When I started this blog, I did mention that it would be a random approach to research i.e. when I get time, or something in particular grabs my attention. So please bear with the random order of posts. In this one, I am digging into one of the architecturally coveted residences Colonel Thorn owned during his life.
When Thorn finally returned from Paris in the 1850’s, Trench and Snook designed and built him a new house on West Sixteenth St, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in the Flatiron District. Sadly the house no longer exists, gone the same way as Elmwood Farm, making way for progess.
I’d like to spend this post going over the details of the house and its impact as the first “italianate” style house in Manhattan. From the descriptions I have read, it seems to have been around 70 feet tall and three stories high, and comprised of eight blocks of land.
It was described by Harper’s Magazine as one of the “largest and handsomest dwelling-houses in the city.”
I also found this detailed description in Putnum’s Monthly, but cannot work out which of the “engravings” it is meant to be. Check the link below and see what you think. “It presents a single ornamented front to the street, yet in chasteness and elegance of design it is fully equal if not superior (MDP: to Mr Haight’s nearby). It has the advantage of standing back in an enclosed forecourt, with double gates and a carriage drive sweeping under a portico, of Tuscan order; the shaded recess behind is an open vestibule, with the same order around the inside, supporting a panelled ceiling. On each side of the door is a niche with a bronzed figure of Mercury, holding a lamp; there are also two recumbant figures of dogs on the landing before the door. A pretty white marble fountain and basin stand in front of the portico, which are ommitted in our engraving.” Putnum’s Monthly.
Potentially, it is this one, as the address seems to fit. However, the engraving doesn’t show the statues at the entrance, which might confirm it.
The United States Democratic Review had this to say: “… we are glad for our domestic architecture, that Colonel Thorn has erected a noble mansion on Sixteenth Street. …with a house admirably adapted to entertaining, Col. Thorn intended doubtless to renew amongst us his Parisian maginficence, and the admirable taste and experience that all must allow him, will doubtless make him not merely the arbiter elegantiarum, but give him the social influence that he may turn to the best advantage. Our society in New York is sadly in need of a regulator, a sifter, as it were, that can effectually be bought to bear when a standard is once erected of conventional proprieties…the wholesome infuence of a single house in New York which insists on education, absence of pretension, simple manners, courteous bearing, and a decourous tone of remarks as the true mark of a polished society, we say the effect of such an influence here or anywhere cannot in degree be overrated.”
In 1874, the Thorn mansion was purchased by the governors of the New York “City” Hospital for $200,000 to be turned into part of the hospital itself, housing admin, a 15,000 volume medical library, and pathological specimens. The front facade of the hospital looked onto fifteenth street, and the Thorn mansion was at the rear, connected by passageways on West Sixteenth and closer to Fifth Ave. Here is image of the front of the Hospital, tantalisingly hiding Thorn’s house.