History of the Building

DwellingThe Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, which was founded in 2006 with funding from the Leon Levy Foundation, is housed in a historic six-story limestone townhouse at 15 East 84th Street. Built in 1899 for Adam Lanfear Norrie, the house was extensively altered in 1928 and the present Italian Renaissance façade and interiors bear little resemblance to the original house. After its purchase by the Leon Levy Foundation in 2004, the house was transformed into a suite of offices, study rooms, galleries, and a library, with careful attention given to retaining as much of its original architectural detail as possible.

A.L. Norrie Residence

East 84th Street was starting to turn quite chic in 1897, when Adam Lanfear Norrie (1856-1910), a well-known man of fortune whose name appeared regularly in New York’s society pages, decided to leave his residence on East 41st Street and migrate north with his peers. To design his new residence on a large land parcel at 15 East 84th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, Norrie commissioned the fashionable architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen.

Two years later, the four-story brick Norrie residence was completed. Its façade ran one and a half city lots at the street line and was set back on the remaining half lot, creating an L-shaped footprint. A wrought-iron canopy led to a round-arched doorway in the setback area. The house featured several elements of the Tuscan villa style, including a tile roof with projecting eaves and exaggeratedly large corbels, or brackets, that flanked the arched windows on the fourth floor. Behind the house, the architects built a two-story stable that opened on East 85th Street; between the house and stable, there was a large formal garden. Norrie added features to the property after its completion, including a one-story brick squash court designed in 1901 by Renwick Aspinwall.

VestibuleThe Norries often entertained lavishly in their new home, and its fashionable interiors, including the hallway, ballroom, dining room and library, were showcased in a photo spread in Architectural Record magazine in 1903.

After the death of her husband in 1910, Mrs. Norrie continued to reside in the house until her marriage to the Count Odet Armand Marie de Jumilhac of Paris.  In 1919, she sold the property to Charles F. Hoffman, a real estate broker, and two years later Edward L. Doheny purchased it from Hoffman’s estate.  Doheny’s father, the investor Edward L. Doheny Sr., reportedly resided at the house when he was indicted for bribery and conspiracy in the Teapot Dome case, the oil scandal that rocked the tenure of President Warren G. Harding.

Ogden Mills Reid Residence

BallroomIn 1927, Ogden Mills Reid (1882-1947), editor-in-chief of the New York Herald-Tribune, purchased the property, including the former stable, and hired the architect Lafayette A. Goldstone to extensively alter the building. Reid was the son of Whitelaw Reid, editor-in-chief and principal owner of the Tribune, who later served as Ambassador to England, and Elisabeth Reid. After graduating from Yale Law School, the younger Reid began his career as a reporter at the Tribune, working his way up to managing editor before inheriting the paper following his father’s death in 1912.  As editor-in-chief, Reid invested both time and resources in the paper. In 1924 he bought the New York Herald and merged the two papers to create the storied Herald-Tribune.

Goldstone, Reid’s architect (1876-1956), was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. He left school at the age of 14, but his parents arranged for him to receive lessons in drawing and architecture several evenings a week and he arrived in New York City in 1891 ready to practice architecture.  He partnered with William Lawrence Rouse and, from 1909 to 1917, their highly popular firm had 119 jobs, including 47 apartment houses.  Rouse & Goldstone dissolved in 1926, but shortly thereafter Goldstone received the commission to alter the Reid house, both inside and out.  Major townhouse renovations such as this were common sights in the side streets of the Upper East Side in the 1920s.

FireplaceAccording to Goldstone’s wife and son, “Of all the houses that L.A.G. planned, the one that gave him the most satisfaction was the town house for the owners of the New York Herald-Tribune, Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills Reid…  The owners’ desire for the finest materials and workmanship made this project a most congenial one to the architect.” Goldstone added one story to the building, plus a penthouse, and redesigned the facade in the neo-Italian Renaissance style that was more popular around the turn of the century. His designs, by and large, survive to this day.

PlansThe entrance, a tall rounded-arch doorway surrounded by Tuscan pilasters protrudes slightly from the center of the building.  The number “15” is carved into the keystone.  Above the keystone, a panel is surrounded by rosettes, and above that a cornice topped with a wrought-iron railing.  A decorative cornice, with regularly spaced horizontal brackets, is above the fourth floor windows.  The soffit, or underside of the cornice, is adorned with geometric patterns – circles and diamonds.

Goldstone also radically transformed the house’s interior, although when possible he salvaged materials from the Norrie residence and reused them in his design.  He removed the original staircase and installed a grand spiral staircase with a walnut handrail and iron balustrade extending from the first through fifth floors. He placed mustard-yellow colored glazed terra cotta blocks on the walls of much of the cellar, which housed the kitchen, the servants’ dining room, a pastry room, a vegetable room, and a game refrigerator.

Plans 2The entrance vestibule, entrance hall, reception room, dining room, and a sitting room for Mr. Reid were located on the first floor.  The second floor housed the library, drawing room, and tea service and flower rooms. A silver pantry and a silver vault were located on the second floor mezzanine.  Mr. and Mrs. Reid’s bedrooms occupied much of the third floor, along with a sitting room and dressing room for Mrs. Reid, a maid’s bedroom, a pressing room, linen closet, and cedar closet.  The fourth floor included the children’s bedrooms, a study, and a kitchen.  Guests and their servants used the fifth floor, which held four guest rooms, a sitting room, four guests’ servants and a servants’ hall.  The sixth floor, or penthouse, was where the maids lived, in eleven bed rooms, all told. The residence was equipped with a passenger lift, a service lift, and a dumbwaiter.

Stephen Wise Congress House

Following the death of her husband in 1947, Mrs. Reid, an active woman who helped run the Herald Tribune and served as a trustee of Barnard College, remained in the house until 1950, when she sold the property, including the garage, to the American Jewish Congress (AJC).  The house then became known as the Stephen Wise Congress House in honor of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who spearheaded the organization of the AJC and served as its vice-president from 1921-25 and as president or honorary president until his death in 1949.  During these years, the house at 15 East 84th Street served as AJC’s headquarters and was open to the public for lectures and special events. In 1989, the AJC subdivided the property into two lots and sold the garage on East 85th Street and part of the garden to a developer who constructed two townhouses on the site, completed in 1996.

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University

Library In 2004, the Stephen Wise Congress House was acquired by the Leon Levy Foundation as the future home of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. To rehabilitate the building, the Foundation hired Selldorf Architects, a highly respected architecture and design firm, led by Annabelle Selldorf, whose renovation work includes the transformation of a 1914 mansion located at East 86th Street and Fifth Avenue into the Neue Galerie, a museum for German and Austrian art. Selldorf’s design provides space for the graduate research and Ph.D. degree-granting center and for an extensive program of colloquia, lectures, and exhibitions that will be open to the public. Respectful of the historic fabric of the building, Selldorf Architects restored original details when possible. The wood paneled library on the second floor was restored and is now being used as a common room and sometime lecture hall. The main staircase was extended to the sixth floor. A modern library was designed for the Institute's extensive collection of books and archives about the ancient world. Constructed primarily of steel and glass, and located in a three-story atrium in the north part of the building, the library offers naturally lit study spaces for scholars and provides access to open stacks.

-- Researched and written by Elizabeth McEnaney


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Photos,Drawings & Plans

East 85th Street garage, Block 1496, Lot 11, Tax photo, c. 1940s. New York City Municipal Archives.

15 East 84th Street, New York City, date unknown. Museum of the City of New York.

15 East 84th Street, Block 1496, Lot 11, Tax photo, c. 1940s. New York City Municipal Archives.

Goldstone, Lafayette A. Drawings & Plans, Ogden Mills Reid Residence, 15 East 84th Street, New York City.  Including front elevation, rear elevation/garden entry, individual floor plans, transom detail, and stair handrail detail

Goldstone, Lafayette A. Rendering of faade of Ogden Mills Reid Residence, 15 East 84thStreet, New York City.  Lafayette Goldstone Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.  TIFF file requested 7/11/07.

Interior photographs (8 photographs) of Ogden Mills Reid Residence, 15 East 84th Street, dates unknown.  Courtesy of the American Jewish Congress.

Manhattan: 84th Street (East) - Madison Avenue, 84th Street No. 15 East. Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library.

Manhattan: 84th Street (East) - Madison Avenue, 84th Street Nos. 17-15 East, c. 1923. Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library.

Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen.  Drawings & Plans, Adam Lanfear Norrie Residence, 15 East 84thStreet, New York City, c. 1899.  Including front elevation & section logitudinal

Selldorf Architects.  Drawings & Plans, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th Street, New York City, c. 2004-2007.