, and the patina on the wood tables and benches, offer an astonishing sense of space and security and, strangely enough, simplicity. To the right is a handsomely appointed reception room with a coffered ceiling, and here hangs a portrait of Mrs. Fabbri. The dining room is opposite and has a vaulted ceiling, a stone fireplace, and space to comfortably seat 80 people. The chapel on the second floor has another example of a coffered ceiling and some leaded windows given in 1985 as a memorial.
In celebration of the completion of the House, violinist Fritz Kreisler performed at the housewarming party in 1916.
In 1949, inspired by a sermon preached by the Right Reverend Austin Pardue on the necessity of silence and prayer in the spiritual life, Edith Fabbri deeded the building to a Board of Trustees under the auspices of the Episcopal Church to be used as a religious retreat house under the name "The House of the Redeemer." A new corporation by that name was formed to receive the gift of her house and administer it as a "place apart." The Right Reverend Horace W.B. Donegan, who was Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York, agreed to serve as the Founder and President of the Board. The House of the Redeemer was operated by Episcopal nuns (the Sisters of St. Mary) from 1949 until 1980, at which time the first residential Warden was appointed to run The House.
The House was designated a New York City Landmark in 1974, and is considered by many architectural historians to be one of the most distinguished examples of early 20th century residential architecture in New York City. At the present time, The House is run by a Board of Trustees, and the spiritual care is provided by Episcopal priests-in-residence. Daily operations are supervised by the House Manager and staff.
At 1916 Fabbri House, Artisanship of Bygone Era
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
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.
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, http://www.redeem.org/ .
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."
OFFERING A UNIQUE SPACE
conducive to spiritual refreshment and meditation, the House of the Redeemer provides the public with the opportunity to worship in a place that is serene and tranquil, allowing those in need of quiet reflection to find spiritual peace. Worship takes place in the chapel, a room which once served as Edith Fabbri's Drawing Room and Ballroom, and which has its own historical and architectural significance. The chapel is open for prayer and meditation. Every weekday from mid-September to May, a priest-in-residence leads Morning and Evening Prayer.
(mid-September to May)
Monday 8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
Tuesday 8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
Wednesday 8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
Thursday 8:00 a.m. Eucharist
Friday 8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
Monday 5:30 p.m. Evening Prayer
Tuesday 5:30 p.m. Eucharist
Wednesday 5:30 p.m. Evening Prayer
Thursday 5:30 p.m. Evening Prayer
Friday 5:30 p.m. Evening Prayer