Mott Schmidt Biography

Townhouses and Apartments
by Mark Alan Hewitt

Along with the Morgan house, three of Schmidt's townhouses further up on the East Side proceed directly from the Georgian tradition: the Guy Fairfax Cary house on East 91st Street (1923), the small townhouse for Emily Trevor on East 90th Street (1926), and the Clarence Dillon house on East 80th Street (1928-29). They also look to prewar houses by one of Schmidt's favorite architects, Charles Platt, such as those designed in 1908 for Sarah Roosevelt on East 65th Street (Figure 10). From Platt, who also did not have an extensive Beaux Arts education, Schmidt learned the virtue of plain, sturdy composition and pragmatic planning.

The Cary house (Figure 11) was built as a city residence for a prominent attorney after his second marriage to the former Mrs. Arthur Burden. Of the set, it is the largest, widest, and most severe. The extreme planarity of the facade, broken only slightly by projecting center bays marked by brick quoins and a stone modillion cornice between the attic and the third floor, draws attention to small details, like the tiny limestone keystones above the windows of the piano nobile, and the segmental canopy over the door. In plan the building functions neatly as a large family house, with both spacious rooms for entertaining and separate domains for males, females, and servants. Since it stretched across two lots, Schmidt was able to be more expansive in planning the rooms around a large circular stair­case, which functioned as the social center of the house.

In contrast to the cool masculinity characteristic of the Guy Cary house, Schmidt's house for Miss Emily Trevor (Figure 12) is delicately feminine in its toy like proportions. The center is strongly marked by the door/window aedicule, which forms a temple like entrance canopy. It is capped by a miniature pediment and trimmed all in limestone. Each of the other windows is simply treated with a flat limestone lintel and a pair of shutters. Located half a block from Fifth Avenue, this tiny jewel of a townhouse is an unusual variation on Schmidt's planning formula. Using the full 25 foot width of the house for the main rooms, he divided the plan into three equal sec­tions from front to back, placing his trademark stair in the center. The program was compact enough to allow just two rooms per floor, front and back: the splendid entry hall on the ground floor, a drawing room and dining room on the parlor level, and a library and bedchamber above. This house contains the finest extant interiors of any Schmidt commission, almost unchanged from the day it was built. Along with an elegant paneled library, the major rooms follow decorative themes based on the work of Robert Adam, with elaborate sculpted plasterwork executed by C. P. Jennewein. The specific arrangement of the interior is somewhat concealed in the facade. On the ground floor, a service door is disguised as a window, while the main doorway opens on the right side of the formal entrance hall. The delicate limestone doorway with leaf capitals, and the diminutive scale of the facade give the house an appropriate character. Like the houses of Anne Morgan and Anne Vanderbilt, it was an independent woman's domicile.

FIGURE 10. Charles A. Platt, Roosevelt Houses, 47 and 49 East 65th Street, New York City, 1909.
Monograph of the Work of Charles A. Platt
FIGURE 11. Guy Cary Townhouse, 57-61 East 91st Street, 1923, Street Facade
Avery Architectural Archives
FIGURE 12. Emily Trevor Townhouse, 15 East 90th Street, 1926, Facade
Museaum of the City of New York